Almost anyone who works for a living has a resume and maintains it with some effort. Due to the private nature and changeability of resume content, most people author their own resumes. Whether a resume is diligently adorned from time to time or reluctantly updated only to follow the social norm, it tells a lot about its author – often more than what the author intends to.
While it’s fine to borrow layout or even writing styles from others, the content of your resume would better be your own work. Your resume represents so much about your accumulated skills and professional accomplishment over some of your most productive years that it’s justifiably worth some real effort of your own to assemble it. More importantly you’re going to back the words written on your resume during the job interviews and it’s easier to back your own words than others. However, before you finalize the “production version” of your resume it’s a good idea to solicit feedback from your trusted friends and refine it as you see fit.
Resume screening and deep-dive
In the software talent acquisition process, resume review is one of the most boring but important tasks. Getting the most out of a bunch of word streams of various writing styles certainly demands effort, and the ongoing fierce competition for software talent especially in the Silicon Valley helps ensure it’s a lengthy, if not endless, effort.
Generally there is a process in which the recruiter screens quantity resumes to filter out the obvious unmatched, and another process involving a deep dive into the stream of words to try to compose, however superficially it might be, a virtual representative of the resume owner. Resume screening happens upfront and word stream diving happens typically after the initial scans, phone or early round interviews.
During resume screening, usually only technical keywords relevant to the very job opening and a rough sense of current career state and professional seniority will be extracted in a cursory fashion. The Professional Summary section weighs a lot in this process as each resume only gets a sub-minute glance window due to volume. The more in-depth resume evaluation involves digging into the individual jobs listed in the resume. Besides the information intentionally conveyed by the author to the audience, the reviewer might also try to read between the lines to deduce what expertise the job candidate might actually possess. Whether the evaluation process is implicit or well defined, a good chunk of the following will be compiled in some way:
- Current and most recent job positions/ranks/responsibilities
- Has the candidate been with highly regarded companies in recent years?
- Total years of professional experience at the sought level
- Is the candidate still playing a hands-on role?
- Candidate’s academic major and highest degree attained
- Did the candidate graduate from a reputable or preferably Ivy League school?
- Does the candidate have a progressive career history?
- Average duration of individual jobs in the past
A capable technical recruiter can help carry out quality resume screening work and perhaps part of the in-depth evaluation for the hiring manager. But even with a well-prepared reader’s digest provided by the recruiter, the hiring manager ultimately has to dedicate his/her own bandwidth to at least read through the resume which is supposedly the source of data directly from the candidate.
Polished vs Crude
Software engineers generally are not the best marketers. I’ve seen many resumes littered with numerous boldfaced keywords throughout the content resulting in a blob of randomly cluttered text. Sadly, often times the cluttering decoration is actually the work by head-hunters who try to impress the hiring managers with job matching keywords. Some resumes are downright fraudulent work. The worst ones show clear evidence of poorly automated fabrication of clause-matching skillsets to the specific job post.
A resume modestly revealing exceptional technical expertise in simple concise writing style often gets the highest respect. Hard-core software veterans tend to project an image of raw, no-non-sense personality, often along with a dose of attitude. Many would prefer to keep their resumes less well-packaged even if they’re capable of being so. Most of the time that dose of attitude is just a reflection of high confidence. However, sometimes an excessively righteous tone, for instance, can be an indication of a narcissistic non-team player. Whether that dose of attitude is healthy or excessive, one will surely find out during the in-person interviews.
The hiring ecosystem
I think the entire hiring ecosystem today is very inefficient. You have job seekers wanting to trade their skills for the best available compensation package, and employers offering market-rate compensation in exchange for the skills. Both parties claim to be some of the best themselves, but neither of them trusts each other. Recruiters, head-hunters aren’t the unbiased middleman because they work one-sidedly for the employers who pay them and filling the job openings ASAP is their only priority, instead of finding the best match. Job boards also operate favorably for the employers who fund their revenue. Same for professional social networking sites such as LinkedIn whose main revenue comes from selling analytics data to companies.
Such one-sidedness is not necessarily a problem. In trading, you also have many brokers playing a one-sided middleman role. But typical products being traded have well-defined specifications and/or pricing standards within the product space. In hiring, you’re trading intangible skills. There is no common specifications or standards for skills that both the employers and job seekers can use as references.
Theoretically, trading your skills for compensation should be a fair game, but in reality, unless you possess certain skills that are in high demand at the time, employers usually have the upper hand perhaps because a majority of workers are perceived replaceable commodity. And evidently, even high-demand skills change from time to time. Unfortunately I don’t see how this one-sidedness will change in the foreseeable future.
The future of tech resumes
Today, composing a resume is largely, if not wholly, a marketing exercise. Had there been a set of common specifications of skills, assembling a resume would be more like an accounting exercise in which skills and experience are being logged in accordance with some standard weighing matrix. Resumes would then be a much more objective source for qualification data. Without some sort of skill measuring standard, employers will continue to come up with their wishful job requirement and job seekers will keep assembling their resumes in their own writing styles and with subjectively rated skill levels. As a result, skill match between a given job post and a resume is almost always superficial or accidental.
What is a practical rating method for skills is the million-dollar question here. Peeping into the not-too-far future, I suspect there is going to be some standard-based semantic foundation on top of which job history and academic achievement can be systematically rated. In addition to that, perhaps some credential scoring systems similar to StackOverflow.com’s model can also be used in the rating methodology.
All that would require an underlying layer of some sort of standard software engineering ontology (e.g. “ISO/IEC/IEEE 24765: Systems and Software Engineering Vocabulary”) so that all the job functions and skillsets logged in a resume have referential meanings. The raw content of a resume would be composed in a format suitable for machine interpretation (e.g. Resource Description Framework a.k.a. RDF, Semantic Web). As to the presentation-layer tools, some readily available reader or browser would allow a human to interactively query the latest information in any area of interest within a resume in various levels of granularity and perform ad-hoc analysis and qualification comparison among competing candidates. Job posts would also be structuralized in accordance with the same underlying semantics, making matching job seekers with employers more of science than art.