Engineers, Scientists, and Programmers: No Need to Apologize About Your Resume

by Freiberger, Paul Tuesday, November 23, 2010
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The calls often begin with an apologetic “never needed a programmer resume” admission: “I’ve never had to get a professional resume before.” Or, “I never dreamed of hiring a professional resume writer. I’ve always been able to land a programming job.” Or, “I never even had to look for jobs. They found me.”

Software wizards have seldom needed help from resume wizards. Engineers and programmers have a desired set of skills that has often made it easier for them to find a job than many others. Unlike the rest of us, many programmers have seldom had to spend much time developing their technical software engineering resume. The thought of hiring a resume writing expert never entered their minds, until the recent economic crisis.

When it comes to a programmer’s resume and cover letter, the usual advice applies: Highlight accomplishments, write clearly, design the document carefully, avoid spelling errors, organize the resume in reverse chronological order unless you have a compelling reason to organize it functionally. List your technical skills, making sure you cover the skills that are most in demand nowadays.

But there are other special job search tips for software programmers/engineers. Sharpen your skills as well as your resume. If you have key skills that are in demand, then today can be just like those good old days. Companies are looking for specific skill sets: For instance, accomplishments and expertise in the area of hard core algorithms, pattern recognition, statistics, and applying algorithms to real world data. If you have these skills you are likely to have a good chance to find an opportunity. You may even find you'll get multiple offers.

You want to make this hard core algorithmic expertise clear on your resume. Not all professional resume writers are qualified to handle technical resumes. Make sure you ask about their experience in the technology field. Making technical accomplishments clear and to the point requires special expertise. Other timely skills you don’t want to leave out include: AJAX/JavaScript, Objective C, Java, PHP or Ruby on Rails. If you lack these skills and if you're having a tough time finding a job, you should start studying. Find a good book that will help you build these skills and start putting them to work. Consider getting involved in an open source project; or start participating in some discussion groups that allow you to let others know that you are enhancing your skills.

Sharpening specific skill sets is a good idea, in fact. If you can look like a problem solver to companies that are trying to figure out how to handle the tons of data they face, then you will be an appealing candidate. Businesses don't know how to analyze data well. Things like computer vision, data mining, collaborative filtering, machine learning, video processing: All these specialties will be hot for several years at least. Enhance your skills. Learn the vocabulary. Identify recent innovations and the companies associated with them. Managers hiring programmers are impressed if you have contributed to open source projects. If you are a Java programmer and participated in an open source Java project then you have an advantage over other job candidates. Another approach is to create your own open source project. It will cause people to pay attention to you because not everyone does this and it demonstrates a certain special interest and passion for the field. It's a good idea for programmers to have a website. But, make sure it's a clean, well-designed website. Again, the writing should be crisp. Likewise, some managers will check out the HTML code on your site so make sure you have clean code. Place your resume on your website. Make sure it is cleanly coded. Not just a converted Word file.

Also, show off some of your code from a project on your website. Managers appreciate the chance to review some sample code.

Use the networks: Facebook and Linkedin, for example. Make sure you have endorsements on LinkedIn. Work your LinkedIn networks. Participate in groups that share your interests. You may find people these groups are at companies that are hiring.

If you are interested in mobile computing, design an iPhone application. Get it reviewed. Get people talking about it. Side projects like this are effective techniques to get noticed.

This may seem like a lot to do but the good news is that these job-search strategies work and in today’s economy effective job-search strategies are the envy of many.