How to write a competitive tech resume to get that interview you want

When you’re job hunting is important to craft your tech resume in a way that passes the ATS scanner, a software that checks if your resume is a good match for the job, and also to make it easy to understand to recruiters. Let’s see some tips on how to improve your tech resume to get you that job you want!

Table of contents

All this started with a conversation on Twitter with @tanoaksam about improving resumes:

How do I know about this?

First, why you should even read this? After all I’m a software engineer. Here’s the thing, while working at previous jobs at Automattic.com and Reconnect.io, I got to collaborate extensively with the hiring process.

The hiring process in Automattic was fantastic. I was mainly screening applications and recommending to advance them to the next stage or send them the dread “you’re not a good fit for now” email. I was also involved with a group they had in Slack to connect employees with applicants during their hiring process, so they got in touch with Automattic’s culture, it was good.

At Reconnect.io, I was doing both tech resume screening and recommendations, but also technical interviews. So I know about the interview process too, particularly for a frontend engineer because that’s my area, so I might write another article focused on how to approach a frontend interview. For now, let’s focus on writing a resume that can get you that interview!

The right format

Most companies use one form or another of ATS to receive your resume and dismiss profiles that don’t match the job description. An ATS, or Applicant Tracker System, is a software that processes your resume, scanning it and assessing, in a cold mathematical way, if your tech resume is good enough for a human recruiter to check.

Some companies receive hundredths or even thousands of applications daily. It’s impossible to cope with all this without automation. ATS are very useful because they can easily separate the wheat from the chaff. It’s just the way it is and it’s just business. If you don’t craft your resume properly, you might not get that interview.

This is why we’ll see here some recommendations to format a tech resume that passes ATS scans and makes recruiter’s work easier.

Use a single column for your content

Some ATS are not very smart and won’t be able to parse your carefully designed resume, that you laid out in two or more columns. It might be beautiful for humans. ATS are not humans and they have very poor taste so they won’t get it. Compose all your content in a single column, do not use additional columns on the side.

Use text color with good contrast and size

Some recruiters might have vision impairment and won’t be able to quickly read your light gray text. Don’t give them the idea that you’re uncompassionate, because making a recruiter squint their eyes to read small light gray text is being exactly that.

I mean, when you send a tech resume, you should act as if you’re already part of the team. You’re aiming to work at a place that serves customers, and you’re already giving your most important customer a hard time? Don’t do it or you won’t get to be part of that team.

So for your typography, use white background, black text, 10 pt. Can’t go wrong with that, and for the typeface, a sans-serif, let’s check it.

Use a sans-serif typeface

ATS will definitely parse a sans-serif typeface like Helvetica or Arial. I’m not sure they’ll parse the curvy bodies of Minion or Times New Roman. They’ll most likely do it but since you want to be 100% sure to pass the ATS scan, just use a sans-serif.

You surely have either Helvetica Neue, Arial, or Liberation Sans in your Mac, Windows, Linux, respectively. Other safe choices for typefaces are Open Sans, PT Sans, Roboto, Lato, or Montserrat, all freely available from Google Fonts in the sans-serif category.

Good fonts to compose a tech resume
Safe font options if you’re bored of Helvetica or Arial.

When in doubt, space it out

This is also for the recruiters. Make their lives easier, keep them happy, and don’t crowd your text. Use proper spacing. Don’t make your tech resume too long though. Two pages should be enough for name, contact, opening text, skills, work experience, education and some additional stuff that you might want to add like publications, awards, or links to projects or repos.

Do not rate your skills with meter bars

I want to mention this because I’ve seen this many times. Not only ATS will discard this: even we humans will be confused. So your JavaScript skills are 90%? Compared to who or what? Brendan Eich? Ryan Dahl? The V8 engine? Don’t ever do this.

Match the job description

This is the most important one, and we’ll go through it in the next sections: your profile should match the job, from the position title to some important keywords in its description.

Your name and position you’re applying to

If you apply for a job whose title is “Frontend Software Superstar” as odd as it might sound, you match it. At the top, type your name and only the job title, for example:

Firstname Lastname – Frontend Software Superstar

Yes! That’s you. So now the ATS will match your title with the job title and done, one thing less to worry about.

Your contact info

After your name and title, you can add your contact info. As I mentioned before, this should be all in the same column. Address, phone, email, they’re all good. Do not add your photo. There are many reasons, I’ll mention only one: unconscious bias. Just trust me and don’t add your photo.

We’ll google and profile you anyway if you pass the initial selection. You just don’t want to be dismissed by someone’s unconscious bias. And it’s just like that: unconscious. Some of us are more aware and can look past the photo. Can’t assure you the rest of screeners in this whole world will do the same.

Did I mention we’ll profile you? Yeah, if you add your social networks like Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, we’ll visit them. At least some of us. It’s not about politics or religion. Very far from that. It’s simply that it’s a great place to see how nice to others you really are, and what are your real interests. Just think about it: why would we even bother to have an interview with you if we see on Twitter that you engage in aggressions towards others?

Back in topic, the one that we really love is GitHub, it’s like “show me what you got”. We’ll go to it like bees to a flower and peruse what you forked, how frequent your activity is, who you follow, and most importantly, what you’ve built. We’ll quickly assess your mastering of languages and frameworks.

Something that we’ll look for in the projects are tests. Why? Well, while for some positions tests are not a must, it’s nice to have them because tests say a lot about the developer. If the code itself speaks about your raw technical capability, the tests you write speak about:

  • documenting components and app behavior
  • ensuring the app stability against breaking changes
  • thinking long term and planning the architecture
  • considering stress cases like failures

These traits speak about how you’ll be in a team. Do you care about explaining what the components do and how the app behaves? Do you think about the possibility that some other dev might introduce a breaking change? How does your code deals with failures?

And all this was just from your contact info. By now you surely realize how much effort recruiters put into screening job applications and why you’ve to stand out.

Opening

Time to make a big entrance. You should explain here, in a single paragraph, who you are and what you did in the past that aligns with the job position and its goals.

Remember we said that you should try to match your tech resume and the description of the job you’re applying to? This is a great place to stuff keywords and sentences that will make it match.

Back to the opening, this is a good place to match because it’s cumbersome to update your work experience to tailor it description to the job you’re applying to, but the opening paragraph is just a paragraph so it’s simple. Quick example, if the description of the job you’re applying to says:

“we’re looking for a developer that works with product managers & designers in Agile environment to create applications that meets goals outlined by user research”

and turns out you did something similar in the past, you can add it in your opening like:

“As a developer, I worked closely with designers to oversee the development cycle of apps based on data from user research. Kept managers up to date with reports about the product.”

Winner. It’s similar, not the same, and you matched keywords in the job description. You passed ATS and your human will also note that you’ve the basic qualifications.

Some of points to note in your opening paragraph:

  • be honest on what you match and don’t waste recruiter’s time. If you say you know something, get and interview, and turns out you’ve no idea about it, you’ll be blacklisted for-effing-ever
  • words like “extensive knowledge” or “exceptionally” are not measurable, so replace them with words that are or remove them
  • “self-motivated” and “passionate” are buzzwords often found. In reality, every person is self-motivated—describe what motivates you and frame yourself in a team

Skills

Time to show off your skills, again, all in the same column of content. You don’t need to do a bulleted list or add icons to them. Just list them in natural text, one after the other.

List all your skills, like HTML, CSS, programming languages like JavaScript, libraries like React, frameworks like Next.js, platforms like Firebase, databases like PostgreSQL. If you know more than one human language, like German or Spanish, list it here as well along with a rough idea of your level: fluent, intermediate, beginner. If you know tools that are relevant to the position, for example, Git (and the GitHub service) or even Figma or Sketch in the context of a frontend job, you can list them too. As we’ve been doing, keep it relevant to the position.

Don’t forget to match again: if your tech resume says HTML, and the job you’re applying to says HTML 5, well, just make it HTML 5. If it says SCSS and you previously wrote Sass, change it to SCSS. This is just for the ATS. It might detect variants, it might not. You don’t want to leave anything to luck. For example, this is how I listed my skills in one of my resumes. Note the odd (ES6), SASS all uppercase, and the Git (GitHub)? Yes, I was matching words in the job description:

My skills are: JavaScript (ES6), PHP, React, Redux, Enzyme, SASS, lodash, Webpack, jQuery, CSS, HTML, Express, Node.js, TypeScript, WordPress, Git (GitHub), SVN, UI/UX, and graphic design.

In a tech resume, we look for breadth & depth. Skills are an overview of breadth, work experience often defines depth.

Work experience

So yeah, time for depth: experience. Enumerate in different sections your work done in the past. State your position, company, and the dates that worked there. Let’s see an example:

Frontend Engineer Ninja at Company X · July 2010 – May 2020

Now add a short paragraph explaining briefly about the company, and what you did there. After that, add at least 3 bullet points stating how that impacted the organization. Try to present them as something measurable. For example:

Company X is a platform to build your own website. I worked with designers to implement a complete redesign of the web app. Established the architecture of the codebase and organized team collaboration.

– increased revenue by streamlining the payment process

– helped increase developer response time by setting guidelines on how to structure codebase documentation

– reduced app crashes by promoting a culture of writing tests

If you did here stuff that was beyond this position, you should add it. For example, if your position was “software engineer” and you also did several talks at events of medium to large size, include them, because this speaks how much that company trusted you to represent them at such events.

All this will give recruiters a good idea of what we really want to learn from your tech resume: how you found yourself at your previous jobs in other organizations, what you were tasked with, and your impact in the company, and if it aligns to the company needs, they’ll call you very soon.

Education and others

Finally, add your education, awards, publications, links to important projects. However, make sure that everything you add is absolutely relevant to the job description, and aligned with how you approached and matched the job throughout your tech resume.

Closing words

With all these tips you are now ready to craft your brand new resume, tailored to apply to that job position you want. Remember there’s no one size fits all resume: match the job description, single column of content, and in your work experience, describe the company and outline what you did there and how it impacted it. Make it all relevant to the job you’re applying to. Those are the key ingredients for the recipe to land that interview.

Depending on the response I get to this, I’m open to organize Q&A sessions through Clubhouse, Instagram, or Superpeer, whatever works best. There’s much more beyond the tech resume, like your cover letter, something very important to make a big impression, and the interview itself, the mother of all battles, and even how to deal with employment gaps or the fact that you just graduated from high school or university and this is your first job. So if you liked this and want to know more, please let me know in the comments.

Good luck with your job hunting, you got this!

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