Early last year, I quit my job at Google to start Leap.ai and pursue my passion for developing others. We use AI to help people chart and navigate their career path. Having hired a few hundred people during my eight years at Google and having reviewed tens of thousands of resumes so far at Leap, I know first-hand how a poorly written resume substantially under-represents a person’s qualifications.
It is not a lack of effort on the part of young professionals or students. These groups deeply understand and appreciate the value of a great resume and they have spent tons of time perfecting it. Unfortunately, they lack exposure to industry best practices and have to rely on advice from sources that have little to no real knowledge of tech hiring.
My goal with Leap.ai is to bridge the knowledge gap between the job seeker and employer, as well as help people sort out the many big decisions in their careers, using technology. After extensive research on hiring in top tech companies, I want to share what I’ve learned about the do’s and don’ts of tech resume-writing. In this blog post, I’ll share the common mistakes people make along with concrete advice on what to do to build an effective resume.
I hope that the takeaways will be helpful to people getting started in their careers, whether you are a student, new grad or a young professional.
1. Understand Your Audience
Here’s some quick context to consider before we dive into common mistakes or surface any advice - it’s important to know what role a resume plays, who reads it and how many people read it.
Every company has a different hiring process. In general, the flow is a gated process that looks something like this: a recruiter conducts an initial resume screen → phone interview → onsite interview → hiring decision.
This workflow begins with a resume. Initially, there are two groups of people who read your resume - recruiters who screen your credentials then interviewers, which often includes the hiring managers.
- Recruiters are the primary resume consumer
- A recruiter’s job is to be the gatekeeper. While a green light from a recruiter to a phone interview is far from getting hired, a red light from them can end your application.
- Common knowledge says that, on average, a recruiter will spend less than 10 seconds looking at a resume. My initial research also confirms this data point. So if you stand a chance at making it beyond an initial screening, your resume must be well organized, have the content recruiters are looking for, and be easy to read (in under 10 seconds).
- When the recruiters scan your resume, they are trying to answer one main question: Is the candidate worth the team’s time? Is he/she strong enough to be interviewed by the team? Knowing this should help you focus.
- The secondary audience is the interviewer. Unlike recruiters, this group will dig into your experience. On average, they spend 1-2 minutes reviewing your resume to get familiar with what you’ve done in order to prepare interview questions. Since you’re already in the gate, this secondary audience cares more about the depth of your work and impact.
2. Recognize Common Resume Mistakes
There are many reasons why a resume is scrapped - typos, weird formatting, off-topic content, etc. Assuming that you’ve got spelling and grammar in check, here are the most common mistakes in (an early career) person’s resume:
- Lengthy and cluttered
- Many people try to pack as much information as possible into their resume. Everything that you’ve done isn’t as important as the things you’ve done consistently well. Reduce the amount of work that a reader must do by only including relevant or outstanding experiences.
- A cluttered, complicated resume will confuse the reader. If you assume that recruiters are looking for any reason to reject a resume, don’t accommodate them with complicated formatting or lots of unnecessary items.
- Lack of focus on impact and success
- People love to enumerate all the things they have done. The reality is that tasks across different projects or candidates are hard to differentiate. From a reader’s perspective, it’s impossible to assess how well someone has done based only on listed tasks. The readers can better appreciate your work if you articulate well about its impact.
- People fail to clearly call out the complexity of the problem they were solving or the impact of their contribution. For larger projects, it’s important to call out the scope of the work and your specific contribution.
- Does not address the specific requirements in the job description (JD)
- Many candidates use the same resume for many different jobs. Employers are more likely to pass over a generic resume that does not fit their unique needs than one that is customized.
3. Tips for Building a Powerful Resume
3.1 Deliver ONE Key Message
Remember that you’ve got about 10 seconds to make a strong first impression. This doesn’t mean that you have to be amazing in every respect. What it means is this - have a simple, strong, and concise message really stand out.
First, you need to decide what your one key message is then leverage parts of your resume - summary, experience, skills, etc to deliver and reinforce this message consistently throughout your resume.
- Example 1: If your key message is centered on prestige and quality of experience like where you went to school, where you interned, or your national ranking, focus on highlighting these data points. This approach may require you to de-emphasize side or personal projects if they do not reinforce your core message. Cut them off or summarize them into a bullet in the additional information section at the end.
- Example 2: Even if you have not gone to an elite school, scored a high GPA, or interned at a prestigious company, you can still focus on something unique about you and deliver a powerful message. For example, if you love to build mobile apps, you can focus your energy on apps launched in the App Store or Play Store, focus on the details of your experience here - what tech you used and the stand out KPIs.
Remember, recruiters and hiring managers often do not have strict rules for people they want to hire. To stand out and improve your chance landing an interview, emphasize the things at which you accel.
3.2 Communicate Clearly
Since we’ve already established how quickly your resume is reviewed, it’s critical to communicate with clarity and in an organized fashion.
Out of all the sections that are commonly available on people’s resume, the recruiters care most about the followings:
- 1. Internship / working experience
- 2. Education (school name and major)
- 3. Side projects
If they are happy with what have seen, they’ll look for your name and contact information. Based on the above information, here are some
- Make sure that you have adequately described and stated the information above
- For non-PhD students, try and limit your resume to one page.
- Pay attention to formatting - leave enough space on your resume to make it pleasant to read.
- For important (but non-critical) achievements (e.g. awards) that do not fit nicely in the common sections, use a section called “Additional Information”.
- Include your work authorization status (e.g., “authorized to work for all employers in the United States) if you do not need visa sponsorship, given that some companies do not sponsor visa.
- Only list relevant projects. Feel free to delete projects or experience that do not contribute to your core message.
- Tons of text. Nobody likes to read large blocks of text. Be concise but descriptive.
- Fancy formatting. No fancy formatting unless you are a designer. The fancier, the harder for your readers to find the key information they are looking for.
- Thin margins. When you have too much to fit in one page, do not reduce font or reduce the margins to fit text. Cut text by finding shorter ways to describe something. Nobody cares about every last detail.
3.3 Focus on Your Impact (and Successes)
When a recruiter or hiring manager looks at your resume, they tend to care most about the impact of your contribution and the complexity of your work. It doesn’t serve you well to simply list what you’ve designed, implemented or worked on. Nor does it strengthen your case to give all the details of how systems work, use industry or company specific acronyms or jargon. Keep it simple. Try to use language that anyone reading your resume can easily follow. Remember, your resume is also a reflection of your ability to communicate well. Use active language to describe the things you’ve done in lay terms: e.g., launched X app with XXX downloads OR led product-X launch one week ahead of schedule and Y% under budget. Be explicit.
4. Introducing Leap Resume
I haven’t met you yet but I care about your career success and happiness. There’s so much more that I have to share in addition to the advice I’ve outlined in this blog. I started Leap.ai to save you (and others like you) from worrying about what works, what doesn’t and why. We’re launching a smart resume builder that comes with all of the best practices and collective wisdom of Tech recruiters, hiring managers and execs: the Leap Resume. I’ve outlined some of the key features below:
- 1. Simple layout. Leap Resume makes formatting easy using a template best suited for tech hiring. We automatically order the sections based on their importance. You can reorganize the sections if you wish.
- 2. Built-in advice. As you type in your resume, Leap Resume will give context-sensitive tips and suggestions for each section and field.
- 3. Immediate feedback. After you’re done editing your resume, click a button to evaluate it. Leap Resume will give feedback on what can be improved. You can choose to take action immediately or later. We use natural language processing (NLP) and sentiment analysis to determine if your wording is overly aggressive or modest (as an example), benefiting you with the power of AI.
- 4. Inside scoop (coming soon). As you know, companies and roles differ in their requirements and cultures. As students or young professionals, you may not have insight on what really matters for each company. We’ve got you covered. By collecting and aggregating all the critical information for most of the top technology companies, Leap Resume suggests small tweaks to make your resume better fit for each.
- 5. Customization (coming soon). Create and store a resume for each company or job you’re targeting.
The best part of it all is that we’re constantly iterating and evolving. New tips, recommendations and input are incorporated each week to make Leap Resume well-adapted to your changing needs.
We’ve launched Leap Resume to meet the needs of anyone interested in working in the tech industry - whether you are in engineering, product, marketing or sales. It’s now available once you log into your Leap.ai account… and, most importantly, it is free.
Give Leap Resume a try I’m excited to hear your feedback.
Richard is co-founder and CEO at Leap.ai, a startup on building a career development framework to empower people to leap to their dream career. Before started Leap.ai in 2016, he was an Engineering Director at Google. He was a key leader in a wide range of product areas from Enterprise Search, Shopping, Offers to Project Fi.