In my last post, I mentioned that there are 2 points of failure when getting a job or internship. There’s the failure to get the interview, and then there’s the failure to pass the interview. This post will be about addressing the first kind of failure.
Think like an employer
It’s really easy to hammer the apply button on job boards and just throw your resume at anything that looks interesting. Employers get lots of applicants, so how do you stand out? I urge you to think from the employer’s perspective. What makes you so special that they would interview you and not the dozens of other people?
Your resume is the only thing employers see
That’s it. Your resume is an advertisement for yourself. Sure you may be a great fit for their company, maybe you have some great experiences, and maybe you’re a great person. They won’t ever know any of those things, unless you are able to portray that in your resume.
Keep it short and simple
How many times have you mentally checked out from a 5 minute long advertisement? I wager that’s how employers feel when they get a 10 page list of everything you’ve ever done in your life. If you’re looking for an internship, chances are that you don’t have enough relevant experience to warrant more than a simple one page resume. Remove all of the clutter and stick to the important points that show you’re a good fit for the job.
What do you keep?
Skills and technology summary
This is a short and simple way to showcase what overall skills you bring to the table. What languages do you know? What frameworks and tools are you familiar with?
Some employers really want a dev who knows X, Y, or Z. Most of the time those things are added to the job posting. Checking these boxes in a skills summary section entices them to read more about your experiences
It’s important to write about achievements rather than responsibilities. Consider the following two bullet points and see what’s more impressive sounding:
- Created a X using Y technology leading to a Z% increase in foo
- Wrote clean X code and unit tests and contributed to codebase
The first one is much better. It tells the employer what you created, how you created it, and the impact that it had on the company.
Projects are a great way to supplement for lacking work experience. If you contribute to big projects or your project really takes off, it could even be more impressive than work experience.
Some people think education sections are important, some don’t. I’m kind of a centrist here. It generally doesn’t matter too much, but there is value to this section! There are some things that you can add to differentiate yourself to an employer. Awards, high grades, specific useful courses, etc… could tell an employer more about you.
Make sure it’s not ugly
If your resume is easy to read and clean, you’re doing pretty good. You should also check that it’s parseable. Many companies try to parse your resume and then filter out based on keywords. My friend Akshay gave a great suggestion – try uploading your resume to Microsoft or Uber’s applications and see if they parse correctly!
Get someone with more experience to critique your resume both from an aesthetics standpoint and a content standpoint!
How to fill up your resume
If you’re looking for your first internship and you followed my advice and removed the clutter, chances are that your resume is now looking pretty empty. How do you fill it up with bullet points that show your employability before ever having worked before?
Change “Work Experience” to just “Experience”
Now you can add volunteering or other extra curriculars that have employable skills to this section. Think soft skills like collaboration and leadership/management. These aren’t technical skills, but still show employability by showing that you have the ability to handle responsibility.
Work on some projects
Projects are the easiest way to fill up your resume. You can showcase technical knowledge by using design patterns. You can experiment with new technologies/frameworks which can also be added to the skills summary section!
If you’re unsure about what kind of project to work on, you could look at some popular open source projects to contribute to. Another way to start a project is to just think of a problem or annoyance you’ve faced, and seeing if you could solve it using programming. One of the projects on my resume is the result of an annoyance I ran into in my classes.
I was writing MIPS assembly code for one of my classes, but debugging things was an absolute pain since there were no breakpoints. The only way to debug was to do something akin to print(0) or print(1) at certain points of your program. Since I was really annoyed by this, I wrote a MIPS emulator using Python in which I could set breakpoints, do step by step execution, and peek at register values.
Add some fluff to your education section
Do you have a high cumulative GPA? Have you done coursework that an employer would find valuable (think Data Structures, Algos, Networking, etc…)? Did you receive any scholarships or awards? All of these things can be added to your education section.
When I was first starting out, none of my coursework that I took in school was really that helpful in terms of employability. Turns out that “intro to C++ programming” is not what employers are looking for. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to fast track your course schedule and try to take Data Structures and Algos early. However, it’s vital to getting interviews and passing them in my opinion. If you want internships early on, you’ll probably need to learn those.
I took it upon myself to self study using resources like UC Berkeley’s CS 61B (Data Structures) and MIT’s 6.006 (Algorithms). I added these into my coursework section. Although I don’t know how much it helped in getting interviews, I believe it was a net positive since it showed that I was trying to learn a lot on my own. Either way, they were extremely helpful courses that you should take if you haven’t learned Data Structures and Algorithms.
Add an interests section
I’ve had a small interests section in my resume for the past couple years. While I don’t think it’s quite as valuable as experience and projects, it could very well be a nice tie breaker. My friend Dawson agrees with this, and said the following:
“You’re not working all the time, and probably have things that you enjoy doing other than school and work. These interests are often ways that employers try to find your “fit” into the team. If you have something in common with other members of the team, often this makes your interview process a bit easier, as you have more in common to talk about. Things like sports, playing musical instruments, and other hobbies may not valuable to employers at first but may be the difference in selecting candidates that have similar experience.”
Other routes to interviews
Applications on job portals aren’t the only route to getting an interview. Here’s 2 other common ones I’ve seen.
Referrals are a great way to ensure your resume gets at least looked over by a real person. Keep in mind that this is not a free interview. Your resume still has to be good enough and tick enough boxes for the employer to decide to interview you.
One pet peeve of mine is when people I’ve never worked with or talked to asks me to refer them to a company. You wouldn’t go up to some random person on the street and ask them to refer you to their company, so why would you do it online? Ask for referrals only from people who actually know you and can vouch for you. Some examples of people I think it’s fair to ask:
- previous co-workers
- people you’ve done projects with
- friends who know your work ethic
Another way to get interviews is to message recruiters. Although I’ve personally never done this before, I’ve heard that it can lead to success. I just have a few common sense tips:
- Make it easy on the recruiter – explain why you’d be good for their company
- Be respectful and concise – recruiters have a lot on their plate, don’t burden them with an essay
- Send emails right before work hours or very early in the day – your email will be near the top of the inbox
- make use of the “send later” feature to ensure good message timing! (Thanks Akshay)
I’m personally not great atthis, but my friend Alexandria who is good at this has something to say:
“Attend events, conferences, shows, etc. These events provide a great opportunity for you to talk to people who work directly in your field or company of choice. Events are also often free or offer student discounts. A lot of event sponsors will reserve a select number of tickets for students so reach out to them! If you write blogs or articles, events will often have a media/journalist pass that’s free or heavily discounted too. Prepare a 30 second elevator pitch about yourself. Who you are, where your expertise lies in, whatever you think will make you stand out. Follow up afterwards. If you can get a business card, definitely send an email after the event re-introducing yourself and reminding them of key points in your conversation. The same can be done on LinkedIn as well – just make sure the connection invite you send out is personalized so they remember who you are. Leaving an impression in person is an incredibly powerful tool that’ll take you further than any polished resume will.”