Resume Presentation

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Updated August 24, 2022

Youโ€™re reading an excerpt of The Holloway Guide to Technical Recruiting and Hiring, a book by Osman (Ozzie) Osman and over 45 other contributors. It is the most authoritative resource on growing software engineering teams effectively, written by and for hiring managers, recruiters, interviewers, and candidates. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, over 800 links and references, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.

Presentation may seem less important than content, but in fact indicates an understanding of audience (and even empathy for others), clarity in writing, and attention to detail.

A study at TrialPay* tried to find patterns between all candidates who had been interviewed within a yearโ€™s period, and everyone who had been offered a position at the company. What mattered in a resume when it came to on-the-job performance? Which school they attended? Seniority or advanced degrees? Side projects? Number of languages theyโ€™d mastered?

Far and away, what mattered most was the number of typos and grammatical errors on someoneโ€™s resumeโ€”most people who got an offer had two errors or fewer. This study also revealed that where people went to school had no effect on their performance. The only other factors that predicted on-the-job performance that could be found on a resume were the clarity with which candidates described what they worked on at previous jobs, and whether they had worked at a top company (this mattered least).*

  • Language, spelling, and punctuation. Writing a full-page resume that is cleanly formatted with no detectable errors in grammar, spelling, or punctuation always requires attention to detail. Does the resume have conspicuous errors, like multiple typos, spelling errors, or inconsistency in formatting and punctuation? If someone canโ€™t write a page of text without typos, itโ€™s not unreasonable to expect typos to appear in other material they writeโ€”like in their code.

    • โ€‹cautionโ€‹ Poor English alone isnโ€™t a strong negative signal for non-native speakers, unless strong English skills are required for the role.
  • Technical clarity and accuracy. Clarity in role descriptions is actually quite rare on resumes. Are the descriptions of roles or projects unusually hard to follow? Most engineers arenโ€™t great writers, or are not focused on business context, so this is only a negative signal if the descriptions themselves are quite unclear or technically suspect.

  • Context and impact. Does the description of roles include enough context to understand the role? Does it include impact in terms of product relevance or business metrics? Engineers fairly rarely describe this well, so this is mainly a positive signal for senior candidates.

Education and Awards

Academic Background and Achievement

Degrees from academically exclusive schools are a notable signal, because getting into and graduating from an elite institution like MIT reflects success with well-known curriculum and level of rigor. When assessing how rigorous a computer science program is, it can help to know rankings of these programs in the United States as well as those in other countries; for example, the IIT schools and the related JEE rankings reflect competitive admissions across India.

However, itโ€™s a common pitfall to look mainly for โ€œbrand nameโ€ schools or obsess on school rankings. (For more detail on how academic background can be a source of bias, see Diversity and Inclusion.) Interviewing.io looked at whether the school that candidates attended had any bearing on interview performance. In a study of 1,000 college students, it turned out there wasnโ€™t any statistically significant difference in performance between students who went to elite universities and students who went to other schools (at least among those who had decided to sign up for an interview practice platform of their own volition).*

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