How to Make Your Online Resume not Suck

Posted on Nov 5, 2018

As a hiring manager, I’m probably looking at a hundred candidate profiles a week, at least. Here are some common mistakes you can fix and improvements you can make right now as a candidate / job seeker, to increase your chances to find a job. This is biased for software engineering roles, but many things apply to any role. dog-using-laptop-computer  

Profile picture

The recruiter will be looking at your online presence and the first thing humans look at are the picture. There are a few common mistakes here: Not having a picture. A default “egg”-style profile picture is simply not acceptable. Another common mistake is having a shitty picture. Those come in two flavors: Having an unprofessional picture - from a trip abroad, partying, doing your favorite activity, making a funny face, with your dog, with your boyfriend/girlfriend. Those are all fine for other social media, but on LinkedIn, AngelList and other recruiting sites, nobody wants to see you getting hammered with your friends or finger propping the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Second common mistake is not having your face nice and big in the picture. You should have your face fill about 80% of the image. Humans are wired to be attracted to faces. There’s a ton of research - Google it. You must have a high res picture of your face. Potential gain: +50 points.

Providing too many details / too much text

It’s a numbers game for the recruiter. Someone like me is trying to scan a candidate’s resume in 30 seconds. Yes, it’s unfair. No, it’s not going to change. I’m trying to find a needle in a haystack (that’s you) and the haystack is big. Nobody is reading the whole thing. Just trying to skim to find some keywords they recognize. A company’s name. A technology. A title. A school. An achievement. Cut down on the text. Your overview / lead paragraph needs to be about 50 words. Each role under “experience” needs to be 50 words max. Edit brutally until all the fluff is out. Understand that nobody is going to read anything above the approximate volume I suggested above. Potential gain: +50 points.  

Grammar and spelling

There are no caveats and exceptions to this: you cannot have grammar or spelling errors in your resume or online profile when you’re looking for a job. This is the first and only work product your future employer sees. This is how you package and sell yourself. If you couldn’t be bothered to invest one hour of your time to make yourself appear the absolute best on your resume, what are the odds you’re going to do that for a random work project on some Tuesday morning a few months after I hire you? Nobody will look into a candidate who didn’t invest some time in spell checking and reviewing their profile for grammar. A subtle but common variation on this is broken links: you must make sure all links to personal websites, projects, blogs and online profiles are working. Potential gain: this is table stakes.  

Provide the info

Make sure to include all the information relevant to the recruiter. Note what questions you’re being asked on the phone and in person and provide as much as you can in your online profiles to save yourself and others some time. Where are you exactly? “Bay Area” is big, Berkeley and Santa Clara are not the same. Lots of people have one place listed in their resume and a completely different one in their LinkedIn profile. That’s confusing and a potential “pass” for the recruiter-in-a-hurry. What role are you looking for? The more you know and can tell up front - the better. When are you available? If you’re graduating next year and will be available then - I need to know that because I am looking for a person to start tomorrow. What kind of position are you looking for? Contract, remote, full-time etc. If you’re not authorized to work in the place where you want to work and require sponsorship from your future employer - mention that front and center. Potential gain: +10 points.  

Gaps in experience

A gap in your employment history is an immediate question mark / red flag. It’s perfectly fine (and even recommended) to take time off work. Sometimes unforeseen events force you to take time off. What the recruiter suspects, however, is that you were just not good enough to find a job, until the economy picked up and companies started hiring everybody. Unless there is a privacy-related issue, you should always describe what you did with that “gap” time, for example: “Traveled in Australia for a year” “Volunteered at a zoo” “Hacked at home on my dream project” “Had to focus on caregiving for a family member” Those are all great and are better than having a one year “hole” in the middle of your work experience. It’s sad that our society treats not working as a failure by default, but that’s how it is. Potential gain: +10 points.  

Buzzwords / tech mumbo jumbo

Many people will list every technology and language they ever used, read about on TechCrunch or heard mentioned at a conference. You may be a very well educated and curious person and that’s great, but after 3-4 jargon terms the recruiter is ignoring the rest anyway. The way I recommend writing about yourself in this case is: Mention 2-3 things you’re most immersed in, most interested in and use most on a daily basis. Then just describe how you love learning, enjoy discovering new technologies and are not afraid of transitioning to a different stack if needed. If you have fifty technology names on your “expertise” section, at best that means you know how to Google pretty well and you don’t know how to be concise. Potential gain: +10 points.