I recently just powered through a bunch of applications for some roles I had open. As a hiring manager, I want to mention some simple things that can set you apart in your search. All of these are based on patterns I saw; way more than one candidate was doing these things.

First of All: Tech Hiring is Broken.

You’re not alone. I think this, too – as do many hiring managers. We fix it where we can. Some of these tips are silly – the result of bad systems and outdated practices, and I wish many of them weren’t necessary.

I am rooting for every candidate to succeed. I hope all candidates know that hiring managers want to find a fit. These tips are just that – tips to navigate a difficult system, from my perspective as a hiring manager in my current context. Should you have to do them? No. Will they help? I hope so.

First Impressions

  • Resume File Name: Did you know that when you upload your resume to LinkedIn, that’s the name of the file that will download on my machine when I look at it? It’s minor, but when looking at 60 resumes, it was a lot easier to find [FirstName] [LastName].pdf than it was to find Resume (5).pdf. Naming this well from the start tells me you’re thinking about my experience as an audience. It’s a minor detail but it stands out because it tells me something.
  • Seeing an e-mail address and taking the time to drop a note: This is instant recognition. I put my direct e-mail in the job description and in the LinkedIn post. Only a handful of people took the time to send a note saying why they think they’d be a fit. Those who did absolutely got extra consideration in the process. I get that this isn’t possible to do when you’re applying to many jobs, but I’d say if you’re taking the time to apply, it’s worth it to do it well.

To SEO, or Not to SEO?

Tech hiring is awful in that there are now whole systems designed around surfacing keyword matches, and gaming these systems has become unfortunately necessary for applicants. I abhor this. With that said, if you’re a candidate who has a resume like this, it’s important to know that it works against you when submitting to companies who don’t subscribe to this philosophy. Have a an authentic resume at hand, too, and choose which one to use based on your best information. You will stand out.

Resume Basics

  • Include the dates of your positions (month & year).
  • There’s a tough choice you face: whether to share unemployment status (i.e. be honest about the date of your last role ending). It’s a double-edged sword for candidates. For me, people who state their situation get respect for the authenticity, and those who try to hide it make me suspicious. But I also respect that people are biased against unemployed people even though they shouldn’t be, so I would suggest making that a per-application decision.
  • Think about your position titles. You aren’t required to put what your exact title is. “Software Developer” is pretty generic. I fast-tracked someone for an interview once because they described themselves as a “Systems Integration Developer”, and part of the job description was integrating systems. Little tweaks like that might go a long way.

The Bullet Points

Your resume should have bullet points for your roles. The organization and title are not enough, because they don’t tell me enough about whether an interview makes sense, and with so many applicants, I can’t give the benefit of the doubt except in very rare circumstances. I also use the resume to help formulate interview questions based on claims you make; if there’s no content, it makes my job harder there too.

I suggest taking all the data points you have for your roles, and adding them in priority order of:

  • Achievements that provided a measurable business impact
  • Achievements directly supporting a business impact
  • Things you’re proud of
  • Ways you Grew
  • Activities / Job duties

Once you get to enough bullet points for that role, move on.

Don’t Pad. We Can Tell.

Don’t pad your resume with typical or daily activities (e.g. “attended daily stand-ups” “wrote code”). If you feel the need to point these things out, condense them into one bullet or make them part of a position description above the bullets.

Understand if you’re submitting to a human, and don’t submit 1,000s of bullets that are clearly SEO. If you break one concept into 3 bullet points, it only gives me the impression that you may not understand that concept.

If those much more basic things are considered accomplishments, how can I expect the impact that I’ll need someone to have on the team?

Be Honest.

Claiming results is good; claiming outlandish results backfires. Really? You increased client satisfaction 90% by switching a software library? Be prepared to answer questions about how these things were measured and how you traced your actions to that outcome.

You don’t have to claim amazing results; the fact that you care about value and how to measure it when possible is a big point in your favor already.

Beware of Templates!

Despite this being a relatively small role, I received at least 3 resumes that looked almost exactly the same. Not just the same format, and the same many bullet points but when I looked closer, the content was almost exactly the same. This blew my mind.

Now, maybe these people were just scammers, but it honestly didn’t seem that way. So I’ll just say: beware of templates, especially any that contain helpful language. Because if you’re submitting it without major modifications, chances are someone else is too. It immediately disqualifies you both; how do I know what else isn’t plagiarized? It tells me something about your work ethic and respect for the work.

If you have a GitHub profile or a web site, I strongly suggest listing it. It doesn’t have to be brilliant and you don’t have to be active. I don’t judge the content or the code there, but it sends some signals. It tells me you care about community and sharing/gaining knowledge.

If you don’t have a blog or GitHub, I recommend taking a little time and getting started with one. You don’t have to self-host a blog; content on places like dev.to works great, too!

Don’t Use ChatGPT. I’m begging you.

Take 2 minutes to write actual bullet point responses if you want the job. Don’t use Chat GPT for this. It sets you up for a bigger letdown from me when I say “ooh, someone took the time to do this!” and end up with “…nevermind, they think I’m too stupid to notice this was written by AI and doesn’t actually say anything.”

The hiring process is hard enough on everyone without more enshittification.

Find Your Communities

Find your local & global communities on Twitter, Mastodon, Slack, LinkedIn, Discord, etc. – many have jobs channels where things will pop up. A candidate coming from a community is seen as a sort of implicit reference in terms of places you may participate. And there’s usually little downside as you learn things, participate in discussions, and build relationships there that are nice either way.

I wish you the best of luck finding your next opportunity! Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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