[Raffling off 10 free resume reviews with Gayle! See bottom of post for details.]
Not all coders are created equal, and nor are all coding jobs. Start-ups and the “elite” tech companies, in fact, look for different things on a candidate’s resume.
To understand this, one needs to look at the difference between the actual jobs at these tech companies.
The top big tech companies, such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, look long term. They want to hire the engineers who will be great software developers in a year, even if you struggle for the first few months. They also have people dedicated to fulfill other functions, such as testing and marketing, so the only critical responsibilities for a software developer is, well, software development. Fundamentally, it comes down to this: they are evaluating you for your coding and algorithms aptitude, not necessarily your current skills.
Given this, they will look for the following in your resume:
- Are you smart? This is assessed partially with your education (school name and GPA), but your projects are also important here.
- Can you code? This is assessed largely by evaluating your hands-on, practical, programming projects. Your projects can be either from your coursework, work experience, or independent projects. Independent projects are especially impressive, since they show passion; passionate programmers are good programmers.
Other things - like your clubs and activities - are minor factors; they won’t hurt you, but they also won’t do much to show that you’re smart or that you can code.
Knowing the exact technologies they work with generally won’t matter either. Big tech companies work with many different languages and are willing to take the time to train you in one or them.
Start-ups, by contrast, would love to hire someone who’s great in the long term, but they also know that there’s no long term without the short term. They need software engineers who can hit the ground running - and who can continue to run, without a ton of direction. Additionally, they have fewer people and less specific roles, so ideally, you’ll be able to understand the business and add value in design the product and its features.
When evaluating a candidates, start-ups can vary wildly since there are so many start-ups. Generally speaking though, they look for the following:
- Can you code? Like big companies, they want to see that you have the ability to write good, clean coding (and relatively quickly).
- Can you hit the ground running? Although start-ups understand that a good software developer can pick up a new technology, they don’t have the time or money to wait for you to do that. Many will expect that you know their language of choice, or at least related technologies.
- Will you continue to run? Start-ups don’t have the management resources (or the inclination) to manage your every move, so they want engineers who are entrepreneurial themselves. This is demonstrated through independent projects, such as building your own web app or iPhone app, or potentially through founding your own business previously.
- Can you handle diverse responsibilities? This may not be strictly required, but the ideal candidate will be able to handle more than just their own software development responsibilities. They want you to be reasonably competent in feature design, testing, or even marketing. It’s unusual at a start-up to be handed a precise spec detailing your feature, so they hope that you can make some of these decisions.
Intelligence matters too, of course, but they’ll often assess this through your coding skills. They understand that someone who can solve a tricky algorithm problem may not always be a fantastic engineer at a start-up.
When it comes to the interview itself, they’re also going to see how you fit with the team. Start-up hours are long, and if people don’t want to work with you 10+ hours a day, they just won’t hire you.
Writing a Resume & Landing the Job
Resume: For additional advice on writing a resume, read The 5 Big Questions You Need to Ask about Your Resume. If you just follow that advice, your resume will probably be at least fairly good. (Fun fact: about 95% of resumes I reviewed last year after PennApps violated at least one, and usually several, of these rules. Please do yourself a favor and check your resume against each one of those.)
- Two good resume templates. These are my technical resume from college and my current-ish “business” resume. You are welcome to steal either of these templates.
- Free resume review raffle! Although I won’t be in town for PennApps this year, I am in town the following weekend. We will be raffling off 10 free resume review spots. These meetings will 15 minutes each and will be held on Sunday, September 15. Sign up here.
Landing a Tech Job Start-To-End Guide: Your resume is just one piece of the puzzle, of course. My second book, The Google Resume: How to Prepare for a Career and Land a Job at Apple, Microsoft, Google, or any Top Tech Company, provides broader advice about what you should be doing in school, how to handle behavioral and other interviews, how to build a network, and how to handle offers. (Rated 4.5 stars out of 5 on Amazon.)
Software Engineering Interview Prep: When it comes to the software engineering interview itself, my first book, Cracking the Coding Interview: 150 Programming Questions and Solutions, will help prepare you in how to prepare for and tackle coding, design and algorithm questions. (Rated 5 stars out of 5 on Amazon.)
I look forward to seeing what you create at PennApps. Remember that your PennApps project might make a good resume addition. Happy coding!
Gayle Laakmann McDowell (SEAS BSE ‘04, MSE ‘05, WG ‘11)
Founder / CEO, CareerCup.com
Author of Cracking the Coding Interview and The Google Resume
blog: technologywoman.com | twitter: @gayle