6 min read

Putting together an engineering resume can be a real headache. What should you include? How can you best communicate your experience and skills? Software engineers are constantly under pressure to deliver new projects and fix problems while learning new skills. Documenting the complexity of developer life in a straightforward and marketable manner is a challenge to say the least.

Luckily, hiring managers and tech recruiters today recognize just how difficult communicating skill and competency in an engineering resume can be. A report by Hacker Rank revealed that the things that feature on a resume aren’t that highly valued by recruiters and hiring managers. However, skills does remain top of the agenda: the question, really, is about how we demonstrate and communicate those skills.

The quality of your previous experience matters on an engineering resume

Hacker Rank found that hiring managers and tech recruiters value previous experience over everything else. 77% of survey respondents said previous experience was one of the 3 most important qualifications before a formal interview. In second place was years of experience with 46%.

The difference between the two is subtle but important; it’s offers a useful takeaway for engineers creating an engineering resume. Essentially, the quality of your experience is more important than the quantity of your experience. You need to make sure you communicate the details of your employment experiences. It sounds obvious but it’s worth stating: applying for an engineering job isn’t just a competition based on who has the most experience.

You should explain the nature of the projects you are working on. The skills you used are essential, but being clear about how the project supported wider strategic or tactical goals is also important. This demonstrates not only your skills, but also your contextual awareness. It suggests to a hiring manager or recruiter you not only have the competence, but that you are also a team player with commercial awareness.

Certifications aren’t that important on your resume

One of the most interesting insights from the Hacker Rank report was that both hiring managers and recruiters don’t really care about certifications any more. Less than 16% listed it as one of the 3 most important things they look at during the recruitment process.

Does this mean, then, that the certification is well and truly over? At this stage, it’s hard to tell. But it does point to a wider cultural change that probably has a lot to do with open source. Because change is built into the reality of open source software, certifications are never going to be able to keep up with what’s new and important. The things you learned to pass one year will likely be out of date the next.

It probably also says something about the nature of technical roles today. Years ago, engineers would start a job knowing what they were going to be using. The toolchains and tech stacks would be relatively stable and consistent. In this context, certification was like a license, proving you understood the various components of a given tool or suite of tools. But today, it’s more important for engineers to prove that they are both adaptable and capable of solving a range of different problems.

With that in mind, it’s essential to demonstrate your flexibility on your engineering resume. Make it clear that you’re able to learn new things quickly, and that you can adapt your skill set to the problems you need to solve.

You don’t need to look good on paper to get the job… but it’s going to help

Hacker Rank’s research also revealed that 75% of recruiters and hiring managers have hired people they initially thought didn’t look good on paper.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should stop working on your resume. If anything, what this shows is that if you get your resume right, you could really catch someone’s attention.

You need to consider everything in your resume. Traditional resumes have a pretty clear structure, whatever job you’re applying for, but if Hacker Rank’s research tells us anything, it’s that a an engineering resume requires a slightly different approach.

Personal projects are more important than your portfolio on an engineering resume

A further insight from Hacker Rank’s report suggests one way you might adopt a different approach to your resume. Responding to the same question as the one we looked at above, 37% said personal projects were one of the 3 most important factors in determining whether to invite a candidate to interview. By contrast, only 22% said portfolio.

This seems strange – surely a portfolio offers a deeper insight into someone’s professional experience. Personal projects are more like hobbies, right?

Personal projects actually tell you so much more about a candidate than a portfolio. A portfolio is largely determined by the work you have been doing. What’s more, it’s not always that easy to communicate value in a portfolio. Equally, if you’ve been badly managed, or faced a lack of support, your portfolio might not actually be a good reflection of how good you really are.

Personal projects give you an insight into how a person thinks. It shows recruiters what makes an engineer tick. In the workplace your scope for creativity and problem solving might well be limited. With personal projects you’re free to test out ideas try new tools. You’re able to experiment.

So, when you’re putting together an engineering resume, make sure you dedicate some time outlining your personal projects. Consider these sorts of questions:

  • Why did you start a project?
  • What did you find interesting?
  • What did you learn?

Engineering skills still matter

Just because the traditional resume appears to have fallen out of favor, it doesn’t mean your skills don’t matter. In fact, skill matters more than ever. For a third of hiring managers, skill assessments are the area they want to invest in. This would allow them to judge a candidate’s competencies and skills much more effectively than simply looking at a resume.

As we’ve seen, things like personal projects are valuable because they demonstrate skills in a way that is often difficult. They not only prove you have the technical skills you say you have, they also provide a good indication of how you think and how you might approach solving problems. They can help illustrate how you deploy those skills.

And when its so easy to learn how to write lines of code (no bad thing, true), showing how you think and apply your skills is a sure fire way to make sure you stand out from the crowd.

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Also published on Medium.


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