September 29th, 2008

After my fiancée and I officially decided to move to Silicon Valley, I found myself in the market for a new programming job. Before I even looked at any job openings, though, I updated my resume. I strongly feel that the resume is often the make-or-break factor when applying for jobs. A well-written resume can get attention, which can lead to an interview. A poorly-written resume will likely get thrown in the trash.


I spent a lot of time reviewing resume tips (yes, my own, but also several others). I don’t update my resume very often, but when I do, I always look for advice. In the end, I actually threw away my original resume and completely rewrote it. The basic content was the same, but the style was entirely new (and very heavily influenced by resume articles I read). This took quite a bit of time, but was entirely worth it. The final product was much higher quality than what I started with.

One really important thing I did was have coworkers, professors, and my fiancée read my resume. I got some really good feedback from this. I got a few style pointers, but mostly I got substance advice. My fiancée pushed me to clarify and expand on my leadership experience. My coworkers recommended relevant technologies that I should have included. My academic advisor really pushed me to restructure the resume to make it more appropriate for the industry. In particular, he had me highlight my skills and work experience.


Another thing I would wholeheartedly recommend everyone do is to prepare both a formatted (ahem, PDF) and a plaintext resume. I used my formatted resume almost everywhere. However, I did use a plaintext resume for a few places that I knew were going to strip my resume down to plaintext anyway. In general, plaintext resumes are not very pretty, but for places that I know are going to strip away the formatting, I would rather provide a plaintext resume of my own creation. Text extracted from formatted documents is rarely pleasant to read.

I do not, however, recommend using plaintext resumes for most job applications, because they still look like crap. Use them only when you really have to. And despite what Steve Yegge says, you don’t need to submit a plaintext resume to Google. I don’t know why he implies that resumes at Google are stripped of their formatting. I almost submitted a plaintext resume to Google because of his article. I’m glad I didn’t, though, because the first guy who interviewed me showed up with a printout of my resume exactly as I had formatted it.

The Cover Letter

Every resume I sent was with a custom cover letter. Form letters look lazy and half-assed, because that’s what they are. A custom cover letter indicates at least a little actual interest in the job. A generic cover letter screams “bulk mail”, which in turn yells “delete me”.

I also made my cover letters match my resume as closely as possible. Some of the positions that I applied for were via an online form, and the only place to provide a cover letter was a text box. For those, I submitted the cover letter in plaintext. For the rest, I made my cover letters match my resume fonts, margins, etc. I think this attention to detail is important. When printed, the cover letter and resume should look as if they came from the same document. This level of attention to detail may not be strictly necessary, but it definitely won’t hurt, and it really doesn’t take much time. Create a cover letter template and you only have to make it match once.

Oh, and I saved every single cover letter I sent. This allowed me to lift sentences when writing new cover letters, but it also gave me a lot of examples to read when I had trouble thinking of what to say. (And I have them saved for the future as well.) Whenever I had trouble deciding what to put into a new cover letter, I’d re-read the others, and several ideas would pop into my head. A little socket work here, a little C++ work there. Examples are extremely useful for me, even when they are my own.

Once I finished my resume and all those matching cover letters, I started sending them out to interesting positions. I had planned on talking about that more in this post, but the resume chatter got long enough, so I’m pushing that off to next time.

By the way, if you want a lot of other good tips, read the comments on my resume tips article. There were a lot of really good tips (as well as a few really bad tips) from the readers.

One Comment on “New Job Part 2: Resume Polishing”

  1. Sparkitecture Says:

    Woot! A new post. I’m so excited.

    Sorry, I don’t actually have a relevant comment here.

    Well…this is a great article. And I’ve rewritten and/or modified my own resume so many times lately that I’m beginning to think I should start my own resume writing business. I can’t guarantee a candidate the job but I think I can now create for them a kick ass resume!