Whether you’re about to finish a coding bootcamp or graduate from university, a great first resume can help you land job interviews. But how do you write one when you’re light on experience? Being new to any industry is hard, and breaking into tech can prove extremely tough, even when the unemployment rate is low and employers are hungry for workers. Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered.
Before you get started, keep one thing in mind: Everyone has been in your position. No matter who you interview with, or how much you feel they’re judging you, they were once just like you. Here are some dos and don’ts of writing your first resume for a tech job.
Do: Lead With Classwork
Place the ‘education’ section of your resume front-and-center. You are, after all, a fresh-faced graduate!
Most consider this section an afterthought, but graduates should use it to promote their classwork, projects, and (hopefully) sterling GPA. Instead of the routine one-liner about where you went and your major, use this space to lay out some bullet points of what you learned.
Hiring managers know you spent most of your time in classes and doing schoolwork. They’re not expecting that you also had a full-time job as a PM for Google. Use the work you did in class to highlight your grasp of a language or technology, and show them you've learned about things that matter.
Were you part of a group project? That’s cool, but don’t pass those collective achievements off as your own.
You don’t need to be the star of any show, and nobody is expecting that you have a total mastery of anything. In fact, most employers will look more favorably on you being part of a group that accomplished a task successfully. It shows that you can work with others, which is critical in an office environment.
List things you feel are relevant to your education or background, but don’t exaggerate what you accomplished.
Do: Promote Your Projects
Did you have to write your own app and have it published to pass a class? That’s incredible, and worth mentioning!
Even if it was part of your curriculum, those types of projects show potential employers you understand things like how to publish an app, or how to launch a website. That’s impressive; you should be proud of yourself.
This is a great tip for class projects, but even better if you have side projects or an active open-source activity chart. If you’ve been contributing to repos or have your own, always mention those on your resume. Similarly, if you have a robust series of Gists, note those as well.
Don’t: Talk Too Much
Pro tip: A resume is meant to list your experience. It's a document that hiring managers can poke through in a few minutes. It’s your highlight reel. In other words: It's short.
You might mention that group machine learning project you helped spin up, but remember the people interviewing you will want to talk about it in depth. Your resume is not the time to discuss the details of that project; save that for the face-to-face.
A good rule: Write a thorough resume, then take a break. After a few hours (or days; it’s not a race), revisit it, make a copy (version control works for all things), and whittle it down ruthlessly. Keep doing that until you have a 3/4-page resume, then add back a few (very important) items if necessary. It shouldn’t be longer than a page. You’re a graduate, not interviewing for a CTO position. That day will come!
Do: Be Positive (and Avoid ‘Buzzword Bingo’)
Lead with your education section, follow with any projects, and close your resume with any professional experience you have in tech. Note your interests at the bottom. This is your winning ‘first resume’ format, but it’s only a framework; what matters most is the content and what that conveys.
Fill your resume with positive language and a bright outlook. If your group project only earned your team a ‘C,’ don’t mention that part. What were your positive takeaways? Did it teach you that Azure wasn't the right fit for the project, and you had to switch to Firebase at the 11th hour? Don’t explain it that way; instead, angle it as something along the lines of: “Learned that Firebase is a great application for this type of work.”
In that example, you don’t need to get into why Azure didn’t work for your project. But in noting that you learned how to utilize Firebase on your resume, a potential employer will see you take advantage of existing, popular technologies. It shows them you weren’t just reading books and taking tests, but applying your knowledge in creative ways.
At the same time, avoid the ‘buzzword bingo’ game. Here's a good rule: If it sounds cliché and silly, it probably is. This is why we encourage you to walk away for a bit; give your mind time to wander, then revisit your resume. If you wrote, “Had an amazing experience working with Python and Azure to add accessibility features to an exciting new app I developed with others at the top of my class,” you’re winning at buzzword bingo (and you're too verbose, besides). You don’t want to win that game; it’s bad form for a press release, and terrible for your first resume. Abort mission.
Be positive, be honest, be open to discussing your work when you land an interview, and acknowledge when you have knowledge or experience gaps. Nobody knows everything, and they don’t expect you will, either. Managers won’t hire someone who thinks they’re hot stuff; humility is a skill you’ll want to carry with you throughout your career, and it all starts with your first résumé.