Nerd Guru

Because technical people need good soft skills to get ahead.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Great engineering resumes: Part 1 - Introduction

Ugh! That’s a common reaction when people hear the word “resume”. I’ve yet to meet a person who claims to like preparing them. Yet, we all need one at many different points in our careers. I think everyone hates writing them because people don’t generally like to be judged and a resume is essentially your defense attorney by proxy in a hiring trial you don’t get to attend yourself. This series of posts will examine resume writing for a career in engineering

In a lot of ways, writing a resume is the most challenging communication task you will ever complete. Much tougher, in fact, than telling your mother you’re marrying someone she hates (or so my wife tells me). It has to relate your entire body of experience in a limited space and answer the implied, “Why should I consider hiring you?” question that anyone who reads it is essentially asking. It’s your chance to make a first impression and gives your potential new boss a glimpse of your written communication skills. No pressure, though, right?

How should you go about preparing a resume? What kinds of things do engineering hiring committees look at when deciding who goes into the stack of folks to interview versus the stack of people to forget about? Are there generally accepted resume formats? Should my resume be different if I’m straight out of school as opposed to having a job or two under my belt?

First of all, regardless of where you are in your career, you’re going to need some help preparing a resume. While some people swear by resume services that write them for you after you provide them key pieces of information about your experience, I’m not a big fan of that approach. Your resume is about you, will be defended by you when you get an interview, and should therefore be written by you. Using a service is akin to hiring someone to write a term paper for you that you then have to present orally for a grade. You can’t help but be disconnected from the material if you didn’t write it yourself.

A better way to go is to find a book that takes you through a series of exercises that ultimately produces a resume. There are hundreds of titles on this topic, most of which do a good job of staying on top of formatting and specific content trends. When I got my first job in (gulp) 1993, I went with Resumes That Knock’em Dead by Martin Yate and used the latest version to update my resume in 2006 as well. You can get that here:






Yate’s step by step instructions lend themselves to an analytical mind, which most of us interested in engineering in the first place tend to have and relate to well. He has you spend a lot of time combing your experience for different blurbs of content that you can then splice together to form resumes directed to specific jobs (more on that in a sec).

The remainder of the advice given in this series is broken into sections that might benefit anybody along with specific sections for the recent graduate as opposed to someone with a few years experience before some final thoughts are covered.

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