Tips for preparing your resume
Disclaimer: This post reflects my personal views and not those of my employer.
In my previous post providing tips for interviewing at Google, I included the sentence “If you don’t know anyone at Google, you’ve already applied and haven’t heard back in a while, feel free to send me a note with your CV and I’ll see if there’s something I can do.”
I received a number of requests from people who had applied but never heard back. In most of these cases, I spotted issues with their resumes, which may or may not explain why they never heard back. In an effort to help others who are getting ready to apply for a job, I decided to write a new blog post with tips on how to prepare your resume for application.
Note that these tips do not guarantee you will get called in for interviews, but they should increase the likelihood of that happening. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I have very little knowledge as to how resumes are screened. It should also go without saying that these are just tips, so feel free to disregard them if you disagree or if it doesn’t fit your profile!
As in my previous post, I am basing myself exclusively on what I know about how things are done at Google. However, most of what I suggest below should still be applicable when applying for other jobs as well.
Finally, I have typically used CV and resume interchangeably, but it turns out there’s a difference. What you want to prepare when applying to Google is a resume (i.e. 1-2 pages).
Google already provides a set of resources that you can use to gather more information.
- Google: How We Hire: Lists some advice on how to find the right job to apply for, how to prepare your resume, and some information on how resumes are reviewed.
- Google students YouTube channel: Contains lots of useful videos about everything related to applying for, interviewing, and working at Google.
- Google’s Virtual Career Fair: Resume Tips: This video is particularly useful, containing lots of useful advice for preparing your resume.
- Laszlo Bock’s Personal Winning Formula for a Winning Resume
Find the right job
There are many jobs listed on the Google careers site, and they all look exciting! But your profile is unlikely to be a right fit for most of them. Be honest with yourself and find job postings for which you have the appropriate qualifications. This means being neither too ambitious nor too humble in your self-evaluation.
If you apply too ambitiously, you reduce the chances that you’ll get called for an interview, even though you may very well be able to excel at the job. I know people who aimed too high when applying and never got called back, even though I know they would have been great at that job.
If you apply too humbly, people reviewing your resume may think you’re overqualified for the job.
Remember, you’re initially only being evaluated on paper. So if your qualifications on paper don’t match the job description (on paper), it is less likely you’ll be called.
So spend some time browsing the available jobs to find the ones that best fit your on-paper qualifications.
Make a job-specific resume
You may already have a resume that you’ve been using, so why can’t you just send that and save time? Because you’ll increase your chances of getting noticed if your resume is customized for the job you’re applying for. Even if you end up with a resume unchanged from what you originally had, but having spent the time making sure of this is useful because:
- It helps you convince yourself that the job you’re applying for really is the right fit for your qualifications.
- You will most likely notice things to improve in your resume by going over it again (typos, for example).
Design your resume
Design matters. There is no single best design, but I would suggest making sure your design satisfies the following criteria:
- It uses font types and font sizes that are easy to read and consistent throughout the document
- It doesn’t use too many colours. Just sticking to black and white is fine.
- Stick to a sequential format (i.e. don’t put two or more different sections next to each other).
- Don’t overload the 1-2 pages with data.
- The achievements most relevant to the job are listed first (and ideally in the first page).
- Achievements are listed in reverse chronological order.
- Use bullet points
- When listing things (publications, projects, talks, …) keep only the 2-3 most important ones. If you feel it is a section that really sets you apart, then maybe limit yourself to 4-5.
What to include
I’m listing these in what I feel is a good order, but you may want to move some things around.
- Include your name, e-mail, phone number, website (optional), and link to your github.
- Make your name bigger than the rest, but try to put them all in the same horizontal area.
A very rough example of what I mean:
- List in reverse chronological order
- Include dates
- Only include post-secondary education
- Include degrees and majors (but probably not much more than that)
- Include cumulative GPA
A very rough example of what I mean:
- Reverse chronological order
- Include position
- Include dates
- List major accomplishments, using action-oriented language (debugged, fixed, implemented, etc.).
- Be concise! Think small but impactful.
A very rough example of what I mean:
- If you have them, list them.
- Only list peer-reviewed articles (arXiv is not peer-reviewed), unless your arXiv paper has many, many citations or if you really feel it showcases your work well.
- Put your name in bold so it shows where you are on the author list.
- If you’re applying for a research job, I might suggest putting this section above Work Experience
- List impactful projects not already listed in work experience
- Include hackathon / coding competitions (and if you won anything)
- Include links to github repos (and highlight if you have many stars and/or forks)
- Specify what programming languages were used
- List programming languages you know and at what level
- How many years of experience with each language
- Any other job-relevant technical skills (e.g. 4 years experience doing statistical analysis)
- Organizational skills, technical writing, managing/mentoring.
- List any awards you may have won
- Provide relevant details (2nd place out of 100 is very different than 2nd place out of 3)
- Include awards granted but that you declined (such as scholarships, bursaries, etc.)
- Optional, but if you have done some impressive public-speaking (keynoting at major conferences, etc.), could be nice to list.
- List languages spoken and at which level.
- Any other extracurricular activities that make you different from the rest (e.g. musician, mountain climber, stand-up comedian, etc.)
Getting ready to send it off
- Send it as a PDF, as it’s the most portable format.
- Double-check the PDF you generate. Depending on the program you use and how you export as PDF, the formatting can sometimes be ruined.
- Print the PDF and make sure it still looks good on paper.
- Have someone else read your resume. We all develop blind-spots when looking at the same text for a while, but others will spot things like typos very easily.
- If you’re writing a cover letter (Google doesn’t require one), follow these steps for that as well!
I noticed some common issues with many of the resumes I received, so I am including some examples here to (hopefully) help you avoid these issues.
All of the examples below are based on real resumes I received, and none of these people were called for interviews. While I can’t guarantee that it is strictly because of their resumes that they have not been called for an interview, there are a number of things which could be done to improve their resumes. Most of them have improved their resumes since then and are re-applying.
It is also worth mentioning that I removed any personal information from these examples, but maintained the general structure; I also obtained permission from these people for using their resumes as examples.
This person has a very good technical background and skill set, was referred by two Googlers, and yet has not been called for an interview. Here are some things I pointed out to them:
- Their technical background and skill set (which is what is most important) doesn’t show up until the second page (not shown)! They need to be brought up to the first page and featured more prominently.
- There is a lot of wasted real estate at the top. The contact information shouldn’t use up that much space.
- You don’t need to include your picture (it also eats up real estate)
- You don’t need to include your date of birth nor nationality.
- I would suggest removing the skype number.
- Don’t include high-school in education
- You don’t need that much precision in your GPA, 2 digits is fine! :)
- “Personal skills” can probably go at the end of the resume
- The way languages is presented is rather cluttered and hard to interpret. Simply stating something like the following gets the message across: \ Languages: Rhymes (native), English (Spoken and written)
- “Additional Information” contains too much. Everything in the second page (including the important technical skills!) was categorized under “Additional information”. Split them up into their own sections and bring up the important parts.
- This resume is quite cluttered, so it’s hard to know what to focus on.
- There is too much information here. Focus on what’s most relevant for the job you’re applying for. For example:
- You probably don’t need to list all the courses you took
- In Skills, listing “matplotlib”, “numpy”, etc. is not necessary, Python is enough
- In Experience and Projects, keep it concise, it’s pretty verbose. Focus on what’s most impactful and relevant.
- Having two columns for the sections makes it hard to know what’s more important.
- Although the font is consistent, the size, color, and thickness is not, which make it seem more cluttered
- You don’t need the “Last Updated” bit at the top
- The headings for each section are a lighter color and thinner than what’s below, which makes it seem irregular.
- Under links, you’re putting your github link, which was already listed at the top.
- If you already included your github website, no need to also include your github username
- Be consistent with wording choices. You used “ - Present” in one date range, but “- ongoing” in another.
- You have Achievements under some experience, and then an Accomplishments section, which seems like they overlap. Accomplishments should probably be called “Awards”.
- Don’t use “[Link]”, as this will be useless if your resume is printed.
- Make sure there are no typos and you’re using proper grammar:
- You started a sentence with a lowercase letter (“next step”)
- You wrote “BLUE score” but it’s “BLEU score”
- Make sure there are no grammar/spelling mistakes!
- There is way too much information here. Most people will not want to read through all that.
- There is a lot of wasted whitespace at the top, above the name
- You can remove the header, as the information is repeated right below the name
- You don’t need to include your postal code
- There is inconsistency in the color, font, and font size choices
- The font size for the main text is too small and hard to read.
- The main message here is that you need to make sure you’re being concise and specifying only the most impactful aspects of your profile, relative to the job you’re applying for.
- Avoid making statements which are easy to make, but hard to be convincing of. When you want to list a skill or achievement, do so in a way that is convincing and ideally measurable Some examples, with hypothetical ways to rewrite them:
- “Lead a team of engineers, directing them to their technical delivery and smooth delivery of the project.” could be potentially rewritten as “Led a team of 6 engineers to deploy a new user interface with 20% fewer resources than anticipated.”
- “Ability to learn and adapt to new technologies quickly.” could be rewritten as “Taught myself multi-thread programming to implement a more efficient solution to handle user requests, while still delivering the product on time.”
- “Interacted with key business & technology stakeholders to define, analyze, and deliver requirements that reflected the needs of both the business and end-customers” could be rewritten as “In addition to software development, acted as the main point-of-contact for interpreting the client’s needs.”
I’d like to thank the people who agreed with me using their resumes as examples (their names are obviously kept anonymous). And once again, my colleagues Pascal Lamblin and Pierre-Antoine Manzagol provided very useful feedback on this post!
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