How to stand out when Interviewing – Part 4: Writing your Base Resume

In the previous post in this series about interviewing tips, we talked about how to craft your theme. I also mentioned that having a theme can help give you a solid foundation to build your resume off of.

I used to think that I could write one resume for the position I wanted and shotgun it out to companies to get an interview. That doesn’t work and it wastes a ton of your time. However, having a solid base resume can cut down the amount of time you spend tuning your resume in the future when you go to apply for a position.

The Base Resume

A solid resume gives you a way to get your foot in the door rather than a dead tree in the trashcan. This is done by making sure your resume fits your theme. If you are a software developer that wants to get into management, put appropriate items on your resume, such as an Open Source project you lead that has multiple releases each year, or the last batch of interns that you lead and acted as the Project Manager for. You need to be able to include metrics in your resume (this is half the reason you record them!). Whatever your goals are, you need to show that you’ve hit previous goals over and over and over again. The company (if they are decent anyway) wants people that get shit done. Your resume is the perfect place to capture this.

An example of a goal I’ve made before was to eliminate errors in build processes at work. I did this by looking at the custom build scripts used and tallying up how many builds had breaks that were related to the custom build scripts versus the total number of build breaks and I found that more than 95% of the build breaks were related to those custom scripts. I reimplemented them in other ways and removed parts of the build scripts that were no longer necessary, and ended up throwing the scripts out entirely after a while. This sped up our builds by about 25% and also made our builds more reliable since they didn’t have to process error logging as much. This is something that I’ll include on my resume if it’s something that I think a company would be interested in.

I prefer to layout my resume with my name and contact information at the top, my skills/technologies used next, then experience, followed by recognition I received, my schooling, and lastly my certifications. I’ve tried a few different layouts, and this one works best for me currently, but that may change as I start hitting different audiences in my career. You can download my current resume here. I find that this layout works well at presenting relevant experience. There are other layouts you can find online to emphasize things such as education, skills, etc.

Turning Experience into Entries on your Resume

Concisely turning an experience into one or two entries on a resume is a very valuable skill. In my experience section, I try to make sure that each line states a result I achieved or helped a team achieve. I also add clues that this was above and beyond what was expected of the position, like the following line:

Performed daily builds and deployments with an eye on process improvement.

What does this line tell you? It says I handled the day to day tasks in a way that was looking ahead. It doesn’t say what I mentioned that we should (and did) implement, but it’s an enticing enough statement that it gets asked about in a fair number of interviews. Since I posted this on my resume originally, I’ve taken this a step further and started to put better lines on my resume, and if they aren’t up to at least that quality, I rewrite them and make sure they fit my standards level. An example of another line would be:

I analyzed, corrected, and optimized issues in the build process which lead to a reduction in execution time by 40%.

That line wraps up a similar case to the example I mentioned earlier and tells you that I took the time to evaluate the current execution time of the build process, corrected problems I saw, and further optimized the process to run 25% faster.

So why did I give you all of these examples? You can’t have a strong base resume without having specifics, metrics, and a narrative. Condensing full experiences that took months or years to go through into a single sentence helps you prepare for interview questions because you can “unpack” them into experiences to provide an answer.

When you start to build your resume, make sure the format is clean (you’ll find examples of this in the miscellaneous tips post), and start writing down full experiences and examples of projects you’ve worked on and achievements you’ve obtained. What I mean by full experiences is the example I laid out in the fourth paragraph where I talk about an example goal. I then broke that experience down into the most interesting and impactful sentence I could. I  take one aspect of a project and distill it down to the single most important goal, how I solved it, and include a metric to back the statement up and give the interviewer a hook.

Some people include mission statements, interesting facts, and other anecdotes about their lives such as their personal interests and what they do on the weekend. I prefer to leave this kind of stuff off because it distracts from the message I’m trying to send. As I mentioned before, if it doesn’t fit my theme, I leave it off. One thing to note is that this won’t be the resume that you send to companies that you plan to interview at, and the reason for this is because you’ll need to further tailor it to their specific requirements. You may have a certain theme in mind and you’ll tweak your past experience to satisfy the requirements the company is looking for.

If you found value in this content, I encourage you to read the rest of the posts in this series about how to stand out when interviewing:

  1. Picking a new PositionOne of the biggest problems people encounter when they are looking for a new job is, “What do I look for now? Should I get the same job somewhere else? Should I try to move up? What if I’m not qualified?!” In this post, we discuss a couple of methods you can use to help you get clarity in which direction you should head with your career.
  2. Gather Data about YourselfThis post discusses some ways you can use to get concrete insight on information you can use to prove your skills and experience throughout your job search.
  3. Craft your Theme - Once you’ve gathered the data, you should either see or develop some sort of trend in your work. You should also try to craft this theme to fit into your overall career goals. Your theme should provide a narrative behind where your career has been and where you are proactively directing it.
  4. (You are here) Writing your Base Resume - I recommend you write a base resume to help you get a solid grasp of the direction you want to head with your career. This post discusses an approach I take to doing this.
  5. Build your Portfolio - By providing a portfolio of your work, you not only tell the person or company you are interviewing with that you are awesome, but you give them examples of your work so that they can investigate it for themselves.
  6. Practicing InterviewingWith this post, we talk about some methods you can use to practice interviewing.
  7. Picking the Companies to interview - In this post, we’ll talk about picking the right companies to interview with so that you know how to tailor your resume.
  8. How to prepare for an interview - While you are waiting for companies to respond back asking for interviews, you should be breaking apart the job descriptions even further and writing down examples of work you’ve done previously to satisfy each requirement that they are listing. You should be also boning up on the basics of your potential job and the theory behind it.
  9. Common Interview Questions and Answers - You’ve made it this far and you’re starting to interview with companies. During each interview, you want to ask 3 specific questions which I’ll cover later in this article.
  10. Accepting a Job Offer - At the end of the interview process with each company, one of two (obvious) things will happen: rejection or acceptance. I’ll discuss how to deal with each one of them and where to go from there.
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  1. […] Writing your Base Resume - If your resume doesn’t prove your theme with statistics to back it up, rework it until it does. You want the company to know exactly what type of work you do before you even have a phone interview. For example, in fitting with my theme above, I have lines on my resume that show how much time I cut the build time down by, how many environments I maintained, how many pieces of software I wrote MSI packages for, etc. […]

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