Tech & Work

Your first programming job: 6 tips for crafting a strong resume

School's over. Before blasting your resume into every accepting inbox, make sure it's sharp enough to earn you an answer.


The market for IT jobs is healthy, but that doesn't change the fact that you still have to make a very strong case for why an employer should hire you rather than the dozens — or even hundreds — of other candidates applying for the same position.

One of the first ways you make it happen on the job hunt is through your resume - it's all about piquing an employer's interest.

"That's the old dilemma: 'How do I get experience if I don't have the job?'" said senior executive director of Robert Half, John Reed. "A lot of it starts with the way you present your credentials in a resume."

Here are seven tips to help you craft that resume for your first job as a programmer.

1. Tailor it

"I would say first and foremost, you want to do your research," Reed said. That means checking out what the in-demand skills are in the area, and specifically at the company in question, and emphasizing where there's a skills match.

Hired's vice president of talent, Trent Krupp encourages specificity. "When you're going through your CS degree and when you're doing internships, you get exposed to a lot of different things... I think it 's really important to really tailor your resume to something relatively specific," he said.

2. Know who you are

"It's like I tell my students- the hardest question you have to answer is 'Who are you?'" said Cedric Stallworth, assistant dean for outreach, enrollment and community at Georgia Tech's College of Computing. Many students end up putting down whatever they can on their resume, or whatever they think might look good to an employer. This approach seldom has the desired effect.

Krupp said it's better to focus being a strong Javascript developer or a strong front end developer, for example, than come off as a generalist. "If your resume is tightly wound around something specific, it's going to be a lot easier to move you on to another round," he said.

3. Show passion

Stallworth said that in talking to companies from Google, Yahoo, and Apple, down to small startups, they're not getting hung up on whether a candidate has a perfect GPA. "The thing that's coming out resoundingly, is they're looking for passion," he said.

The best way to communicate passion is through projects and extra curriculars.

"Recruiters have told me they've heard about these same [class] projects over and over again. What they want to know is ... against that common backdrop, what makes you standout?" Stallworth said.

That can mean completing projects for student organizations or non-profits. As Reed put it, anything that gives the job seeker that chance to say "This is what I did and this is how I did it."

Merely cranking out some code for a class won't cut it.

4. Point to projects, have a GitHub

Candidates should also keep in mind that if they're going to reference a project, they should be able to point to it through a URL, GitHub, or something of the like.

"Employers want to see a GitHub profile, open sources projects, we want to be able to go to your homepage and click through some of the work you have out there and see some of the underlying code," Krupp said. It helps the employer understand the candidate.

Stallworth cited an example of a student who didn't have the highest GPA, but still moved forward in the process on the strength of his work. "The interviewer clicked in their GitHub account, and their software was so well executed and so well documented, that it immediately put this kid up at the top of the list," he said.

Showing projects plays into demonstrating competence. Academic classes can also prove this point, Stallworth said. "The course work that you enjoyed, the courses that showed you have some competence, that's important as well."

5. Don't over hype

In showing competence, it's important to not get carried away and over-sell. "If you put down Java on there as a language that you know, you best know Java," Stallworth said. And that means a lot more than just making the screen say "hello, world."

If a candidate says they're proficient in a language, and upon follow up they have to admit they used it once in a class freshman year, they're losing credibility

6. Don't use filler

A student fresh out of school probably does not and should not have a lengthy resume. Don't pack it with fluff, like listing Microsoft Excel as a skill. "I'm sure Google doesn't really care, and it's assumed that you know how to use it," Stallworth said. And if you've been mindful throughout college of setting yourself up to land a good job, filler shouldn't even be a problem for you.

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Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

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