By February 15, 2011

Professionals Have Professional Looking Resumes

I've avoided talking about this subject a bit, because I didn't want anyone to think I was looking for a job.  I'm not.

But, I think it is worth taking a moment to talk about one of the biggest blunders professional programmers make in their job search, careers.

The mistake is not having a resume that is of the same caliber in both presentation and content as the set of skills you are trying to sell.

I'm no marketing whiz

But, over the years I have come to understand the value of marketing.  As a professional, you should always be trying to sell yourself.

I'll be honest, part of the reason I write this blog is because I know it is a valuable tool for marketing myself.

For most professional programmers your resume is your only real marketing method. When it looks worse than a 3rd grade book report and I see it, I immediately think you suck.

Sorry for the boldness, but no need to mince words here.

Unless you have some awesome open source project you built, or a blog, or some other kind of flashy marketing tool, your resume IS your ONLY marketing and if that sucks, people are going to assume you do also.

To be completely honest again, in some part you have to admit that you do suck. Perhaps you are a great programmer, but you suck at common sense.  I mean going through all the hard work of becoming a great programmer and not having the common sense to do the easy thing that will make it all worth it…

Trent: You know what you are? You're like a big bear with claws and with fangs…
Sue: …big &!%* teeth, man.
Trent: Yeah… big &!%teeth on ya'. And she's just like this little bunny, who's just kinda cowering in the corner.
Sue: Shivering.
Trent: Yeah, man just kinda… you know, you got these claws and you're staring at these claws and you’re thinking to yourself, and with these claws you're thinking, “How am I supposed to kill this bunny, how am I supposed to kill this bunny?”
Sue: And you're poking at it, you're poking at it…
Trent: Yeah, you're not hurting it. You're just kinda gently batting the bunny around, you know what I mean? And the bunny's scared Mike, the bunny's scared of you, shivering.
Sue: And you got these &!%
claws and these fangs…
Trent: And you got these &!%* claws and these fangs, man! And you're looking at your claws and you're looking at your fangs. And you're thinking to yourself, you don't know what to do, man. “I don't know how to kill the bunny.” With this you don't know how to kill the bunny, do you know what I mean?
Sue: You're like a big bear, man.
Mike: So you're not just like &!%* with me?
Trent: No I'm not &!%* with you.
Sue: Honestly, man.


I know you might be thinking I am being harsh here, but really it is for your own good.

Let me give you an example.

Lets pretend that Pepsi let me design their new logo and ad copy for a magazine ad.

pepsi yum

PEPSI!  It eez so freakin good it will nock you're socks off!

I drink it all the time.  I have spearheaded drinking it at parties with 100-1000 people.


Next time you are at the store and you see a 12 pack of Pepsi with my hand drawn logo on it, and a big white board with no color that says “DRINK PEPSI! TOTALLY AWESOME AND QUITE DRINKABLE” are you going to buy it or are you going to think whoever made that piece of crap is a doofus?

The situation is far worse than what I described.  Pepsi has many marketing venues and advertising campaigns.  If all you have is your resume, then you just have one. There is nothing wrong with that, but it better be damn good!

Your resume is like a Superbowl ad for you and your programming skills.

I would love to make a nice resume, but I do suck at writing and design

It is good that you admit that, because if you are a programmer and your name isn't Hugo, you probably do suck at writing and design and that is Ok.

You should not be the person writing your resume or designing it.  You should provide the information, you should review the design, you should even proof-read and edit it, but you should be letting someone else do most of the work.

Why?  Because there are professionals that know how to write and design a resume. Perhaps with many hours of work and research you could create a resume as good or better than a professional resume writer, but chances are you can't.

Just like a professional resume writer shouldn't try and write their own software, they should hire you to do it, you shouldn't try and write your own resume.

This might seem like strange advice.  Perhaps it seems like a cop-out or uber-lame. You are welcome to think that if you want.

Perhaps you think, well if everyone did that then all resumes would be nicely formatted, not contain spelling errors and typos and be full of marketing hype.

That is true, but the good news for you is that HARDLY ANYONE IS DOING IT and by being one of the few who do, your resume will stand out and make the others look like something your cat puked up.

If you can get an edge, take the edge!

People should judge my skills not my design and formatting on my resume

I completely disagree.  Having an ugly resume tells me a large amount about you… shall I list a few prejudice things I assume about you when I see your double spaced 6 page monstrosity?

  1. Doesn't care about appearances – hmm too bad my customers do.
  2. Doesn't have self-respect – those who don't respect themselves don't respect others usually.
  3. No sense of pride – if you can't take pride in your own work, why do I expect you to take pride in the software you are building for me?
  4. Doesn't value the opinion of others.
  5. Is limited by own abilities – if you can't reach out to others for help in your area of weakness, I expect when you can't figure something out, you'll just flounder.
  6. Doesn't care about quality.
  7. Is not detail oriented.
  8. Lacks ambition, will settle for less.
  9. Your code reflects all the above statements.

Unfair?  Perhaps.  Untrue?  Perhaps, but given no other information and a stack of 100 more resumes to go through, I'm going to go ahead and be prejudice.

But it costs too much money

It is called an investment. If you are not willing to put some money into your career, then why should someone else be willing to take a chance and make an investment in you?

A good professional resume writer might charge around $500.  That is chump change compared to the potential earnings increase of having a professionally written and designed resume.  You may increase your negotiating power by a huge margin by appearing to be more professional and you will certainly increase the number of possible opportunities that are available to you.

Let's use some real fake numbers like I always like to do.

Suppose that you have skills that on average would be worth about 60k a year in the market and your resume is getting around a 10% response rate from jobs you submit to.

Now of the jobs you submit to, most of the 10% responses you are getting are for jobs that pay right at your market rate, some are above, very few are way above, and some are below.

If you invest $500 in getting a really well done professional resume, you could reasonably expect to increase the base value of your market rate to say 65k and improve your response rate to 20%.

That is a pretty modest improvement, which only requires an investment of money to achieve.  The immediate return on that investment is HUGE, and the lifelong return on that investment could be literally 10s of 1000s of percent.

Think about it.  If you increase your starting wage at a company by just 5k, for a $500 investment, and you work for that company for 10 years, if you got no raises at all, you would make 50k return on your $500 investment.

Raises, by the way, are usually based on percentages of base pay, so it is realistically going to be even more.

Two more points, then I promise to stop beating this horse.

  • It is likely that someone who had a very bad resume and expected to find jobs making 60k, could get a very good resume and find that one company willing to pay them 80k for that same set of skills.
  • It is very much more likely that the dream job you are after will have a much wider pool of candidates to choose from, even if they are paying the same market rate.  So by having the better resume, you are more likely to get seen and get that dream job.

Final advice

  • Don’t hire some cheap resume writing service. You get what you pay for.  Spend the money to get it done by a real professional who will do it right.  This is the only hard part you have to do, you need to do a large amount of research here.  I have hired several resume writers for myself and my wife, and I have had to fire a few, because they were basically just rip-offs.  If you try to be cheap and you end up getting ripped off, don’t come crying to me. Smile
  • Review the resume.  You will need to go through more than 1 revision, probably at least 5.  If you want something changed, ask for it.  They will do it, you are paying for it.
  • You are still going to do most of the work of gathering the information.  Figure out all the things you want to have on your resume and put it all in a mind-map to give to the resume writer.  Garbage in, garbage out.
  • Whether you take this advice or not, before you ever send your resume to an employer, send it to your mom, your girlfriend, your English major buddy, anyone who will look at it and tell you why it is ugly and what you need to do to fix it.
About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."