Most engineering resumes work against their applicants. Here’s how to do an overhaul.

Is Your Resume Lacking?

Sep 15, 2021

by Michael Abrams

Terry Suffredini has been helping engineers revamp their resumes for 15 years now. And it’s no small task.
 
“Most of the resumes I’ve seen across the years are crap,” said the woman behind TheEngineersCoach.com, and herself a practicing engineer. “I can count on one hand the resumes that, when seen initially, would get the person the job they wanted.”
 
The problem is that job-seeking engineers are “following old formats that worked back in the day that don’t work today.” So she’s distilled her years of experience into a single volume that will keep engineers from creating resumes destined for the rejection bin. ER: Engineering Resumes that Will Get Results Now is due out this year.

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Twenty years ago a resume would be read by a human being, and that human being might be susceptible to a handsomely designed document with well chosen fonts and rules, and that human might register and remember the name if was set at a large point size in a heft weight. But those days are over. Applicant tracking software does the reading now and the machine’s eye doesn’t care about fonts and point size. And the live person reviewer an applicant hopes the machine will forward the resume to isn’t likely to pay attention to the name either. “People skip the names, so they don’t have to be big and take up a lot of space—nobody cares,” said Suffredini. “Resumes that look beautiful to the naked eye are not even getting into the system.”
 
Another example of a visually pleasing design element capable of deep-sixing an otherwise perfectly good application is the dividing line. Borders of any kind, Suffredini explained, can be read as a page break. And, as many employers set their software to only read a resume’s first page, that resume may end up looking pretty skimpy after a premature page break. “You don’t want to do anything that will get you penalized in the ATS tracking systems,” said Suffredini. “If you get blackballed on one, it will blackball you across every company that has that program.”
 
Whether the reader is a machine or a person, it’s that first page that is crucial. “The average reviewer of a resume decides within the first half to first third of the first page whether they will keep reading,” she said.  “You’ve got to grab their attention right there.”

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Skills and accomplishments should be right up front, not buried in some “appropriate” section far from the top of the first page. “Don’t force the reader to go through a whole bunch of stuff to find those little gems,” she said. “Put the really good stuff up top.”
 
Knowing how reviewers tend to read resumes will allow applicants to put the right information in the right place. “In scanning resumes, people are going to glance at your objective or summary,” said Suffredini. “Then they’ll skip the history and look down at what your education was. And if that interests them, they’ll come back and look at the job history, and then maybe at the end, if they’re still interested, they’ll look at the name and how to reach you.”
 
The scanning reviewer is looking for knowledge, skills, and achievements that match a list of criteria potential employers want met. So there’s no need for job hunters to try to fill their resumes with every bit of experience they’ve had. “We don’t do CVs in engineering,” said Suffredini. “Get them interested enough and they’ll call to get more information.”

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More likely than not, before they turn to the applicant’s phone number, they’ll turn to the applicant’s LinkedIn page. So job hunters should consider their LinkedIn page an extension of the resume.

“You have to have a LinkedIn profile that will help you get the job,” said Suffredini. “You need a really nice picture. You don’t have to have a business portrait done, but you want to make sure it’s a head shot, that you look pleasant, and are smiling.”

Job hunters also need a relevant headline and plenty of connections. “The critical mass is at least 300,” said Suffredini. “Join a bunch of groups, 25 to 30 groups of people that are doing the kind of work you want to be doing.”
 
And neither the resume nor the LinkedIn page are things to be abandoned once an engineer has found a job. Both should be kept up to date and the LinkedIn page should be active. “The average job lasts three to five years,” said Suffredini. “You just never know what situation you may be in.”
 
Michael Abrams is a technology writer based in Westfield, N.J.

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