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Cole Turner
Cole Turner

Posted on • Originally published at cole.codes

How to Write a Software Engineer Resume

Your resume is the key to the door for your next job. If you're looking to land that next role, here are the awesome tips you need to know to make your resume stand out from the rest.

Before You Write the Resume

The most effective resume speaks to the audience. Before you start on your resume, ask yourself: who is my audience? In most cases, that audience is a recruiter, a hiring manager, and ... robots?

The Resume Funnel

That's right, robots are reading your resume! Before a recruiter or hiring manager sees it, a robot will parse and read the resume. When you submit your resume in a form online, via LinkedIn, and even sending it via email; it all goes through a robot. It's super helpful to know how your resume makes it through the funnel so that we can optimize it to make it further.

Example Resume Funnel

This graphic visualizes just how many resumes make it from the initial submission down the funnel. When a company is hiring a software engineer, a recruiter will screen submissions using an Applicant Tracking System (ATS).

These systems parse a software engineer's resume to fit in the system. In addition, it will highlight the keywords that fit the job description. Recruiters have one of the hardest jobs of all, finding the best submissions. When a recruiter is trying to find software engineers, this is how they're looking for leads to reach out to:

Example of Applicant Tracking System List

Wow, that's a lot of resumes!
Once your resume makes it here, it's all about the content of your resume. A recruiter will prioritize the candidates with the best resumes and set up an initial call. To get there, you will need to format and write a kickass resume.

Formatting Your Resume for Success

Software engineer resumes need to be ATS-ready. To get there, here are the top tips you will want to know:
1 Use .doc format when uploading, PDF when emailing.
2 Avoid complicated layouts, such as tables or columns.
3 Use standard fonts and bullet points.
4 No images
5 One page, no more or less.

These tips will help you format your resume in a way that the ATS systems understand, to get through the top of the funnel.

Here is an ATS Resume Template you should use to get started, created by an ex-recruiter who worked at top companies and screened thousands of resumes.

How does a software engineer get their resume further down the funnel?
Let's talk about how you can leverage ATS-formatting, and write a kickass resume that will get you more attention from the top of the funnel, to increase your chances of getting an interview.

How to Write Your Resume

This is your moment to wow the recruiter and the hiring manager. Resumes are all about selling yourself - describing your abilities and your impact.

Before we get into some specifics, here are some general tips you should know:
1 Use a new bullet point for each responsibility, role, or other ability you're describing.
2 Be specific, use action verbs.
3 Be honest! Do not embellish or lie on your resume.
4 Include metrics or statistics that can demonstrate impact and value.

With that in mind, let's get into some really helpful specifics.

Star symbol cut out of a concrete wall.

The STAR Method

When you are describing your position, you will want to use the STAR Method.

  • Situation: Your role and responsibility.
  • Task: Demonstration of applying your expertise in that role.
  • Action: The efforts you made, whether acting alone, collaborating, or delegating.
  • Result: The outcome of that action, including the value and impact it had on the team and the company or business.

Using this framing method, we will extract the most value out of our resume and create meaningful statements that are great conversation points when talking to recruiters and managers.

Let's Look at an Example:

Wrote code in HTML, JavaScript, and CSS for website application.

That's a good start!
We could do better to capture the STAR power of this resume item. Almost every software engineer with a resume will have something like this on their first draft.

To add that STAR power, ask questions like:

  • What is unique or influential about the situation?
  • How does the task relate to the job description?
  • What actions are the hiring manager looking for?
  • Why does the result matter to the company I want to work for?

These questions will help you frame your resume items, so that you can say something like this:

Developed a single-page front-end application using HTML, JavaScript (JS), and CSS - to optimize the responsiveness, which increased conversion rate from 2% to 7%.

Much Better!
With this change of wording we can see how this stands out from the example we saw earlier. Bring STAR power to all of your experience.


Word tiles spelling "Choose your Words"

Be Mindful of Your Language

Mirror the Job Description Language

When you're writing your resume, you will want to use the keywords that appear in the job description. So for example, if you are applying for a "Software Engineer" position, you will want to say that somewhere in your resume. On the other hand, if the position is titled "Web Application Developer," then you will want to incorporate that as well.

Sprinkle in some Synonyms

So from our example above, "Developed a single-page application," we will also want to expand on the word "developed." Here are some other words that you will want to capture in your descriptions to broaden the appeal:

  • Implemented
  • Architected
  • Engineered
  • ... and so on!

Using synonyms in addition to the keywords will allow your resume to match as many job descriptions as possible.

Don't Sell Yourself Short!

A description that is too vague or too short can come across as uninspiring. When in doubt, use the STAR method. A resume doesn't need to be ten pages long, however, it does need to be long enough to evoke curiosity.

If your resume is shorter than a page, you will want to create more experience before you start sending that resume out.

Leave Some to the Imagination

Similar to the point above, a resume is meant to be used to match against a job description and fulfill a recruiter's requirements. From there, the purpose of a resume is to inspire and evoke curiosity from a hiring manager and the interview panel.

One Page is the optimal length for a resume. You only need to highlight the last few positions that are relevant. Even if you have decades of experience, your resume needs to be compelling enough to leave an impression **within ten seconds. **When you're at the top of the funnel, that is about how long someone will glance at your resume before moving on to the next one.

A description that is loaded with responsibility and impact, or runs on more than a sentence or two - can actually have the reverse effect! Too much of a description can come across as appearing to know too little or give the impression of overselling.

Here's an example:

Designed a webpage using Photoshop, creating multiple layers and exporting them via a PNG. Collaborated with engineering to deliver the PNG in a ZIP file. Planned and coordinated the delivery before the agreed upon timelines. Communicated with the team to revise the delivery throughout the project.

A statement like this can undervalue your position. Why this happens is because when we look back at the STAR method - this description is mostly a given. It is expected that a designer would perform these tasks, and it doesn't add much value to those expectations.

Let's look at that, with a little more STAR power:

Designed a webpage in collaboration with engineering, working cross-functionally with the project team to deliver ahead-of-time. This resulted in us reaching the market before our competition.

Now that's a star! The difference here is how much value the designer brought to the role, exceeding the expectations.

Avoid Skills Lists

Many of the resumes that get filtered out at the top of the funnel will have a giant cloud of keywords that are meant to fool the ATS robots. This is called keyword stuffing. What happens is that an innocent software engineer will create a skills list that they used at a position, and the robot will interpret this as keyword stuffing.

Skills: React, Photoshop, Microsoft Word

What you want to do instead is take the most important skills that are relevant to the hiring position, and express those at bullet points in your resume items.

Developed a React web application to display order inventory.

Optimized web assets using Photoshop to reduce application size.

Collaborated on project specifications using Microsoft Word.

In some cases, a particular skill can be so ubiquitous to the role that it's not worth including at all. If the skill is very common, it is only worth mentioning if it added value or made an impact on the result.

Get the Job

You've written your resume, formatted it to be ATS-ready, and demonstrated your STAR power. Now it's time to submit your resume, right?

Before you submit your resume, do one final check. Find the job description and compare it with your resume. You should have included similar keywords such as:

  1. The Job Title
  2. Situation and Action Words from the hiring position
  3. Keywords from the hiring description

Once you've done that, review your resume and submit it! You've done everything right, and your resume is ready to go.


If you found these tips helpful, or you have some advice you would like to add - you can reach out to me on Twitter (@coleturner).

Photos by: Markus Winkler, Gatis Murnieks, Brett Jordan

Discussion (11)

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lornasw93 profile image
Lorna Watson

Great post, interesting read! As far as CV templates go I’d absolutely recommend VisualCV

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coleturner profile image
Cole Turner Author

Would you be open to sharing more? I've never heard of VisualCV before.

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lornasw93 profile image
Lorna Watson

Of course! visualcv.com/ is a CV template builder, really simple to use and has both free and paid for plans. I spent a lot of time a while ago looking for the best template builder and found this to be the best, for me anyway. There are 2 editors - basic and visual, able to change template, download as PDF etc. Should check it out! 😀
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coleturner profile image
Cole Turner Author • Edited on

That does look very clean and crisp. Have you run the output through an ATS validator to see how it affects the parsing? I'm curious to see if it passes the robots.

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lornasw93 profile image
Lorna Watson

Ah good point! I haven't. Would be interesting to see!

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glenbradley17 profile image
Glen Bradley

This is really a great tip for engineering resume. Just to share, I am currently working in a Resume Professional Writers, a company that provides resume services. I wanted to share one of our blogs here, just visit the website resumeprofessionalwriters.com/top-... it also tackles how can you achieve a top engineering resume. Also if you want to have free resume professional critique, we can help you with that, we provide free resume critique. Heads up to you!

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nnnikolov profile image
Nikolay Nikolov

You should never use .doc format !!!!!!

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coleturner profile image
Cole Turner Author

What are some of your concerns about .doc format?

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nnnikolov profile image
Nikolay Nikolov

The formatting could be broken via different viewers. Not everybody is using MS Office and the doc could look super ugly and unreadable. Despite that the doc could be easy modified even by mistake. For this reasons PDF is created.

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coleturner profile image
Cole Turner Author

It depends. It doesn’t hurt to have both a word doc and a PDF, and transmit them both over email.

However based on the evidence, using. .doc is preferred for transmitting a resume through online forms.

When I switched from a PDF to a doc, I got more interviews because the ATS robots could understand it better, and that is the point that is made in the article.

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nnnikolov profile image
Nikolay Nikolov

Maybe it depends on the ATS.