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Ryan Latta
Ryan Latta

Posted on • Originally published at ryanlatta.com on

Hey Devs, Your Portfolio Won’t Get You a Job, But Your Resume Will!

“It’s a six-figure piece of paper,” is what one of my clients said about their resume not too long ago. They started their career from scratch within the past three years and never used a portfolio to get their jobs.

If you’re ready to get back weeks or months of struggle building a portfolio, this article is for you. It’s time to master your resume.

They Are the First Thing People See

I wrote another article about the people involved in the hiring process, but everyone sees your resume first.

The Human Resources person screens you into a candidate pile or the trash based on your resume.

The Hiring Manager reads a pile of resumes and chooses who to trash and who to interview.

Your peer developers see your resume first before they go in to interview you.

That resume that so many people barely keep up to date is the first impression you make on a company. What is even crazier is they’ll read your resume in sixty to ninety seconds to form that opinion.

Convincing a company that you’re worth an interview in that short time frame is the entire job of a resume. So, learning how to build a great one is the difference between no interviews and constant interviews.

If Your Resume Sucks, No Portfolio Will Save You

Let’s go a little further though, and say you have a resume, portfolio site, GitHub page, and so on. How do they find all of those things about you?

They’re on your resume.

One way to look at your resume is that it’s a landing page for who you are. Even if you built a portfolio site to the same effect, they land on the resume first.

So, when you have a manager land on your resume, you’re hoping they are convinced within a minute to investigate you further and decide you’re the right fit.

Sometimes I get asked about the efficacy of this stuff, and while I can prove with data how effective resumes are, the usefulness of a portfolio site varies widely. Almost everyone will look at one, provided your resume stayed out of the trash, but it convinces someone to do past that is a shot in the dark.

Let’s say you have a terrible resume and a great portfolio. Your resume is trashed, and nobody sees the portfolio. Let’s say you have a resume that isn’t bad but doesn’t stand out and a great portfolio. You didn’t get trashed, so you were likely to get an interview anyway, and your portfolio cements that decision.

Now let’s go the other way to see why this is tougher than it looks. You have a great resume and a bad portfolio. You don’t get trashed, but show the manager that you’re sloppy and unprofessional and wind up in the trash.

Most of the time, your portfolio will only round out the impression they already formed from your resume, and if you do a poor job will kick you out from an interview.

While there are many articles on portfolio sites, few are written from the perspective of how a manager will judge you. I hope your CSS is formatted correctly.

They Help You Interview

Resumes for technical folks will almost always have an experience section. Yes, especially if you don’t have previous development experience.

A good resume acts as bait for your interview. When managers read your resume, they’re looking for a bunch of stuff, but one of those things is what to ask you about. You can predict what they’ll ask you about from your resume.

Why this is important is that the more time they’re asking you about your experience and past, the less time they’re asking you absurd technical questions.

Knowing they’re going to ask you about a specific thing means you can be ready to take that opportunity to build a relationship and convince them you’re the right fit.

A five-minute conversation about what you’ve done and learned is way more favorable to you than listing the Big-O of various sorting algorithms.

They Are Quick To Make

As developers, we love making stuff, but we have to be realistic about the amount of effort things take. A portfolio site that gets interviews is no small thing and often takes months of building and tweaking.

A resume, by contrast, takes a few hours to a day to build one that will get an interview 60% of the time. A day or so more, and you can get to 100%.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you shouldn’t build a portfolio site. They can help you stand out when done well. But most people put it in the wrong priority by spending their time on that first.

Instead, prioritize your effort around the least time and highest yield. Here’s an example:

  1. Resume
  2. Cover Letter
  3. LinkedIn
  4. Portfolio
  5. GitHub

You might have noticed I put cover letters in there, and you’re wondering if I’m from the 50s. Cover letters are portfolios in written form. What I mean is they are only looked at if your resume is good and can help you stand out if you’re careful. They are also optional and don’t have consistent effectiveness.

I know I’ve had interviews based entirely on my cover letters because that’s the exact feedback I’ve heard, but I also know plenty of managers won’t read them. This is exactly like portfolio sites. The difference is a cover letter takes minutes or hours to write.

Shift Priorities

If you’re considering getting into the job search or in the middle of it, look at your priorities. If you haven’t invested heavily in your resume, go back to it.


If you liked this post there're two more things I'd like to tell you about. First, I'd love to have you join my newsletter that everyone from first-time devs to CTOs read weekly.

Second, I just launched my first ever online class that guarantees to get more interviews, offers, and negotiate higher pay.

You can find out about both here.

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