10 tips for a successful engineering resume

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  • 10 tips for a successful engineering resumeJacob Beningo - May 21, 2013

    Its that time of the year again where spring is in full force, the sun is shining, birds are chirping andthis years college graduates are spreading their wings and sending out resumes. Despite at leastfour years of schooling and tens of thousands of dollars spent on tuition, its unfortunate that theircurriculum doesnt include a resume 101 course or at least require students to attend a seminar onresume writing. Awkwardly crafted and abysmal resumes arent constrained to recent graduates butalso reach into the general engineering population. This leaves the perfect opportunity to reviewsome basic tips for handling resumes and establishing an online presence, after all, resumes are nolonger limited to simple paper versions.

    Tip #1 - Ignore the one page ruleFor some reason, since the beginning of time there has been this notion that a resume should onlybe one page. It should be short and simple and provide very basic information. This is great if theplan is to be a professional job seeker. A single page, in a readable font, provides enough space toput a name, a few companies and education before there is no more room left on the page. It doesntprovide enough space to really sell or distinguish the applicant from anyone else. Single pageresumes are often looked at and quickly discarded because there is nothing on them that reallycatches attention. Dont allow this outdated rule to dictate the length of a resume.

    Tip #2 - Explicitly show experienceA potential employer is not going to take the time to read between the lines as to whether anindividual has a certain type of experience or skill. Experience needs to be explicitly declared andnot implied. This can be done by listing each project that was performed at a company and thenproviding details as to what was involved. Demonstration of problem identification and the ability tocome up with a solution is critical.

    Tip #3 - Use bullet points to improve readabilityInstead of writing paragraphs about the work performed at a company or on a project, the use ofbullet points is highly recommended because they can drastically improve the readability of aresume. Bullet points are a quick way to break down skills and efforts that were put into a project.They allow the potential employer to quickly skim through and catch the highlights or experience.Figure 1 shows an example of how sentence structure can be combined with bullet points toeffectively get the point across. This is something that someone adhering to the one page rule wouldnever be able to do.

  • Figure 1. An example of using bullet pointsTitle-1Tip #4 - List professional experience firstCollege degrees always hold a special place in everyones heart especially after paying the enormoustuition rates that have become known to students in modern times. Unfortunately, on a resume theyhold less weight than professional experience. This means that while having a degree may benecessary, they should be listed after professional experience. It seems unfair but the fact of thematter is that the first few years of ones career are spent learning what should have been taught inhigher educational institutions. Please note that professional experience was noted earlier in theparagraph. This means that coffee shops and a stint at McDonalds are not going to be of interest toyour next engineering employer, so it can be removed from the experience list.

    Tip #5 - If project experience is lacking, use a DIY projectSometimes inexplicable things happen and a college student never has an internship, or anexperienced engineer finds themselves on the unemployment list for a while. This can result in anemployer having a hard time justifying even taking the time to talk with the candidate. This is whythese gaps should be filled with learning experiences from do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. Createsomething and go through the design process of gathering requirements, block diagramming andprototyping and put that experience and maybe even some lessons learned on the resume! This willshow the prospective employer that the individual is self-motivated, passionate and a number ofother things. The best part is that when they call for an interview, the candidate can bring what wasdesigned and talk about the process, the hardware design, the software etc. It might just give thatedge needed to even beat out the competition.

    Tip #6 - List useful skillsForcing an employer to read between the lines is a dangerous game. Listing project details is onething but an employer also wants to know in general the types of skills the candidate has. Having atechnical expertise section that lists various items such as hardware, software and programminglanguage and provide a quick overview summary of what an individual brings to the table can bevery beneficial. Figure 2 shows such as an example.

    Figure 2. An example skills list


  • Tip #7 - Identify industry buzz words and use a fewAt different times there are certain buzz words that take an industry by storm. They may indicate acertain type of design paradigm such as model driven design or event driven design or perhaps anew field of device such as internet-of-things or machine-to-machine. The whole point is that whilethe resume is being dusted off and updated, spending a little bit of time learning the current buzzwords can do a lot to increase the likely hood of the resume being discovered. Of course if the buzzword doesnt apply it should be over-looked but there will most likely be buzz words that do applyand that greatly raise the resumes visibility.

    Tip #8 - Use action wordsCompanies like to have leaders on their teams or up and coming leaders. Leaders are action drivenand employers like to look for candidates that take initiative and are on their way to becomingleaders. For this reason it is always nice to include action words that grab extra attention. Mentionleading the team or managed the team or were conducting investigations to list a few. Whileinvestigating resume action words, a website with 100 Great Resume Words popped up and after aquick review there was little argument about it. The website is linked here and it is highlyrecommended that they be perused by the reader the next time resume updating occurs.

    Tip #9 - Use social media to enhance your resumePaper is out, electronic is in. The resume in general hasnt changed a whole lot but with social mediaoutlets such as Linkedin and Twitter, the opportunity to enhance a resume is astounding. Linkedincan be used as an enhanced resume by duplicating the information on a resume and then filling inthe extras that Linkedin allows. In todays society there seems to be more chance of being found ona social media website first and then only after connecting with someone does a request for aresume occur. This means that social media profiles need to be just as good at attracting attentionas a resume but that is an entirely different article for another day.

    A few examples of some enhancements that can be made through social media are gettingcolleagues to verify your skills, getting recommendations and then also cross linking colleagues onprojects. This provides employers with the ability to cross reference what they are being told andverify that the material is in fact real.

    There has been some buzz about something called Klout that is supposed to analyze social mediainteractions and then rank a user based on those interactions. A value of 1 to 99 is then assigned tothem. Despite all the authors interactions on social media sites, posting baby pictures on Facebookseems to raise the score the most. This leads the author to believe that Klout is an interestingsidebar that will most likely not be taken seriously by employers in the near future.

    Tip #10 - Review and update quarterlyThe worst time to update a resume is when an individual is looking for a job. Going for long periodsof time without updates usually results in gaps of information or misrepresentation from justforgetting what was done. That is why it is useful to set a periodic time, whether it is every quarteror twice a year to sit down and update the resume with new projects, skills, etc. Sometimesemployers will include employee resumes in proposals in order to show a potential client that theirteam has the skills necessary to get the job done. If a resume isnt kept up to date then the teamcould quickly look like they are not up-to-date with the latest and greatest techniques and cause theemployer to lose business.

    ConclusionThese are but a few brief tips on how to handle resumes. Please feel free to add to and leavecomments. In order to provide an example, the author has posted his resume for others to take and

  • leave as they will. As a consultant, the author updates and sends this information out frequently andhas received positive feedback on contents and structure. Hopefully it can help serve others in theirown endeavors. The example can be downloaded from his profile at http://bit.ly/12QMNJE.

    Jacob Beningo is a lecturer and consultant on embedded system design. He works with companies todevelop quality and robust products and overcome their embedded design challenges. Feel free tocontact him at jacob@beningo.com, his website www.beningo.com or on twitter @Jacob_Beningo.