Resume Advice from Engineering Employers

November 25, 2013

Earlier this year we asked engineering employers what they looked for in engineers’ resumes, and we found a wealth of specifics that any engineer can leverage. But the job market evolves constantly, and so do the things employers look for – so as the year winds down we went back to the horse’s mouth to see if we could learn anything else.

Not surprisingly, we did.

Here is our board of engineering employers:

Kevin Davis, Co-Founder, – Davis works with developers to create innovative products for his startup, which sends tech experts to customers’ homes to solve technical problems. Davis’s developers wear many hats, guiding a product from front-end design to coding, and possibly to deployment.

Alok, Founder & CEO, Hidden Reflex and creator of the Epic Privacy Browser – A proponent of net neutrality, Alok (who goes by his first name) hires computer engineers who build mobile and desktop browsers on the Chromium platform.

Michelle Brooks, Director of Recruitment & HR, BeneFACT – Engineers at Canadian organization BeneFACT assist Canadian manufacturing, IT, chemicals and biotechnology firms with their Scientific Research & Experimental Development (SR&ED) claim preparation. Brooks oversees the hiring of mechanical, chemical, computer and material science engineers.

Michel Castonguay, CEO, Leapshot Labs, Ltd – Leapshot Labs, Ltd is a Canada-based moonshot factory, a private R&D lab that takes on ambitious projects and specializes in business and brand development, business recovery and strategic design. Leapshot hires primarily software engineers.

Kevin Clere, Manager of Talent Acquisition (North America), Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems. Bendix develops and supplies active safety, energy management and air braking systems for medium and heavy-duty trucks and other commercial vehicles. Clere hires in a variety of engineering disciplines including mechanical, electrical, industrial, manufacturing quality and others.

Tom Barker, Senior Manager of Web Development, Comcast – Barker, an author on engineering management, hires engineers to assist with a variety of Comcast products, programs and business systems. Barker’s team mainly interviews software engineers.

Resume Basics Still Rule Supreme

First, let it be understood that all of our engineering employers reiterated the importance of resume basics. As helpful as the tips in this article are, none of it trumps the value of clearly presenting your awesome, relevant professional experience and quality education. Here are a few fundamentals:

Tout Your Education – If you attended a school known for its high-quality engineering program, make sure recruiters will see it. The same goes for your degree and field, as well as any school-related honors.

Include Relevant Experience – A cohesive, relevant work history listing your past employers, positions held, and dates of employment will always be fundamental to a strong resume.

Add Relevant Credentials and Affiliations – be sure to mention any Six-Sigma certifications and any other credentials or organization memberships, because HR notices.

Reflect the Role – Tailoring your resume to the specific job was mentioned by more than one employer, and is still a credo recruiters stand behind regardless of field.

Be Professional – Missing the mark on the all-important spelling and grammar factor alone can deflate the most well-presented candidate, and is a reflection on your attention to detail. Be wary of this easily overlooked land mine.

Firsthand Resume Advice

Beyond hard basics, here are a few things engineering job candidates can do to give themselves an advantage over their competition. Listed in order of consensus:

Demonstrate Professional Activities Outside of Work

Mentioned by 4 out of 6 employers

A central theme among all of our expert panel members is passion, and the value of contributing to professional activities, projects and endeavors outside of work. Nearly across the board, demonstrating passion for one’s engineering field is exactly the type of move that makes a resume stand out from the pile.

Personal projects in software-related fields are easier to present on a resume (and more expected), since job applicants can readily list a URL. However, any details that hint at personal interest in one’s field can catch the eye of a recruiter. Memberships in engineering organizations, contributions to social projects, coaching or mentoring activities and similar involvements go a long way toward showing employers you care about your work.

Alok: “We love to see folks who, outside of work, [contribute to] software projects and actually accomplish something, or at least try. A general passion for technology and following new developments in a thoughtful way is also something we really like as a start-up.”

Castonguay: “The thing we look for beyond advanced education is involvement in personal projects related partially or wholly to the core skills of the applicant. For example, for a software engineer we’re looking at open source contributions or personal projects that demonstrate that the applicant loves and is invested in their discipline. If applicants only have school and professional experience without that personal or ‘passion’ component, they may be disqualified.”

Barker: “[We look for] teaching, writing, speaking engagements, blogging, mentoring, engagement in the industry as a whole. This says to me that a candidate is not just capable of the immediate job description but is also inspired to teach others the craft. That maybe and hopefully hiring this person will introduce a level of experience and perspective that will benefit the whole group.”

Davis: “Make it easy for me to see real-world examples of code or projects you’ve worked on. You didn’t have to build an app or website with millions of users, but make sure I can see properly formatted code using rules like nice commenting, methods should never be more than 6-8 lines, objects should be small and focused, etc.”

List Specific Accomplishments, Not Just Duties

Mentioned by 3 out of 6 employers

This is somewhat of a resume basic, but still something most employers went out of their way to highlight. In entry-level work, listing simple job duties or areas of responsibility will fly. However in jobs that require more experience, especially if the role directly impacts the company’s metrics, recruiters want to see precise indications of what you accomplished at your previous job, not just what you did.

Alok: “We want to see work experience where you got things done. We want to know what you really accomplished in your previous work experience. Specifics, not generalities … be as specific and precise as possible or reasonable in your resume, especially in terms of what you have accomplished.”

Brooks: “Achievements on a resume not only indicate how the candidate impacted the company they worked for, but also shows that they think beyond their day-to-day tasks.”

Clere: “We look for true numbers reflecting your experience and accomplishments. If you can say, ‘I’m a quality engineer and I improved our quality metrics by 10 percent, which translates to saving $150,000 for our organization,’ it’s great.”

Let Your Work History Reflect Your Commitment

Mentioned by 3 out of 6 employers

One trend among younger professionals is moving between jobs more often. Whether it’s due to economic instability or a different mentality among young professionals, the days of staying with one employer for a matter of decades are nearly gone. However, most employers still consider it a minus if an applicant’s resume shows restless job-hopping. This type of history calls into question how dedicated the applicant will be to the new employer.

Brooks: “In today’s job climate candidates don’t necessarily stay at companies for 10+ years, but we look for candidates who stay 3 – 5 years and progress to different departments or roles during that time … A red flag would be those resumes where candidates appear jumpy in their experience and only stay 1 year or so.”

Clere: “We don’t like to see experience with too many companies in a relatively short amount of time. While younger generations do tend to change jobs more often, stability still matters, and we don’t like to see five jobs in a 10-year span.”

For job hunters who do have a spotty history, you can save face by including brief, parenthetical hints at your reasons for leaving – say, (Company acquired by Such-and-Such Corporation, 2009) if you’ve experienced layoffs.

List Experience Outside of Engineering

Mentioned by 3 out of 6 employers

In the world of startups especially, companies like to maximize the value of their employees. This means their project managers may need to know sales lingo, or back-end developers may spend some time working with end users. For the purposes of a resume, this means it may be helpful if you have experience outside of your specialty to add to the list. Glancing back again to tailoring your resume to the job, recruiters will respond well if you anticipate what the company will need and present anything you have that vibes with it.

Brooks: “We keep an eye out for engineers that target more business-focused projects in their experience because of the client-facing nature of our role … Client-facing experience is more difficult to find in your average engineer candidate, but it’s essential in our industry since conducting technical interviews and working directly with clients is the main focus of the role.”

Castonguay: “[We look for] relevant education in the candidate’s field, plus some extras like business training, conflict management, sales, etc.”

List Relevant Portfolio or Social Media URLs

Mentioned by 2 out of 6 employers

Including social media or online portfolio information on a resume shows that not only are you active in engineering projects and social spheres, but that you have worked toward making connections. All of this demonstrates the golden goose, passion. Using an online portfolio site such as Carbonmade, Krop and the like (reviews) allows hands-on engineers to post photos of their work. Software engineers can additionally benefit by listing a GitHub profile.

Davis: “If you didn’t list a GitHub URL, your resume will most likely find its way to the bottom of the stack … If I have 20 resumes to go through, and 5 of them have GitHub profiles with examples of nicely formatted code, those resumes by far are going to get the best treatment.”

Castonguay: “Have a portfolio of projects, personal or professional, that demonstrate your passion and experience. Don’t tell me what you can do, show me.”

Don’t Be Afraid to Show Your Personality

Mentioned by 2 out of 6 employers

Anyone who can imagine sitting and reading through dozens, or sometimes hundreds, of strangers’ resumes and cover letters may sympathize with recruiters when they say that standing out from the stack is a big plus. It can be a little scary to send an employer a resume or cover letter whose language is less than perfectly formal – especially if it’s your dream job and you want to play it safe. However, as HR personnel will mention, being able to see the person behind the resume helps them stick in the memory.

Davis: “Try to come off as someone with personality who would make a great culture fit, especially in startup-land. As a company scales up, those early hires are critical, and I need to know you play nice with others or have some sort of leadership qualities.”

Alok: “I still remember a resume where a guy we hired had written ‘along with 6 billion others, Time’s man of the year in 200x,’ which was funny. You’ll remember someone who says ‘I’ve climbed 26 of the 28 Colorado Rocky Mountains,’ but someone who just lists ‘mountain climbing’ is not memorable.”

General Advice for Engineering Job Candidates

The thing about resumes is that they are nothing more than an extension of you, the job candidate. You are (presumably) the one writing your resume, so if you want to extract maximum benefit from employers’ advice on resumes, it pays to follow their advice on your whole approach to job hunting.

Here are a few additional tidbits our employers had for engineering job candidates in general:

Make Connections

Mentioned by 5 out of 6 employers

As they say in Hollywood, you have to know someone. Being well connected should be every job hunter’s number-one priority, as demonstrated by engineering employers. When asked where they found job candidates, responses indicated employers find the best candidates through:

  • Friends of friends
  • LinkedIn and social media networking
  • College alumni lists
  • Networking and school events

Specialized online job sites (such as this one) are go-to resources as well, but no job-seeking engineer will benefit from limiting his or her options. Those big-box job sites that cater to every job seeker under the sun tend to produce low-quality results for employers, and thus are rarely the first recourse.

Another important connection to have is a mentor, an expert or senior leader in your field who can help guide your professional and life decisions. According to Alok, “they can open doors for you in minutes that could have taken you months or even years.”

Use Your School

Mentioned by 5 out of 6 employers

The first way you can use your school, as mentioned above under Resume Basics, is to make sure you clearly present your quality engineering education on your resume and during interviews. Appreciating strong schools and degrees was mentioned by all of our employer experts.

Another asset your school can provide is its alumni database, list, and association. Since connections are key, a strong alumni association can help connect you to senior figures in your field and get you noticed. Employers also search alumni lists for candidates, so you will want to be on yours.

School events, such as career fairs and networking gatherings, can also be prime spots to meet recruiters in person and bypass a good chunk of the application process.

Be Passionate

Mentioned by 4 out of 6 employers

Being qualified may get you through the door, but demonstrating passion for your field is what many of our employers are truly looking for. They want to be sure they’re hiring an employee who will be dedicated, creative and resourceful rather than one who performs basic job duties for the money. Davis says, “I’m going for a nice mix of seasoned developers with junior developers who might not have the most experience in the world but have demonstrated they are quick learners with a hunger for building intuitive products with great user experiences.”

Participating in open-source projects, working in your community, competing in contests, attending networking events, or even just participating in relevant social media can be enough to show engineering employers that you’re not just another clone applicant.

Be Personable

Mentioned by 2 out of 6 employers

If you’ve got the qualifications and you’re good at what you do, employers still like to know you’re going to get along with their team and be easy to work with. Being highly educated and highly skilled won’t save you from being passed by (or at least marginalized at work) if you’re arrogant, rude, and don’t play well with others. Alok says, “Many candidates have incomes that are a fraction of what they should be earning because they’re not able to function in a team, and they’re not able to achieve their potential — because of their ego and inability to compromise.”

Note: nearly all of the employers interviewed for this story are hiring as of the time of publication, so job seekers are encouraged to contact them through their organizations’ websites.