I think the importance of a good resume during the overall application process is often underestimated. The resume will most likely be looked at by interviewers when they prepare the interview questions. It will be skipped through at times by a person and will be read in full by another person. It is also part of the hiring package, which contains all application-relevant data for the Hiring Committee. The resume is the one document that I was in full control of in regards to structure, layout, and information selection. A good resume is an important data point but a bad resume would probably not be the only deal breaker in a negative hiring decision. Nevertheless, I wanted to get this one right.
The resume was the most important piece of data when I initially submitted my Google application.
I wanted my resume to give a good overview of what I have to offer. It should outline my skills and past impact but still fit on one page. I figured that one page may be short enough for the “skip readers” and at the same time provide enough room to present myself in detail where needed.
First I decided on sections that I wanted to include:
- Employment and Education as those explain my background and how most of my skills are somehow connected to either previous employment or times of formal education.
- Projects and Activities is the section under which I subsumed noteworthy community contributions. Like most tech companies Google expects community contributions for engineers of a certain seniority.
- In the Skills section I chose to briefly list areas that were not clearly visible at the employment section. Listing my most relevant skills also meant that it is easier to get a glimpse for a person who is short on time.
- Somehow I could not let go of the rather questionable Certifications I acquired. So they got their own little section.
- To give readers a starting point for further research (and hopefully be impressed) I also added a section that point to my admittedly short list of Publications.
- The remaining blank space on the page looked weird so I added a Languages section. I also played with the option to have a Hobbies section there instead. Both would have been fine I guess. In the final version I went with Languages. 🤷♀
A mid-process draft of my resume. Not entirely bad but also not very good.
Writing the resume took weeks. It took me a few iterations to get it down to a single page. Every other day I would send a snapshot to a friend for review.
I found it particularly hard to write about myself and my achievements in short compact sentences. So I started with longer sentences and condensed them. Having a reviewer helped me to not overdo the compression. With every shortening I removed some context and occasionally too little remained for the sentence to make sense. I needed to demonstrate meaningful impact, for example by quantifying the outcome.
Let’s meet Kim. Kim worked in the DevOps team of a mid-sized company running about 100 services with N+1 replication. Kim is an experienced infrastructure expert with a focus on Kubernetes. Kim embodies the DevOps mindset of working closely together with developers and removing barriers between silos whenever feasible. This is what Kim wrote in their resume:
Worked as Kubernetes expert in the DevOps team
This sentence is correct but it leaves out three important aspects:
- Context: What was the scale of operations? What were the organisational, technical, or cultural challenges?
- Impact: How was the world a better place thanks to that person’s work? What was measured and how did the measured entity improve?
- Meaning: What drove and motivated Kim? What made them contribute to the “Why” of the organisation?
A better version would go like this:
Managed Kubernetes cluster in accordance to developer needs to optimize initial service development time
If historic data was available and they are allowed to share that data, Kim could write:
Designed a developer-friendly self-service solution cutting down initial service development time by on average 30% in the company’s 150-node Kubernetes cluster
The last version provides context, measured impact, and meaning. It clearly shows that Kim embodied the DevOps mindset, created a self-service that helped the overall organisation to become more efficient, and reduced non-development work for developers.
Needless to say, I wanted to look as successful as Kim in my resume!
Update: I have been asked if it is OK to make numbers up if one does not have metrics about their own work. I’d like to give the question back: Do you think it’s OK? Doesn’t it feel wrong? I wouldn’t want to end up in a situation where I have to explain why my numbers don’t add up as soon as someone digs a bit deeper. To be clear: My answer is No! Don’t make stuff up.
Playing the “fair game”
I struggled a bit with the Skills section. I knew that everything listed on a resume is considered fair game to ask in an interview. Interviewers like to go deep on the topics a candidate claims to know or have mastered. Given Google’s hiring track record chances are they have an expert interviewer for any possible topic. So it is in general safer to only claim skills that I was sufficiently proficient in. But I also wanted to show that I am constantly learning and exploring new topics. I decided to add a footnote to indicate skills that I did not master yet. I found this to be a good compromise.
Resumes and cultural background
A resume is a very personal document. It is a place where an individual describes their professional and educational past. Some items on a person’s resume may be close to their heart or play(ed) an important role in their identity. My cultural background is mostly European with a strong German touch. Most resumes I have seen from that cultural background are fairly accurate, sometimes on the edge of being an understatement.
Being an interviewer myself for some time I have seen resumes of people from many different cultural backgrounds. When assessing those candidates capabilities I found interesting differences and similarities. Candidates with similar capabilities would describe themselves very differently in the resume depending on cultural background. It is common in some cultures to list each and every software or tool one has ever seen or read about. In other cultures people do exaggerate noticeably on their responsibilities and their role titles. Then there are cultures in which people barely list any accomplishments unless those were clearly superb and widely praised. Reading and evaluating resumes is an act of intercultural communication and requires awareness of diverse backgrounds. However, I’ve rarely seen people deliberately making false statements in a resume.
When writing my resume I was aware of the fact that it may be perceived very differently. I tried to find some middle ground erring on the side of accuracy and understatement.
An interesting learning was that resume writing is actually pretty hard. The more the review hurts, the better the resume gets. But I hated it when I was told how not great I managed to present myself at times. I still think it was worth it, but let’s be honest, writing the resume was not a fun activity!
In the end my resume didn’t even fully cover a single U.S. Letter or DIN A4 page. Perfect size!
Motivated me applied for three SRE roles. As far as I know this is the maximum number of roles that one can apply to at the same time. Better be safe than sorry! 🤪