Tips on writing a successful engineering resume

It’s that time of the year again where spring is in full force, the sun is shining, birds are chirping and this year’s college graduates are spreading their wings and sending out resumes. Despite at least four years of schooling and tens of thousands of dollars spent on tuition, it’s unfortunate that their curriculum doesn’t include a resume 101 course or at least require students to attend a seminar on resume writing.

Awkwardly crafted and abysmal resumes aren’t constrained to recent graduates but also reach into the general engineering population. This leaves the perfect opportunity to review some basic tips for handling resumes and establishing an online presence, after all, resumes are no longer limited to simple paper versions.

Tip #1 – Ignore the one page rule
For some reason, since the beginning of time there has been this notion that a resume should only be one page. It should be short and simple and provide very basic information. This is great if the plan is to be a professional job seeker. A single page, in a readable font, provides enough space to put a name, a few companies and education before there is no more room left on the page. It doesn’t provide enough space to really sell or distinguish the applicant from anyone else. Single page resumes are often looked at and quickly discarded because there is nothing on them that really catches attention. Don’t allow this outdated rule to dictate the length of a resume.

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

Tip #3 – Use bullet points to improve readability
Instead of writing paragraphs about the work performed at a company or on a project, the use of bullet points is highly recommended because they can drastically improve the readability of a resume. 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 to effectively get the point across. This is something that someone adhering to the one page rule would never be able to do.


Figure 1. An example of using bullet points

Tip #4 – List professional experience first
College degrees always hold a special place in everyone’s heart especially after paying the enormous tuition rates that have become known to students in modern times.

Unfortunately, on a resume they hold less weight than professional experience. This means that while having a degree may be necessary, they should be listed after professional experience. It seems unfair but the fact of the matter is that the first few years of one’s career are spent learning what should have been taught in higher educational institutions. Please note that professional experience was noted earlier in the paragraph. This means that coffee shops and a stint at McDonalds are not going to be of interest to your next engineering employer, so it can be removed from the experience list.

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

Tip #6 – List useful skills
Forcing an employer to read between the lines is a dangerous game. Listing project details is one thing but an employer also wants to know in general the types of skills the candidate has. Having a technical expertise section that lists various items such as hardware, software and programming language and provide a quick overview summary of what an individual brings to the table can be very beneficial. Figure 2 shows such as an example.


Figure 2. An example skills list

Tip #7 – Identify industry buzz words and use a few
Atdifferent times there are certain buzz words that take an industry bystorm. They may indicate a certain type of design paradigm such asmodel driven design or event driven design or perhaps a new field ofdevice such as internet-of-things or machine-to-machine. The wholepoint is that while the resume is being dusted off and updated, spendinga little bit of time learning the current buzz words can do a lot toincrease the likely hood of the resume being discovered. Of course ifthe buzz word doesn’t apply it should be over-looked but there will mostlikely be buzz words that do apply and that greatly raise the resumesvisibility.

Tip #8 – Use action words
Companies liketo have leaders on their teams or up and coming leaders. Leaders areaction driven and employers like to look for candidates that takeinitiative and are on their way to becoming leaders. For this reason itis always nice to include action words that grab extra attention.

Mention leading the team or managed the team or were conductinginvestigations to list a few. While investigating resume action words, awebsite with “100 Great Resume Words” popped up and after a quickreview there was little argument about it. The website is linked hereand it is highly recommended that they be perused by the reader the nexttime resume updating occurs.

Tip #9 – Use social media to enhance your resume
Paperis out, electronic is in. The resume in general hasn’t changed a wholelot but with social media outlets such as Linkedin and Twitter, theopportunity to enhance a resume is astounding. Linkedin can be used asan enhanced resume by duplicating the information on a resume and thenfilling in the extras that Linkedin allows. In today’s society thereseems to be more chance of being found on a social media website firstand then only after connecting with someone does a request for a resumeoccur. This means that social media profiles need to be just as good atattracting attention as a resume but that is an entirely differentarticle for another day.

A few examples of some enhancementsthat can be made through social media are getting colleagues to verifyyour skills, getting recommendations and then also cross linkingcolleagues on projects. This provides employers with the ability tocross reference what they are being told and verify that the material isin fact real.

There has been some buzz about something calledKlout that is supposed to analyze social media interactions and thenrank a user based on those interactions. A value of 1 to 99 is thenassigned to them. Despite all the authors’ interactions on social mediasites, posting baby pictures on Facebook seems to raise the score themost. This leads the author to believe that Klout is an interestingsidebar that will most likely not be taken seriously by employers in thenear future.

Tip #10 – Review and update quarterly
Theworst time to update a resume is when an individual is looking for ajob. Going for long periods of time without updates usually results ingaps of information or misrepresentation from just forgetting what wasdone. That is why it is useful to set a periodic time, whether it isevery quarter or twice a year to sit down and update the resume with newprojects, skills, etc. Sometimes employers will include employeeresumes in proposals in order to show a potential client that their teamhas the skills necessary to get the job done. If a resume isn’t keptup to date then the team could quickly look like they are not up-to-datewith the latest and greatest techniques and cause the employer to losebusiness.

Conclusion
These are but a few brief tips onhow to handle resumes. Please feel free to add to and leave comments.In order to provide an example, the author has posted his resume forothers to take and leave as they will. As a consultant, the authorupdates and sends this information out frequently and has receivedpositive feedback on contents and structure. Hopefully it can helpserve others in their own endeavors. The example can be downloaded fromhis profile at http://bit.ly/12QMNJE.

JacobBeningo is a lecturer and consultant on embedded system design. Heworks with companies to develop quality and robust products and overcometheir embedded design challenges. Feel free to contact him atjacob@beningo.com, his website www.beningo.com or on twitter@Jacob_Beningo.

A version of this article originally appeared on Embedded.com’s sister site EDN.com. 

4 thoughts on “Tips on writing a successful engineering resume

  1. For us oldtimers, I can remember when long resumes were the standard. In those days, HR did not filter resumes, instead they were passed through directy to the hiring manager. Not until the 80s did the 1 page resume come into vogue when HR took over and st

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