Golden Resume Rules for CS Majors

by Adithya Solai

From Unsplash

Motivation

I frequently get asked by Computer Science Majors to review their resumes. I see the same big mistakes repeatedly. I’ve typed out the same verbose tips in countless emails. I wanted to publish those tips as a resource for everyone (and so that I never have to type these tips out again).

My strong views on resume etiquette come from resume workshops and getting my resume reviewed by others. It is hard to cite those sources. As a result, this article is highly opinionated.

Most students have decent resume formatting (headers, bolding, italics, font, font size, dividers, etc.). I’m not going to discuss the nitty-gritty of formatting in this article (maybe in a future article).

The Reader’s Perspective

All of my advice can be summarized with the following: create an immersive reading experience for your audience. In this case, the audience is Technical Recruiters and full-time Software Engineers.

Given the large number of applicants to Intern/New-Grad tech roles at the same pool of companies, a Technical Recruiter will read your resume for 1 minute at best. My tips below will make it easier for recruiters to quickly scan your resume and find attractive experiences that keep them reading.

My tips also focus on reducing whitespace. If you have many work experiences and projects to talk about, these tips will enable you to fit more information in your 1-page resume. If you don’t have many work experiences or projects, then these tips will expose how much more growth you still have left.

Quantify Everything!

Bullets from the resume of a student that I mentor.

Buzzwords are not enough! You need to quantify your achievements.

In the example above, recruiters don’t care much for buzzwords like Java, Selenide, Selenium, Scrum, etc. Instead, they would like to see metrics that quantify how this student’s contributions improved codebase efficiency. The student could quantify this achievement by giving rough estimates on the reduction in number of lines of code. Rough estimates are better than nothing. Recruiters would also like to see numbers that show how the student “improved test coverage.” An intuitive metric for test coverage is the before-and-after test coverage percentages in categories like line coverage and branch coverage (read more about software test coverage here).

Here is an example from my old Fall 2020 resume where I was able to quantify every bullet in a prior work experience:

From my Fall 2020 Resume (Junior Year of College)

Fill Bullet Lines All The Way

Re-using the same bullets from the previous section.

The most common mistake I see is when students only put 2–3 words in the final line of their bullets for a work experience or personal project. This mistake adds unnecessary, underused lines to your resume. If this student could’ve reduced each bullet to just 1 line, they could have gained 3 extra lines to talk more about other experiences. This mistake can severely reduce the amount of information that can be put in your resume, especially when considering that a typical Word Document with Times New Roman 12-size font only has about 43 lines.

In the example above, the student needs to make a crucial decision for each bullet: should I shorten the bullet to 1 full line or extend the bullet to 2 full lines? Only you can make this judgement because only you know if there is more to say for that bullet.

Here is an example from my resume where I had to make judgements about what points deserve a 2-line bullet versus a 1-line bullet.

Read more about this project: https://towardsdatascience.com/cracking-blackjack-part-1-31da28aeb4bb

Ideal Resume Organization

I recommend the following ordering of sections for a CS Major’s Resume:

  • Education
  • Technologies/Languages
  • Work Experiences
  • Personal Projects
  • Extracurriculars and/or Research

Here are some resume items I believe to be lower-priority (only include them if you are having trouble filling in your resume):

  • Relevant Coursework
  • Hobbies / Interests (tech recruiting is more about technical skills + coding challenges, and less about behavioral assessment)
  • Foreign Languages
  • High School Standardized Test Scores — SAT/ACT, SAT Subject Tests, etc.

Education:
Education should still be at the top because you are still a college student. Even if you have extensive internship work experience or want to hide your GPA, you should still keep education at the top. Try to minimize the # of lines used for this section. Here is an example of my Education section:

From my current Resume.

Technologies/Languages:
Technologies/Languages you have worked with should go next because you want to give the recruiter context for what they can expect when reading about your personal projects below. This section will give the recruiter immediate insight on what type of tech role best matches your skills:

  • Back-End, Front-End, Full Stack → Software Engineering
  • Lots of Python Data Science frameworks → Data Scientist
  • Tableau, Power BI, SQL → Business Analyst
  • Cloud Certifications → Cloud Solutions Architect

Work Experiences:
If you do not have any tech-related work experience yet, then you have a few options. If you have lots of personal projects, then feel free to omit the Work Experience section completely, and use the extra space to describe your personal projects in greater detail. If you don’t have many personal projects either, then include as many non-tech work experiences as needed to fill in your resume (part-time jobs at retail stores or restaurants, tutoring, landscaping, etc.).

Technical Recruiters love on-campus CS-related jobs like Teaching Assistant and Research Assistant. Make sure to include those here.

Make sure to minimize the space you use for the role description header (that is above the bullets). Here is a before-and-after of my old resume versus my new resume where I condensed the role header from 2 lines to 1 line:

Used 2 lines. From my Fall 2020 Resume.
Fit role description in just 1 line. From my current Resume.

Personal Projects:
Students often crowd their bullet lines with technology buzzwords and references to what extracurricular activity that the project is from. To save space, put these details in the project description’s header. Here is an example from my resume:

Project name, technologies used, and related experience (Apex Student Fund) all in one line.

Extracurriculars:
In tech recruiting, I don’t think leadership positions in on-campus clubs are as important as the technical projects you produce in those clubs. If your extracurricular experience is not technical and didn’t involve technical projects, try to minimize the number of bullet lines you allocate for this section of your resume.

Alternatively, you can allocate your entire Extracurricular section to talk about just one non-tech-related extracurricular if you believe it adds a meaningful new dimension to your profile. I did this in my old resume to show my passion for finance:

From my Fall 2020 Resume.

Research:
I never got involved with CS research in my undergraduate studies. I’m not the right person to comment on how to approach this topic on your resume.

Word Choice for Bullets

This is cliché advice, but I will re-iterate it. Use strong action verbs to start your bullets. Here are some examples of strong action verbs tailored for describing tech roles and personal projects:

  • Developed
  • Implemented
  • Designed
  • Created
  • Analyzed
  • Overhauled
  • Built
  • Refactored
  • Trained (for Machine Learning projects)

Here are some bad examples of action verbs:

  • Worked on
  • Participated
  • Coded

Use past tense if the work experience is in the past, and present tense if you are talking about a current role. Always use past tense for personal projects.

GPA — To Show or Not To Show?

As a general heuristic, I suggest only showing your GPA if it is ≥ 3.6. If you go to a household-name university that is known for grade deflation, then you can consider showing lower GPAs.

New-Grad tech jobs are one of the few recruiting domains where it is more about what you know than who you know or the prestige of your college. It is the one of the few job markets where you could get away with a very low GPA. I believe there are two driving forces for this phenomenon: large industry demand for tech skills, and avenues outside of GPA to show talent (like personal projects).

For these reasons, I think it is unwise to show a GPA like 3.1 / 4.0 because you don’t want to bias the recruiter at the very top of your resume before they scan down to digest your personal projects and work experience. Omitting your GPA will give you a clean slate and allow your projects to shine.

Using PDFs and URL Links

Make sure to always submit your Resume as a PDF, and never as a Word Document. Resumes are all about creating a smooth reading experience for Recruiters. Submitting as a Word Document forces the recruiter’s laptop to spin up Microsoft Word. Microsoft Word is also intended to be a document editor, and is not the right tool for a clean document viewing experience.

PDFs, on the other hand, will quickly pop up as another tab on the Recruiter’s browser, and are strictly designed for reading.

PDF versions of your resume should also be interactive. Make sure all URL hyperlinks in your PDF are clickable. Converting from Microsoft Word to PDF can sometimes remove clickable URL links, so make sure to double-check.

Important URL hyperlinks to include for a tech resume include:

Remove Objective Line at the Top!

An example of an Objective Line from a student that I mentor.

Your professional intentions should be clear to the recruiter from the other content on your resume and the fact that you are applying to their company. Use the space gained from deleting the Objective Line to add another bullet line to one of your experiences/projects.

Minimize Header

The header should just have your full name bolded in a large font and one line below your name for all relevant contact information. Don’t spend more than one line on contact information!

Here is what my Header looks like:

From my current Resume.

Related Readings

I’ve written other career-oriented articles. You can browse my Medium profile to find one that interests you (https://adithyasolai.medium.com). Here are the articles that I believe are most related to this one:

My Resume

E-mail me at adithyasolai7@gmail.com with any questions/comments!

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