hiring interview resume

Tips from a resume nerd

Before I begin this post a few caveats:

  • I don’t work in HR
  • I’m not a manager (but I interview Mozilla releng candidates)
  • I’m not looking for a new job.
  • These are just my observations after working in the tech industry for a long time.

I’m kind of a resume and interview nerd.  I like helping friends fix their resumes and write amazing cover letters. In the past year I’ve helped a few (non-Mozilla) friends fix up their resumes, write cover letters, prepare for interviews as they search for new jobs.  This post will discuss some things I’ve found to be helpful in this process.

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/jakerust/16223669794/sizes/l

Preparation
Everyone tends to jump into looking at job descriptions and making their resume look pretty. Another scenario is that people have a sudden realization that they need to get out of their current position and find a new job NOW and frantically start applying for anything that matches their qualifications.  Before you do that, take a step back and make a list of things that are important to you.  For example, when I applied at Mozilla, my list was something like this

  • learn release engineering at scale + associated tools/languages
  • open source
  • no relocation
  • work on a team of release engineers (not be the only one)
  • good team dynamics – people happy to share knowledge and like to ship
  • work in an organization where release engineering is valued for increasing the productivity of the organization as a whole and is funded (hardware/software/services/training) accordingly
  • support to attend and present at conferences

People spend a lot of time at work. Life is too short to be unhappy every day.  Writing a list of what is important serves as a checklist to when you are looking at job descriptions and immediately weed out the ones that don’t match your list.  

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/mufidahkassalias/10519774073/sizes/o/

 
People tend focus a lot on the technical skills they want to use or new ones you want to learn.  You should also think about what kind of culture where you want to work.  Do the goals and ethics of the organization align with your own? Who will you be working with? Will you enjoy working with this team?  Are you interested in remote work or do you want to work in an office? How will a long commute impact or relocation your quality of life? What is the typical career progression of someone in this role? Are there both management and technical tracks for advancement?

Picture by mugley – Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/mugley/4221455156/sizes/o/

To summarize, itemize the skills you’d like to use or learn, the culture of the company and the team and why you want to work there.

Cover letter

Your cover letter should succinctly map your existing skills to the role you are applying for and convey enthusiasm and interest.  You don’t need to have a long story about how you worked on a project at your current job that has no relevance to your potential new employer.  Teams that are looking to hire have problems to solve.  Your cover letter needs to paint a picture that your have the skills to solve them.

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Refactoring your resume

Developers have a lot of opportunities these days, but if you intend to move from another industry, into a tech company, it can be more tricky.  The important thing is to convey the skills you have in a a way that people can see they can be applied to the problems they want to hire you to fix. 

Many people describe their skills and accomplishments in a way that is too company specific.  They may have a list of acronyms and product names on their resume that are unlikely to be known by people outside the company.  When describing the work you did in a particular role, describe the work that you did in a that is measurable way that highlights the skills you have.  An excellent example of a resume that describes the skills that without going into company specific detail is here. (Julie Pagano also has a terrific post about how she approached her new job search.)

Another tip is to leave out general skills that are very common.  For instance, if you are a technical writer, omit the fact that you know how to use Windows and Word and focus on highlighting your skills and accomplishments. 

Non-technical interview preparation

Every job has different technical requirements and there are many books and blog posts on how to prepare for this aspect of the interview process. So I’m going to just cover the non-technical aspects.

When I interview someone, I like to hear lots of questions.  Questions about the work we do and upcoming projects.  This indicates that have taken the time to research the team, company and work that we do.  It also shows that enthusiasm and interest.

Here is a list suggestions to prepare for interviews

1.  Research the company make a list of relevant questions
Not every company is open about the work that they do, but most will be have some public information that you can use to formulate questions during the interviews.  Do you know anyone you can have coffee or skype with to who works for the company and can provide insight? What products/services do the company produce? Is the product nearing end of life?  If so, what will it be replaced by? What is the companies market share, is it declining, stable or experiencing growth? Who are their main competitors? What are some of the challenges they face going forward? How will this team help address these challenges?

2.  Prepare a list of questions for every person that interviews you ahead of time
Many companies will give you the list of names of people who will interview you.
Have they recently given talks? Watch the videos online or read the slides.
Does the team have github or other open repositories?  What are recent projects are they working on? Do they have a blog or are active on twitter? If so, read it and formulate some questions to bring to the interview.
Do they use open bug tracking tools?  If so, look at the bugs that have recent activity and add them to the list of questions for your interview. 
A friend of mine read the book of a person that interviewed him had written and asked questions about the book in the interview.  That’s serious interview preparation!

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3. Team dynamics and tools
Is the team growing or are you hiring to replace somebody who left?
What’s the onboarding process like? Will you have a mentor?
How is this group viewed by the rest of the company? You want to be in a role where you can make a valuable contribution.  Joining a team where their role is not valued by the company or not funded adequately is a recipe for disappointment.
What does a typical day look like?  What hours do people usually work?
What tools do people use? Are there prescribed tools or are you free to use what you’d like?

4.  Diversity and Inclusion
If you’re a member of an underrepresented group in tech, the numbers are lousy in this industry with some notable exceptions. And I say that while recognizing that I’m personally in the group that is the lowest common denominator for diversity in tech. 

The entire thread on this tweet is excellent  https://twitter.com/radiomorillo/status/589158122108932096

I don’t really have good advice for this area other than do your research to ensure you’re not entering a toxic environment.  If you look around the office where you’re being interviewed and nobody looks like you, it’s time for further investigation.   Look at the company’s website – is the management team page white guys all the way down?  Does the company support diverse conferences, scholarships or internships? Ask on a mailing list like devchix if others have experience working at this company and what it’s like for underrepresented groups. If you ask in the interview why there aren’t more diverse people in the office and they say something like “well, we only hire on merit” this is a giant red flag. If the answer is along the lines of “yes, we realize this and these are the steps we are taking to rectify this situation”,  this is a more encouraging response.

A final piece of advice, ensure that you meet with your manager that you’re going to report to as part of your hiring process.  You want to ensure that you have rapport with them and can envision a productive working relationship. 

What advice do you have for people preparing to find a new job?

Further reading

Katherine Daniels gave at really great talk at Beyond the Code 2014 about how to effectively start a new job.  Press start: Beginning a New Adventure Job
She is also the co-author of Effective Devops which has fantastic chapter on hiring.
Erica Joy writes amazing articles about the tech industry and diversity.
Cate Huston has some beautiful posts on how to conduct technical interviews and how to be a better interviewer
Camille Fournier’s blog is excellent reading on career progression and engineering management.
Mozilla is hiring!

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