Write a Killer Technical Resume in Five Steps

Ever dreaded writing a resume so much that you put it off until the last minute? When you finally wrote it in desperation, were you happy with it? Are you kind of afraid to look at it now?

I know what that’s like, because I’ve been there. But I’ve written two resumes in the last week without any of the pain using a method I’ve found that really works. The method breaks down into five steps.

Step 1: Get the Facts, and Only the Facts

My resume from a year ago, presented as a coloring book.

First, the dirty work. Compile a list of where you worked and when:

  • Company names you worked at (with locations)
  • Your job titles
  • Start and end dates

If you’ve been working a while, stick to the last 5-7 years. I know it’s hard to leave out the cool stuff you did in the 90’s, but just post the pictures on Facebook– hiring managers don’t want to read about it.

Optional items that can set you apart:

  • URLs for relevant online profiles (Think http://dba.stackexchange.com/— even if you’ve just asked questions, that can still say something very positive to an employer.)
  • Certification Titles (be precise)
  • Degrees and graduation dates

You can be selective about how much detail you put on your resume. You do not need to list your graduation year, for example, if you are concerned about age discrimination.

Step 2: Make a Date with a Friend and a Text Editor

Here’s where we take the pain out of writing your resume. For most geeks, it’s much harder to write about yourself than it is to talk to a friend about what you did.

Identify a friend who can type and who you feel comfortable with. Ask them to spend an hour with you helping you rebuild your resume. This person doesn’t have to be a geek at all, they just need to be able to take notes and ask you a set of questions. For safety reasons, pick someone who’s not a significant other or family member.

To prepare for your interview, open a simple text editor. Create a file and enter your name and employment history, with spaces in between.  Make a basic template:

Hermoine Datasmarter

##DBA, Stormtroopers International##
Portland, OR (2010-present)

## Helpdesk Supervisor, This Is a Legitimate Business, LLC ##
Seattle, WA (2009-2010)

## Helpdesk Tech, This Is a Legitimate Business, LLC##
Seattle, WA (2007-2009)

Step 3: Get Interviewed on Your Work History

At the appointed date and time, sit down with your friend, open your text file, and hand over the keyboard. Take a few deep breaths. Relax. Your friend’s mission is to interview you about each job and take notes. For each job they should ask you:

  • What did you learn at the job?
  • What are you proud of doing at the job?
  • What technologies did you use?
  • What processes were important to success?

Start at the job that’s farthest back because that’s probably a job where it’s OK to have the fewest details. By the time you get to your current job, you should be in the swing of things. At the end of the interview you should have a giant brain dump of details in a text file about your work history.

Step 4: Craft Your Story

Wait a day or so after the previous step. Then save a new copy of the file and start editing your “Work Mess” with gusto.

Stay in your text editor in this step! Don’t think about formatting or presentation.

Make your edits based on one big question: What story do I want to tell about where I’m going in my career? There are an infinite amount of details you could give about yourself, but you need to limit yourself to only a page.

You may choose to add an “extra” feature to the top of your resume after you finish your work history. If you’re going to do this, just pick one “extra” resume feature, and make sure you it really works for you. Here are some items that can work:

  • List of specializations. This one is common and a bit expected, but it puts buzzwords at the top of your resume. That helps with recruiters and HR. A word to the wise: only put technologies in the list that you’re great at and want to be grilled on, or this will go terribly terribly wrong.
  • Short stories of what you’re proud of. I put three recent awesome projects at the top of my resume.
  • Something playful, but relevant. Jeremiah Peschka put a countdown of information about himself on his resume. That can be risky, but if you pull it off then it’s awesome.
  • How You’re Teaching Yourself. If you’re transitioning or just starting out in an industry, you can include information on what you’re doing to build up your skills before you get a job. I encourage learners to do work in virtual lab environments— if you’re doing that, you have stories you can tell.

There are a few pitfalls that I see commonly. Avoid a statement about what job you’re trying to land. Those statements come off as predictable and meaningless. The top of your resume is the most valuable real estate on it– you need to make a great impression there, so don’t waste it on something forgettable.

Step 5: Get Feedback from a Trusted Advisor

At this point your resume is still in a text file. That’s great. You’ve been focusing on content, and guess what? Many companies are going to make you submit a text version (or a very simplified version) for their database.

Before you worry at all about formatting, get feedback on your story— that’s your resume— from a trusted advisor. After you get feedback, apply some polish and make yourself happy with the content. At long last, you can use a word processor if you’d like.

More Help: Our DBA Job Interview Kit

Good interviewing is not a talent – it’s a skill you build with study and practice. Our training kit gives you 70 technical DBA interview questions and answers, 10 situational questions with strategies on how to answer, and 20 questions for YOU to ask your prospective employer. Learn more now.

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7 Comments. Leave new

  • Travis Foschini
    September 6, 2012 9:19 pm

    Great article. Everyone I know hates writing resumes.

    Have you thought about adding a twist on the article and writing something similar on the topics of ‘how to write killer presentations in 5 steps’ or ‘how to write -n- *illustrate* killer tech blogs in 5 steps’ ?

  • Nice article, Kendra. But doesn’t it break Brent’s request that if we don’t fulfill some condition (MCM, be God..own a Porsche GT) we don’t deserve a resume greater than one page? 😀

    Just sayin’.. 🙂

  • I really impressed with the article and methods Brent, it will help to the employer to find a better one.

  • I like the step 3 questions to put for each employer. I tried that for one and it actually looks alot better than what I had.

    I was wondering about one thing. As a contractor most folks tend to hold one position but go through multiple companies over the life of a contract, or that time in their career. Is there a “one way better than the other” format to noting all that information without listing one position multiple times for each employer? I may be over-thinking this a little.

  • Wow. This is awesome. I have been afraid to look at my resume. I’ve read so many really awful resumes when interviewing others, but I have had no idea how to put mine together. Thanks.


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