Original question from Quora:

As a programmer, what things impress on a resume?

Besides having a PhD or working at a bit tech company.

My Answer:

You don’t need a PhD or to work at a big tech company to have an impressive resume. In fact, neither of those things help much. I’ll explain why in just a moment…

However, it is clear by this question that you’ve never served in a hiring role at a company, so you might not understand what hiring and resumes are really about.

Let me dispel a few myths about resumes.

  1. Your resume doesn’t get you a job.
  2. The bullet points on your resume matter for about 5 minutes.
  3. Credentials don’t mean much.

Allow me to explain…

First of all, your resume doesn’t get you a job. It gets you an interview. The entire deal with a resume is for it to be good enough to show you can do the job you applied for, and interesting enough to not get thrown away.

Second of all, your fancy bullet points of accomplishments are exciting the first time someone reads it. Then they get sort of forgotten. Again, go back to the first point. All the resume gets you is an interview.

You do the rest!

Oh and on the point of credentials. Think of them as table stakes. A college degree or a good job helps you look good enough to interview, but unless you got a degree from Harvard or Stanford, they might not mean as much as you think.

Now that I’ve dispelled a few myths about this stuff, let me tell you what really happens to most resumes…

When I was part of a hiring committee, my boss would filter in the resumes and most of the time you could look at the resume and see if they were a good fit or not.

At the time, our team culture was young, hip, and agile building web software. When someone came in with a bunch of certifications for Java Enterprise software development and the like, we quickly ignored those because they never were a good fit for our Ruby/PHP/MySQL stack (that’s another story).

A few times my boss took a chance on interviewing corporate Java developers and they all ended up pretty much the same way. I don’t think we hired any of them.

The point is, more often than not peoples’ resume was used as a disqualifier as much as a qualifier.

The best developers were the ones who took a lot of initiative on their own to build interesting side projects, and this almost never showed up on the resume.

Generally speaking, looking at resumes didn’t give us enough information to make a good hiring decision on its own, but were sometimes useful in filtering candidates worth talking to.

So to answer your original question, the most impressive thing on a resume would be real examples of things you built. That could also take the form of really excellent blog posts or open source projects too.

Most developers do a terrible job promoting themselves or their work, so even a small amount of shameless self promotion goes a long way assuming you’ve actually built some cool stuff.

-Brian

P.S. I unpack more ideas in Creative Genius.