Resumes for the Web Industry: Some Advice from the Trenches

Since I’ve been at SitePoint, I’ve helped to fill three full-time positions — so I’ve looked at a lot of resumes. I’ve been given the task again recently (as you may have heard on the SitePoint grapevine), so I thought it was timely to pen one of those “how to write a resume” posts, but make it specific to the web industry. Everything in this post comes from personal experience.

As far as I see it, your resume needs to deliver on two very important tasks:

  1. win you an interview
  2. clearly present your contact details

Presenting contact details is an easy one: make sure you prominently list every way possible to contact you. The best resumes I’ve seen have this embedded on every page.

But how will your resume win you that interview? By clearly demonstrating that you’re either well-qualified or unique enough for the interviewer to want to talk to you.

The Thing About Acronyms

The thing about acronyms is that they’re easy to spell. Everyone lists HTML and CSS on their resumes, but there’s one aspect web professionals know about those skills: they’re easy to know, hard to master. Hence, there’s a massive gulf between people who know how to make a website and people who know how to make a website.

An interviewer needs evidence of your level of proficiency with these skills. At the very least, indicate your level of experience: have you had some experience, a moderate amount, or extensive experience? It can be your own estimate.

Apart from that, what evidence of your experience exists on the Web? Existing examples of your work are good, but what else have you done? Written a blog? Contributed to open source projects? Attended conferences? Details of all your professional achievements should be documented on your resume. These are the elements that will make you stand out. And if you lack these types of accomplishments … you should consider doing something about it.

Remember, actions speak louder than bullet points.

Your Resume Should Be Concise

It’s hard to resist putting everything down in your resume. It’s a summary of your whole working life, so you want your future employer to see every good piece of work you’ve done. However, a good resume is a concise resume. There’s no need to list all of your experience because — remember — your resume just has to win you an interview; it won’t win you the job. The depth and breadth of your experience will become apparent when you talk to the interviewer, and you can explain the details then.

A prospective employer is looking to see how well you match the requirements of the position, so you have to ensure you do communicate that in your resume. This may mean customizing your resume for each job. Avoid writing lengthy descriptions and bullet points for each job you’ve ever held. If a previous job is irrelevant to the one to which you’re applying, list it without going into any details. It may be interesting enough to chat about at the interview (say, if you’ve been a bomb disposal expert), should you score one.

Employers understand that within every job there can be a kaleidoscope of tasks and responsibilities, but when looking at resumes they only want to hear about what’s relevant to the requirements of the job that you’re applying for. Once again, this will all come out in the interview.

Keep your resume short and concise. The best resumes I’ve ever received are one or two pages.

Test, Test, and Test Again

Of course, you’d think spell-checking your resume was a no-brainer — but I still see resumes with spelling mistakes. Show your resume to at least five other people and ask them to try to find errors. Buy them a beer for each one they find; do everything you can to make sure your resume is error-free.

If you take away only one piece of advice from this post then let it be this: test all your links! Your potential employer doesn’t want to click links to websites you did a few years ago only to find they are broken, show domain-holding pages, or now distribute malware. If there’s a problem, remove it from your resume; it’s a worthless reference.

Agree? Disagree? How does your resume look? What are your tips for web professionals? If you’re an employer, what do you look for in a good resume? Are resumes for the web industry any different to other industries?

Leave a comment!

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  • http://www.jonathanpenny.co.uk jonpenny

    Good post. When I left university and started applying for web developer jobs I could find loads of advice for CV’s but none specific for the web. From my experience the web industry is different to most.

    I like the idea of putting contact details on more than the one page. I never thought of that. A female friend of mine always includes a picture of herself with each CV and also uses coloured paper instead of white if the CV is posted and not sent electronically. She also adds little glitter stars so “spice” it up a bit.

    It works too a lot of the company’s she has worked for always comment how much they like it. Makes her CV stand out from the rest. It works for her though as she is a graphic designer. Not sure it would work in another line of work, such as a doctor or lawyer.

  • http://coronatus.com/ AlienDev

    I don’t suppose me fixing these things would make you reconsider my résumé which I’ve uploaded and emailed twice in the past week? Pretty please? I’ve got the visa, now I need the job!

  • Smasher

    Good advice Andrew, I guess isn’t that easy to win an interview, so better have the very best work in the resume, and some projects too.
    Thanks

  • arts-multimedia

    I would say you summed it up just fine. I would want to get resumes like that if I was looking for an employee.

  • Lou

    One thing not mentioned was being honest in your resume. This is extremely important!
    Several years ago we were interviewing for a software engineer position. One guy’s resume stood well above the others and we brought him in for an interview. He listed SQL Server, Oracle, and Sybase in his skill set. As we discussed his database background, I asked him if he was familiar with SQL Server. He said ‘no.’ After I questioned him on why he listed it on his resume, I showed him the door. The rest of his resume was discredited. He obviously wasn’t too bright if he didn’t know what he has put in his own resume.

  • http://www.kidsportsoftware.com smadeira

    As somebody that has hired many people in technologies ranging from networking to software development to database programmers to tech support reps, your tips are applicable to almost any and all industries. The net of it is tell me what you have done (not what you are responsible for), where you did it and how I can contact you since you are a perfect fit for my job opening. That does mean a customized resume to each position along with a customized cover letter.
    The only real difference I see in a web developer or a designer resume is that you can include actual work samples with your portfolio links. If you are a systems architect or a network engineer it isn’t as easy to include real work samples in any meaningful way.
    Also, unless your skills are a 100% match to what they are looking for and you are the only one to submit a resume for the position you will want to network your way into the company. Find somebody in the company that can get your resume to the hiring manager. Use all of your connections, personal, business and otherwise to find links into the companies you want to work for. If you can do that then the resume becomes less important and you have the beginnings of a relationship with the hiring manager and possibly a new career.

  • Ulyses

    Agree and Disagree.
    If you have done work as a web designer, things are pretty clear, and links in your resumé are looking good.

    However, for a web developer things might just got complicated. If you were previously employed by a corporation or worked in a public sector, it’s hard to pride your self with your folio.
    But this (previous workplaces like above) should recommend you enough until you are being tested in an interview. I guess.

  • Anonymous

    Awesome tips. I must admit, when I saw the title of your article my first thought was, “Oh no, this is going to be another ‘Don’t use Times font, or you’ll never be hired’ nonsense resume post.” Most people that talk about writing good resumes mainly discuss personal pet peeves that are not widely shared. I’m glad that you instead discussed solid, general advice. :)

  • Fabrizio

    Totally agree… I recently had to read several CV´s and it´s amazing how many of those were overworked or boasting a cheesy font choice… I would suggest to keep in mind that the person in charge often skim when they have lots of material to read, so if the font is hard to read at high speed or detect a lot of words and no message, they will most likely put your cv on the side, closer to the trash can.

  • SRG

    I’m finding that if you’re looking at contracts through IT Companies, they’re asking for more in your resume, not less. The emphasis is on key words and I tweak and re-phrase all the time because they request it before sending to the client, or attaching to an RFP. Is this a difference between contracts and long term positions, or are the IT companies incorrect?

  • Anonymous

    I would have thought of listing relevant courses and workshops. but not conferences that I have attended. Do you mean conferences that someone may have presented at, or just attended?

  • rwest4828

    That was a great post. I am a self taught web designer/developer and have trouble with the tech interview. I have the knowledge to do the job but when it comes to talking tech I get really nervous and insecure which causes my mind to go blank. I work at a company where I am the only tech person so the opportunity to talk tech is pretty much null. Does anyone know of any resources or have any advice that can help me over come this?
    Thanks in advance.
    Timid

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the tips..dese r vry useful

  • junemarkm

    Thanks for giving me some ideas and tips regarding this topic.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com/articlelist/487/ Andrew Tetlaw

    SRG, they’re not “incorrect”, it’s just a different situation.

    Anon, yes I think you should list the conferences/meetups you attend. It shows that you’re engaged with your career and the industry.

  • vinhkhoa

    I agreed with Ulyses post above that it is a lot easier to show your work if you are a designer. But if you are a developer, like myself, showing my knowledge in application development on a piece of paper could be tough.

    What do you think of making a website/or web page on your personal site to replace your resume? I’m thinking of showing very little on my paper version (as it is the one that gets read first so I must have it) but then put a big link on it to my personal site where the company can find all of my work, my skills, etc. One of the big advantages of website I think is it is interactive and we can do a lot more stuff on it. What do you think? Is it worth doing? And more importantly will it be valued more than a paper copy?

    • http://www.kidsportsoftware.com smadeira

      As a hiring manager I would say that your resume would have to generate enough interest in you as a candidate that I would take the time to go to your web site. If you have a “consultants” or “contractors” resume that goes on and on, page after page, you could do a real resume (1 or 2 pages max) and then have a link to a site for your detailed project info, a technical addendum that covers all of the technologies you have experience with, etc. The web page/site should be a supporting piece, not the main piece.

  • Al Eardley

    For many years I was involved in the hiring of technical staff, including those hired to replace me. I read many CVs and agree that concise, precise CVs are essential, and that everything in a CV must be truthful. Whilst hiring people, I always tried to validate the experience listed on a CV using tools like LinkedIn and general web searches. I also tested technical knoweldge by having current members of staff conduct a technical section for every interview. I found the combination of these techniques very good at confiming the validity of the CV and the skills listed in the CV.

    A little while ago I found myself on the other end of the hiring process. I produced generic CVs focused on differing areas of my expertise and then customised each and every CV to focus on the role that I was applying to. In some cases, I also tailored my LinkedIn profile temporarily by removing non-relevant experience.

    This approach got me some interviews and I found my dream job very fast.

    My biggest tip is to tailor your CV appropriately by finding out as much about the role as possible and if you are using a recruitment agency make sure that the agent is aware that you will alter your CV and ask them for advice.