Software engineers are in high demand, so there’s no shortage of opportunities for people with the right skills. But just because you know how to design cloud solutions or build server-side web applications doesn’t mean you’ll instantly have scores of interviews lined up the minute you decide to look for a new job. You’re going to need to write a great resume first.
“A great software engineer resume should have a clear narrative about who you are as an employee,” says Peenak Inamdar, Director of Engineering at The Muse. “For example, are you great at execution, are you a self-starter, do you thrive in ambiguously defined roles, or are you a pinch hitter for your skill set?” Beyond simply listing your work history, your resume should capture the full breadth of your experience as it relates to the roles you’re pursuing, thus painting a fuller picture of what you bring to the table. Here’s how to do it.
1. Customize the User (or Reader) Experience
Most candidate applications will pass through an applicant tracking system (ATS) before they reach a pair of human eyes. These programs scan each resume submitted for a job posting in search of relevant keywords to determine whether a candidate’s skills are a match for the job. If your resume is devoid of relevant terms, the ATS will probably reject your application—even if you have the right experience. So for starters, you’ll want to incorporate as many job-specific and industry-specific keywords as possible, notes Muse career coach Steven Davis, owner of Renaissance Solutions Inc., a coaching and recruiting agency specializing in software engineering, product manager, and project manager opportunities.
Beyond that, “Try to tailor your resume to the specific job posting where possible,” Inamdar says. “Hiring managers will compare the narrative of your resume to their role to determine whether your experience is compatible.” Think: What does the recruiter or hiring manager need to know about your experience in order to understand that you’re qualified?
So as you read through a job description, take note of the skills, responsibilities, languages, and programs mentioned and remember: If you have experience with anything listed, it belongs on your resume.
On the flip side, try to avoid including skills or experiences that don’t apply. “Utilizing words or descriptions that don’t match job requirements” is one of the biggest mistakes software engineers make when drafting their resumes, according to Davis.
Relevant keywords will vary from one specialty, company, or job posting to the next, but here are a few to get you started, depending on your area of expertise:
Front-End Development Keywords
- Back-End Data Display
- Collaborate with Back-End Developers
- Collaborate with Web Designers
- Create Web Pages
- Current Web Trends
- Dynamic Web Page Design
- Framework Templates
- Search Engine Optimization
- Software Workflow
- Styling and Color Design
- User Interface
- UX (User Experience)
- Website Content Display
- Website Navigation Optimization
Back-End Development Keywords
- Application Scaling
- Back-End Framework
- Back-End Programming Language
- Database Administration
- Front-End Web Technologies
- Hosting Environment
- Load Changes
- Security Compliance
- Version Control (e.g. Git)
Web Development Keywords
- Agile Software Development
- Application Code
- Command Lines
- Continuous Integration
- DevOps Practices
- Front-End Systems
- LAMP Development
- Object-Oriented Design
- Responsive Design
- Server-Side Scripting
- Version Control Systems
- Writing Modules
2. Feature Your Technical Know-How
Software engineers rely on specific programs, systems, and languages to perform their jobs, so recruiters will be especially interested in the technical skills section of your resume. That means it’s well worth investing some serious time and effort into creating a detailed technical skills section. “When I’m reviewing a candidate’s resume, I want to see how the technologies they’ve listed align with what we use. Does their technical experience mesh well with where we are as a company?” Inamdar says.
Need a few examples? Davis has you covered. “Front-end developers should include frameworks such as Angular or React, back-end developers need to highlight their knowledge of the inner workings of web applications and server-side buildouts, and full-stack engineers should mention their use of Node.js or Serverless.” Davis also has a reminder for full-stack engineers: “It’s imperative to include experience with both front-end and back-end development.”
Again, tailoring your resume for each job description is crucial—especially as you’re drafting your technical skills section.
3. Be Specific About Your Accomplishments
“A great software engineer resume will demonstrate quantifiable success in areas like designing and delivering cloud solutions [or] using the latest technologies and development methodologies in DevOps, or [they’ll show their] experience with microservices, Lean, Agile, Serverless, containerization, and cloud platforms,” Davis says. Describing your experience using specific details (like the type of project, the technologies used, or the type of client) and outcomes (like a completed website design, successful application launch, or a % decrease in code churn) will help to bring your resume to life and help recruiters better understand how your experience fits into the opening they’re looking to fill.
“Make it a priority to provide context and highlight not just what your skills are, but when and how you applied them,” Inamdar explains. “If you know Scrum, when did you use it? If you’re an expert in Python, at which job did you use that language?”
So instead of writing a bland bullet point like “responsible for delivering end-to-end solutions using cloud-native platforms,” you could craft something much more compelling, like “leveraged architectural expertise in Kubernetes cloud-native platform to deliver mature end-to-end solutions for 20 unique internal applications teams.”
Notice how the second example includes details about the platform this candidate uses (Kubernetes), who they’re developing solutions for (internal applications teams), and the scope of their responsibilities (20 separate teams). Incorporating key details, technologies, or quantifiable metrics wherever possible will help your resume stand out.
Try using the below formula to craft bullet points that will paint a more detailed picture of your experience.
- Action Verb + Job Duty + Key Details (e.g. technologies used or % increase) = Outcome
4. Choose the Right Layout
“It’s important to choose a resume layout that allows you to create a narrative that’s easy for the reader to follow. They should quickly be able to understand what you’re looking for and what your experience is,” Inamdar advises. So unless you’re making a major career pivot (more on that below), a traditional chronological layout is probably the way to go. Recruiters tend to favor chronological resumes because they’re straightforward and easy to follow.
Similarly, avoid design elements that will make your resume hard to scan—either by a computer or by a person. “Too much formatting makes your resume less searchable,” Inamdar says. For example, some ATSs have issues parsing columns and will read them straight across. Meanwhile, an overly flashy design may make it hard for even a human to quickly pick out the information they want from your resume.
Dividing your resume into clear sections (like education, experience, and technical skills) will also make a recruiter’s job easier. “Keep the formatting as simple as possible and avoid using fonts that are hard to read,” Inamdar says. “The focus should be on your work history and your skills.”
If you’re feeling nervous about getting past the ATS but want to show off your design chops, consider creating an online portfolio that you can link out to from your resume. Check out Alex Motzenbecker or Joe Laquinte’s portfolios for two good examples.
5. Remember the Basic Framework of Resume Design
No matter what your specialties are or where you are in your career, there are a few tried and true resume writing rules you’ll want to keep in mind as you draft your own.
Try to keep it to a single page. Most recruiters prefer resumes that are tailored and to the point. So unless you have decades of experience, a single-page resume should suffice. Streamlining the content of your resume to reflect the job posting you’re applying to and keeping the focus on your most recent experience should help you to keep your word count down.
Call out your key achievements. If you’ve worked on multiple projects throughout your tenure at a particular job, you might want to consider creating a key achievements subsection. This helps you highlight the projects you’re most proud of—and the ones that are most relevant to the position. You’ll see this in action on the sample resume below.
Don’t forget to edit. Your resume is a reflection of your skills and qualifications, so you’ll want to make sure it’s perfect before you click submit. Be sure to proofread every draft of your resume—even if you’re positive it’s error-free. You may also want to enlist a friend, family member, or colleague to give it a read, too!
If You’re New to the Field or Making a Pivot
If you’ve never technically worked as a software engineer, but recently earned a computer science degree or completed a robust training program (like a coding bootcamp), you can still create a stellar resume. You’ll just need to make a few minor tweaks to the traditional format.
Write a Summary
When executed properly, summaries can serve to bridge the gap between your past experience, recent training, and future goals, helping recruiters to better understand how your skills might translate into the role you’re hoping to land. Here’s how it might all come together:
In addition to writing a strong resume with a focus on your most transferable skills, you’ll want to be sure you also have an updated LinkedIn profile and corresponding cover letter. “If someone is making a career pivot, I want to see consistency,” Inamdar says. “I’ll always look at their cover letter for additional context.”
Emphasize Your Education
If you don’t have much (or any) direct professional experience to speak of, your education, training, and technical skills will be especially important. So you’ll want to be sure that it stands out. Creating detailed “Education and Training” and “Technical Skills” sections and featuring them prominently toward the top of your resume will help highlight your transferable qualifications.
Play Up Your Projects
Think Outside the Box About What’s Relevant
“If you’re a career switcher, don’t feel like you need to hide your past work experience—whatever it might be,” Inamdar says. “The skills you’ve already learned are an asset because it means your next employer won’t need to teach you.” So for example, if you’ve worked as an administrative assistant before going to a coding bootcamp, don’t be shy about hiding your relevant responsibilities. “If you’ve done lots of planning or project execution, call it out. Be proud of it. Don’t bury it,” Inamdar advises.
Weigh Your Layout Options
Finally, if you’re making a career pivot, you might want to consider an alternative layout (maybe a combination or functional resume), as these formats take the focus off of your chronological work experience while giving you the flexibility to feature your most relevant experience most prominently. One caveat, though: Recruiters and hiring managers tend to prefer more traditional chronological layouts, so there are tradeoffs to using an alternative. You can read up on the pros and cons of every option here.
Now for an Example
Whether you’re a front-end, back-end, or full-stack software engineer, you’ll want to be sure that your resume hits the right points.
As you read through the below example, make note of the relevant keywords, detailed technical skills and education sections, quantified experience, and clearly defined sections. You’ll also notice that this candidate has included external links to projects they’ve worked on and to their website. This can be a great way to showcase your creativity and accomplishments without adding length or design elements to your resume.
While your finished product might feature a different layout, focus, or specialty, it should still include the same basic building blocks.
Download an example software engineer resume
Your resume is a reflection of your experience, expertise, and creativity, so investing time and energy into getting it right is sure to pay off. Remember, tailoring your resume to reflect the job description, incorporating relevant keywords, and getting specific about the details of your experience will serve to strengthen your resume and ultimately help you land your next job.
Photo of person on laptop standing at desk courtesy of 10'000 Hours/Getty Images.
Jaclyn Westlake worked as an agency recruiter and an HR manager in the startup, tech, and finance space for nearly 10 years before branching out into resume writing, freelance recruiting, and career advising. These days, you can find her sharing job search insights on The Muse and blogging about boat life on The Wife Aquatic. She's also an avid paddleboarder, proud plant-based eater, and doting dog mom to a 10-year old dachshund mix named Indiana Jones.More from this Author