How I Reviewed Resumes as a Tech Hiring Manager

When I was a manager at LinkedIn, hiring was one of my favorite parts of the job. Meeting cool people from around the world felt more like a perk than a duty. And interviewing fellow techies who shared my passions always left me feeling inspired.

But any guess which part of the hiring process I hated?

That’s right: Resumes.

The bane of hiring managers and job-seekers alike.

Why Resumes Suck

Because as exciting and real as interviews are, resumes are like the Two-Face to their Harvey Dent (sorry to comic-nerd out on you… :).

Whereas interviews are all about getting to know someone, resumes are all about putting up a facade:

“Here’s my phony Objective that I copied off the internet, here are a bunch of bullet points that don’t really tell you who I am, and, oh yeah, here’s some Additional stuff to make it seem like I’m a real person.”

Now multiply that times the ~500 resumes we’d get for every job we posted. And you don’t need to be a math major to know that the product of that particular equation = “Ugh.”

Resumes even make robots cry… :(

Resumes even make robots cry… :(

But don’t get me wrong, hiring managers are just as much to blame for this sorry state of affairs as applicants. Because we’re the ones that insist that you include them with Every. Single. Application.


What to Do About It

So where does that leave you, the frustrated tech job-seeker?


You’ve basically got two options:

  1. Keep doing what you’re doing, dumping the same-old generic resumes into the hopper that you’ve been pumping out since college… and then cross your fingers really, really hard!

  2. Or take advantage of this sorry state of affairs by designing a resume that actually helps the hiring manager - instead of making him want to tear his hair out… :)

Which road will you take???

Which road will you take???

To explain Option #2, let me first show you how I actually reviewed resumes at both LinkedIn and startups.


How Hiring Managers Actually Read Resumes

The first thing to know about “hiring managers” is that this title is sneakily misleading. While it’s true that they are responsible for “hiring,” that’s actually a distant second priority compared to “managing.” Because as much as I loved meeting and hiring new people, my true job was to manage my existing team and ensure that we got our work done.

This means that, when it came time to hire, I didn’t get a free two-week vacation to dedicate myself to the process. Instead, I had to juggle it along with all the other things I needed to get done at the same time.

So when I finally sat down to read resumes, I didn’t do so with a pina colada in my hand, poolside, enjoying sea breezes and .5” margins. Quite the contrary - I did it with one eye on the clock and the other on my fast-expanding inbox.

NOT the setting for your typical resume review!

NOT the setting for your typical resume review!

To really give you a sense of what that feels like, here’s my inner monologue throughout the process:

  • Popping open a can of Red Bull: “OK, no more meetings for the next 30 minutes and 60 resumes left to get through. I CAN DO THIS!”

  • Opening up the first resume and seeing like 127 bullet points: “Ugh. No I can not.”

  • Taking a swig of Red Bull: “Concentrate Jeremy. Concentrate!!!”

  • After 15 seconds of scanning the resume: “His titles are all over the place. Doesn’t seem like he’s really done the job before. Next.”

  • Opening up the next resume: “OK, this guy at least has the right titles. But nothing special - seems like he just listed the bullets straight out of the job description. Onto #3!”

  • Immediately upon opening the third resume: “Hey, hold on a second. She blogs about SEO for Moz? She drove 2M new unique users through a viral cat video parody??? She had me at “cat video!” In!!!”


What This Means For You

Besides confirming that I’m totally ADD, what can we learn from this resume-induced stream of consciousness?

Here are the three key takeaways:

  1. Resume reviews are based on impressions. Hiring managers are under incredible time pressure so only spend 10-15 seconds per resume. Because they can’t possibly read every last word during this tiny window, they end up making snap judgments based on a handful of bullets and some mental shortcuts.

  2. The first impression is focused on titles. Because tech is too fast-paced to allow for months of training, hiring managers need to find someone who can hit the ground running. And the quickest shortcut to determine this is whether you already have the same title on your resume (e.g., “Web Developer”).

  3. The lasting impression is based on Indicators of Quality. But it’s not just enough to have the right titles - lots of people do. So hiring managers need to find people who’ve not only done the job, but who’ve done it well. And thus they take one more shortcut, looking for Indicators of Quality that become proxies for success - keywords (“SEO”), brand names (“Moz”), stats (“2M new unique users”), and stories (“viral cat video parody”).

The tech hiring manager’s crazy brain: Always looking for shortcuts!

The tech hiring manager’s crazy brain: Always looking for shortcuts!

The bottom line: Everything you thought was important about resumes (having a fancy template, including an Objective, using the active voice for your bullets) turns out to be largely irrelevant.

Instead, only a handful of things actually matter. Which means that you can totally rock your resume - and your hiring manager’s world - with a few small tweaks.

How to Rock Your Resume

To truly prepare to rock, let’s reverse engineer these takeaways in three simple steps. We’ll use a sample resume for someone who launched their own web design business and now wants to work for a hot startup:

Step 1: Declutter

If hiring managers only have time to glance at a few things, it doesn’t make sense to pack your resume to the gills with everything you’ve ever done. Because that just makes it harder for the reviewer to find the good stuff.

Instead, think of your resume as a highlight reel where only the best, most relevant stuff belongs - and then toss the rest. For a web development role, here’s what makes the most sense:

Step 2: Retitle

Once you’ve weeded out the irrelevant and underwhelming parts, it’s time to pass the first test: Can you do the job? And the best way to do that is to use titles that match the role you’re applying for. In this case, being a “Founder” is nice but being a “Web Developer” will instantly put your hiring manager’s anxious mind at ease:

Now, if you’re the founder of your own company, you can obviously give yourself whatever title you like. But what if you worked for someone else? In that case, you have two options:

  1. If your company gave you some rando title (“Coordinator,” “Fellow,” “Grand Poobah”) but you really were a web developer all along, feel free to use your true, underlying title. Even if your new firm does a background check and asks, “Was Jane a web developer at Acme Inc?,” no one’s going to hold you to that arbitrary headline. Instead, they’re just going to say, “Yup - she developed our website.”

  2. If you genuinely have never earned that title, find another way to get it on your resume. You could volunteer to help a nonprofit with their website, start a consulting business (with your own site as your first project!), or even just list your own portfolio site (i.e., Web Developer,

Step 3: Indicate Quality

With the right title and the right kind of bullets, it’s time to make those bullets shine. Because just describing what you did isn’t enough to cut it when the hiring manager is frantically searching for those Indicators of Quality.

So let’s use four tricks of the trade to help our hiring manager find exactly what he/she is looking for:

  1. Specific keywords - “built using jQuery”

  2. Sexy brand names - “featured on TechCrunch”

  3. Crystal-clear stats - “drove 75K pageviews in 48 hours”

  4. “Wow!” stories - “went from concept to MVP in just two weeks”

In this case, we’ll replace boring old “Designed website” with specific keywords and stories that help the candidate’s quality leap off the page:

And we’ll turn humdrum “Completed projects” into a super sexy example with brand names and stats:

And in doing so, we’ll have taken what could have been just another generic resume - and made it truly rock!


Next Steps

So if you want to make sure that your own resume rocks, don’t fret. Just take pity on the poor hiring manager cowering under an avalanche of applications - and give him/her something that quickly, powerfully makes your case.

To help you do so, feel free to grab my free Tech Resume Checklist. Just put it side by side with your resume and you’ll know exactly whether your resume is going to be the bane of your hiring manager’s existence - or something that makes him love hiring again!