Jacob Kaplan-Moss

What accomplishments sound like on software engineering resumes

Effective resumes need to contain two things: responsibilities and accomplishments. The first tells the read what your job was; the second, what your results were. Unfortunately, most people fail at the second part. I’ve seen thousands — maybe tens of thousands — of resumes, and most don’t contain accomplishments. This makes it difficult for a hiring manager to get excited about your resume: knowing what you were supposed to do doesn’t tell a reader how well you did that thing.

For example, I’ll often see results with lines like: “Lead developer for {Company’s} mobile application, written in React Native.” This is… not great. It tells me that the person knows a specific technology, but that’s it. It doesn’t tell me how well they know React Native; it doesn’t tell me whether the app shipped on time — or at all! — or if the app performed to expectations. Probably this is because the person doesn’t know how to articulate specific accomplishments, but possible it’s because the project was an abject failure and they were no accomplishments. As a hiring manager, I’m considering both possibilities. I’m likely to pass on this resume if it’s put against one with specific accomplishments.

This advice is fairly common. Most guidance on writing strong resumes will tell you to focus on specific outcomes and achievements. But, I’ve noticed software engineers, in particular, really struggle here. Our work is often complex and hard to measure; we typically work as teams where individual contributions are hard to tease out; and we tend, as a community, to focus on knowledge of tools and technologies over business results.

So, to help those of you looking for a new job in these uncertain times, here are some examples of what accomplishments look like for software engineers. These are oriented towards individual contributors (perhaps I’ll do an engineering managers version next). With the exception of a couple I’ve taken from _my_resume, all are made up (though some are inspired by patterns/themes I’ve seen). If any of these apply to your work, feel free to use them as a starting point. But please don’t just copy/paste without making them specific to your accomplishments.

Operational roles (Ops, SRE, DFIR, etc)

When I first posted this, a few folks rightfully pointed out that this advice can be difficult to follow for folks in operational roles (Systems Administrators, SREs, Incident Response, etc). These roles tend to be more responsive, and don’t “ship” in the traditional sense. These roles are critical to healthy organizations, but the specific accomplishments can be harder to articulate. I’ve hired for these roles, too, and once again great resumes are able to point out the outcomes and results that the person delivered. Here are some examples of what that could look like:

Help me make this better! If you’ve got examples of accomplishments on your resume that you’re willing to share, send them to jacob @ this domain, and put “accomplishments” in the subject line. I’ll add them (with redactions and tea jokes as needed) to the list.

See also