Advice, Engineering Manager

How to Avoid Six Biggest Mistakes That Engineering Managers Make in Their Resumes

Avoid these mistakes to increase your chances of getting your dream job offer

As software is becoming increasingly ubiquitous and software developers make up 70–80% of a tech company’s workforce, there is an increasing need for managers who look after those developers. As a result, there is a rise in the number of engineering managers in recent years.
When you’re applying for an engineering manager’s role, you will be competing with other engineering managers for the best company to work for, one that not only pays well but also will look good on their resumes.

So the question is how would you have an edge above other candidates so that you get noticed by recruiters and hiring managers. As a hiring manager in the tech industry and an interviewer for many tech jobs, I’ve seen my fair share of resumes and what stands out. In the last few years, I had been reviewing resumes of engineering managers than any other tech roles and I have formed a strong opinion on resumes of engineering managers that are considered exceptional.

The candidates with exceptional resumes also perform better than average in interviews. This is because they have presented themselves in the best possible light and highlighted important information for interviewers to deep-dive into. As a result, their interviews are more focused and flow much smoother.

On the flip side, less-than-ideal resumes of engineering managers have the following mistakes.
Mistake #1: Everything and the kitchen sink approach to technology
Mistake #2: No context about projects
Mistake #3: Lack of proof
Mistake #4: Irrelevant and outdated information
Mistake #5: Bad layout and formatting including bad sequencing of information
Mistake #6: Same resume for every job

In this article, I will share with you practical tips on how to avoid these mistakes and ideas to try on your next resume to help you stand out.

Mistake #1: Everything and the kitchen sink approach to technology

While it’s true that engineering managers do not need to be technical subject matter experts and they should be able to manage any engineering team, agnostic of the programming language, there are merits in managing projects and teams that use technologies that engineering managers are already familiar with. The benefits are engineering managers are already aware of common roadblocks, risks, and limitations of those technologies and can predict when projects will go off-track or when engineers might need to upskill.

From a hiring manager’s perspective, this is a plus because the candidate has the potential to add immediate value to the team and will also cut off ramp-up time.
So as an engineering manager looking for a job, make sure you add your technology specialty to your resume. Not sure what it is? Look back at the last few years of your career, the projects that you’ve led, engineers that you’ve managed, and identify some commonalities.
Once you’ve identified the technology that you’re most familiar with, highlight it in the summary section of your resume. Moreover, call out that technology in the employment summary of relevant jobs.

Mistake #2: No context about projects

Compare these three examples of projects:

Example 1: I led a migration with Company XYZ in my role as an engineering manager.
Example 2: I worked on one of the biggest pricing projects with Company XYZ in my role as an engineering manager. The project spanned over three months.
Example 3.0: As an engineering manager at Company XYZ, I worked on a migration project for a pricing system that processed 3 million orders a month.
Example 3.1: The aim of the project was to increase the average response time of order processing and it had upstream and downstream dependencies on other systems.
Example 3.2: The migration improved the average spend of order by 20% and there were no major incidents during the cutover from the old system to the new system.

Which one was the best example? Example 3 of course!
The third example stands out because it not only explains the complexity of the project but also quantifies the impact that the candidate delivered. It gives a hiring manager more context about the project so they can accurately assess the complexity and skills required from an engineering manager to manage such a project.

Mistake #3: Lack of proof

How would a hiring manager or recruiter know that you’re really capable of what you say you can do or have done in your resume? The answer is simple - by seeing proof. For engineering managers, the proof is often more qualitative than quantitative. Unlike a developer, there is no pull request that you can show on GitHub that demonstrates your leadership competencies. But just like technical craft, leadership is a craft of its own. It is often an art, and to be honed over many years, often a lifetime. Proof of your leadership competencies can therefore come in one of three ways as part of your resume:

– Testimonials and 360° feedback from your past and present managers, colleagues, and direct reports.
– Your work online (e.g. personal brand, your website, your portfolio, speaking engagements, community contribution).
– Awards you’ve received, as long as they are relevant to your career.

You can take a look at how to display such proof in the sample resume template that I’ve created.

Mistake #4: Irrelevant and outdated information

“Less is more.” You may have heard this phrase, but have you really applied the theory in practice - especially in your resume?
When your resume is four or five pages long with too much information, it overwhelms hiring managers and recruiters. The risk then is diluting your important achievements with all the irrelevant and outdated information. Or worse, they may discard your resume altogether.

For example, if you’ve been working in the industry for more than a decade and but are now applying for leadership roles, it is OK to remove your first internship experience from your employment history.

I used to have a five-page long resume until I realized that my early career and what subjects I studied in high school and college didn’t really add value to my leadership craft. Now my resume only showcases key skills and experiences that are relevant to the roles I am applying for.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Mistake #5: Bad layout and formatting including bad sequencing of information

It’s a widely known fact that recruiters and hiring managers spend less than ten seconds glancing at a resume. This means one thing: bad layout and formatting will result in the resume not passing the ten-seconds test as it is hard to scan. Therefore, the key is to make your resume easily scannable so that recruiters or hiring managers will decide within ten seconds that they want to spend more time reviewing your resume.

To make your resume scannable, use appropriate font sizes and colors for each heading, make certain keywords (e.g. your specialty) bold, group relevant info, list items in a bullet point, add white space to improve legibility, and last but not least, present information in order of importance from top to bottom. Overall, avoid jazzing up your resume too much and stick to standard resume formats to leverage the familiarity that hiring managers and recruiters already have. Those are some of the easy but effective ways to avoid making the mistake of having a resume with a bad layout and formatting.

Mistake #6: The same resume for every job

This is the single biggest mistake that engineering managers make when they are applying for a job. They use the same resume for every job that they apply for, thinking it’s the same role - engineering manager-hence requiring no difference. I hate to break it to you, but an engineering manager’s role at one company rarely ever has the same job description as an engineering manager’s role at another company. Sometimes, even within the same company, an engineering manager for one team will have different responsibilities than an engineering manager for another team. Using the same resume for every job is like throwing everything against the wall and hoping something will stick. Only here it’s your career that you’re toying with.

To increase your chances of getting a job offer, your resume should be customized to each job description. It should use the same terminologies and keywords where possible, highlight similar projects that you’ve done in your career and incorporate key phrases and skills that are relevant. Lastly, your resume should be framed and customized to achieve one goal - to be the perfect candidate for that particular job that you’re applying for.

Having a good resume not only gets you interviews but also leads you to job offers. We all know this: First impression matters. Your first impression with your potential employer starts from the moment they see your resume - not when you meet them for the first interview. Moreover, part of the success of an engineering manager lies in their ability to influence others and there is no better way to apply this skill than in your own resume.

To summarise, here are the six biggest mistakes that engineering managers should avoid making in their resumes:
Mistake #1: Everything and the kitchen sink approach to technology
Mistake #2: No context about projects
Mistake #3: Lack of proof
Mistake #4: Irrelevant and outdated information
Mistake #5: Bad layout and formatting including bad sequencing of information
Mistake #6: The same resume for every job