How to Get a Job At Microsoft Part II: Writing an Awesome Resume


by Randy Guthrie – Microsoft Academic Developer Evangelist
http://blogs.msdn.com/MIS_Laboratory

Over the past few months I visited nine college campuses, attended three conferences and conducted a hand-full of job interviews, and in the process I’ve seen scores of resumes.  One thing I’ve been impressed with is how awful most of them are.  I realize that I am probably jaded by my experience as a career coach and service at a community career center, but still I find it amazing that something that is so critical for getting a job is so poorly understood; particularly by those who need jobs the most ie: students seeking internships and new college graduates.  The good news is that if you do even a moderately good job of writing your resume you have a pretty good chance of standing out from your competitors.  I’ve put off writing this post because it is a daunting task trying to write general guidance that will be useful to most readers, and I’ve struggled how to do this briefly, but I’ve given up and apologize in advance for the length of this post and hope most will find something useful in the next few thousand or so words.  Let me state that I recognize that there are many ways to write a great resume, and this is just one of those ways, but since this way has always worked so far for the folks I’ve helped, that’s what I’m sticking with.  I also recognize that a resume is very personal, and you need to be comfortable with how it looks, so deviation from this guidance is fine (and necessary) since everyone is different and some situations will need to be handled differently than shown below.  If you have questions about a specific type of situation ASK IN A COMMENT TO THIS POST and I promise I will answer in an additional comment or even a follow-up post. Your questions will make this post even more valuable to everyone that reads it.

First, some useful links:

Now let’s dig in.

GENERAL FORMATTING & PAGE LENGTH

One Page Please! Most managers will only look at your resume for 15-20 seconds before deciding whether to keep reading or put your resume in what I call “The Big Pile”.  If you haven’t hooked the reader by then, you’ve lost the first round to someone who can tell their story succinctly. Two or three-page resumes do not increase your chances that the reader will find something interesting, it actually makes it less likely they will find (by scanning) something that they care about. So try to keep it to a page. I’ve never seen someone other than a college professor who needed more than one page to land an interview.

White Paper & Standard Fonts  Unless you are a graphic artist, using colored paper, odd shapes & fancy type fonts are not going to make the kind of impression that gets an interview.  Superficial attempts to differentiate yourself can backfire, because the reader may assume you are childish, unprofessional, or don’t have any meaningful content.  Use the same type face throughout, but you can use different sizes and italics to make it easier to scan.  Don’t go smaller than 11 pt font or larger than13 pt font for the main text.  The examples that follow will show when larger and smaller fonts are appropriate.

NAME & CONTACT INFO

There are two approaches that I like to use.clip_image002  The first is useful if you don’t have a lot of relevant experience and you are trying toimage fill space. While one of the examples show the hyperlink in blue, do not use colored ink when printing a paper copy of your resume. Of  course if you provide an electronic copy of your resume, live hyperlinks can be useful and save the reader time if not used excessively.   Your name and contact information should be grouped together.  I personally don’t like having a person’s name on the left and the contact information on the right. In the example my name is 28pt and contact info is 11pt.  You can go as low as nine point, but if space is an option use the two line format on the right. 

Two additional pieces of advice:  (1) use only one phone number, and make sure it is one where you can get a message (change the recorded greeting if necessary so as to project a professional image) and (2) avoid cryptic or childish e-mail addresses, and use only one of those as well.

OBJECTIVE STATEMENT

Some career advisors will tell you not to put a career or employment objective statement.  My advice is to use one.  My reason is simple: I debriefed a recruiter from a major aerospace company after a job fair and he told me that he put any resume he received without a [clear] objective statement in the trash, because his HR department would not know where to route it. So my advice is to use one and make it count.  Here’s how:

One Line Long

Your objective statement should say in under ten words the kind of job you are looking for.  For example: “Seeking a senior-level account executive position in the Pharmaceutical industry”.  Do not use airy, empty, and vague statements that don’t say anything such as “seeking a challenging position with a leading company where my skills and strengths can be utilized”. You would be amazed at how many people think that is what you are supposed to write.  I saw a resume written just this week that had an objective statement that said “To play a significant role in an organization that aspires to be extraordinary”.  These kinds of statements don’t help and can actually delay the reader from learning anything of value about you.

But What If I’m Qualified for More Than One Kind of Job?

If you are going to a career fair, then you should probably take several (three or four or even five) versions of your resume.  Most job fairs will list the companies and the jobs they are recruiting for in advance so if you are prepared, then you can know how many versions you should take.  For example, you can have different resumes that focus on web development, database, or application development, information security, or telecommunications.  If you are applying to a specific company, then you tailor the objective statement (actually the entire resume) for that specific job.

EDUCATION

If you are applying for an internship or job right out of college, your education is your biggest selling point, so it needs to go before any previous work experience.  Since most recruiters will know what school they are recruiting from, and name of the school is less important and the college major / minor and date of completion.  Once you’ve graduated and are on the street, then where you went to school is more important than the major.  Here is how I would handle both situations:

image

In these examples, I put the degree major first, because that is the first thing a recruiter will care about.  I also put my my recent (and most impressive!) degree first. Notice I don’t put GPA.  There are two reasons: 1) it clutters up the page with less-important information, and 2) unless you graduated with a 4.0, most people won’t think there is much difference between a 3.5 and a 3.8.  If your GPA is less than a 3.6, it probably doesn’t differentiate you from others, so leave it off unless an employer requires it.  If your GPA is under 3.0, then I don’t have to explain why you would leave it off. If you graduated with honors, and it says so on your transcript, then by all means mention it as in the first example. If you college doesn’t award honors, do not make it up, even if your 3.9 GPA would have gotten you honors at a college that awards them.  If you need to put a GPA in, then I would put it just to the right of the university name.

What should I put if I have not graduated yet?

This is one of my favorite resume techniques.  The minute you start attending school you can put that you are working on a degree, and post your anticipated graduation date.  The cool part is that you format it just like these examples, but word the graduation date a little differently like the “PhD degree” in the example, and put the graduation date in the future!  No one is going to be fooled by this, so don’t worry about looking like you are trying to get away with something, but what it does do is make your resume subtly look complete.  Plus it does answer the question about what you might be good at.

What about other school accomplishments? Where should they go?

Great question! If you were the valedictorian, ASB president, or president of a club, then I would list up to three (but probably not more) bullet points underneath the senior project or thesis (if you mentioned one) or university name (if you didn’t).  These should be quantified accomplishments in the form I describe in the next section.

WORK EXPERIENCE

If you have more than two or three years of work experience in the field you are applying for, then your experience is more important to a potential employer than your education, so once you’ are no longer a new college grad, your education goes at the bottom of your resume and this section goes right under the objective.  Why? Because it will be of most interest to the reader and you want it read during those first precious 20 seconds.

Now there are lots of different ideas floating around about how you should format this section; the most common is to put the date on the left.  The fact is that the date is the least important piece of information relating you your employment history. Far more important is what you did, and then for whom you did it. When you did it is last. The order that I recommend you present the facts about each job is:

  1. Job Title
  2. Company Name
  3. Employment duration
  4. One sentence job description
  5. Two – Four Quantified Accomplishments

Most of the resumes I have seen (and written early in my career) were based on an old formula of describing the job in terms of the formal job description.  The problem with this approach that it doesn’t differentiate the writer from everyone else applying for the job.  Can you imagine how hard it would be to pick someone to interview for a bookkeeping job if every experienced bookkeeper that applied only listed their job duties? Every resume would say almost the exact same thing!  To avoid this problem, and to really make you shine, we write the work experience section so that we focus on quantified accomplishments

 image

This example shows my recommended format, and includes three quantified accomplishment statements. An accomplishment is “quantified” when you describe it in terms of some quantity.  I like to try to get two numbers in each accomplishment if possible.  Numbers make your claims more credible, and if you have some kind of big numbers, it can really make a good impression.  Don’t over sell; let the numbers speak for you.  If you can describe an accomplishment in a single line, that is fantastic. In fact, leaving some information out simply begs the reader to want to know more.  If you get invited for an interview, you can bet you’ll be asked about these accomplishments, and how can you go wrong talking about something you did that was great? Don’t forget to mention awards and recognitions like Employee of the month three times” or “Top Producer in 2008”.

Notice also that I have my job title in bold and in a larger font.  I do that so that it is easier for the reader to visually scan. Notice also that the company name is in italics. That helps set the different facts apart.  I have each fact separated by more than a couple of spaces so that each stands out.

Now a bit more about job titles.  Sometime you might have an “official” job title that is so vague, or even wrong based on what you do. For example, I had three lateral job changes at an aerospace company that did not change my payroll classification, so my managers never bothered to updated my “requisition” to reflect the changes in my job title.  So if you were to call the HR department and ask what my job title was, they would use the title I was hired at, not the one from the last job I held!  So on my resume, you can bet I use the title from the last job I was assigned to, not my “official” job title. The moral of the story is that if your “real” job title is too vague, or even deceptive, do not be afraid to put a more accurate, clear job title on the resume. Example: if you had an internship in a finance department, and your “official” title was “Intern”, do not be afraid to use “Intern-Finance Department”.

TOOLS AND SKILLS

I try to avoid this section if possible. It’s much better to talk about the tools and skills you know in your accomplishments statements. But if you learned how to do something in class, but haven’t used it on the job, and the job you are applying for wants candidates who have this skill, you need to use this section. But be careful.  Here are some recommendations:

  1. Do not list skills and knowledge that almost everyone has.  The most common offender here is that you know Microsoft Office.  As a recent college graduate, we assume you learned the basic programs. Stating it here does not differentiate you.
  2. Avoid huge long lists using every acronym you can think of ie: ASP.net, C#, C++, PHP, etc.  Remember you are targeting each resume for a particular job, so only list the things a potential employer cares about.  Huge list casts doubt on which of those you really know.  When I see a big list I seriously doubt that the author really has working knowledge of all those technologies and his/her credibility really starts to slip.
  3. Be accurate in describing your knowledge.  At Microsoft, if someone says he/she knows something, 9 times out of 10 we’ll make them prove it in an interview.  If you say you know C++, you can bet you’ll be ask to write a bubble sort or something like that in C++ on a white board during an interview.  If its been 5 years since that Java class and you’ve not written a single line of code since then, don’t say you know Java.

SOME CLOSING THOUGHTS

Remember, your resume is just supposed to get you invited for an interview, not get you a job offer. That is what the interview is for.  Keep your resume simple and focused on a single job.  Keep it to a single page. Catch-all, general-purpose resumes DO NOT WORK.  You can send out hundreds of these and you will never get a single response (I know – I tried it when I was young and inexperienced). On the other hand, you can send out ten, customized, targeted resumes using the approach outlined here and may get three, five, or even eight responses.  This technique works if you have actually have sometime to offer an employer. Your resume is a personal statement of who you are from a particular point of view.  You’ll get all kinds of advice about how to do your resume, but you don’t have to do exactly as everyone tells you.  If you feel like you know better, then go with your gut feeling. Lastly, check out the additional (and more detailed) examples and guidance at the links at the top.  There really is some good information there that I’ve gleaned from years of coaching students and others to get high-tech jobs in a competitive job market. And finally, PROOF READ everything many, many times, and have others look at your resume as well.  (career center people are invaluable for this).  Good luck and good job hunting!

Cheers!

Randy

[Note: an earlier version of this post mysterious lost most of its content, hence this repost]

Comments (35)

  1. Chris Eargle says:

    I don’t think the one page resume works in the IT industry if you are experience. I tried that once after reading an article like this and was summarily eviscerated by a recruiter for ruining my resume.

    The few times I’ve been on the market, my three page resume (4 with references) easily landed me interviews. Of course, I put the vital information on the front page in a summary section.

  2. randguth says:

    Working with a recruiter is a different situation. The recruiter wanted every fact he could get his hands on. He was then going to be the hiring company’s filter.  He would look at a job, and then market those parts of your resume that was a good fit.  Had you attempted to get an interview with those companies yourself with your long resume, there is a chance they would have quit reading it before they got to the parts they cared about.  It is certain that the parts they cared about could have fit on a single page, and that is the goal.  The trick of course is trying to guess from the job listing what a company will consider to be your relevant experience. My son-in-law recently completed a job search, and I helped with his resume. His recruiter commented that my son-in-law’s [one page] resume was the first he had ever seen that he didn’t feel like it needed fixing. So while I think there are situation where the use of a longer resume is justified (like college professor jobs), I still believe that an individual applying for jobs is well served by a customized, targeted single-page resume.

  3. Nicholas says:

    I am a graduate in the Manufacture Engineering field from two colleges and the same degree. One is a 2yr and the other is a 4yr.  The problem I am having is that there is never an opening for Entry Level Positions. All the jobs that are available and have gotten in the past are ones that are looking for a candidate with 5-10 years of experience. Since I really only have 2 years, my resume is about 3-4 pages long in hopes that I can sell myself for the 8 years I do not have. Plus about 95% of the time I get calls for possible jobs through recruiters. (Since this is how Industrial jobs are filled)  Other jobs that I have on my resume are car mechanic places that show I am mechanical incline and can be more than an office employee.  Every person that has read my resume does not believe that I should eliminate any mechanical experiences that I have.  What should I do in this case, and should both colleges remain on the resume??

  4. Shaun says:

    Do you have any full resume examples? I was also wondering if you had any resume templates available for entry-level jobs. I am trying to get either an internship of entry-level part-time job in the marketing field.

  5. Joe Gannon says:

    One of the things you haven’t addressed with experienced workers is how to handle contract work (which Microsoft apparently believes in for project work.) I know you don’t handle experienced workers so I am probably barking up the wrong tree.

    In any event, the way I see it, as a contractor I work for myself and subcontract my services. Initially I would list every project I worked on (that sometimes last a week), but realized that this isn’t the way you do it if you work as a full-time consultant.  

    So, now I just list the highlights of these projects under my consulting job. Of course recruiters get mad since they want to see every one listed out.

  6. Joe Gannon says:

    I now looked at your video and its all clear. I still plan to keep to 1 page.

  7. sandy says:

    Hi Randy. this blog is pretty impressive, liked it!

    I have a question to you.

    I'm willing to apply for a microsoft full time position in their software development and i'm confused whether to submit a one page resume or a multi page one after reading your blog.

    Can you give me your suggestions?

  8. Paige Kutta says:

    If applying for a Microsoft marketing internship would it be better to use their CV or would it be more appealing to upload a multimedia résumé such as a power point presentation or create a website marketing myself?

  9. randguth says:

    To be honest, our recruiters only have so much time to give to any one resume (like 20 seconds), and one of the "tests" of fitness is if a candidate can highlight their strengths concisely on a single page.  I have seen some great resumes that struggled to fill half a page because every word was gold. In my opinion, a PowerPoint presentation or web page misses the point.  One of my favorite examples is that you don't catch a fish by throwing your entire tackle box in the river, you catch a fish by knowing what one fly or lure to use out of all the stuff in your tackle box.  Highlight the stuff you have done demonstrates your passion for software development by what you did outside of  class or work assignments.  Highlight your leadership (active or passive). Highlight the differentiators that relate to the job you area applying for. Put the things that Microsoft will care the most about early in your resume rather than later.  Use as few a words as possible. Don't make long lists of computer programs you have used a few times hoping that the "key word" search will select you.  We're smarter than that.  Highlight awards and recognition you have received.  One of the hottest differentiators right now are apps.  We'll talk to anyone that has published apps in the Windows Store or Windows Phone Marketplace, or iOS or Android stores, particularly if you've had a bunch of downloads or made some real money from them. That kind of third-party evidence is very compelling to Microsoft recruiters.

  10. Karan says:

    Hey Randy,

    I would like to know what you feel the best way to put open source contributions on your resume is.

    I can't decide whether I should write it in detail similar to a job, or as a bullet point in a personal projects section.

    Cheers,

    Karan

  11. randguth says:

    @Karan,  Great question.  You are definitely thinking about this in the right way.  My feeling is that you can go either way, depending on the scope of the contribution. Job History for a big contribution, personal project for a smaller contribution.  Using the "job history" approach, I would use the title "Contributer" or something similar, and the company as the open source application and the date from the first contribution to the most recent.  Then the bullets would be either feature names and number of lines of code, or if it is a major feature, then the bullets would detail your contribution ie: lines of code, rating or other quality measure, number of users of the feature, etc.

    -Randy

  12. Subham Soni says:

    Hello mam. I went through your article. I am presently pursuing my B.Tech in Computer Science And Engineering . What do I need to do to get a Job at Microsoft?It will be a pleasure to have a live chat with you mam/  

  13. randguth says:

    @Subham Soni:  Start at http://www.microsoft.com/careers and then select the "Student or Recent Grad" link. Then read about the various jobs and how to apply for them. Good luck!

  14. Joe Saylor says:

    I like the one page idea and want to convert to it. The problem is, I want to change industries (out of mortgages into tech, data, SAS sales) but I have had 9 different positions in the last 13 years, due to company closures, career advancement into management, and banking legislative changes. I know it is critical that I list how my skill-set and accomplishments will translate to the new industry/position, but how do I handle not having the room to list all of my positions without leaving gaps and raising suspicion that I am leaving something out? I'm not sure how to check back on this post, so if you could be so kind to forward your response to me at joseph.saylor@comcast.net, I would greatly appreciate it. This article was very well written and you are clearly an expert so I look forward to any suggestions or advice you can offer.  

  15. randguth says:

    @Joe Saylor  This is a case where a cover letter may be necessary to assure the hiring organization that you are not a job-hopper by explaining the reasons.  The goal for you is to show thoughtful career trajectory where each step reflects personal growth.  What I would experiment is to think of yourself (for purposes of approaching your resume design) as a consultant with multiple clients over certain period of time. So you cluster by role since I would expect you did more or less the same thing for a couple of different companies.  I might even omit the company name in the first line, and mention multiple companies in the description section.  Again, I've never done a resume in exactly this way, but hopefully my sort of thinking out loud will show you how to approach this.  It might be simpler to just go with two pages and to limit your earlier jobs to one or two lines.  A two-page resume isn't all that bad. It is definitely better than doing something overly weird or awkward.

  16. Deep says:

    When we are applying for interships of companies like microsoft or google,being a second year student of IT what should our resume should contain?

  17. Sean Edwards says:

    Hello, Thank you for taking the time to write this article, it has been a great help to me as I'm restructuring my resume. When & where should I add references?

  18. Umar Hussain says:

    Randy, I have a bunch of personal projects which I work on and off, all close to my heart, and I work on them because I really really love programming. That of course means some of them are not finished, but they are there. Should I then include the github links to them?

  19. Umar Hussain says:

    Randy, should I include personal projects – not academic – on resume too?

  20. Christ Nolan says:

    Impressive and useful post!

    Should resume include a scanned picture of the writer? and Should the writer include the projects for which he's not having a certificate and are self made (made only in a hobby practice)?

    Thank you for your reply

  21. randguth says:

    @Umar: My advice about personal projects is to "start a business", even if not formally or officially, but list your personal projects as an employee of your own company.  Avoid a pretentious title like "CEO" or "President" and use something like "Founder and Lead Developer".

  22. randguth says:

    @ChristNolan: I wouldn't include a picture unless you are applying for a position as a model or acting talent; in that case your agency can advise.  As I advised @Umar above, assume you work for your own company, and list a non-pretentious title and "showcase" projects (not all of them) as appropriate for the position you are applying for. Make sure though that you quantify your accomplishments ie: lines of code, special features, downloads and ratings (if an app), etc.

  23. randguth says:

    @Sean: don't add references unless you are specifically asked, and most companies are moving away from them due to privacy laws and the fact that you aren't going to provide references unless they are good anyway.

  24. Anonymous says:

    I just re-read this post now six year later, and I agree with almost all of it except that now I think a longer resume is more acceptable ie: if you need two pages go ahead and spill over onto another page but do try to keep it as short as possible and don't use the extra page as an excuse to put every fact about yourself that you can possibly think of.  Only go onto a second page if you have "gold" to put on it.  And get an outside opinion to confirm what you think is gold really is.

  25. Debra A Kroll says:

    How do I get a Microsoft Word 2013 Resume Builder or Template

  26. Anonymous says:

    Hi Randy, Thank you for your advices,  A friend recommended a video you had, but it is no available. Do you know where can I find the video?  

  27. Ryno Resumes says:

    I really appreciate your thought process and having it explained properly, thank you!

    The best and most eye catching resumes let you stand out from the crowd.

  28. J says:

    Likewise, I'd love to see those videos that aren't presently working! I'm presently in the process of applying for a job for Microsoft and I'm quite fresh from school. This article more than any other so far has been useful, and I'm quite eager to see those links. Thanks for your time!

  29. Sneha Srivastava says:

    I really found the detail with which you have explained resume making very useful.

    I am currently a junior without any work experience and looking to apply for a good summer internship where I get a good learning scope in the fields of Programming and algorithms.

    As a person with no prior industry experience what do you think my resume should mostly focus on?

  30. @Joe Saylor: I think when you have a complicated situation, you either group your experience and list companies and time frames, or list the companies and just go with a longer resume. The secret here is to handle the explanation in a cover letter.  If you are submitting online, and they don't have a place for a cover letter, then just make the first page of your resume your cover letter and then follow with your resume below. BTW, the resume workshop video links are fixed. The video hoster I used went out of business so I had to migrate.  Cheers, and good luck!   – Randy

  31. @Ismael, @Ryno, @Sneha: Thanks for the heads up! I moved the videos to another hosting site and updated the links. You should be good to go! – Randy

  32. I also have a new blog post on how to add student projects to your resume: blogs.msdn.com/…/how-to-add-a-student-project-to-your-resume.aspx.  Cheers! – Randy

  33. Anu Het says:

    Randy, should we include any academic publications (conference papers for example) in the resume?

  34. Yes, if the publications directly relate to the job you are applying to. Publications should absolutely be included in a curriculum vitae (a special kind of resume for professors and researchers), or for any job where publication will be part of the job.  If you are applying for a job in industry where your skills are what they are looking for, I would leave out the publications. – Randy