Resume for entry heavily project-based job?
August 16, 2016 11:13 PM   Subscribe

I have a new-to-me resume-writing conundrum: My software dev job of 3+ years is heavily project-based, and I'm not sure how to best represent what I've accomplished clearly and concisely on a resume.

My employer takes on contracts to produce things, and I work with various teams to make that happen. I have produced many types of artifact, in terms of technology used and vertical/audience. Deliverables have been everything from "embedded hardware prototype" to "android app that communicates with 3rd party device via USB OTG" to "software for large multimedia installation networked across several machines running lots of novel displays and IO." My title has remained the same, although my responsibilities have definitely expanded over the years.

I've reported to a bunch of different people, practically speaking -- my on-paper immediate supervisor hasn't changed in 2.5 years, but I'm jobbed out to other teams that need projects done. Right now I'm almost half-time to someone in an entirely separate division within my org! (This is the main thing I'd like to change, honestly -- more effort on fewer projects. Flexibility is a strength, but I'd like to be less parallelized).

I've had responsibility varying from "contributed a bit of specialized code at the edge of a mid-sized project" to "core member of technical team for multi-year high-profile deliverable." Along the way I've also done customer engagement from "the spec was handed to me" to "I went to the customer site and participated in meetings to help determine the needs, then worked with my team to identify concrete features, prioritize and schedule them, then give that plan to management for sign-off, and helped coordinate install and ongoing maintenance after we finished making the thing."

Potential problematic features: I work primarily in r&d and bespoke software to support r&d needs; most of what I've made requires custom hardware to demo live, and while I've shipped to clients, I can't point to a consumer-facing product. At best I've got presentations at industry trade events and/or public-facing PR videos/websites someone in marketing put together. A couple of things I've done have landed in notable academic venues too, but I'm wary of pushing that angle too hard in industry.

Given all that, how do I structure writing about this job? It's my most recent, longest and most relevant work experience for the positions I'll be going after -- prior to this I worked some related jobs (still technology-related, but different industry, different verticals, and more "IT with some light code," less "code and hardware dev."). My other relevant work experience entries can be summarized by a line or two -- this seems like it demands more.

Do I want to break the accomplishments down by project? Do I want to list projects by demonstrated competence? Do I do the usual "couple of bullet points indicating concrete data showing I excelled" and then include a second page that's more "portfolio?" Do I emphasize the variety of skills in a skills list, and keep the discussion of this specific job brief? I can think of five different ways I could do it; not sure what will read best to potential employers!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Use a skill-based resume! While less common than the more traditional chronological ones, it lets you highlight where your company and title would typically go your skills instead. This also will allow you to give both project-based examples and broader work towards professional and personal goals. Look at some job postings you're interested in too and see if the language in those might help inform the skills to highlight.
Best of luck!
posted by jenbo1 at 4:25 AM on August 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Are you a developer? Based on your question alone, I'd employ you in a second but as a technical BA. Just because of the mix of technical skills & a very clear ability to communicate.

I'd suggest thinking less about "what will appeal to a potential employer?" and instead concentrate on what kind of employer / job / environment will be a good fit for you. What is a good fit for you will be a good fit for your employer. It's symbiotic like that and any intelligent hirer should recognise this.

You express yourself incredibly well. Try phrasing your resume as "here is the kind of environment / team / project that I will love, in which I will thrive, and in which I will deliver great value" and include the experience and skills as supporting evidence. The right employer who is looking for somebody like you will pick you out of the crowd. The ones that ignore you were never right to begin with.

Something I came across recently, and which rings true: hire on attitude, not skills. Skills can be taught on the job; attitude cannot.

So, put your attitude forward, and don't be afraid to declare what kind of role will allow you to flourish and become a kind of rainmaker in whatever organisation is lucky enough to land you.

Best of luck :)
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:06 AM on August 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

When I was a similar situation in a different industry, I just structured that one section of my resume different from the others. Since it was my most recent and relevant job it was a relatively larger block on my resume. The heading was the same: Company, dates, job title but in the body I listed projects by skill and then gave examples. So it looked something like this:

Company dates
Job title
one sentence overview of what I what I did - consultant on this general type of issues for projects for these types of customers
Skill 1: example 1 (using results oriented language). example 2, example 3
Skill 2: slightly longer example since it was one big project
Skill 3: generalized reference for what I did for diverse clients
posted by metahawk at 9:28 AM on August 17, 2016

Nthing projects by skill. I've found a helpful way to do this is to talk through it (to myself, yes, out loud) as if I were describing my career progression. Not as projects, but as what I did, learned, managed, etc. and how it progressed. You'll notice certain things pop out that will then help you structure even better. As an added benefit, this greatly strengthens your interviewing skills, whether that's internally or for a new job.

For instance, if I were to just write my positions, it would go: freelance English teacher, freelance translator, IT consultant. Which is like, wut. But when I talk to myself about it, for me it makes perfect sense because I taught business English in technical-focused companies, then specialized in IT and science translations, which got me a job with an IT consultancy where I earned opportunities to learn testing and business analysis. And that's without even going into specific skills – you already have a much more coherent idea of what I did and can even guess at why.

Skills-based is definitely the way to go. metahawk gives a good template.
posted by fraula at 1:35 PM on August 17, 2016

You don't need to put your projects in detail on your resume. Your resume isn't what gets you hired; the resume gets you an interview.

In most places, resume is going to be seen by a number of people who have no idea what the actual skillset is; they're looking for keywords to decide "do I bump this person along to the next decision-maker?" So, "I worked on a project using X, Y, and Z; end result was [successful goal]," is all the detail the resume needs. The interviewer will ask for more info.

You may want a detailed project list either to hand over, or to consult before interviews so all the details are fresh in your mind. But - I say this as a documentation specialist who keeps getting roped into helping with recruiting - a concise and targeted resume is much, much better than a detailed one.

Mention the experience that relates to the job you want. Leave off anything that you don't want to do in the future. (My resume doesn't include the word "phone.") Arrange bullets in order of importance for the job you want, not the amount of time you put into them at current/past jobs. Two pages max. One is better. The purpose of the resume isn't to get you a job; it's to convince someone, "I want to talk to this person."

Resumes of 4+ pages get passed over by glassy-eyed admin assistants who are trying to decide what to send along; if they can't figure out how to sum up your experience in a tweet-length comment, they'll set it aside until they've got enough spare brainpower to read it in more detail.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 5:35 PM on August 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Used x,y,z techniques
Developed and tested code along with teams on projects of duration ranging from m to n
Acted as lead developer on projects to create a,b,c
Skills: Java, agile, Android...

This is also a PRIME opportunity to tailor your resume to the specific positions you're applying for. Place that does lots of embedded hardware work? Play that up. Mobile app co? Mention that project specifically. And in each of those cases you want to still mention the other skill sets but they don't each need a line.
posted by Lady Li at 5:12 PM on August 18, 2016

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