Manager’s Notebook: Musings on Resumes

Photo credit: Mark Granitz

The one rule common to all of the working world: Whether you’re currently looking for a job or are happy with the one you have, it’s a good idea to always keep your resume updated. You never know when a layoff or an amazing opportunity might come your way.

As a hiring manager for a global Information Development team, I frequently review resumes and decide whether a candidate moves beyond the initial first look from HR. Since our Info Dev management team is currently hiring for a couple of positions in our Provo office, I’ve had resumes (both good and bad) on my mind.

Vetting candidates, conducting phone and in-person interviews, and reviewing writing samples is a time-consuming task. I want to get top-quality people on our team the quickest I can. With that in mind, I’m quickly looking to see if you can do the job, if you will do the job, and if you will fit in.

What I Look For

Your resume is your first impression with a new company. It needs to have the basics – contact information, professional experience, job information, and education. But what really gets your foot in the door? Your mileage may vary, but I’d like to share what calls out to me when I spot great candidates.

Domain Documentation Experience

I’d like to say we have the luxury of hiring someone from the oil and gas arena or with a scientific reporting background, but with the fast pace we have at our company, we really need people who understand our domain – software. So I tend to gravitate toward resumes that have not just technical writing experience, but technical writing experience in our domain. Those candidates can jump right in if they are already familiar with working on software.

Typical Job Length

I get that people don’t generally stay at companies for 20 or even 10 years anymore, and sometimes people stay just a year or two. But if you have a string of jobs at two years or less, I start wondering why. Could you not get along with people? Do you have commitment issues? Are you going to jump ship after a year and a half with us? Or are they contract jobs? If they are contract jobs, label them as such so the hiring manager understands why there are so many short-term jobs on your resume.

Writing Style

Your resume should be clear, concise, and explanatory. It shouldn’t be filled with jargon, nor should it use 12th-grade reading-level words and long complicated sentences. Hey, this sounds familiar…like technical writing! Yes, I use your resume to see how you write and how that might transfer to your technical writing work. If you over-complicate your resume, will you do the same when working with complex software?

As Rands describes in his Confessions of a Hiring Manager, “sound like a human.” Use normal conversational words and descriptions.

What I Don’t Care About

We’ve all seen tons of job seeking and resume advice, and along with that, tons of arguments about that advice. Everyone has their own pet peeves and annoyances, but here are some things I’ve seen argued about that don’t matter to me in the long run when reviewing candidates’ resumes.

A Typo Here and There

Look, I know we’re professional writers applying for professional writing jobs. And I would not call candidates who had 12 typos in their resumes. But I’ve relaxed my stance a bit on typos. I don’t want to miss out on someone who has amazing critical thinking skills, can write like nobody’s business, and who is a technical whiz based on one typo.


I don’t hire information developers based on their knowledge of tools. I hire them for their problem solving skills, their technical aptitude, and most importantly, their attitude and motivation. You can always train someone to use a tool. You can’t always train someone to think big picture or be a user advocate or to move beyond debates on the Oxford comma.

Resume Length

Make your resume as long as necessary to include what it needs to include. Clear as mud? In other words, if you have valuable, important information to include and it pushes your resume past two pages, that’s okay. I’d rather you include that information than try to fit an arbitrary guideline. If your resume is only a page, that’s great…if that page holds all the information you’re trying to convey, and it’s not in 8-point font.

Anything Listed That Should be a Given

“Motivated. Self-starter. Excellent communication skills.” And worst of all… “detail-oriented.” Please don’t list those on your resume. Those should all be no-brainers for almost every single job in the world, and especially for a technical communication job. Including self-assessments like those listed makes you look out of touch and like you’re grasping for good things to put on your resume. Focus on what makes you different and puts you above all of those watered-down qualities that we’d expect from anyone. Think about the skills and achievements that show those qualities and list those instead.

Things that Make Me Go “Hmmmm…”

Every once in a while, something will jump out at me that’s unexpected, quirky, or just plain odd. These things aren’t necessarily a mark for or against you as a candidate, but they are things to consider when putting your resumes together.

Hard to Interpret Comments

I once received a resume that noted “doing the job of five people” as a strength.  What does that mean? And whose assessment is that? Are you doing the work of five really poorly performing people? Are you mad that you’re doing extra work? For that matter, is it really extra work or do you just perceive it to be extra work?

Again, this goes back to your resume being your first impression. Don’t make the hiring manager chase you down to explain things that should be self-evident…I’ll likely move on to another resume that does make sense.

Photo, Hobbies, Cookies

Including your photo or hobbies on your resume doesn’t usually sway me one way or the other. I’m a bit taken aback when I get a resume with them, but that’s just because I think it’s unusual. Before adding those data points to a resume, ask yourself if they’re relevant. I’d love to learn these things about you during a phone call or even after you get the job, but do I need to know that you garden and like to bake cookies when you’re applying for a technical writing position? Probably not.

Layout Issues

Be judicious with your use of artistic elements. Cutesy icons and clip art are not appropriate for a professional technical communicator’s resume and can be distracting from your message. However, as Rands noted in his article, some subtle visual elements can help set your resume apart and grab the hiring manager’s eye.

Pay attention to your use of white space, font size, and text alignment. Your resume should still be neatly arranged and not strain the eyes. Also, though it increases the overall length of the resume, please use bulleted lists rather than paragraphs when discussing achievements and skills. Bulleted lists are easier for the hiring manager to scan.

Bonus Points

It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally two or three candidates have similar experience and skills and we like all of them. In cases like that, we have to look at what sets the really great candidates apart from the good ones.

Self-Learning and Professional Affiliations

If I see anything on a resume that indicates to me that the candidate engages in self-learning, I’m a happy camper. If a candidate is motivated enough to take Society for Technical Communication webinars or college courses or MOOCs to increase their skillset, that candidate is likely motivated enough to do self-learning on the job as well. They’ll seek out what needs to be done and step up to work on those projects, and that helps the team and company.

Involvement in professional associations is another demonstration of your willingness to learn more about your peers and your industry. Membership and active participation in organizations like Society for Technical Communication or American Medical Writers Association, for example, indicates your interest in furthering your career through networking and resources offered by those groups.

Experience Beyond Writing Documentation

Technical communication goes way beyond writing documentation. I’m interested in candidates who can provide high value to our customers, our team, and our organization. And that usually involves doing more than just writing documentation.

We’re looking for people who can not only write software documentation, but perform usability reviews, analyze other and better ways to deliver content, participate in design discussions, facilitate communication among team members, etc. So if you have experience creating videos or doing usability testing or improving the way information developers work on agile teams, those activities give you a leg up on other candidates. And you can’t climb a career ladder without that leg up.


Alyssa Fox

Alyssa Fox is Director of Information Development and Program Management at Micro Focus, and is based in Houston, Texas. Alyssa is a member of Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) and User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA). She is also a senior member of Society for Technical Communication (STC) and is currently serving as the STC Vice President. Alyssa speaks at numerous international conferences about various management, agile, and technical communication topics. Find Alyssa on Twitter @afox98.

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