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Burn your résumé: Finding your next job as an engineer

On the last episode of Turing-Incomplete, I did a mini-rant about job hunting for engineers. The more I see engineers job hunting, the more I realize that my own method (and those few who do the same) differs greatly from the way I see others job hunt.

For one, I have a passionate disdain for résumés, so that’s where I’ll start. I’m hoping to make this a series, so please DO tell me what you want to hear about. Now, back to résumés.

The most valuable advice I’ve ever read about résumés is that they were invented to avoid having to read résumés.

Really think about that. Every piece of advice you’ve ever read about a “good” résumé is all about it being short, to the point, so that someone doesn’t have to spend any time reading it.

So that someone doesn’t have to spend any time reading it.

What a terrible opening to a job search, to be so low on someone’s priority list, that they won’t even read the document that you’ve put (hopefully) a healthy amount of time and energy into writing.

If you look for a job by sending someone your résumé, you are doing it wrong

This is what I’m personally absolutely convinced of, and I believe it is especially true for developers. It’s extremely difficult to quantify anything like “cares about clean code” or “whitespace fanatic but in the good way” on something so limited as a résumé.

And of course, when someone only spends 5 seconds reading (if they even read and don’t shove it in a filter), you don’t have control over what they see. You want your next job to be Node.js, but you also put Python on your resume, and now you’re pigeonholed as a “Python developer.”

Your résumé makes it easier for people to put you into the “no” pile.

I’m pretty sure that’s what you want to avoid, when you’ve taken the time to look for a gig that you think you’re a great fit for.

But HOW do you get a job “without” a résumé?

This is what I think most people are interested in. Literally, how do you get a job without a résumé. Here’s the biggest point:

Don’t apply through the job portal. Ever.

The “jobs” page of any company is it hands-down the worst place to apply for a job at that company.

Assuming the page is available on the public Internet, it means that, in high likelihood, the company gets lots of résumés that are under-qualified or sometimes just spam via medium. You do not want to be in that pile.

Get ye a personal introduction

Every jobs book likes to say “most jobs are found through networks” and then proceed to never tell you how that actually works. This is me, telling you, now. This is how it works.


a) you know the company has positions and you’re actually interested in working there because someone you know told you about it and you want to work there because the person you know is someone you like and respect and you respect their opinion on places to work.

b) you’re interested in working for the company where your contact works, but they have no open positions (often not an issue for a good engineer on the hunt), so you reach out to your contact who works there to ask them to put their feelers out for you.

c) you’re interested in a particular company because Reasons and you must find someone who works there to make the introduction.

Ideally you live mostly in the world of a and b. N.B. you should be willing to do this for other people in relation to wherever you work (now or eventually) if you are to follow this method of hustle.

“But Pam,” you say, “I’m in the c boat right now! How do I get off this boat!”

It’s not a good boat, but I have good news.

Using option c (finding someone who works at the company) is Not a Big Deal for multiple reasons: one, you’re good at what you do, companies want to hire engineers, yay. Two, I have two words for you: referral bonus.

Most tech companies have bonuses for staff who refer new hires, because it’s massively cheaper than using recruiters (we’re talking a few thousand vs. tens of thousands of dollars). My advice? Never use recruiters. They are not good at what they do. I’m assured the good ones exist, but I’ve yet to have one work with me better than my own means.

How do you find these people, who work at companies you want to work at? You ask someone you already know. Literally, email your close network, and see if any of them have a connection to the company you want to work at.

We’re talking close network though. You’re asking them to vouch for your character and your technical skills. This is not something to be done lightly, and you are not going around with your hands out asking for a job. You’re a professional, and you’re just scoping out the opportunities to see where there are common interests.

Don’t have a close technical network? Do these:

  • Meetups
  • Twitter
  • Socializing on the “scene” (happy hours, etc.)
  • Blogging
  • Public speaking
  • Hackathons

And you will have one. You don’t have to do all of them (I’m personally a social animal, so guilty of doing them all myself), but do something that puts you in the same space as other people in the industry. Nothing comes without some legwork, and building your network is no different.

Once you have the personal introduction to the company, that’s your first step to working the system “without” a résumé.

I put “without” a resume in quotes, because, sadly, some hiring does require you to turn in a resume (blech). But if you can avoid this at all, that’s better. But this is enough information for now.

11 Replies to “Burn your résumé: Finding your next job as an engineer”

  1. Hi Pam,

    Interesting post! I had a lunch interview three weeks ago through a networking contact. And today, LinkedIn reminded me about a colleague who was celebrating a work anniversary (we worked together a few years back). As a matter of course, I checked his company’s website — and they had a neat position open, so I checked with him, then composed a note and sent that off.

    Yes, both times I included the dreaded resume. Since I am not Larry Wall or Linus Torvalds, I need to have some backup as to why I have the technical ‘stuff’ to be able to do an engineering job.


    1. The idea of “backup” is something I also take issue with – dropping in a few links to GitHub projects (a good reason to have them) in the email that eventually gets to the hiring manager negates the need for a résumé. So much better to see code rather than a bullet point in a PDF that claims that one wrote some!

  2. I haven’t gotten a single tech job through resumes. First – I met my future boss at the GHC conference and interviewed later that week. Second one through the Systers network. At the third, I told them I wanted to work from them. Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth I was recruited by my boss.

    Network has been a big differentiator, but I never “worked” it.

  3. Many good points. I would add that a well presented resume will make it easier to open the door, even with a referral, because your referral can vouch for you but may not be able to hit every relevant point of your accomplishments, skills, etc. Let your referral present your resume.

    Also this may not be true of all companies, but at Flatiron Health (where I work as an internal recruiter) I review online applications for our engineering jobs daily and move forward the ones that look compelling. (This probably applies much more to startups across the board than to enterprise companies.)

    Finally, most recruiters do suck; there are a few good ones out there who can add value and make your life a lot easier; you really don’t have the means to determine if a recruiter is good just by talking to them, but people who have had good experiences can refer you their recruiters.

    1. Alex (another commenter) raised a similar point on the burden of proof. I still disagree and find resumes worthless, and it sounds like it’s worth expounding in another post, so thanks for that 🙂

      fwiw, internal recruiters are usually the best I’ve experienced, likely because their incentives aren’t completely fucked up, and they have a deeper knowledge of the needs of the organization. Feel like y’all should have a different title to differentiate you from what most people mean when they say recruiters 😉

  4. It’s unfortunate that the more social (and, I agree, more effective) approach gives an advantage to extroverts over introverts. (Although that just brings the field closer to broader norms—schmoozers have a leg up over awkwards everywhere).

  5. yes yes yes. So many good points here.

    Also: A website. I work with the recruiting section of my company from time-to-time and we’ll go to some of the big local schools: Drexel, Upenn, Penn State, and often see hundreds of resumes. Most are useless.

    The thing that stands out to me immediately is a website. I can quickly glance at it and see what you do and do not know. A link to someone’s GitHub is extremely helpful too. I can peek at their code and get a rough idea of what they are working on and what their code style is.

    Jake mentions above that the more social approach helps — and it does! But there are also different kinds of introverts / extroverts. Some of the best programmers I know cannot hold a conversation in person, but could write an e-mail with techincal information that would blow others out of the water, and their personality really shines.

    Play to your strengths. The more public you are about the work you are doing, the more likely you are to be seen. Working in a bubble doesn’t help anyone.

  6. re. “Don’t apply though a job portal” – be careful. Multiple places I have worked (large companies) use the portal as a very simple “clue” indicator. If you are incapable of going to the portal and applying (for a tech job, at least), especially when instructed to – you won’t get a callback. Ever. Doesn’t matter who you are, doesn’t really matter why. It is the entry point to the hiring system – a prerequisite. By all means – have someone refer you, get a personal intro, but – when they point you to the jobs portal, it might just be to see if you can follow simple directions. Don’t savvy yourself right out of an interview.

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