What NOT to Put on Your Resume

When writing a resume, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the more you include, the better. If that means using 10pt font and no whitespace, who cares, as long as I can include all six of the clubs I’m involved with. In my last post I explained how that line of thinking isn’t always the best way to go. Today, I’m going to give a few more items that you may reconsider including unless you want to put yourself at a disadvantage right off the bat.

Your GPA If It Isn’t Great

When looking at the education section of your resume, I obviously look for a GPA. If it’s not there, I don’t think much of it. I certainly don’t assume it’s bad–it doesn’t factor in to my evaluation of your resume whatsoever. On the other hand, if you include your GPA and it isn’t great, then it certainly doesn’t help you.

Now, there are plenty of totally valid reasons for having a low GPA, including ones that might actually indicate you are a talented engineer (I had friends in college that would rather build robots in their free time than write essays; they were super smart people I’d love to work with). Unfortunately, when a recruiter is looking at your resume, you don’t have the opportunity to tell them any of these reasons. They see the GPA, and it’s either a mark in your favor or not.

Now, as to what is a “good” GPA, that’s a bit of a tough question. Generally, I’m looking for a 3.5 or higher, unless you’re at a top-tier university, in which case I drop the bar to around 3.0.

That Those Projects Were Actually Homework

Many high-level computer science classes feature some capstone “project.” Common ones include an operating system or compiler, but there are also plenty of unique or student-defined projects being featured lately as part of the curriculum. These projects can make excellent additions to your resume, especially if you are lacking on relevant internships. However, I would avoid any indication that these projects were assigned as part of classwork. A project done “just because” is more impressive than a project done because you had to. For example, consider the example project description below:

Worked with 3 other students to develop a web app for the class “Introduction to Web Development”. My partners and I met regularly to work on homework assignments and build features of the app. Our application allowed students to find and reserve rooms around campus. Our project received an A.

Clearly, this was done as part of a class. We could rewrite this as follows to potentially throw a suspicious recruiter off the trail:

Worked with a team to develop a web app that allowed students to find and reserve rooms around campus. I worked on the user interface in ReactJS, which provided a campus map and a list of times that each room was available. My teammates and I met regularly to ensure we were on track to meet deadlines and deployed the application in just 5 months.

Notice how there’s no mention that this was done as part of a class project and how I emphasized my personal contributions to the project.

Of course, the fact that the project was done as part of a class might come out as part of the interview process (and you certainly shouldn’t lie and say that it isn’t!). But once you’ve gotten an interview, your skills will speak for themselves. Of course, if a project actually was something you did in your spare time, try to highlight that in the description.

Non-Technical Experience

This last tip may be slightly controversial. I’ve heard many people suggest putting non-technical experience on your resume as evidence of “soft” skills or just to show that you’re an actual human being and not a robot. I, personally, disagree for two reasons:

  1. Space is valuable. You only have 8.5x11” of paper to impress a recruiter. Anything that takes up space but doesn’t demonstrate your value as a potential employee is wasted space.
  2. Many “soft” skills can be just as easily developed and showcased as part of technical experiences. Talk about how you presented your work, or how you were perhaps a mentor to your peers.

If I had a choice between seeing detailed technical descriptions or seeing all the sports you play, I’d definitely prefer reading about your technical abilities.

Closing Thoughts

The moral of the story here is that putting the wrong things on your resume can be just as harmful as not including the right things. In my next post, I’ll start delving in to what exactly the right things are, and how you can optimize your descriptions to craft an exceptional resume.

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