I am a Computing Science student graduating soon. I have a lot of experience with many programming languages and other technologies, but no employment history.

How can I communicate my skills through my résumé without making it look like a laundry list?

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    you have zero employment history? No internships, on campus job, or pizza delivery job? You never volunteered anywhere? Never were a member of a group on campus? – mhoran_psprep Jul 25 '13 at 20:27
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    And this experince in all these languages is doing what? Class exercises or open source, it makes a big difference. – HLGEM Jul 25 '13 at 21:11
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    Contribute to open source (pick a cms like WordPress or something) and blog about interesting programming challenges you encounter. Honestly that's what I prefer to see when I look a resume anyway rather than an arbitrary list of technologies you think you know, that way people can actually check out your code and see how you go about solving problems. – Andrew Bartel Jul 25 '13 at 21:27
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  • Hello Balian, and welcome to The Workplace! I edited your title to be a bit more specific about your question. This is a great question, and I want you to get good answers since it looks like we don't have anyone who's asked this yet! – jmac Jul 26 '13 at 0:40
up vote 14 down vote accepted

I used to teach resume writing as part of a techical & professional writing class required of graduating university students, and this answer amounts to a summary of some of those lessons.

First, let's look at what we know from your question:

  • you are graduating with a degree, and therefore you have a lot of coursework under your belt
  • you say you have a lot of experience with "many programming languages and other technologies"; unless you are leaving out a lot of information in your question, it would probably be more fair to say that you have a lot of familiarity with languages and technologies. That's an important distinction to understand as you craft your resume as an entry-level worker.
  • you have no employment history, and do not mention internships at all; since that is a type of employment, so we have to assume you have not had any.
  • you have not mentioned any volunteer work, either at your school, in the community, or with open source projects, so we have to assume you have not had any.

Your question is about "communicating your skills without it looking like a laundry list" -- that is the right attitude, but here is the truth which I think you already know: without proof to back up the items in your list, you really only have an invalid, unverified list. You could "list" that you have experience creating Ruby applications (for example), but if there's nothing at all on your resume to back that up, as the hiring manager I'm going to ignore your resume (even if it's for an entry-level position).

There's some good news, however:

  • Employers typically still only expect new college graduates to have entry-level skills and little formal work experience.
  • More than likely, you have more experience than you think, unless you went to a terrible school that only gave multiple-choice tests and never had you do anything practical.

This gets us back to the question of how to frame your skills and experiences in truthful and positive ways for you. First, ensure that you are not discounting any internships, side projects, or volunteer work. Next, think about the projects you've done in your coursework and the roles you've held.

A typical resume for a recent graduate might have sections that look like this:

  • Contact information - self-explanatory
  • Summary of skills - a few bullet points highlighting what you could actually start doing the first day on the job, such as "programming languages: Java; markup languages: HTML, XML; databases: Oracle" (etc)
  • Educational information - your degree, school, location, date
  • Employment related experience - title, company, location, date, accomplishments
  • Awards & Scholarships -- type, amount, date; these show that someone else has invested in you at some point in the past

What you're saying is that your resume might look only like this:

  • Contact information
  • Summary of skills
  • Educational information

If that is true, then expand in your Education section:

  • Add a list of upper-division courses and electives that you took to help specialize your work. In other words, leave off "Intro to Programming" but list "Linear & Non-Linear Optimization", "Mathematical Modeling", and so on.
  • For every course in which you were part of a team that did a group project -- especially if it was your senior or capstone project -- describe it and your role. For example: "Information Security: team leader for group project to design intrusion detection system. Managed resource allocations, documented deliverables, performed 25% of the coding in Java".

Once you start expanding on your education, you start to have the proof behind the claims you are making about the skills you are listing. Similarly, if you were part of clubs and held offices in them, those actions count as well -- maybe more for soft skills, depending on the club and what you did, but those things still matter.

Also, go get some internships, do volunteer work, contribute to open source projects, if you can, not just to be able to list something in your resume, but to begin to gain experience outside of the classroom.

  • This is a very good answer. It really made the process of writing a resume much more defined. – Othmanaba Jul 28 '13 at 12:50
  • I found this extremely helpful, beyond what was asked in the question. I have some work experience, but this certainly makes it clearer on how to go about mentioning it and the rest. Thanks! – asheeshr Apr 19 '14 at 4:43

How can I communicate my skills through my résumé without making it look like a laundry list?

Consider what evidence do you have to show these skills. Generally, it'll come from a few sources:

  • Coursework - Courses taken to get the degree may have given you exposure to various concepts, languages and other things that may be useful to put on a resume.

  • Volunteer/side projects - This would be stuff outside of school and while you may not have gotten paid, there would be people capable of backing up the claim that you did do X.

  • Personal projects - This would be what I'd least likely list as this can open a can of worms depending on where the project went. By personal here I mean that the code wasn't released for others to see and the whole project is rather private.

Resumes should be targeted to the position you are applying generally and thus there can be tailoring done as the courses for one position may not be that applicable to another. For example, if you are applying for a Business Intelligence position then work with databases and statistics may be useful to list while wireless networking expertise may not be that useful as a skill. While you may want to have a general resume that you could post on Monster or other job boards, this should keep things fairly general and be what leads to interviews with recruiters generally. Companies hiring directly may well expect you to apply directly rather than go looking on the job boards. Also, wherever you are graduating from may have resume services that could be useful to use here in terms of getting your resume reviewed as well as having career fairs and other avenues of getting a job rather than going directly into paperwork. While this is a bit off of what was asked, it may be worth considering if the general question is, "How do I get a job without ever having one previously?" that is the general problem then networking and finding other ways to meet employers may work better than where when you apply you are one of dozens of applicants that you almost have to win the lottery to get an interview since there may be plenty of other qualified candidates.

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