I'm a proactive engineer,

  • always looking for improvement points,
  • and giving support to my colleagues,
  • and after running out of tasks, I ask for new ones
  • I do classes and code open-source in my free time

Furthermore, recommendation letters given from people inside the company are not usually written for employees in the firms I've worked for, because there's no value added for the company for employees leaving faster thanks to the recommendation letters from the managers...

How do I make it obvious on my resume the fact that I am proactive and ambitious? I've three years of professional experience, but I'm good at what I do.

The background of this is that three years doesn't seem a lot to some recruiters when searching for a software engineer.

  • 18
    3 years isn't a lot. Sorry to burst your bubble. It's after around 5 years that people start to accumulate just enough experience for it to be transferable, and closer to 10 years for that to really make a significant difference in ramp-up time, overall productivity, and the quality of your work output. I'm not saying you aren't smart, perhaps even smarter than your peers - but I guarantee you don't have an objective advantage over a reasonably-competent engineer with twice as much experience. For many tech companies, these qualities you list are the bare minimum, for a junior engineer.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 18:24
  • 15
    A degree is not work experience. YMMV, but I've observed that an advanced degree helps bump people closer to the top of their salary band, but not necessarily to a higher tier. Please don't think I'm disparaging advanced degrees, they represent valuable research and SME experience and deserve to be recognized as such, but they also don't automatically confer improved execution of job responsibilities, and definitely don't carry weight in terms of leadership. In Joel Spolsky's words, you need to prove "smart and gets things done", and 3 years isn't much time to prove the latter.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 19:01
  • 5
    I'm going to disagree with @Aaronaught a little bit, based on: "There's a difference between 3 years experience, and 1 years experience 3 times" - That can count a great deal.
    – Joe
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 22:42
  • 3
    @HardWorker, I think you're wrong about managers not giving a good recommendation to good employees who are leaving. Don't expect it in the form of an actual pre-drafted "letter/email", however. Aside from being ineffective that's too impersonal and gives the manager burdensome "homework". Instead just ask the manager if he will take calls from your potential employer.
    – teego1967
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 1:52
  • 5
    A lot of people in engineering and technical careers feel that the current trend of calling someone a "senior" engineer after only 10 years is neither accurate, nor desirable. Most people work for 30 or 40 years, so ten years is not even halfway into your career, an no matter how sharp you are, someone with 20 or 30 years more experience than you is in a totally different league. As such, I think it's worth considering that maybe the recruiters are onto something when they say that 3 years experience isn't a lot. On a related note, overconfidence is a classic indicator of inexperience. Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 13:48

5 Answers 5


Everything on a CV or resume should be a fact from your professional history that is demonstrably true about you and sets you aside from the competition.

So, if you want employers to see you have these qualities, you need to demonstrate them with factual examples:

  • "always looking for improvement points" - Great! Then there will be examples you can point to where you proactively found a possible improvement, improved something, and got a measurable outcome. Something like "Proactively found improvements in [squirrel building algorithim] resulting in [30% increase in squirrel production]". Keep it simple and factual, don't try to tell the whole story (that's what interviews are for), give just enough to show this is something real, concrete and provable they could ask you about in an interview.
  • and giving support to my colleagues - Great! Be specific: how many colleagues, how, and in what areas? Something like "Supported three colleagues to [master squirrel training procedure], resulting in [project completing ahead of schedule]". Demonstrable facts and examples.

  • after running out of tasks, I ask for new ones - Hmm, this is actually pretty normal. I'd expect any decent professional to do this. If someone boasted about this, I'd worry that they saw it as an effort and some kind of special favour.

  • I do classes and code open-source in my free time - Great! Give examples, and link to an account where they can see your projects for themselves.

For everything in your CV/resume, ask yourself "Could anyone make that claim?". If they could, make it more specific, or cut it out.

  • 8
    how did you know I make squirrels? :D Great answer, this sounds more like what I was looking for, rather than just a "Don't" to a "How to do this?" Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 21:23
  • 3
    While I agree with your comment on after running out of tasks, I ask for new ones, I have to add that I'd be so happy if that were actually true. Way too many of my fellow programmers completely rely on someone actively telling them what to do, some not even bothering to research problems on their own. You might not call them professionals, but they still get the job.
    – Luaan
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 9:31
  • @Luaan I feel your pain :( Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 10:07
  • 4
    With programmers, are you sure their code isn't compiling? :-) Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 11:29

The problem is that everyone has those qualities, just ask them. It's kind of like saying "I'm a great driver" because everyone thinks they are.

You have 3 problems.

  1. Anyone can put anything they want on their resume, especially non-measurable qualities, and do.
  2. There are no ways to measure such intangible qualities.
  3. People doing hiring really don't care about intangibles on resumes and are immune to their influence, because of 1 and 2.

One word of advice. If you sound half as arrogant in person as you do on this question, you will do a great deal of harm to your chances of securing new employment. This is intended to be constructive critique and I hope you take it as such.

  • “If you sound half as arrogant in person as you do on this question, you will do a great deal of harm to your chances of securing new employment.” [Citation needed.] Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 18:06
  • 2
    It's opinion, obviously. Passive-aggression is not helpful.
    – Chris E
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 18:23
  • 1
    it's kind of sad that time spent somewhere is the only way someone measures someone's competence on a resume Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 18:49
  • 9
    @HardWorker: It's not time, it's impact. If you were only at a company 6 months but can prove that you were directly responsible for increasing revenue from $1M to $10M, or improved your team's productivity by 50%, or if you started your own successful company and sold it off, then you'd put that on your resume and almost every competent recruiter would recognize it. If you just wrote code for a few years, then what metric other than time can a recruiter rely on? Surely you can at least get recommendations from ex-coworkers, or is there no turnover whatsoever?
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 19:06
  • for coding very large applications for very large firms it's difficult to precisely pinpoint the person's turnover. I guess I just need to age on the job, or do open-source developing where people can see the quality directly, I guess. Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 19:35

In general, the resume is an idealized record of the things that you have done, not necessarily how you did them. It lists where you have worked, the projects that you have worked on, the tangible impact that you have had (e.g. "built a product that made $100m in revenue"), and the "hard" skills that you have developed.

The place to talk about your work ethic, proactiveness, quickness to learn, etc. is the cover letter. Your cover letter is a valuable tool that lets the reviewer get a glimpse of the non-tangible qualities that you bring to the table. As Christopher mentions in his answer, though, you should think about toning it down a bit - giving any sort of indication that you consider yourself amazing or uniquely talented will be a huge red flag to most reviewers.

  • Agreed, especially since you can take the opportunity to word the cover letter is such a way that your intangibles speak to the specific phrasing of the job ad. e.g. they mention enthusiasm, you mention your open source work; they mention motivated self-starter, you mention your proactive pursuit of improvements, etc. Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 23:38

When writing CVs, the guidance I've always worked to is use the STAR method

  • Situation - outline the context of your accomplishment.
  • Task - describe your task.
  • Action - explain what you did, how you did it, why you did what you did, and which skills you used.
  • Result - Explain how that benefited your employer - what value you added to the process. This should - as much as possible - be quantified. If you can, quote money, because everyone understand that. If not, relative improvement (increased throughput of process foo by 30%).

You are tactically boasting, but at the same time - offering concrete examples of why you're amazing.

You don't have to be overly verbose - but be prepared to be quizzed at interview. What you're trying to do is make a case that "by hiring me, your company is going to be more profitable" because pretty fundamentally - that's what your employer is looking for.


I'm also a developer of 3 years and constantly get approached for new work and the reason is most of the things taught to you about CVs are wrong. No one cares if you're a hard worker no one wants to know if you got a swimming trophy at age 6. Every software/web company has their own product and requirements e.g. mine is that my employer currently uses symfony2, mysql, behat, redis, agile.

People will hire you for experience with certain technologies etc. over general experience because a lot of the time the thing they need experience with might not have been around 10 years ago.

Be verbose about what technologies and concepts you've used. If you get an interview ask if and what they might use, talk about how something you've used is similar and example that you have knowledge of things you may not have used but know it's purpose. It shows you'll know how to adapt and suggest improvements from drawing from your own experiences.

Overall most programmers need to show some passion for what they do, a lot see that as doing open source at home but it can just mean just showing an interest for learning. Good employers send devs to conferences but if they think it's just a job for you then they won't see the point in giving you chances to learn further.

  • Time to erase swimming trophy entry whilst crying Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 5:42

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