Software engineering resumes need numbers… here's how to do it

By Marc Cenedella  on Sunday, May 9, 2021

Marc Cenedella

Marc Cenedella is a nationally recognized thought leader on careers, resume writing, job search, career management and recruiting, Marc is frequently sought out by national media organizations for his expert commentary on employment, resumes, the job search and the job market.

An effective way to show great numbers on your resume

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Numbers on your technical resume make a more powerful argument for why someone should pick you for an interview. By providing a quantification of your success in your past roles, you indicate that you are capable of measurably improving a team. You also show that you value the specificity of concrete achievements over vague, hand-wavy bragging. Nonetheless, despite how effective they are, the sensible engineer runs into the problem of gathering numbers. At Leet, we write great technical resumes for experienced technology professionals for free, and we often get asked “How do you actually collect numbers to put on your resume?”

Don’t be perfect. In order to be effective, the numbers you use need to be roughly right. While some interviewers will get greatly obsessed with the difference between 36 and 37 percent increases, for the purposes of interviewing, most are fine with knowing the improvement in loadtime was roughly 40%. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and don’t waste hours carrying out calculations to the 3rd decimal place.

But be truthful. It’s important that you be truthful. If the actual improvement was 3%, then claiming 35% or 40% is factually (and morally) wrong to claim as your achievement. The relevant standard is probably, as my Harvard professor used to say, that the first numeral is correct, and the decimal point is in the right place. Stretching the truth any further risks a headache should your interviewer eventually check with a friend or colleague who used to work with you.

Ask your peers and colleagues. One simple expedient is to ask your current or former peers and colleagues to remind you of the magnitude of your success. “Hey, how much were we able to get latency down with that project?” or “I’m updating my resume and can you remind me how much engagement increased when we launched the native mobile app?” Getting an answer from a third party makes your claim more valid. It’s also no longer just your opinion, but your teammate’s as well.

Review your notes and emails. You might be surprised at how much data about your past performance you have sitting in your emails, your notebooks, or the notes you’ve taken on your laptop along the way. While being careful to not use confidential information, review what you’ve written to yourself and others in the past for quantified outcomes. Doing this has the added benefit of refreshing your memory about your past work, which will come in handy during interviews.

Use external data sources. Your team’s or company’s performance is oftentimes measured by external companies for a variety of reasons. Traffic, engagement, rankings, loadtime, and hundreds of other variables are regularly measured, recorded and stored by third parties. Mining these data sources for numbers you can use on your resume can be very helpful.

Estimate within your degree of confidence. The further you go back in your employment history, the fuzzier memories get. Not just yours, but your colleagues', bosses', and even our collective memory in the form of what’s available on the internet. By the time you’re 7+ years back in your work history, readily available numbers may simply be difficult to obtain. If you’re 80% or 90% certain that your recollection is accurate, for items this far back in your employment history, you can feel comfortable - not secure, but comfortable - in relying on your recollection of the facts. Again, this is probably best restricted to items about a decade or longer in the past, and in no case should you simply make things up.

Invest in the process. While finding specific numbers for your resume is an investment of time and effort, the hours will pay off. Some of the best leverage in your career improvement plans comes from having a resume that gets you invited to better interviews, for better jobs, with better compensation, career growth, and titles. While it’s easier to rely on a quickly put-together resume that simply lists your past work titles and dates, it’s not as effective as taking the time to do it right. A better resume attracts more attention, interviews, and job offers.

Leet Resumes can help. You might already know that we write great technical resumes for free. In addition we’re making it easier to keep track of your numbers for the rest of your career. The easiest way to not have to remember, dig, inquire, or reconstruct numbers from your past is to write them down now, while the results are fresh in your mind. That’s why we’ll email you every 3-6 months to record one major accomplishment. We’ll save these for you over the years, so that they’ll be ready and waiting for you when the time comes to update your resume for the next stage in your career.

Your free Leet Resume is most powerful when it includes numbers that quantify your ability to do excellent work in your technical field. By focusing on getting numbers that are roughly right, from your past work, past colleagues, or past data, you can greatly improve your resume’s ability to attract more and better interest in your services.

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