The Agile-Friendly Resume
Over the years I have helped many students with a resume review, to support their search for a new job or keep their information current. They want to represent themselves as someone who is, and wants to work in an organization that is, “agile-friendly.’ By this I mean not only having a basis in the mechanics of one or two agile frameworks or approaches, but embodying the values, principles, and spirit of what agility means to so many of us.
The purpose of your resume is to get those organizations interested in having the next conversation, and how you present yourself in that first impression is a huge part of the job search. An organization that does not value the agile mindset may not look at things the same way as one that is more mature. The sequence, formatting, and content of your resume lets them know what you value. I’ve written this post to help those looking to update their resume, to represent themselves as someone who is ‘agile-friendly’.
The first half of the first page of a resume is where you want to engage and draw in the reviewer. Think about what you would like to highlight, with the sections near the top more important than those below. Consider the three resume outlines in the table below:
The overall structure of the resume matters here. Consider a candidate that presents their education before their experience; this may be someone earlier in their career, or someone wishing to highlight their schooling. Consider someone who puts their certifications and skills at the top and buries their experience near the end; this may be someone wanting to highlight their accolades but does not have as much relevant experience for the position they are shooting for.
Recommendation: There is no right or wrong answer to this one in my opinion, I just ask you to consider the order of your resume. The structure of the sections says something, as does the order of the items therein. Consider what is valuable to you, and what you would like to highlight as a candidate.
Remember, it is perfectly acceptable to have different versions of your resume, depending on what type of position, organization, or industry you are looking to join. If you want to have an “agile” version of your resume, that’s totally up to you.
Generally speaking, the outline for Candidate #3 above is what I recommend for most or my students and will use that structure in the section drill-downs below.
Many resumes have an alphabet soup of letters after someone’s name. You may have noticed this on LinkedIn or other sites, where a person’s name appears something like:
Billy Brightsuit – CSM CSPO SPC4 PMP PMI-ACP CSP-SM A-CSM ABC DEF 12A OU812
Recommendation: Remove the letters after your name. You are more than your certifications and will have a chance to tell someone all the accreditations that you have earned.
Consider the email address that you are using. Have you had it for a long time? Was it left over from college days, like TBONE420@hotmail.com? (apologies if you get spam from this article T-bone, I’ll make sure to let Ooie and Weebs know I meant no disrespect).
Your email address says a lot about what you value. I had one student who was having trouble getting noticed for Scrum Master positions, and it turns out his email address was email@example.com. This email address says, to me, “here is what I value.” While there is a ton of value here for some organizations, this would be a potential red flag for others.
Recommendation: Streamline your email address to something simple, without any reference to a framework, company, or certification.
The amount of space your contact information occupies at the top of your resume could take away valuable real-estate on that first page. Make your name, email, address, phone, and other relevant contact information legible at the top of the resume without taking up more than 15% of the first page.
Many resumes I review contain some boilerplate-type summary that states that the author:
“Is a self-starting and highly motivated professional used to working in high pressure environments supporting mission critical systems. A skilled communicator who provides timely results and leverages excellent leadership skills to increase productivity, retention, and customer satisfaction”
That’s everyone. That’s all of you. The three resumes above yours, and the three below, will have some sort of statement just like that. This mixed bag of professional ‘buzzword bingo’ will not separate you from other candidates.
Recommendation: Focus on creating two to three sentences that really says “who you are” with a set of statements that will differentiate you from other candidates.
Job-seekers are often searching for the next challenge, industry, or organization on their professional journey. However, the ‘buzzword bingo’ can creep in here as well, with a statement like this:
“Looking for a high-impact organization involved in driving customer success, where I can leverage my amazing leadership skills, highly productive work ethic, clear and direct communication style to ensure that the right work gets done on time and under budget”
This gives a reviewer nothing to get an idea of what you are looking for. Do you want to be involved in the intake of work into the company? Would you rather be on the delivery side? Do you want to be customer facing, or do you want to do most of your work internally?
Recommendation: Make some specific statements of what you are looking for not only in the organization, but what will be asked of you in the role. It may remove you from consideration in some organizations, but you are also more likely to find the right fit. If you are open to different types of organizations/roles, consider making multiple versions of your resume to reflect this specifically.
While you may have spent several years at a certain job, the reviewer may not have any knowledge or background in that organization or industry.
Recommendation: Provide one sentence that frames the organization to give the reviewer a bit of context. An example of this could be something like:
“ABC123 Consulting was a mid-sized firm of approximately 500 employees focused on providing consulting services in industry X, acquired by Big Company XYZ in September of 200X”
While at an organization it’s common to have worked in several capacities, roles, or jobs. Think of someone who came in at entry level and climbed the corporate ladder. It needs to be clear to the reviewer what your journey was, and what happened at each step of the way.
Recommendation: If you held two or more positions in an organization, consider separating them into short, smaller sections. For example, if you were a Senior-level developer for several years and then became a team’s Technical Lead, have a section for each role.
Recommendation: Consider summarizing your position in two to three short sentences. This set of statements outlines your responsibilities to the reviewer and paints the picture of what success looked like for you.
Recommendation: For each position, consider the things you were the proudest of in that role. Think of those events or stories that were a “win” for you. Create a list of two to three bullets for each position that represent the accomplishments you could describe in a one- to two-minute story. Start the bullets with verbs to help showcase the actions that you took, barriers you crossed, and challenges you overcame.
The Words You Use Matter
The words a resume author uses reveal a lot about their approach, attitude, personality, and their “agile-friendliness”. Consider the following ‘accomplishments’ and the choice of words:
Established team norms and ensured compliance with rulesets
Enforced policy guidelines for both core hours and work-from-home initiatives
Created robust enterprise wide status reporting matrix for senior leadership
Managed the creation and cataloging of meeting minutes and artifacts
Established estimation normalization guidelines to reinforce team commitments
Assigned breakout tasks to team members to ensure maximum utilization
Now, if these are your bullets don’t get too upset. These are things you may be extremely proud of. Step back and think to yourself – does that look like someone that’s “agile-friendly?” There are a lot of heavy words in the bullet list above that I encounter in the resumes of candidates looking to transition out of a traditional way of working (which might have been amazing!) and into more of an agile-focused organization.
Recommendation: Consider the “weight” of some of the word choices you use. Words like “enforcement”, “compliance”, “policy”, and “assignment” stand out to reviewers and not always in a positive way. For maturing agile organizations, these words may represent values and principles that may not be in alignment with their core beliefs.
Read one of your accomplishments and ask yourself: “Is this one of the things I was the proudest of in this role?”. Many reviewers prefer to see how you helped grow, support, and develop others in the organization.
I like to ask the author when reviewing their resume: “Are you looking for a job focused using your Microsoft Word skills? What about Excel?”
The reason why is that the skills are often in a table or list. The ones that immediately come to mind are the ones that an author writes down first, but think about it for a second… The skills you want to highlight should be the ones that come first. The order of skills says a lot about what you are interested in!
Recommendation: Consider presenting a small two- to three-column table with your skills, or a comma-separated list where the skills you are looking to leverage are highlighted at the top / at the front. Some candidates list out their core or focus skills, and an ‘additional skills’ section after.
Education and Certifications
I once reviewed a resume for a student who wrote that they had a certain certification not once, not twice, but SEVEN times, in the first 20% of the resume! Think about that, seven times in the top half of page one. We get it, you are proud of the accomplishment!
Recommendation: Be concise. Don’t be overly redundant and highlight these things in the appropriate part of the resume. Share your education and certifications, including the governing body that recognizes the certification and the year you received it.
Order matters here as well! When someone lists out their certifications, the ones that they value the most are very often the first ones listed. Consider that friend or co-worker that lists certifications in their signature block. What are the first two on the list? Are those certifications consistent with their values and principles? Good chance they are for them, and for you as well.
Some candidates are hesitant to include the year of their educational degrees (bachelors, masters, etc.) for concerns they will be perceived as too young / old for the position. My advice is to do what you feel is right, because not all organizations are built the same.
One Last Piece of the Puzzle
This post wouldn’t be complete without my last piece of advice. Organizations have more tools and technology at their disposal than ever and can them to do further research on you before the first conversation.
Imagine a resume where someone lists 5 years of experience in an organization, but there is no record of their employment. Imagine another resume that states that the author has a certification, but they do not appear in a cursory member lookup on that governing body’s website. The list goes on and on, and I have far too many stories where this goes bad.
Recommendation: Be honest. Do not claim you have done something that you did not, end of story!
Anything on a resume is fair game. Assume that the reviewer will “look you up” and ensure that all your online profiles and information are current and up to date. This will save the potentially uncomfortable conversation about a certification or degree that did not exist.
You may be marking up your resume as you read this, and I hope that I was able to bring a few key things to light. Your resume is what separates you from the others and helps set the stage for the next steps. Take advantage of the opportunity to represent yourself honestly, clearly, and in an agile-friendly way. Thanks for reading!