The UX of Resumes

By | April 7, 2011

Recently, I interviewed a person for a user interface engineering position.  I made the analogy that the resume was like a user interface and that the candidate was the application.  As a user, I wanted to accomplish my goal: to learn about the candidate.

My user experience started the minute I picked up the resume, before I even met the candidate.  It was 7 pages long.  This is way too much for a resume.  I couldn’t get the history quickly, I had to follow a long trail of text.  This wasn’t a resume, it was a book.  I noticed a problem right away…there was no footer including the “page x of y” information.  I dropped the resume on the floor and picked it back up.  It was out of order now and nearly impossible to piece back together without looking at the original PDF.

Once, I started reading the text, I realized another major problem.  There were descriptions of what the company did, not what the candidate did.  Normally, if I wanted to know what the company did, I would Google them and go to their website.  This text represented 20% of the total lines of text in the resume.

I pointed all of this out to the candidate when he arrived.  I asked, “How did you write this resume?  All at once? or over time?”  The answer was that the resume was written over time and had accrued more and more lines over the years.

The Analogy Part
Isn’t that like a user interface?  You build something and keep adding features and one day you realize your code is too bloated and long?  When do you say, “I have got to clean this thing up!” and refactor the code.  I have seen many engineers build up a gordian knot over time.  Wouldn’t it be better to keep trimming during the year rather than wait for a massive spring cleaning?

Codebases grow; they don’t shrink.  Yet, everyone agrees that the bigger the codebase gets, the more unmanageable it gets.  Resumes are the same way.  7 pages is way too much for me to read.  Look at your application (or resume) and see how much cruft it has accrued over the years.   Maybe it’s time for a spring cleaning.

Last part of the analogy:  Does your resume look the same as everyone else’s?  Do you use Arial or Times New Roman?  Why would you want your resume to look the same.  It can’t stand out that way.  Why not make it look a little different and help the user remember you?  Look at your resume, it probably needs help.

5 thoughts on “The UX of Resumes

  1. Michael

    I didn’t understand one thing, why did you invite the guy to an interview in the first place?

    Some people – quality coders – underestimate the effort required to build a good resume that will get them interviews for a good position. I spent nearly two weeks perfecting my resume. Going over recommendations from HR experts (user models), getting advice from friends and on forums (code review) and through out the entire process, keeping the resume short (as possible), and clean (JSLint).
    And of course after I finished it, friends and colleagues asked me to send them, so then can use it as a template (code reuse 🙂 ).

    Reply
    1. Glen Lipka Post author

      Someone else set it up. I looked at the resume an hour before he arrived. We are still hiring if you want to send me your resume. 🙂

      Reply
  2. Michael

    Thanks but I forgot to mention that I eventually did find a nice job 🙂
    Good luck with your manhunt!

    Reply
  3. Dan

    A resume, two pages to explain what you have dedicated your career to. A great resume doesn’t make a great worker, it just means they worked on their resume. Most people lie or embellish on their resume and I’m not sure how useful the details are. It seems a lot of what you do involves quality thinking and a specific understanding of different perspectives. How does a resume capture that? Does a resume say that someone plays well with others or creates something use during slow times. I believe that using a resume to judge someone is flawed. I think it can be used to eliminate people that have not have the specific experience/education you are looking for. But beyond that, I’m not sure how much it really tells you about a person.

    References on the other hand may mean a bit more. If someone comes in and says here are three names from each of the companies I worked for (including their supervisor). That would mean a lot. Good luck finding someone, I hope one day to be able to hire someone (I wonder how much responsibility I can have without ever having staff).

    Reply
  4. Glen Lipka Post author

    @Dan: I wasn’t interviewing for a designer position. I was on the roster to interview someone for another department (client-side engineering). I usually find references are worthless. 99% of the time they say “They were great”. 1% of the time, the person says, “Who?” (The 1% is why doing them at all is required.)

    The goal of the resume is to educate the interviewer about the candidate. You don’t get to be there in person, so a resume is all you have. Personally, I use as many channels as I can including a resume, LinkedIn (especially the recommendations), this blog, a jQuery series of examples, My UX.stackexchange.com profile, speeches I have given and finally, video tours of projects I have worked on.

    Whenever I look for a position, I redo my resume to make it current. When someone is looking for a position, they need to show they care. Research the company, polish/redo your resume, make a custom cover letter, google everyone you are going to interview with, write thank you letters, find people you have in common on LinkedIn. If you overdo it, you will be more likely to succeed. When a resume comes in 7 pages and sloppy, and they didn’t research the company and they don’t know who I am… it tells me exactly the kind of person they are. Unprepared.

    Reply

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