In this article, I’ll share my technique for leveraging open source contributions to stand out as a great candidate for a job in the technology field.
No goal can be accomplished without first being set. Before jumping into a new commitment or spending the evening overhauling your resume, it pays to clearly define the traits of the job you’re seeking. Your resume is a piece of persuasive writing, so you have to know your audience for it to reach its full potential. Your resume’s audience is anyone with the need for your skills and the budget to hire you. When editing, read your resume while imagining what it’s like to be in their position. Do you look like a candidate that you would hire?
I personally find it helpful to make a list of the key traits that the ideal candidate for my target job displays. I gather this list from a combination of personal experience, reading job postings, and asking colleagues in similar roles. LinkedIn and conferences are great places to find people happy to offer this sort of advice. Many people enjoy talking about themselves, and inviting them to tell part of their own story to help you expand your knowledge makes everyone feel good. As you talk to others about their career paths, you’ll gain insights not only into how to land the jobs you want, but also into which traits or behaviors correspond to ending up in situations you’d rather avoid.
For example, the list of key traits for a junior role might look like this:
- Experience with CI, Jenkins preferred
- Strong scripting background in Python and Ruby
- Familiarity with Eclipse IDE
- Basic Git and Bash
- Self-directed learner
- Clear communication and documentation skills
- Experience working on a multi-person development team (“team player”)
- Familiarity with issue tracker workflow
Remember, you don’t have to meet every single criterion listed in a job description to get an interview.
The job description describes whoever left the role, and if you start out knowing everything you’ve likely signed yourself up for a few years that don’t challenge or expand your skill set. If you’re nervous about missing a particular technology on the list, do some research into it to see whether comparable skills from another experience would apply. For example, someone who’s never used Jenkins might still understand the principles of continuous integration testing from working on a project that uses Buildbot or Travis CI.
If you’re applying at a larger company, they probably have an entire department and comprehensive screening process to make sure they don’t hire any candidate unable to succeed in a role. That means it’s your job to apply and their job to decide whether to reject you. Don’t prematurely reject yourself from the job by refusing to apply.
Now you have an idea of what job you want and what skills you’ll need to impress your interviewers. The next steps to take will vary based on how much experience you’ve already got.
Tailoring existing involvement
Start by making a list of all the projects you’ve been involved with in the past few years. One way to get a quick list of things you’ve worked on lately is to navigate to the Repositories tab of your GitHub profile and filter the list by clicking on Forks. Additionally, look down your Organizations list for places you might have been engaging in leadership roles. If you already have a resume, make sure you’ve included everything from these lists under experience.
Consider any IRC channel where you have special permissions as a potential leadership experience. Check your Meetup and Eventbrite accounts and add any events that you organize or volunteer at to your list. Skim your calendar for the past year and note any volunteering, mentoring, or public speaking engagements.
Now for the hard part: Map the list of required skills onto the list of experiences. I like to assign a letter or number to each trait needed for the job, then mark the same symbol next to every piece of experience or involvement where you demonstrated the trait. When in doubt, claim it anyway—your problem is more likely a reluctance to brag than actual incompetence.
This is the point in the process at which resume writers are often fettered by reluctance to risk overselling their own skills. It often helps to re-frame the question as: “Did someone who organized a meetup show leadership and planning skills?” Rather than: “Did I personally show these skills when I organized that meetup?”.
If you’ve been sufficiently thorough at figuring out where your free time has gone for the past year or two and you code a lot, you might now be facing a surprising problem: Too many items to fit on a single-page resume! If anything on your list of experiences didn’t demonstrate any of the skills you’re trying to showcase, cross it off. If an item demonstrates few skills and you don’t have any stories that you enjoy telling about it, cross it off. If this abridged list of things you’ve done still won’t fit in the format of a resume, prioritize the experiences from which you gained a relevant story or extensive experience with a desired technology.
At this point, it should be obvious if you need a better piece of experience to hone a particular skill. Consider using an issue aggregator like OpenHatch to find an open source project where you build and practice your skills with the tool or technology that you’re missing.
Make your resume beautiful
A resume’s beauty comes from conciseness, clarity, and layout. Each piece of experience should be accompanied by enough information for a reader to immediately know why you included it, but no more. Each type of information should be formatted consistently throughout the document—it’s distracting to have some dates italicized or right-aligned and others not.
Typeset your resume using a tool that makes these goals easy to achieve. I enjoy using LaTeX, since its macro system makes visual consistency easy and most interviewers recognize it immediately. Your tool of choice might be LibreOffice or HTML, depending on your skills and how you want to distribute your resume.
Remember that a digitally submitted resume might be scanned for keywords, so it can help to use the same acronyms as the job posting when describing your experiences. To make your resume easy for your interviewer to use, place the most important information first.
Coders often struggle to quantify balance and layout when typesetting a document. My favorite technique for stepping back and assessing whether my document’s whitespace is in the right place is to fullscreen the PDF or print it out, then look at it in a mirror. If you’re using LibreOffice Writer, save a copy of your resume then change the font to that of a language you can’t read. Both of these techniques forcibly pull you out of reading the content, and allow you to see the overall layout of the document in a new light. They take you from a “That sentence is poorly worded!” critique to noticing things like “It looks funny to have only a single word on that line.”
Finally, double check that your resume displays correctly in the media where it will be seen. If you’re distributing it as a web page, test it at different screen widths in multiple browsers. If it’s a PDF, open it on your phone or a friend’s computer to make sure all the fonts it needs are available.
Finally, don’t let the content that you worked so hard on for your resume go to waste! Mirror it to your LinkedIn account—complete with the buzzwords from the job posting—and don’t be surprised if recruiters start reaching out to you. Even if the jobs they’re describing aren’t a good fit right now, you can leverage their time and interest to get feedback on what’s working well about your resume and what isn’t.