A well-written engineering resume will set you apart from your competition. It’s the first screening stage, which can make or break you.
I know today, a resume may seem insignificant. Because everyone has a public profile and you can broadcast yourself to the entire world. BUT, you still need to get through the gauntlet of reviewers at companies to get your chance.
Now, having reviewed many engineering resumes, I know the winning formula. I’m going to share this formula in my 7 must-know engineering resume tips.
Important Note: I’m going to reference real-world job experience a lot. Because real-world experience trumps all “classroom” learning for employers. For entry-level jobs though, use internship and classroom project experience instead.
#1 Tailor your engineering resume to a job description
Focus your resume on the core scope of a job you’re going after. If the job description is designing rocket engines, don’t focus on factory machines. Rather, talk about the design of liquid bi-propellant rocket engines you’ve worked on. This includes discussing the following:
- High-temperature combustion engine chambers
This level of detail shows your interest level in the job, and how you’d fit in the position. Plus, you’ll stand out among your peers. Because many candidates send the same generic cookie-cutter resume to every employer.
What’s more, tailoring your resume is even more important if you lack experience, or have a weak GPA. Because you can highlight your strengths while pulling attention away from your weaknesses.
Important Note: it’s difficult to tailor each and every resume. Especially when you’re blasting out hundreds of resumes day after day. So, create several resume versions for different position types. Then, recycle the resumes and only make small tweaks here and there.
#2 List relevant engineer focused projects
List projects you’ve directly worked on. Better yet, list projects you’ve led.
Just as important, be descriptive of the work you’ve done for each project. If you’re an electrical engineer, don’t just write the following:
- Renewable energy
- Power system analysis
- High voltage design
These bullets are great keywords, but they tell me absolutely nothing. They’re just too vague. No one would know your knowledge level, and the work you actually did. Instead, write the following:
Substation X Design work
- Created electrical drawings for site and switching station layout
- Prepared project bill of materials
- Developed one-lines, three-lines, and elementary drawings
- Coordinated with utility over substation interconnection
- Completed power flow, short circuit, and arc flash analysis
This description lists what you’ve done and shows you’ve been in the trenches. You’re not just listing a bunch of keywords from your college curriculum. Rather, you’re listing specifics only a person who got their hands dirty in design work would know. This is key!
Plus, engineering education doesn’t properly prepare you for real-world work. So, academic references aren’t the be-all-end-all metric in the eyes of employers.
To tag onto this, find ways to infuse your unique skills into your experience. A good way to do this is to include challenges you overcame in projects. For example, think of the replacement of a facility’s high voltage electrical switchgear. You’d write the following as a descriptor:
New switchgear cutover, limited to 24 hours to maintain facility operations.
Anyone who knows about high voltage equipment replacement knows this isn’t easy. Then talking about this work in an interview can be like hitting a home run.
Important Note: add quantitative results to your resume. This includes cost optimizations, efficiency improvements, and profits. These metrics are easy for readers to consume and evaluate.
In short, you want to create results-based content. At the same time, don’t include non-engineering content. No one really cares if you’re an amazing guitar player. Plus, you’re short on content space, so focus on what employers care about.
#3 Guide your readers with your project descriptions
Your interviewers will probably create questions to ask you based on your resume. This allows them to test your knowledge, but also to detect bullshit.
So, write resume content to drive the direction of your possible interview. If you’re a maestro with electronics, list a bunch of your awesome electronic projects. Of course, your projects need to align with the job you’re applying for.
Important Note: skip the basic skills in your descriptions. You don’t need to list you know Bernoulli’s principle if you’re an aerospace engineer. Because frankly, this is a given if you graduated as an aerospace engineer.
Now maybe, a job description emphasizes Bernoulli’s principle. In this case, write about your application of Bernoulli’s principle in your work.
To point out, experience is more powerful than the alphabet soup listed after your name. Don’t fill precious resume real estate with explanations over the following:
Rather, be succinct and stick to the real work you’ve done. An employer doesn’t care about self-promotion and what many would construe as bullshit. Employers want to know what you can do for them and how you’ll fit into their company.
To point out, you’ll come across engineers with PhDs who can’t do any real-world designs. Then, you’ll find folks with only a high school diploma who are wizards in engineering. So, if you hold a PhD, focus instead on awesome research you’ve done. Research directly tying back to the employer’s job description.
#4 Strip out the fluff and wordiness
Most of the time, your resume will be a max of two sheets long. If it’s any longer, no one will read it.
To mark out, your goal is always to quickly capture a reader’s attention. The fewer filler words you use, the better chance you have to pull this off. Because, most of the time, someone will only skim your resume. By skim, I mean someone may spend less than 20 seconds looking over your resume. Yes, that’s it!
In the end, you’re not writing a novel or screenplay. Rather, you’re highlighting your key technical skills. As an example, the following is what you should and should not do for a project description:
- Good: Refurbishment of 115kV substation with (2) incoming lines, (2) 25MVA 115kV:12kV transformers, and double-ended 12kV metal-clad switchgear.
- Bad: Major refurbishment of a large 115,000-volt substation with two high voltage incoming lines. The substation includes two very large 25MVA 115,000-volt:12,000-volt oil-filled power transformers. The power transformer is located in a large fenced area, and it distributes power to a large city.
The following are reasons why the “Bad” is bad:
- Too wordy when you’re limited on space. Plus, the more words you add, the less scannable your resume content becomes.
- Writing out 115,000-volts is not better than writing 115kV. You’re only taking up more space, and every senior-level engineer knows the difference.
- The following descriptive words aren’t necessary: major, large, high voltage, and power. Because the substation equipment ratings infer you have high voltage large power equipment.
- The last sentence doesn’t add any value and it’s only pointing out the obvious. Almost all substations serve this functionality, and they’re all fenced off.
Constantly read and refine your resume. Also, hand your resume to others to review too, to check for wordiness.
Important Note: use bullets to describe each of your projects. Also, start each of your bullets with descriptive action verbs. Avoid complete sentences and omit articles, such as “an” and “the.”
#5 Keyword stuffing
The job applicant pool is increasing day after day. So it’s not practical for many employers to review each resume one by one. Instead, automated Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) do the heavy lifting by scanning resumes.
The ATS scans, track specific keywords. The system will then remove applicants who don’t hit a certain keyword score. This becomes the first filter before the resumes fall into the hands of a human.
For this reason, add relevant keywords to your resume based on a given job description. And if you weren’t sold already, this is another reason why you need to custom tailor your resumes.
I know, this level of customization may seem tedious, but it’s VERY important. Because again, without the right keywords, you won’t even get through the gate. It doesn’t matter how awesome of an engineer you are either.
#6 Back up your words
NEVER write anything in your resume you can’t back up. Because as I mentioned before, interviewers will generate questions off from your resume.
It’s always smart to assume every part of your resume will become an interview question. This is why I recommend doing the following with your resume’s content:
- Understand each and every keyword you use.
- Have examples in mind of work you’ve done, for every keyword you list. If you say you’re highly skilled with design software, have examples ready to fire off.
- With every keyword on your resume, think of interview questions an employer could ask.
Most importantly, do NOT lie in your resume. Also, don’t over-exaggerate, because your employer will expose you sooner than later. In fact, Elon Musk’s powerful interview question will uncover your bullshit.
#7 Scannable and easy to read
Fancy resume formats are nice and cool. But, if the formatting makes quick scanning of your content difficult, then scrap it.
The content of an engineering resume needs to be effortless to consume. Plus, other engineers don’t care about how fancy your resume looks. Engineers just care about efficiency and utility. We’re a boring bunch…
But, feel free to use a combination of the following in formatting your resume:
- Text justification
- Section dividing lines
- Font size
- Font type
- Bold & italic text
Now, don’t overdo your formatting. Just use enough formatting to make your content scannable. Because no one wants to read a wall of text.
Important Note: keep your writing conservative, professional, and simple. Also, you don’t need to use overly big and/or aggressive words.
Write a resume to make yourself look like the perfect candidate for an employer. Just keep in mind, you can write the perfect resume and still fail. But this doesn’t mean to quit applying.
By following these engineering resume tips, you’ll get a leg up on your competition. Because even the smallest resume optimization will help you in your job search.
In the end, it’s all a numbers game assuming you have the skills. You just need to pull as many levers as you possibly can to stack the odds in your favor.
Which engineering resume tip do you think is the most important? How important do you find a well-written resume to be, in an engineering job search?
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2020 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.