A good resume versus a great resume. What’s the difference?

Resume tipsSometimes I wonder exactly how many resumes I have looked at in my life. It has to at least be in the tens of thousands; maybe more. I’ve seen it all: the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s never a good idea to put stickers on your resume. And typos, poor grammar and hard-to-understand content are obviously things that you want to avoid. Most professional people invest some time in putting together a good resume and it shows. Because most resumes I have looked at are pretty good.

When I was recruiting, I always reminded myself that resume writing is not a skill we were hiring for. At the same time, an exceptionally well-crafted resume made it easier for me to do my job and the fact that the information I was looking for was easy to find made it more likely that that resume (assuming the skills aligned to our needs) would end up in the “yes” pile. The less a recruiter has to struggle to find the information they need to say yes the better.

So what I am going to share today is my opinion of what separates a good resume from a great resume. But first, let me be clear about one thing: the resume is not going anywhere as a tool for hiring and getting hired in the professional world, no matter what some industry pundits might say. Unless your name is Oprah or Bill Gates, if you are at all interested in developing your career, you need a resume, no matter how exceptional you feel you are or have been told you are. The resume is the conversation started that leads to discussions about your career. Even for amazing talent.

I’ll focus on two facets of strong resume development in my comments below: style and content.

A good resume

A good resume is visually appealing and uncluttered. Fonts are consistent and chosen judiciously. I recommend Arial or Helvetica if you are in tech, and Georgia if you are in a more traditional field. Folks in design can get away with alternatives. But nobody wins points for a cool resume font. So easy-to-read is of primary importance. I see a lot of people get fancy with design, creating columns and adding images. And while that is all pretty to look at, when your resume gets scanned into a database (which is exactly what happens to it when you apply to a company of some size), nobody sees your format and your content is jumbled (as scanning happens from left to right).

The good resume includes all of the information that a recruiter or hiring authority would expect to see there: your education and work experience, certifications and tech skills, etc. For new grads, education should go at the top. For experienced folks (let’s say 3+ years of experience, where they are hiring you more for your recent work history), it goes near the bottom.  Hobbies? Great. You should have some and it’s OK to put them on the resume, especially if they suggest something about your personality, which you take with you into the workplace.

The great resume

A great resume includes all of the dynamics I mentioned above, but from a format standpoint, takes into account how the reader is going to read it; what they are looking for and in what order.  Recruiters generally will look at your name and location, your current role/company/dates and one or more previous roles. Depending on the company they are working for, they may next look at the education section. Once they have scanned these areas, if the candidate seems to do work similar to what they are hiring for, the recruiter will focus on their current work to identify specific skills required for the position. If that all looks good, it’s likely that they will review the whole resume in more detail before reaching out to you. So with your format, put everything where the recruiter expects them: name top and center, most recent employer aligned to the left margin and in the top third of the page, education at the bottom.

If you are thinking that a functional (versus chronological) resume is right for you, you can read my opinion on that here. Chronological resumes are preferred by recruiters for most roles, with consulting being one possible exception.

When I coach people on crafting or updating their resume, which happens a lot with friends, I tell them to make sure that a recruiter can read the top third of their resume and the very bottom section of the first page and understand what they do. Make it easy for them by putting key info were their eyes travel. No images or headshots on the resume (unless you are applying for a position in a country where that is common practice; here in the US it is not). No fancy designs or flourishes either. It detracts from your content, which is what the reader cares about.

The content itself is really the big differentiator between a good resume and a great one. And there is one activity that will help you upgrade your content. When you look at your jobs and your (presumably) bullet-point list of responsibilities, add results for each one. Go line by line and ask yourself “so what?”. For example, if you established a new geographical marketplace for your company, so what? What was the result? Well, that might have resulted in a revenue increase, it might have resulted in hiring new delivery teams to support that work, it might have earned you an award or a promotion.  Add your results for as much of your work as you can and make it as tangible as possible (using numbers if you have them). If you can also explain the strategic importance of the impact on the company, do that as well. For the above example, your new marketplace development work might have helped the company reach a milestone, identify new underserved customer targets or helped position your company better relative to competitors who were already in that market. So when you are talking about results, don’t forget the big picture.

Sharing your accomplishments in this way also makes your content more memorable. Instead of “Sales Director for XYZ Company” (which is not that memorable), you will be “The woman who created the market for SuperWidgets in the Southwest”. Totally memorable.

I’d also encourage you to think like a marketer. Ask people you know what your personal brand is; what is expected when they spend time with you, specifically at work? Integrate this into your resume. For example, I have gotten feedback before that when people work with me they know that I am going to own the project 100% and will get it done no matter what. So when I updated my resume, I made sure that end-to-end ownership of projects was well represented. You can tap into past co-workers and friends for this information on your personal brand, or even look on your past performance reviews for themes. The reason this is important is because you are likely to tap into a real need that the hiring team has that other people have likely failed to represent on their resume. And it’s also likely to be specific, so it won’t read like a lot of the resume clutter words such as “out of the box thinker” or “self-starter”.

Let me know if you have any questions on resumes, how recruiters read them and what happens to them after you apply for a job.  I know for a lot of people, working on a resume can be a little anxiety-inducing. Happy to help with advice if I can.


An Interview with Amazon’s Brad Porter, VP and Distinguished Engineer (part two of two)

BradportI recently had the opportunity to sit down with Brad Porter, a Distinguished Engineer and Vice President in Amazon’s Consumer Division, to talk about his career, his team, Amazon’s technical community and the culture that makes this a great place for developers to learn and explore.

Brad’s well-known at Amazon and you may have seen a LinkedIn post he wrote about an important artifact of Amazon’s culture: the 6-pager. Part one of my interview with Brad focused on his team, technical career paths and the Amazon tech community. In part two, below, we discuss Brad’s career path inside the company, the attributes Amazon looks for when considering technical talent and what new hires can expect when they get here.

Heather: You’ve been at Amazon since 2007. Can you talk a little bit about your career path and the thinking behind staying in a technical role as your career has progressed?

Brad: Throughout my career, I have gone back and forth between managing and being an individual contributor.  Whatever I do though, I can’t get away from the technology and the architecture and the code. The larger your team, the harder it can get to meaningfully engage in that stuff. Whenever my job becomes so much management responsibility that I'm not getting to be technically hands‐on, then I swing the pendulum the other way.

When I joined Amazon, I was hired as a Director to help Amazon consolidate a number of website platform technologies. I was also hired to operate and run Amazon.com's website stack worldwide. My team was the team responsible for making sure the website stayed up; that we had the capacity and kept the latency low and the costs in line.

I spent my first year here doing that. But at that time, Amazon was also very focused on transforming its underlying e‐commerce platform to allow Amazon to expand into new e‐commerce opportunities much more quickly. I made a choice to move back to a Senior Principal role and spent the next six years helping drive that architectural transformation. When I made that move I gave up managing and operating a big team. Then as result of that work and the impact I was able to make, I was promoted to Distinguished Engineer at Amazon.  

Heather: Thinking more broadly than your own team, when you think about the technical community across Amazon, what does good tech talent look like? What skills or competencies should someone hoping to work at Amazon look to build?

Brad: As the Principal community here was expanding, the community took the time to define the tenets of great engineering at Amazon. In the same way Amazon has leadership principles that we publish externally, internally we now have a set of principles for engineers about what great engineering leadership looks like at Amazon. The one I gravitate toward as being the most unique to Amazon’s engineering culture is “Technically Fearless.”  This type of fearlessness is rooted not in recklessness, but confidence in your ability to apply your skills to any new problem.  Fearless engineers don't shy away from problems. They're not saying, "Oh, let's deploy that next year," because instead they're looking deeply at the problem and what the customer needs and saying "Here's the risk and here's the trade off and here's how we can mitigate the risk." They make informed decisions not out of a position of conservatism but of a position of confidence that this is the right thing to do.

The world is changing very fast.  You see now just how quickly machine learning is transforming business processes and how we build systems. You see how much we’re now doing with robotics and drones. We need people who aren't afraid of change. Being technically fearless is important here.

We also have a tenet that is about giving back to peers and the community called "Learn, Educate, and Advocate." The idea is that great engineers at Amazon are constantly learning but they're also constantly educating their peers. And they're advocates. When they see something that clearly works better, instead of just saying, "here's this technique, take it or leave it.,” they're saying, “here's this technique and here's where I think we should use it and why." "Learn, Educate, Advocate," as a tenet of our engineering culture is a notch more action-oriented than our company-wide “Learn and Be Curious” leadership principle. We expect engineers to take their learnings and help move the organization forward.

Heather: That really helps tech professionals understand what we value here. Do you have any advice for a college student who is pursuing a tech degree?

Brad: I'd say get outside of the box. Get together with your friends and build an app that you're just inspired to build.  Join the rocketry club.  Run for student government.  Put yourself in a position where dynamic problem solving is required.   Do well in your classes but also get hands‐on and try to challenge yourself, try new things and do it with friends.

Heather: What about advice for an experienced technical person who's interested in coming to Amazon?

Brad: Amazon has no end of work to be done and you're enabled to go do it.  Decisions are made quickly and you are rarely blocked. If you are someone who likes to get things done, the environment is addictive because in most companies you work for there are times where you find yourself waiting for decisions to be made. But given there are no lulls in the product cycle at Amazon, you have to have some discipline or it can be hard to find a balance. If you are the type of person who has the discipline to keep that balance, then you'll love it.

Heather: Amazon has a reputation for “peculiar ways”. What do you think people are surprised about when they start working here?

Brad: I often ask new people what they notice first at Amazon that was peculiar. The most common answer is "I walked into a meeting and it was like study hall for the first half an hour. Everyone just sat and read quietly like it was a library." We really do sit quietly and read in many of our meetings. 

I think another thing that surprises people is that a lot of companies have mission statements and leadership principles. Amazon is much more rigorous than many in really adhering to those. “Customer Focus” comes up in technical conversations everyday and we can tell people over and over again we do that but when they come to Amazon, they're still surprised that it really is true.

If you have any questions for Brad or for me about working at Amazon or developing your technical career,  please post in the comments below. Big thanks to Brad for sharing his thoughts and his experience at Amazon.


An Interview with Amazon’s Brad Porter, VP and Distinguished Engineer (part one of two)


BradportI recently had the opportunity to sit down with Brad Porter, a Distinguished Engineer and Vice President in Amazon’s Consumer Division, to talk about his career, his team, Amazon’s technical community and the culture that makes this a great place for developers to learn and explore.

Brad’s well-known at Amazon and you may have seen a LinkedIn post he wrote about an important artifact of Amazon’s culture: the 6-pager. I’m sharing this interview in two parts.   Part one of my interview with Brad focuses on his team, technical career paths and the Amazon tech community. In part two (coming soon), we discuss Brad’s career path inside the company, the attributes Amazon looks for when considering technical talent and what new hires can expect when they get here.

Heather: You lead an organization called Technical Risk Reduction. Can you please kick things off by explaining what your team does?

Brad: I lead a team of mostly Principal and Senior Principal Engineers at Amazon. Our job is to work in areas of the Consumer Division where there is a lot of risk, a lot of ambiguity and hard problems that need to be solved. We look for places where the work the organization is trying to accomplish involves a high degree of technical challenge and risk. We're all hands-on engineers who can help make these particular initiatives go faster.

   My job is neat because I don't ever do the same thing twice in a day. Just an hour ago, I was meeting with the team brainstorming how to process Amazon's high-volume data streams so that we can better forecast how much product we need in different places. But earlier in the day, members of my team were meeting with Prime Air and Prime Now.

Heather: Prime Now is my new favorite Amazon program. Can you tell me more about your team’s involvement?

Brad: Prime Now is growing incredibly fast. We initiated that program very quickly and launched it in 111 days. One of the Senior Principals on my team jumped into that challenge to help them get everything they needed from all the partners teams within the Consumer organization. Members of my team get to work on everything from accounting to payments to catalog to robots to drones, so we have a very broad view of the business and the technology. 

Heather: Because you work across so many Amazon business and organizations, does your team have to ramp on a new technical area every time?

Brad: I hire people who can come in and learn a new space very quickly and immediately contribute. I’ve managed to attract people who are really good at that, because they like doing it. The individuals on my team get bored in jobs where they spend two years on the same problem. For us it's super fun to go in and learn something entirely new and see if we can help move the needle for the business.

Heather: Amazon seems very comfortable with people working on problems they’ve never solved before, either because the problem is new to the person or it’s something that nobody has ever had the guts or support to take on. What’s different about Amazon that makes this work?

Brad:  Amazon is a document-oriented culture.   As a company, we write a lot of six pagers. This really helps everyone to learn quickly.  I may know nothing about a topic, but I can come into a meeting and I’m given 45 minutes or really as much time as anyone needs at the beginning to read and internalize the material. That allows us to learn new spaces very quickly, ask meaningful questions and then help. While I intentionally hire people who like to learn quickly, Amazon processes and culture make it easy for people to come up to speed quickly. I really believe this document-oriented culture where everyone reads and deeply internalizes the material is Amazon’s secret sauce to continuing to make great decisions as we scale. 

Heather: When you're talking to someone about a position in your organization, are there usual traits you see that identify them as someone who could be successful here?

Brad: I particularly like the new leadership principle “learn and be curious”. In candidates I interview, there are two dimensions I look for most. One is natural curiosity. Naturally curious people know a lot about everything and often think about systems.  They’re knowledgeable about biological systems, about computer systems and a whole diversity of things because they just want to constantly learn.

   The other trait I look for is resourcefulness.  I look for individuals who persevere in the face of roadblocks.  I try to elicit a story about how they got something done in their current company or at school.  I particularly look for those stories where it wasn't set up to be easy for them. How did they overcome the challenges?  Great candidates are very resourceful when it comes to getting things done.

Heather: In addition to being a Vice President, you are also a Distinguished Engineer.  You have Principal and Senior Principal Engineers on your team. Can you explain these titles a little bit?

Brad: Amazon has a career track for people who are individual contributors that parallels the manager track. Individual contributors aren't managing teams of people, they're hands-on helping with the technology and helping the team. Those roles parallel Senior Managers, Directors, Vice President, all the way up. Our Distinguished Engineer title is an individual contributor role that parallels the technical Vice President role at Amazon.

Distinguished Engineers end up sharing the VP title because it turns out, as you get more and more senior in your career, hopefully your versatility goes up. Our Distinguished Engineers are all flexible; hybrids. There are 9 Distinguished Engineers at Amazon. These individuals have earned the highest regard within Amazon for their technical judgment, technical experience and their ability to get things done while working on the deepest and most challenging problems Amazon faces. Distinguished Engineers work closely with Principal and Senior Principal Engineers around the company to drive technology innovation and evolution.

The role of Principal Engineers at Amazon is a little different than other companies. At many companies, Principal Engineers are the domain expert in their area and if you need to know about their area, you talk to them. Otherwise, you leave them alone. Amazon doesn't work that way.  Things are changing too fast for someone to build a career as a domain expert in one area.  Rather than be individual experts working in isolation, our Principal community is very much a collaborative community.  We reach out to each other as peers and say, "Hey, I need help on this," or, "Do you know anyone with expertise here? How do we think about this problem?"

That's one of the neatest things about being an individual contributor Principal or Distinguished Engineer at Amazon: you are part of this community that really behaves like a community and wants to be cooperative and wants to work together and wants to partner to solve all the hardest problems. A significant amount of my time, probably 60 to 80 percent, is spent working with Principal Engineers around the company, helping them with the problems that they're solving. That’s the best part of my job.

Heather: How do these interactions within the DE and PE community take place?

Brad:  We have an email alias where people are chattering all the time. We have an informal weekly lunch that’s topic-driven. We do an annual offsite over three-days, where we get to network and mingle and talk about some of the hardest technical challenges facing the company. We also host and sponsor a weekly talk series for the entire Amazon engineering community. We get between 500 and 1,000 engineers attending every week, either in person or virtually by video-casting.

Distinguished and Principal Engineers work with the presenters, who are other Principal Engineers, Senior Engineers, Dev Managers; anyone really can present one of these talks. The Principal community pairs them up with Principal Engineer coaches to help turn their content into a high quality talk.  Not every engineer has learned how to engage an 800-person audience and even those of us who’ve done it more than once benefit from peer coaching before we present. We help the presenters transform their content and presentation style to really engage that audience. As a result, this talk series is one of the most highly regarded internal sources of technical knowledge. Everything is recorded, everything is available, so you can go back and look at years of history of technical talks at Amazon.

Another way we operate as a community is through a mechanism by which anyone at the company can request design consultations and design help from Principals. The request goes out to all the Principals and those who are most expertise in that space volunteer and say, "Yes, I'll come help you think about that design."

We also play a role in helping Senior Engineers become Principal Engineers; helping them in the promotion process and helping managers develop their technical talent to the next level. We want to keep growing this Principal community. It's not a club where we're trying to keep people out. It's an environment where we're trying to help grow the technical ranks of the company.

Heather: Do you feel like this sense of community is unique to Amazon?

Brad: I do think this camaraderie is hard to find.  In smaller companies you often don’t have as many strong technical peers.  And in very large companies it is easy to become isolated if you lack the mechanisms or the collaborative culture Amazon has put in place to keep the community functioning as a community. In a lot of ways, the company still acts very startup-like with a focus on being collaborative and the sense that it is still “Day 1”.  Building a cross-company community helps us foster and develop a social network among the leaders so that we can keep the all-in-it-together spirit you get in small startups, where everyone is collaborative and working on the hard problems.

Amazon is always thinking about how to scale and how we maintain that collaborative spirit as the company grows.  You don't want to become this entity where there's one group over here that never talks to the other group over here and there's no sharing of technical best practices or no sense of community. I think Amazon is very different from other large companies in how intentional we are about keeping that “Day 1” startup feel.

***

Stay tuned for part 2 of this interview series with Brad, which I will publish next week.


Eyes to the skies, Seattle

Seafair is an annual Seattle event, or more precisely, a collection of annual events that started in the fifties and celebrate life in our great city. It runs for ten weeks, starting in mid-June, but this weekend (“Seafair Weekend”) it kicks into high gear. Boats tie up to the log boom, getting in place to watch the air show featuring the Blue Angels. The Seafair Cup has hydroplanes (if you are unfamiliar, think race boats with jet engines) racing around the course to the cheers of thousands of viewers. Live music, lots of food and fortunately, really good weather karma; most Seafair Weekends I can remember have been perfectly sunny.

The Seattle Times ran a story this week on opportunities to enjoy the weekend’s events. For those of us here not participating in one of the many events, we will still surely see and hear the Blue Angels roaring overhead at some point (interspersed with the occasional old-time bi-plane or other military aircraft).

Also in the air, but new on the Seafair scene this year? Amazon One, one of our new Prime Air fleet of forty 767s which will be doing a guest flyover. If you are interested, there are videos of the plane getting painted and our design team talking about how the exterior design came together.

Also, here is a short interview with Dave Clark, SVP of Worldwide Operations from Boeing Field, in which he talks about the role of the fleet relative to Amazon's Prime program.

 


Varsha Raghavan is breaking tech pro stereotypes

“I can write a beautiful piece of code, that’s art. I can sing a beautiful aria, and that’s art, too.”

I love to hear about the unique interests and talents co-workers have. It’s like getting an entirely new perspective on someone you feel you already know pretty well. And I’ve noticed that there seems to be some relationship between technology and music. In my recruiting career, I have hired many people who have majored in music and many more who have some kind of musical side-jam.

Varsha Raghavan works as a Research Engineer in Amazon’s Prime Air organization. She is also appearing in Twister Beach at Café Nordo’s. Varsha was recently profiled in KUOW’s Art of Our City series. She got her masters’ degree from MIT, while continuing to foster the love of music she discovered at the theater camp she intended to help with her childhood shyness. She’s definitely breaking tech pro stereotypes…

 


Star Trek Beyond, starring Jeff Bezos?

If you are looking forward to the upcoming Star Trek movie, keep your eyes open for a cameo from someone unexpected: Jeff Bezos. He’ll be appearing as Starfleet Official in Star Trek Beyond.

 

 

A fan of Star Trek since childhood – he even noted Star Trek as the inspiration for the Echo device and Alexa automated assistant – it sounds like Jeff is getting to live out a dream. I’m not sure how this particular dream ranks among others, like launching rockets into space (and returning them successfully) or changing how America (and the world) shops.


Another successful Prime Day

Prime Day thank you 2016

Did you participate in Prime Day yesterday? If so, you joined tens of millions of other shoppers who took advantage of some great deals. I bought a Cuisinart tabletop grill, which I am irrationally excited about.

I know this is only year 2 for Prime Day, but I like reviewing the data that we share after the event. Ninety-thousand TVs were bought. And the most popular item globally? The Fire TV Stick; I have one and understand the appeal.  Top product in the US was the Instant Pot 7-in-1 Multi-Functional Pressure Cooker.  Some other fun statistics:

Members purchased over 24,000 Double Hammocks by Vivere and over 23,000 iRobot Roomba 614 Vacuum Cleaning Robots. Vacuuming your home while hanging out in your hammock just got easier.

Members purchased on average one Alexa-exclusive deal per second during Prime Day using their voice. And next year, it’s likely even more people will; sales of Echo devices were 2.5x the previous record sales day.

If you want see additional data, you can read our Prime Day press release here.

And here is a little behind-the-scenes look at some of the fulfillment center employees getting those millions of products out the door and into your homes.

 


GLAMazon and Pride

Amazon has a number of affinity groups that help build internal networks and shape the company by providing insights we can use to understand and serve our diverse customers around the world. One of those groups is GLAmazon, which educates employees about LGBTQ issues, promotes opportunities for engagement both inside the company (through mentorship and social gatherings) and outside through sponsoring, hosting and participating in events like Seattle Pride.

We recently posted some videos, one featuring employees talking about GLAmazon and their personal experiences…

 

 

…and another showing Amazon’s participation in Pride events around the world.

 

 

 

We love to see you showing your pride, Amazonians!

To learn more about GLAmazon, and other affinity groups at Amazon, visit our diversity page.


Amazon #1 on MIT Technology Review's 50 Smartest Companies of 2016

Light bulbThere are a number of smart companies out there, but to make MIT Technology Review's list this year, a company has to do something major like shift an entire industry or create a new market. We're proud to be #1 on MIT's list for 2016, thanks to the success of the Alexa Voice Service and the devices that leverage it.

Credit for this goes to the people at Amazon who boldly innovate. That freedom to explore - to think big and create new experiences for customers - is found across the company. In Consumer Division (what you think of as Amazon.com), we are consistently looking for opportunities to redefine how people shop. This has resulted in the launch of new offerings like Amazon Business and Prime Now.

To learn more about the organizations where you can impact the future of shopping, you can visit the Consumer Division page on our career site. For info on roles on the Alexa team, you can learn more here.

 


Making education accessible to hourly fulfillment center workers

When you buy something on Amazon.com, thousands of Amazon employees have had a hand in getting you’re your products – from software developers building out key functionality on Amazon.com to fulfillment associates who manage our inventory, pick products and pack orders up for shipment. Most likely, someone starting out as a software developer will build out a career in the field, perhaps branching off into leadership or program management, but usually staying in a job rooted in technology. For employees working in our fulfillment centers, their jobs are often a stepping stone to something else.

Amazon recognizes this and the challenge our hourly associates can face, working a full schedule and then going to class, making time to study and, for many, raise a family. We offer a program called Career Choice, that pre-pays (not reimburses… pre-pays) 95% of the tuition costs at accredited schools for vocational certifications or Associate of Applied Science degrees in a range of fields of study (including IT, electrical trades, transportation and logistics and accounting, among others). There’s an annual limit and the employee can take advantage of the program over a 4 year term. This video has details on the program.

I really like watching the videos profiling some of the employees taking advantage of the program. The opportunity they have to take classes, often onsite, is helping them pursue a career aspiration they have held for a long time.

A number of the areas of study are in fields that would have the employees eventually working somewhere other than Amazon. This program isn’t about retraining anyone for jobs within the company. It’s about helping people get to the next stage in their careers and their lives. I think that’s pretty cool.

More info on the program here.