If you’re about to graduate and begin a search for a career in computer science, you may feel a bit of panic when it comes time to put your resume together. You’ve been working hard and studying for the past four years or so, but lots of others have been doing the same. What should you put on your resume to give you the best chance for a great job?
To find out what employers are really looking for, we reached out to Kristina Minyard, senior talent manager with Ignite, a software engineering, security and logistics firm in Huntsville, Alabama. Minyard previously was a corporate technical recruiter for an aerospace engineering firm, and she has visited colleges and universities all around the country to recruit computer science majors.
Her advice? Look for any way to set yourself apart. “Lots of people are going into computer science now, so you have to do a little bit extra and work a little bit harder to really stand out,” she says. A few extra courses, internships and hobbies spread out over your college career can really make your resume shine.
Here are the things Minyard looks for on a computer science resume, along with a few things she says you can leave off.
A Stellar GPA
Guess what, partiers and slackers — it turns out grades do matter. “We only interviewed candidates with a 3.0 GPA or above,” Minyard says. “The company preferred only candidates with a 3.5 or above, but the hard cutoff was 3.0.”
People will argue that your GPA doesn’t tell the whole story about a candidate, and Minyard agrees. However, “when you’re a student and you don’t have that work history to show what you can do, that’s what we have to judge you on,” she says.
Furthermore, computer science is a field where in-class learning directly correlates to what you do on the job. It’s not a field where you get some class training but then actually learn the most about the profession once you start work. Grades indicate mastery of concepts a candidate will need on the job, so employers look hard at those, Minyard says.
Cool Computer Science Electives
Recruiters looking at recent computer science graduates’ resumes are already familiar with the core classes, so don’t bother listing them all. But if you took additional computer science courses outside the basics and minimum requirements, definitely include those.
It’s great to see a student did something outside the general scope of requirements, because it not only shows that they did something extra, it can give insight into their interests, Minyard says. “If they’re interested in object-oriented programming, they should list those classes. If they are interested in how programming affects hardware, list hardware-focused electives. It will show you can make connections above and beyond those core requirements,” she says.
Grades are important, but those alone won’t make you a well-rounded student or job candidate. Recruiters look at your activities outside classes to see how well you balance a good GPA with other tasks, Minyard says.
If you’re really into computers and engineering, Minyard suggests seeking membership in Eta Kappa Nu, the honors society of IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
But, Minyard says, the activities don’t have to be all computer-related. Any extracurricular activities will show time-management and multitasking skills. If you’re a theater kid or an athlete, you don’t have to give that up.
An Internship or Two
Minyard says that when her organizations have made full-time offers, they have only considered candidates who have done some kind of internship. “Internships go a long way to showing a candidate can take their experience outside of the classroom to be successful,” she says. In fact, one of the interview questions she always asks of those candidates is “What did you use from the classroom on that job?” because she says she wants to be sure the candidate has made that connection from the classroom to real-world applications.
Something Minyard says she is less concerned about: non-CS-related job experience. If you want or need a waitress job to make ends meet while in school, definitely do that and include a line or two on your resume to give a recruiter an idea of what you’ve been doing with your time. But don’t bother including lots of details about your skills in a position that wasn’t related to computer science, Minyard says. “A computer science recruiter will glean time management, dedication and ability to follow instructions from a candidate’s GPA, and it’ll be years before most companies put them in front of a client, so customer service skills aren’t important right now,” she says.
Hobbies and Special Projects
If you’ve used your computer science skills outside the classroom in your hobbies or special projects, be sure to highlight these, Minyard says. Just like electives show a willingness to go beyond the minimum requirements in your field, so does extra work on hobbies. Plus, unlike classwork, hobbies and special projects can demonstrate self-learning ability.
If you’ve taught yourself any additional languages, platforms or frameworks, highlight this. If you built a quick database to track fantasy football or are starting an app that will help your friends decide whose turn it is to pick a lunch venue, mention it. If you love attending hackathons, put it on your resume. The hobbies and projects themselves don’t have to be huge or even complete; the interest you have in them is what counts.
One thing you can let slide? An online portfolio of your code. Minyard says some people have websites to show off their code samples, but that is more likely to hurt them than help them. Recruiters won’t fault you for not having an online portfolio because hiring managers will make you write code or solve problems in your interview to prove yourself anyway. But they will fault you if you highlight your code online and the recruiter or manager finds a mistake, she says. Unless it’s been thoroughly reviewed by multiple people and it’s really special, you’re better off without it.