The Perfect Engineering Resume
Table of Contents:
- Creating a Perfect Engineering Resume Starts with Understanding What Employers are Looking For
- What Drives the Format of a Resume
- How to Make a Perfect Engineering Resume
- Resume Tips: Top 10 things NOT to Include in Your Resume
- The A-B-Cs of Effective Resume Writing Style
- Resume Types and Templates
Creating the Perfect Resume Starts with Understanding what Employers are Looking for in Mechanical, Electrical, Quality, Manufacturing, Robotics/Automation, Civil Engineers, and more
A resume is a powerful marketing tool for engineers across all disciplines and throughout all career stages who seek new employment opportunities for the next step in their career.
Your resume should create a favorable first impression of you as an engineering professional to potential employers. Since you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, it’s vital that you familiarize yourself with what to include, what not to include, and how to organize and present your resume content in the most effective manner, based on your unique experience and work history.
The pressure to perfect this powerful tool can cause anxiety among applicants, but an effective engineering resume is not difficult to design, once you know key guidelines of content and organization.
Based on my experience of working with hundreds of employers seeking qualified applicants throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island to fill positions in the fields of Mechanical, Quality, Electrical, Robotics/Automation, Manufacturing, and Civil Engineering, I’ve learned what employers look for in a resume. Specifically, this experience has led me to identify key factors and formats that can increase your chances of earning an in-person interview and ultimately being hired.
In our fast-paced and busy world, a resume will only be skimmed by the initial reviewer. It must be clear, concise, and to the point. For best presentation, it must be simply formatted and highly readable, using bolded text selectively to guide the reader’s eye to key sections and content. It should employ the use of white space to enable the reader’s eye to rest. Accomplishments should drive a resume’s overall theme.
An effective resume presents the story of your education, career experience, and accomplishments. Optimal presentation features up to eight sections, each with a brief overview or bulleted summary.
This section features a bulleted list or brief paragraph that highlights a candidate’s strongest qualifications or summarizes his or her achievements.
This section features a bulleted list of applicable skills and tools such as software, hardware, etc.
This section is a key component of any engineer’s resume. Content should include the following, in reverse chronological order (listing the most recent position first):
- Line 1: Company Name, Location, State, plus Start and End Dates (dates typically right-justified)
- Line 2: Job Title (if this was a contract position, indicate it here)
- Line 3: Quick summary of your role (2-3 sentences maximum)
- Line 4: Specific responsibilities and associated accomplishments
- What results did you personally achieve? Quantify whenever possible. Not just what you did, but what did you accomplish/achieve?
- Use action words to lead bullets, such as manage, provide, oversee, evaluate, produce, and lead. Use the same tense for each bullet.
- List each institution’s name, location, dates of attendance
- List each degree and date earned
- Any honors?
- Any minor?
- List any activities for which you held a leadership position, or that were relevant to your course of study, or that demonstrate community involvement
- Generally only list your grade point average (GPA) when seeking a first job. If it’s below 3.0, do not include it.
- Include continuing education or professional development courses
Professional Memberships or Affiliations
In this section, list any relevant Association or Group Names, followed by the position(s) you have held – ranging from Membership to serving on the Board of Directors or Executive Team.
Include a bulleted list of any licenses or certifications earned.
List all training that’s applicable to your engineering discipline or type of engineering work sought.
List any patents you hold.
Avoid the following content and formatting to help ensure that your resume doesn’t work against you:
- Your birth date: Don’t include this or other dates that might reveal your age, such as high school graduation date.
- Personal information: Your marital status, sexual orientation, religion or other personal information
- A career objective: Objectives generally do not add value and can actually exclude you from consideration if they do not match a prospective employer’s needs.
- Embellishments – or even worse, lies: Simply state your accomplishments without exaggeration or embellishment. Do not alter dates for any reason, such as to lessen the appearance of gaps in your employment history.
- The so-called “one-page rule”: Your resume should be concise, but if it takes more than one page to fully cover your accomplishments and qualifications, then a longer resume is appropriate. Do not, however, use unique formatting that makes your resume unnecessarily longer.
- Unusual fonts or formatting, and photos: Simple, clean formatting is ideal. Do not include photos.
- Passive voice: Whenever possible, use the active versus passive voice. For example, “Achieved 30% cost reduction” instead of “A 30% cost reduction was achieved”. Using passive voice isolates you from your actions.
- Skills for which you only have a passing knowledge: Never overstate your skills on your resume, for even if you secure an interview, your exaggeration will quickly become apparent to an interviewer.
- The phrase, “References available upon request”: Reference verification is a routine component of the hiring process, so this statement is unnecessary.
- First-person writing style: Avoid using the word “I”. Properly constructed bulleted lists of achievements will have an implied subject so there is no need for “I”. For example, “Increased revenue by 18% over two years”.
- Always Save Your Resume as a PDF file, to Preserve Formatting: You can format your resume using a word processing program such as Microsoft Word, or use one of our engineering resume templates offered in Word and PDF formats. Either way, you will want to save your original Word document as a working copy, and save a PDF version of it to submit to prospective employers. The PDF file will preserve the integrity of your formatting.
- Be Consistent in Writing Style and Language Use: A consistent writing style supports your resume’s professional appearance and readability. Examples include:
- Abbreviations – be consistent with abbreviation of months and states (Not: MA, Mass, and Ma)
- Verb tenses – be consistent throughout each section (Not: Led, leading, and lead)
- Punctuation – be consistent (and sparing of) your use of dashes, commas, and parenthesis. Do not use all capital letters unless a particular word or acronym is typically capitalized.
- Correct All Spelling and Grammar Errors by Proofreading: Spelling and grammar errors are preventable pitfalls that diminish your apparent professionalism, and can quickly remove you from a prospective employer’s consideration. Organize and write your resume using the tips and templates offered in this article, and then ask someone else to proofread it. Do not solely rely on spell-check applications or electronic word processing tools to identify errors in words that are dependent on usage and grammar tense. Common examples include “there” instead of “their”, and “manger” instead of “manager”, “lead” instead of “led”.
Chronological Resume Format for Mid-Level Engineers
A chronologically-formatted resume presents a candidate’s experience in date-order from most to least recent, making it easy to see exactly what they contributed and accomplished while with each employer. This type of resume organization is the most popular, due to its clean appearance and highly-readable layout. A Chronological Resume for Mid-Level Engineers typically begins with a Qualifications Summary, followed a Technical Skills section that includes a bulleted list of skills. Depending on the number of relevant skills, this section may be organized into categories. The next section is Professional Experience, in which a candidate can list their employment history in reverse chronological order (Company Name, Location, Dates, brief explanation of role and bulleted list of responsibilities and accomplishments), followed by sections titled Professional Affiliations, Education, and Licenses/Certifications. If applicable, also include sections for Patents, Publications, and Awards.
Reasons to Use a Chronological Resume Format:
Chronological resumes are most appropriate for mid-level engineers in all disciplines who:
- Have a strong record of continuous, uninterrupted employment
- Wish to demonstrate consistent growth through successive engineering positions
Functional Resume Format
A functionally-formatted resume is organized around a candidate’s areas of professional strength and ability, as opposed to focusing on the timing or the firms at which he or she performed each responsibility or realized each accomplishment. A functional resume typically begins with a Qualifications Summary, followed a Technical Skills section that includes a bulleted list of skills, followed by a Professional Achievements section. This section includes categories of achievements appropriate to experience (such as “Project Leadership”, “Process Improvement”, “Product Design”, etc.) that each feature bulleted examples of achievements. This resume type then features a Work History section in which a candidate will list their jobs history in reverse chronological order, followed by sections titled Education, Professional Affiliations, Licenses/Certifications, Patents (if applicable), Publications (if applicable), and Awards (if applicable).
Reasons to Use a Functional Format:
Functional resumes are most appropriate for engineers in all disciplines who:
- Have employment gaps that would be immediately obvious in a chronologically formatted resume
- Have changed jobs frequently, and don’t wish to call attention to it
Project-Based Resume Format
A project-based resume typically begins with a Qualifications Summary, followed a Technical Skills section that includes a bulleted list of skills, followed by an Employer Summary in which jobs are listed in reverse chronological order. It then features a Project Highlights section in which a candidate will list the name of each key project in reverse chronological order, followed by his or her role in the project, and a bulleted list of their responsibilities and accompanying accomplishments. This resume format then continues with sections titled Education, Licenses/Certifications, and Professional Affiliations.
Reasons to Use a Project-based Format:
Project-based resumes are most appropriate for engineers in all disciplines who:
- Have continuity in employment (not many gaps in employment history)
- Have a strong record of project-based work
- Need less focus on education, since skills and project experiences are more relevant to the engineering position sought
Recent Engineering Graduate Resume Format
An effective format for a recent Engineering Graduate begins with the new engineer’s Education (University name, location, and dates of attendance, Degree earned, bulled list of honors earned, bulleted list of Relevant Courses) followed by Professional Associations (Group name, followed by your position or role in the association). The next section is Professional Experience (List co-ops and internships here); followed by Project Experience, Research Experience (if applicable), and Technical Skills.
Key Features of the Recent Graduate Resume Format:
- Focus is on your academic achievements
- Focus is on your experience with internships and co-ops
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kristen Roper is Owner and President of TRIAD Engineering Corp., an engineering and technical staffing firm based in Lynnfield, Massachusetts that connects business owners and career seekers throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. For more than 45 years, TRIAD has provided clients with flexible staffing arrangements for engineering and engineering support ranging from contract, contract-to-direct, and direct placement services.