Congratulations! You’re a programmer out in the working world looking for a job as a software developer. You’re ready to level up in a career you enjoy. Or maybe this is part of a career change for you as you’re ready to explore new vistas in your new field. You’ve no doubt created resumes before (or at least have some sense of how they’re structured), so making a computer programmer’s resume should be fairly easy, right?
But what do you do if you’ve had no paid working experience as a developer? How do you show that you’ve got Java experience in your resume? What if the position you’re applying for is for a C programmer but you know your C++ experience would be relevant to the position? How do you show your range of working and learning experience to bring you to the top of the resume pile?
What You Should and Shouldn’t List
You also don’t want to sell yourself short because you don’t feel like you’ve “mastered” a language. The fact is that no one “masters” a programming language. No matter what level of experience you have with a language, there will always be new problems and challenges that will tax your skill and thinking.
You can expect that any language you list on your resume is fair game for an interviewer or hiring managers to ask you questions about. If you list Java on a resume, be prepared to answer some technical questions about the language. This is true even if you’re not applying to a position writing Java code. If your answer to something based on your resume doesn’t ring true, this could be a potential red flag to the interviewer. So make sure you can answer questions appropriately for anything you list on your resume.
So in other words: don’t put anything down you don’t know well, but don’t discount the experience you have. Still pretty murky. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself: am I prepared to answer questions about the language I’m listing? If you feel comfortable talking about your experience with that language and can speak with relative ease, you’re probably safe putting it down. And if you feel unsure about something, that might be a good technology to explore with a side project to build your skills and confidence with.
Bootcamp Experience Counts
You also don’t want to avoid listing something just because you haven’t had a paid job writing in that language. Especially if you’re applying for entry-level positions, it’s completely understandable that the entirety of your experience with a language is in the classroom (virtual or otherwise). So if you’ve been working with Python at a coding bootcamp, put it on the resume. As long as you’re in a position to answer questions about it, it’s valid to have it there. While job-based experience is good, it’s only one way of many to demonstrate skill.
If for any reason you’re unsure whether or not to list something, run your resume by a teacher, mentor, or job coach. They can talk through what you’ve done and what you know and give you honest feedback about whether or not to include it.
The List Itself
Rather than listing all the languages that you’ve had some familiarity with all in a block, you might put them into some sort of informative grouping or tiers of experience. A number of people list their programming skills on a resume under headings like:
- Familiar with
Some resumes have “Used in the past” to indicate enough familiarity to be comfortable exploring the language but not having immediate facility with. This would be something you feel you could get up to speed with fairly quickly. As a beginner, you might not have a lot in this category.
You can also acknowledge anything you’re tinkering with on your own under something like “Interested in” or “Curious about” for anything you’ve worked with on the hobbyist level. This also shows an interest in personal skill development away from a classroom or job. If you have the means to elaborate on the project, do.
So there are as many varieties of listing languages as there are languages themselves. As long as you are honest and clear, however you list them should be fine. For an entry-level programmer, you’re probably safe with:
- Most experienced
- Some experience
- Dabbled in
Here it’s understood that, while you might be “most experienced” with some languages, you have a level of expertise that’s reasonable for a programmer in the early stage of their career. If you feel that it’s worth having further classifications for what you’ve learned, by all means, add them. Just do keep in mind that you’re presenting this to people looking at dozens—if not hundreds—of resumes at once. They most likely will not be giving your resume a lot of time. Get the important information down as succinctly as possible.
So, What Are They Looking For?
What’s important is that you convey the information clearly. Hiring personnel need to see the names of languages they’re looking for on your resume. Remember: they may not have the same programming background you do. Unfortunately, especially if they’re a very large company, they may be using keyword matching to sort through large piles of resumes. This means they need to see the name of the language they’re looking for listed in your resume. If they’re looking for someone to program in R, they are looking for an R programming resume, so make sure it’s in your list of languages. You know that Java and C++ are both object-oriented languages, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a job posting for an “Object-oriented programmer”. Put down the actual language names.
Beyond specific languages, should you list computer science skills on your resume? It depends on the position you’re applying for. Obviously, if you’re going into hardcore computer science (or applying to a graduate degree program), those skills and that knowledge definitely applies. But you’re most likely applying to be a software developer at a company that’s expecting you to write code, so they’re looking for people who know specific languages. Yes, you will no doubt use various sorting algorithms in the course of that job, but that knowledge is less important to the people doing the hiring. It’s possible it may come up during a technical interview, but for getting you in the door, keep the technical information limited to the names of languages or specific technologies.
What are some good programming projects for a resume? Certainly, anything you’ve done that uses the same technology as the job that you’re applying to. It’s also worth displaying any experience in the so-called “soft skills” from your class projects. For example, group projects demonstrate an ability to work with other people towards a common goal. Any sort of project management work you’ve done with group projects is worth highlighting as well. In short, anything you’ve done that mirrors the professional experience of trying to put software together and ship it—even if that work isn’t programming per se—is worth listing.
Knock ‘em Dead
Finally, remember that if you’re applying for an entry-level position, it’s understood that you won’t have as much working experience or knowledge as someone who has been in the industry for ten years. Don’t feel like you have to inflate your skills or be sheepish about how little experience you have. You’re applying for that position because you want to gain that experience.
And don’t worry if your list of languages is on the short side. Again, it’s understood that you’re just beginning your journey as a developer. It’s certainly better to be honest and comfortable with what you’re putting out in the world. But use the experience of putting together your resume to see where your skills could use some bolstering. Odds are good your local coding bootcamp could help strengthen those skills.
You’ve worked hard to become a programmer. You’ve earned the opportunity to apply for your first position as a developer and you want everything to go just right. While the application process might be different from other job experiences you’ve had, it’s nothing you can’t handle. Follow the tips outlined here and talk with the career guidance staff at your coding bootcamp to make sure you’re presenting the best possible version of your programming self.
About us: Career Karma is a platform designed to help job seekers find, research, and connect with job training programs to advance their careers. Learn about the CK publication.