Resumes & Portfolios


There are two documents that you need to write that will usually be your introduction to a potential employer - a resume and a cover letter. 

A resume is often the first document that you will send or hand to a potential employer or even someone who might advise you.  You may (and should) spend time revising it continually, but you should always assume that the person seeing it for the first time may only spend 10-15 seconds looking at it.  Think of the hiring manager who has been given a stack of 100 resumes (which have already been filtered beforehand by someone in HR), who is trying to fill one or two slots. She/he just doesn't have time to go in detail through every resume, so they'll cut it down to a small number of finalists.  You've got one page to catch the hiring manager's attention for one of the few resumes to survive her/his first pass through that stack.

So, what will a hiring manager (who could be an individual engineer, scientist, programmer, etc. or a manager of a group who is hiring a summer intern) look for in that initial pass through the resumes.  This can differ by organization, which is one reason we encourage students to connect to alumni for advice. However, let's boil it down to three big factors:

  • They want an indication that you are "smart" - intellectually curious and able to figure out how to solve problems.  The fact that you were admitted to Harvard will count for a lot, but don't ignore putting your GPA on there.  If you don't put it on the resume, the hiring manager will likely assume that it is below whatever cut-off the company has or he/she has. 
  • The hiring manager will usually be hiring you to solve a problem during your internship (or a broader set of problems in your post-graduate employment).  She/he will want to know if you have the skills necessary to solve that problem.  So, the skills section of a resume, where you list programming languages, laboratory/machining skills, etc., is important.  It is also important for you to show how you used those skills.  You can do this by listing projects (not homework) from classes, clubs, or other outside activities.  Students often list leadership in such activities, but it is probably more important to show evidence that you actually did the CAD design or programmed the app.
  • The people hiring you want students who will be enthusiastic about the job.  The projects on your resume help convey that, as do student organizations in which you are involved. 

If you are submitting a resume to a job posting or company website, you will also include a cover letter.  It is your opportunity to talk about why you are a particularly good match for and interested in the specific company and/or job.  Hiring managers see a lot of resumes, which can start to look the same.  But if you are particularly interested in a specific company or job, you get a chance to convey that in the cover letter.

There are multiple resources available to guide you in writing a resume. The Office of Career Services(OCS) has several excellent resources including a tutorial and some technical resume templates. 

If you are just starting out, use those resources to write a first draft. Then, attend one of the many OCS resume workshops scheduled during first term, attend one of their drop-in sessions, or schedule a meeting with me.

Portfolios and Github

Let's say that the hiring manager has put your resume into the small group of resumes to be examined in more depth.  At this point, if you have an online portfolio or github, they may be willing to spend the extra time to look at your accomplishments and work/project history in more depth. 

If you are applying for a back-end programming job, have a well-organized github account that the hiring manager can search.  Don't put anything online that you don't want the outside world to see.  Obviously, if you did some work for a company, they will likely consider that proprietary.  But this caution may also hold for research work under a professor, as he/she may want to keep it secret until published.

For most other types of jobs - front-end programming, engineering, design, etc. - a portfolio is a better choice for demonstrating your skills and activities in a format that is much more extensive than a resume. 

Most students use templates provided commercial website companies such as Squarespace, WIX, Wordpress, Start Bootstrap, etc. - there are many out there.  A free alternative available to Harvard students is OpenScholar.