Less Is More: What Not To Put On Your Resume

Exec founder Justin Kan dishes on what startups look for in a resume—and perhaps more importantly, what you should leave off.

Having read through the hundreds of applications for YC's Work At A Startup event, I have a few tips for programmers who are applying to work at a startup. Here they are:

Keep it short. At the early stage, your resume is probably being read by someone who doesn't read resumes as their full time job. Help them save time by limiting what you write down.

Keep it concise. Contrary to getting hired a big company, startups aren't looking for the alphabet soup of every programming language and framework. We know you can't possibly have mastery in all of them; no one can. Instead, you should focus on the things you do excellently, and demonstrate why you do them excellently.

Keep it relevant. If you worked in retail, leave that off, unless you are applying to some sort of retail software startup. Honestly, I just don't care, it looks like filler.

Overall, startups are looking for employees who are exceptional in the one key thing that they will be doing, whether it is scaling the backend system or doing the visual design. In your resume you need to 1) demonstrate that you are exceptional at the thing you do, and 2) not be disqualified by seeming crazy or imbalanced. A simple rule: if something on your resume isn't achieving one of the aforementioned two things, leave it off.

I know all these rules don't apply to hiring at big companies. You should tailor your resume to the positions you are applying for. Also, even more important than a resume is a putting into your email specific reasons why you want to work at the startup and are a good fit for that specific startup. Nothing is better received by a founder than reading about someone being passionate for his or her project.

—Reprinted with permission from JustinKan.com. Justin Kan is the founder of Exec Cleaning, which recently launched in Boston and New York City.

[Image: Flickr user JM Rosenfeld]

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8 Comments

  • Guestillio

    So, what author proposes, is that your resume should look like that:
    "My name is A.J.
    I'm exactly who you've been looking for!"

    On a serious note... respect people just for fact that they are willing to work for you. Else you'll forever stay at startup level.
    And respect - what they already do. And don't be lazy to read few more words, mister " 'shorter' is better"!

  • Barbionit

    please forgive me ......crazy and imbalanced is a little subjective, heh?  You are not a doctor, after all.

  • Dana Leavy-Detrick

    I see so many people opting in favor of including too much information out of fear something or some underlying message will be missed, when in reality that's exactly what they're encouraging by sacrificing the readability of the document.  Focus on the main ideas and context they want to see - your opportunity to elaborate and talk about the less relavent experience (if even necessary) will come in the interview.

  • Randy

    Just make the information relevant to the specific needs to the reader. Nothing else matters.

  • Suzanne Levison

    What's important is WHO is going to be reading the resume? Some decision makers need more info, some less

  • Stephen Q Shannon

    Justin, I like your "clean" observations about resumes. After seeing more than 4,000 resumes owned by folks from licensed fork-lift operators to true rocket scientists, I recommend, to all who care, to take a leaf from your unfettered recommendations whether you're seeking a programmer job with a Start-Up or not. With the recent demise of the so-called cover letter, can the old hat resume be far behind? I think so and I think what Justin is saying just might be the way to go...tailoring...customizing and K.I.S.S.  sQs Your newest advocate! 

  • Frank Abrams

    Some great advice here. It seems like you put emphasis on what's in the body of an email (not just an attached resume) which to me sounds like you're suggesting capturing attention, as well as direct contact vs. an online job application. Also you recommend customizing resumes for different opportunities "You should tailor your resume to the positions you are applying for."

    We also think that "What I Can Do For You" is better than "Everything I have done"