How to get a job at NASA – Series Part 2 – The Resume

NASA Meatball

Having hired literally hundreds of people for both technical and non technical positions I will offer here what I look for in a resume. For the most part I hire engineers and technical types. I have read the expert opinions as to what you should and should not put in your resume, you can go read that yourself as well. What I am offering here is how I go though resumes and what I look for, which may also be what others do. In general I have seen many bad resumes and many good ones. For this discussion the definition of a bad resume is one I don’t bother schedule the candidate for an interview.

When I am hiring I usually wait until I have a few resumes to read before I bother to look at them. I create an “Interview folder” and a “do not interview folder”. As I read resumes I place them in the respective folder. I know waiting to have a few applicants causes some delay and pain for the perspective employee who is anxious to get that call for an interview, but honestly I am very busy, as I am sure most managers are. I like to focus on the task and have a few to look at for a given position so I can compare the candidates. If you don’t get a response in a few days don’t worry. It may not be that you were not acceptable, the manager may just be busy.

To give you an idea of how important it is to have a good concise resume I would guess I spend about 15 seconds looking at one before I decide to trash it or continue reading. If I have not seen anything that grabs be in that time most likely it goes into the “don’t interview” folder.

To help understand how resumes are looked at I will start with advice from the top sections to the bottom. Most are usually formatted more or less the same. I will explain what I am looking for in each section. Your resume really does represent you, so make sure you make a good impression. All I know about you is what I see on that piece of paper. It is what the decision to take the next step forward will be made on.

Overall appearance

Use a nice readable font. Don’t use fancy pictures or graphics. Keep it simple and business like. Not to many frills. There are many good templates out there you can find. Remember…your only 15 seconds from the do not interview folder.

Resume Length

If I see a resume that is more than two pages long I immediately think that person is not capable of communicating in an effective way. I know you may have a lot to say but keep it down to one page, two if you really have to. If you cannot distill your skills and experience into two pages then you cannot create well written reports for me…off to the do not interview pile.

Header

Please put your name, address and phone number. Make sure you add your cell number and an email address too. Most likely I will call your cell as people normally carry that around. If I call and get a machine I may leave a message…or I may not…so give me a number I will get a human on. If I am interested in you and can’t get you on phone sometimes email works. Bottom line…make yourself available. There are a lot of other people out there looking for work so when the hiring manager calls make sure you answer, or the next candidate may and you don’t get the job.

Your Goals

Sometimes people put a section about their goals next….let my guess. Your seeking a position which you can use your skills and grow bla bla bla. I automatically skip this as I know what you really want…a job. Add it if you want but it does not mean that much to me. Not yet at least. That will come when I am interviewing you.

The next section should vary based on your experience. If your just out of school (graduated less than 4 years ago) put your education next, otherwise start with work experience.

Work Experience

Please list all your work experience with latest first. Include the company, the position you held and the dates you were employed. This is actually usually the first place I look. I care about what you have done in your last job, not 5-10-15 years ago. Technology moves rapidly and anything older than a few years ago is most likely outdated anyway. The paragraph (one please) under your last (current) position should be the longest of all your previous jobs. Concisely describe what you did and any significant accomplishments.

One note if you have had many jobs, for example changed companies every two years for the last ten years your going directly into the do not call pile. Hiring is a real effort and training someone takes a lot of work. No one wants to get someone up to speed only to have them leave once they are trained.

Education

Make sure you list your education,  degree, any technical training or certifications if you have them. For a “fresh out” it may also be good to list any important clubs or projects you worked on.

References

I know they are available and will ask if I want them. No need to list. That is usually on the application anyway.

Honors or Awards

These can actually be useful. If you have received any special awards or recognition make sure to list it.

Bottom line is that the resume is used as a key to unlock the door to an interview. The interview is where the real decision to hire or not hire is made. You want to put in enough detail to peak the interest of the hiring manager, but don’t go overboard either. A good manager can quickly read a resume and decide if they want to move forward. You have seconds to grab their attention so make sure you are clear and they understand quickly what your strengths are. In the next section we will go over the interview.

Other Parts of this Series

How to get a job at NASA – Series Part 1 – Motivation

How to get a job at NASA – Series Part 3 – The Interview

How to get a job at NASA – Series Part 4 – Internships

 

About the author

Recipient of many prestigious NASA Awards including the Exceptional Public Service Medal and the Robert H. Goddard award. Experience includes working for NASA, as a contractor, in satellite design, construction and operations. Expert in the satellite operations concepts and ground systems including command, control, and science data processing.