Whether you are looking for a new job or applying to graduate school, a resume is a must. Yet many engineers make the mistake of relying on generic resumes and forgetting to tailor the document to the unique requirements of the industry. That’s not to say you shouldn’t include the basics — employers and admissions committees obviously want to see your experience and education — but one of the unique aspects of an engineering resume is the need to include a breakdown of the projects you have worked on during your schooling and career.
There are several key reasons that engineers need to include detailed information about their projects on the resume. For starters, a project list can set you apart; if you are looking for work in biomedical engineering, for instance, employers expect a certain baseline of knowledge from those who completed a biomedical engineering online degree, so they want to see where your special skills and talents lie and the type of work you’ve completed. Highlighting specific projects shows employers where you have experience and could make the difference between getting invited to interview or not.
Even if your project experience doesn’t differentiate you from other applicants, your project experience clarifies what you can do. Remember that most employers only spend a few seconds reading a resume, and they aren’t going to take the time to read between the lines of your work and educational experience and understand their implications. Including specific details about your projects eliminates the need for interpretation and ensures that the reader gets adequate information even if they only spend 30 seconds or less reviewing your resume.
Employers and admissions committees also like to see project lists because they go beyond a list of coursework (which you should also include) to reveal your specific interests in the field. Including projects that you worked on outside of your courses is especially valuable as it shows a true passion for engineering and a willingness to go beyond expectations and take initiative. Both employers and graduate schools want motivated individuals who will go the extra mile, and an extensive list of intriguing projects is evidence of those traits.
How to Highlight Your Projects
So, you understand why to include projects on your resume, but how can you do it right so that recruiters get the information that they need?
For starters, get rid of the notion that your resume should only be one page. That doesn’t mean you should write a book, but it’s okay for your resume to be 2-3 pages if that’s what you need to include enough detail to set yourself apart. Some people opt to include their projects under the experience header, while others include a separate section for projects. If you have a lot of projects, you may opt to list them on a single page of their own, as an addendum. Whichever you decide, don’t feel like you need to skimp on details to fit everything on a single page.
Generally speaking, your projects should be action- and accomplishment-focused. In other words, don’t just list the project title, but explain what you did and what you accomplished. One technique to use is to describe your projects using Verb +Task + Result or Accomplishment format, followed by 3-5 bullet points explaining your role in the project and quantifiable achievements. Each entry should look like this:
Project Name (in bold)
Organization or course
Date of project
Verb + Task + Result description
3-5 bullets detailing your contributions
Don’t be afraid to be as detailed as possible as you elaborate on your experience. Again, the purpose is to set you apart from other applicants and show what you are capable of, so do not be vague in your descriptions.
Another tip for getting the most from your project descriptions is to include keywords that recruiters are looking for in terms of soft skills. Be sure to highlight your role as part of a team, for example, or stress the communication, leadership, problem-solving and decision-making aspects of the project. These soft skills are just as important as your technical abilities, and your work on projects can reveal which ones you have. At the very least, including projects shows your skills in problem identification and developing solutions, one of the chief priorities for an engineer.
Taking the time to include details about your projects on your resume can go a long way toward getting you to the top of any list of candidates.