It's almost cruel that your first step into a potential new role often falls to a few A4 sides attempting to summarise yourself; your skills, your drive, your goals. You're more than that can cover. The person reviewing your CV knows that, but they face a difficult decision on whether to invest the time to get to know you based on this first introduction.
I've been responsible for hiring into multiple technical positions over the years across different skill areas including developers, testers and sys ops engineers. Some of these have been recent graduates, others looking for senior positions after decades in the industry.
I've seen a wide array of CV styles, some that have delighted me and some that have been difficult to navigate. I thought it may be useful to someone out there, or maybe just myself, to list out some of the suggestions I can think of to help make your tech CV easier to digest. These are all based on real examples I've seen more than once.
Consider your audience
This isn't just for your CV's, this is for everything. Whether you're applying for a new position, putting in a merge request to your peers or writing a best man's speech... it's important to put yourself in the shoes of the person you're writing for. What do they want to know?
Regarding CV's, imagine you're in the position of hiring for the job you want. What would you want to know, what information matters and just as importantly what information doesn't?
Although it is unlikely to be the first section that is read, a personal statement is an opportunity to impress and set a clear indication about what you're looking for and have achieved. If well written, it can easily help you stand out from other candidates.
One of the biggest traps I've seen people fall into is to state the basic cliches. I'm talking about things like "hard-working" or "dedicated", they're really expected traits and don't need to be said. Space on your CV is precious, and I'm sure there are things that you're proud of you want to tell the reader about over basic statements.
The second thing I often see is an overuse of vocabulary. You don't need to impress with fancy words, do so by saying what you've achieved in a clear and easy to read manner.
Pick out the key accomplishments and skills you want the reader to know about you, what the position you're looking for is and the direction of your career. Be honest, you don't want to lie and get an interview for a position you don't want, but feel free to tailor it to the position you're applying to. Keep the fancy words to a minimum, but don't be afraid to be confident about what you're good at.
Here's an example of what I'd consider a good personal statement.
An ISTQB certified software developer in test with 8 years' experience testing enterprise level web applications. Designed, written and maintained frameworks that ensure a high level of quality and resilience, including testing web API's and applications for functionality and performance that have reduced required testing time by 50%. Thrives on the opportunity to mentor other testers, work collaboratively in a team and has a keen eye for spotting opportunities for improvement. Now looking for the next challenge to use the skills gained to make a difference and continue professional growth.
If your CV is jam-packed with information covering 10+ pages, then it's going to be difficult to digest and pick out the relevant information you want the reader to see.
Similarly, if your CV is a page or less, you're likely omitting really useful information about yourself and your skills.
The best CV's I've personally seen are generally around 1-3 pages long. Any longer than that then you may benefit from having a tidy.
So how do I make the best use of the space?
Keep it relevant
The IT sector runs at a super-fast pace. Your most recent positions are always likely to be the most relevant on your career path. Take a look at your previous employment. That job you did 5+ years ago using some obscure or out of favour tech... ask yourself, do I want to even do that thing again? Is it relevant to this position or where I want my career to go?
The further back your experience the less specific you probably need to be. Don't omit previous positions altogether, but you can afford more brevity the further back you go. One size doesn't fit all, just use the space wisely.
Summary of tech skills
We use so many tools, so many processes and workflows... you want the person reviewing your CV to see all the wonderful things you know and have used. This can quickly turn into 1/4 of a page of your CV or a giant list of unsorted tools and skills.
The problem is if you're not careful you can really hurt its usefulness. Take a look at the following example:
C#, Visual studio, MVC, WebApi, Postgresql, MongoDB, T-SQL, Flask, SQLite, LiteDB, Entity Framework, PostgreSQL, SQL Server, AWS, Python, Microsoft Word, Fiddler, Postman...
The first issue is that there are quite a few things that are not relevant and just distract from what you're actually good at. Things like listing Visual studio along with C# when that's pretty much implied or listing office tools which is an expectation for any IT job. There may also be things you have no real interest in doing again, so think if it's worth listing them. Some may just be completely irrelevant for the position you're applying for.
The second issue is that it doesn't really give any idea of your experience. I've seen lots of CV tip sites that recommend a list of years of experience but that doesn't always help. Take for example C#. Is that building desktop apps, or web APIs? Maybe it's all in windows services or WCF.
My current suggestion would be something like the following, but I'd love to hear/see your ideas 🙂
|Core Languages||C# 7+, Asp.Net 4+ (WebApi & MVC), Entity framework|
|Core Databases||PostgreSQL, MongoDB, T-SQL|
|Core Tooling||OctopusDeploy, TeamCity, Fiddler, Postman|
|Other||Python, Flask, Ms SQL Server, SQLite, LiteDB, AWS (EC2, X-Ray S3)|
It's always a good idea to link any experience you mention in the summary with your job roles and include context, like:
In this role, I was a key architect in developing large scale C# (8.0, .net 4.7.2) apps with PostgreSQL and entity framework.
This doesn't apply to all roles as it may be useful for a graphic designer position for example but if you're applying for a developer/tester/sys ops type role don't focus too much on the design. Stand out by your clear and obvious thought when preparing your CV by keeping the content clear and easy to read. You don't need colours, graphics or charts to sell yourself, they're just a distraction. I'm not saying make it ugly, just don't overthink it.
You're in this industry (hopefully) because you love tech. You probably have personal projects you work on outside of your normal job. It's always a real bonus to get to see what candidates have worked on in their spare time, throw that GitHub or personal website link in there or in your covering letter.
So that's it, I hope you found some of it useful. Some of the points may seem a little obvious, but they're all based on things I've seen frequently.
I'd love to know if you agree with any of these thoughts, or maybe you have some of your own tips and tricks you'd like to share? ♥
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