In this article I will explain how to improve your Curriculum Vitae (CV) in the Information Technology (IT) world if you are applying for a job with me. I don’t go around applying for jobs left right and centre myself, actually I’ve never really done that, but I do interview a lot of people around the world and know what I like to see in a CV and what I do not.
I thought I would share this here and see what other IT managers think and it also serves to give some advice to candidates particularly if they will are applying for a job with me.
So what are my qualifications to be advising on a CV? None really, it’s just that over the years I have interviewed a lot of people and seen many different résumés. I’ve interviewed a lot of people too but maybe that is something for another day. In my job, I have to sift through lots of CVs for a vacancy and most are chancers that are under qualified for the position that they are applying for. I need to spot these quickly as I don’t want to waste my time or theirs.
I’ve been working for the same company for 16 years and previous companies for about 5-7 years each. I must have failed in my attempts to find another job? Actually, the answer is that I haven’t applied for another job and have hardly ever done that in my life. All of my positions, right from leaving school have been given to me by someone who has worked with me previously and either employed me directly or recommended me to someone who was hiring. So my only CV preparation has always been for a position that I had already been given to put in a file somewhere in the HR department. However, being in management positions for most of my adult life I’ve had to read CVs and interview quite a few people.
I’m not going to touch on other industries that I’ve worked in and I will just concentrate on what I look for in a résumé in IT.
Presentation is key
In IT, it is very easy to find people that have the technical skills but I class presentation as right up there with those skills. If someone’s work is not presented well, then it will not be easy for users or colleagues to follow. This is partly why I put a value on good presentation in a CV but the other reason is simpler; I need to read and understand what I’m looking at very quickly.
Sometimes, I have interviewed a candidate just because their résumé presentation even if they don’t quite have the technical skills and in that case I’m looking for future potential.
Make sure you take your time over the layout. Clearly defined sections that are brief and to the point. The interview is where we find out the details but the CV needs to give us enough to get us interested. For this and in many things; presentation is key. Remember you are marketing yourself.
A CV is a summary of the job seeker’s employment history, qualifications, education with some personal information. It should be no more than 2 pages if you can help it. If you can’t fit everything in, then keep your main CV to 2 pages and add an extra page for other bits. Do not go onto a fourth page. It is very easy to write lots and it takes time and effort to make your CV concise but being brief is a valuable skill in most aspects of IT and it also shows you have put the effort it.
If you are applying directly then a covering letter will be required so already you have the covering letter and a 2 page CV with an optional appendix. You should always prepare a covering letter even if not applying directly as some agencies will use this. If you are using an agency that requires a covering letter then they should instruct you in content and layout. If not, keep it simple, to the point and on a single sheet.
You will have a section for personal details. Depending on country laws where you are applying for the job, the expectations for this section vary. As an example, if you are applying for a position in the European Union you no longer have to include your age but in other continents or other parts of Europe, it is expected that age is included (or date of birth). Same applies to religion, country of birth marital status or gender. You can of course still include these if you want to. In some countries it is normal or required to include your photograph on a CV but in my opinion in the IT world it generally doesn’t matter what you look like (as we usually live in the basement and never get to see customers) so it is not something that I value when appraising a CV. However, if it is usual practice for the country where I have the vacancy then it will be perfectly acceptable to include a photo, birth date and current salary information or anything else that might be appropriate for the country – I will be reviewing CV’s that will all have that in common.
After your personal details, it will depend on your work experience what section should come next but you will need sections for education (this may come last if you were educated many years ago or first if that is your main selling point), work experience, key skills, etc…
On my own résumé my I have the following sections in order of appearance; Personal Details, Contact Details, Specialities, Education, Employment History, Employment Key Achievements, Current Employer Work History (as I’ve been there 16 years and picked up some valuable skills in the positions I have occupied) and finally my Current Position Key Responsibilities/Accountabilities.
Why education is important
Education proves to the world that you can do something that might take years to achieve in the through job experience. A higher education also shows me that you can evaluate and reason and that you are prepared to work hard to achieve something.
So if you don’t have the work experience that matters but have a higher education in IT then this needs to form the main part of your CV.
You should concentrate on the skills you learned in the courses. The course contents may supply you with objectives which could help here; such as after this course the participant will be able to demonstrate a reasonable understand of…
If your education was a distant memory then work experience is key for you and your education section can be a short section on your highest level of education and achievements.
Not everyone will have had the opportunity to go to college or university so you can expand the education section with any courses that you have completed since leaving full time education or examinations, qualifications or certifications achieved if they are relevant to IT.
Specialities or key skills
Usually I’m after seeing that what I have specified in the job ad is actually on their CV (and not in the same wording as the ad). I really don’t want to know about all the applications that you have used unless I’m asking for specific ones (like Team Foundation Server). By all means list you main applications (covering the ones I’ve asked for) but keep it short and if there are a lot more then add something like “and many more” or “full list available on request” or “for a full list please see appendix A” (on your page 3).
Please do include the skills that you are most proud of and some details why. Again, don’t make this too long and if you have a lot add it to that third page in an appendix.
More than a job title
I want to know what your duties were with your employers as that tells me much more than the job title. Job titles vary greatly between companies so really I’m looking at the duties and responsibilities. There are companies that give out all the responsibilities to the lower positions and others that give flashy job titles way too cheaply.
By all means include your job title but concentrate on duties and responsibilities. If you had more than one job title (set of responsibilities) during period of employment then include them as sub sections of that employer.
Depending on the job you are applying for and your length of service, I like to see what you were responsible for and what you achieved.
Only go into detail on employment positions on your résumé where you gained key skills or achieved something that you are proud of in the IT world. A full work history with any gaps explained is good but I’m only interested in IT skills and experiences. If you are new to the IT world and have little or no experience then think about the skills that the role requires and what experiences you gained in your employment that could demonstrate that you have the aptitude for that role.
I’ve already mentioned that I don’t like badly presented or lengthy CVs but I don’t like to see job hoppers either. Less than a year with a company that was not a fixed term contract means that someone made a bad decision whether it was the employer or the employee. You may have taken a job without first researching the company or position in which case you will not be passionate about your job. One or two mistakes where you have had to leave after only a short period is acceptable but more than that is not. In my eyes, you are a flight risk and it costs time and money to hire people so I don’t want to be continuously replacing the workforce.
Hobbies, interests and the like
You really don’t need to share these on your CV unless you think that a certain hobby or interest is a selling point for the position you are applying or that it shows experience in an area that you lack in your work experience duties. Such as voluntary work showing responsibilities that you don’t get in your day job. Some IT related hobbies might also be appealing but if you are going to include them, then write a bit more than “gaming” or “web-building”.
Applying for a job is not just about getting past the interview, it is about making a career choice and so you should always be thinking this is going to see me through to retirement. They are the positions you should be applying for, not a case of it will do until I find something better. You should be excited about the opportunity you are applying for because if you are not then you are wasting your time and mine.