Tips for Writing a Good CV / Résumé

May 20, 2020|9 Min Read|Comments|

Due to COVID-19, not many companies are hiring at the moment. The company I work for therefore is in a very fortunate position to still be thinking about growth and hiring.

As a hiring manager for almost a decade now, I've personally reviewed thousands of job applications and CVs, and many hiring managers would probably agree, the vast majority of CVs are terrible. Let's change that!

During COVID-19 where more and more people are either losing jobs or having their work hours cut, we are experiencing an increased amount of applicants to our job ads. I'd say on average I spend about 30 seconds per applicant due to my busy schedule - most hiring managers are busy people, it is therefore crucial for candidates to realise the importance of having a CV that is clear, easy to read and most importantly sells yourself. And if you have a cover letter, which I highly encourage that you do, congratulations you just bought yourself another 30 seconds. ;)

I'm writing this post mostly from my own perspective - as a hiring manager in a tech company in the western culture (we're based in Australia). Understandably, different cultural backgrounds and regions may have their own conventions, but certainly in Australia and many similar western cultures, there are things that you do and don't do on a CV, and there are things that may help your CV stand out. Let's talk about these things.

At the end of this post I will also share a copy of my own CV to help illustrate my points.

30 Seconds? Surely It's Unfair to the Candidates

Yes, I agree, to think that you are only given 30 seconds for your perhaps carefully crafted CV and cover letter is definitely soul-crushing. But it is unfortunately the reality. I work for a company where I can still do the first round of vetting myself, many large corporations would use algorithms and/or HR people to reject your applications based on keywords and other things.

Knowing the reality and the constraints, there are a few things I'd like to address in the hope of improving your CV and your chance of scoring an interview, and in turn, helping myself and other hiring managers out there to have a better candidate CV screening experience.

Have a Pronounceable Name or Alias

This one surely would raise some eyebrows - you might think that your name is your identity and you should not change it for anyone. True, however, the reality is that a hard-to-pronounce name discourages your profile to be shared and spoken about. Why not add a pronounceable alias if means there's an increased chance of getting an interview?

For clarity, I personally would never reject a candidate based on their name (or their cultural background for that matter), but I know some hiring managers might, and for some of them, they are NOT doing it on purpose. However, I have on several occasions had to ask a candidate how to correctly pronounce their name.

A Short Blurb on Who You Are

As a hiring manager, I care about who you are as a person - if you can summarise who you are as a professional in a sentence or two, it will help me determine whether you might be a good fit or not.

As an example, here's a blurb about me:

A passionate and hands-on software executive with two decades of experience and an entrepreneurial mindset.

A long time open source developer who has created and contributed to a few dozens of projects, including Ruby on Rails.

In two sentences, I explained my industry experience as well as my open source contributions - two things that help define who I am as a working professional. It also invites more questions from hiring managers: what kind of things have I done as an entrepreneur; what other open source projects have I contributed to?

Work Rights

Many companies have restrictions or policies around who they can hire based on their residency and visa status. If you are not a resident or are on a particular visa, make it clear in your job application so you don't end up wasting time for the employer and for yourself.

List Keywords, But Don't Overdo It

In the tech space it is important to have keywords visible to highlight your skills. If you are a software developer, your tech stacks should be clearly stated in your CV. As a hiring manager, if I am hiring a PHP developer, I expect to see PHP mentioned in your CV. There are of course exceptions, for example when we were hiring Elixir developers I did not expect to see Elixir as a keyword simply due to the supply constraint.

It is a balancing act however - I've seen CVs where candidates put 20-50 keywords on their CVs. I'm sorry but unless you are extremely gifted, you cannot possibly be good at all those things. Do not put keywords on your CV simply because you've read an article on the subject.

Oh, and unless you're going for a data entry role, I honestly don't care about your Excel skills...

Do Not Overstate Your Capability

Similarly, try to avoid overselling your capability. I once interviewed a candidate who claimed to be an "expert" on Ruby. We were actually hiring for a non-Ruby position, but given the candidate's CV, I questioned him on some advanced Ruby subjects during our interview and he struggled all the way through and was sweating bullets. Suffice to say that he did not get the job.

Be confident, but also be honest and be humble. Lying on your CV to get an interview is a waste of everyone's time.

Keep Things Short

As I mentioned in the beginning, I spend on average 30 seconds on each CV. Keep things short and easy to read! I really don't care about how awesome you were in your last dozens of projects - these will get covered during interviews.

On a CV I expect short and concise blurbs on what you did in each role. Also, take recency into account too - if you've been working in the industry for a decade or two, what you did 20 years ago really doesn't matter as much, so save yourself some time and cut things short.

For example, here's the blurb for my current role:

Leading a department of 25+ engineers to make great child care and education software. As part of the leadership team and reporting to the CEO, helping building and turning the company into a market leader.

And here are the blurbs for my older roles:

 

Yes, the blurbs for my older roles are left empty intentionally.

Now, again there are exceptions. If something happened a while ago but is interesting and relevant, do tell! For example, here's the blurb for my oldest "role":

Built my first ever website using Microsoft FrontPage Express, on a Pentium 166Mhz computer, uploaded via a 33.6kbps modem.

Explain Over-Qualified Titles

There were a few times where a "CTO" or even a "CEO" applied for a developer role. In most cases it wasn't about over-qualification, but about what the candidate wanted to achieve professionally. So, either in the CV or in the cover letter, explain what you are looking for in your next role, otherwise you run the risk of being assessed as over-qualified.

Spare the Personal Details That Are Too Personal

This is predominantly a culture thing as I've seen it from mostly candidates of certain cultural backgrounds. I really don't care about your age, gender, marital status or favourite sport. These things do not define who you are as a professional - we might talk about your favourite sport and food during the interview but they are irrelevant on your CV.

Space Things Out

Look up CRAP Principles - make sure your CV has enough white spaces and contrast, and has fonts that are readable! Scrolling through walls of text is no fun and is a sure way to get your CV dismissed.

2-4 Pages

This is not scientific, for me personally I prefer to see CVs of 2-4 pages. Use the length as a constraint to cut things down. There were several occasions where I ran into CVs with 10+ pages. I guarantee you, unless a hiring manager is extremely bored, he or she does not have time to read your War and Peace.

PDF Over Word

When possible, submit your CV in PDF format instead of Word format. Now, sometimes if you use a recruiter you'll be asked to submit your CV in Word format so they can fuck it up add their branding. A PDF formatted CV ensures the correct formatting and layout always get shown to the hiring managers.

Cover Letter

Always attach a cover letter when possible, but keep it short too. Given the amount of CVs a hiring manager needs to go through, having a crafted cover letter is another way to grab their attention and increase your chance of getting an interview.

Don't repeat the same information in the cover letter though. Your CV is about the facts of your experiences, your cover letter should be about your thoughts on why the company should hire you. Focus on the value you can bring to the table.

Find A Referral

When possible, find someone who can refer you. A referral gets preferential treatment during the CV screening stage and does not suffer from the same 30-second fate.

Pleasing Design

This one is a "nice-to-have": if your CV is really well designed, you would earn another 30 seconds of my attention. ;)

~

These are the main points, hopefully they are helpful. To help illustrate, here is a copy of my own CV, with contact details removed.



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