For years now I’ve been in a position where I could employ people. At my current job (Soomla), as well as a few previous ones, I have had the honour (and the pleasure) of interviewing and employing people – and even though that means taking the time I’d usually spend coding, I have found great joy in talking to other engineers.
Based on this first-hand experience I understand that many software engineers have close to zero clue how to write a CV and don’t even fully understand the purpose of one in the first place.
This obviously reflects my personal experience from the Israeli tech scene – your experience elsewhere in the world (Silicon Valley or London, for example) might differ completely.
I don’t know why this is so, but I’m guessing you either haven’t been taught how to write a CV, or you have poor soft skills and are generally incompetent in writing a stunning CV. You may have never seen other CVs, so it’s hard for you to distinguish a lousy one from a great one, or you can make a good CV, but you’re simply not good enough to make your CV stand out from the masses.
Worst case scenario (and tragically – a very frequent one) – you have no clue why you need a CV in the first place.
Why you need a CV
The whole point of the CV is for you to get invited for an interview – that’s it. If your CV lands you a phone call or an interview invitation, you did well. If you send a dozen of applications and don’t get a single call back, you need to up your CV game.
Getting invited for an interview is your chance to shine. First impressions don’t get second chances, and your CV is your first impression. That is something you must always keep in mind when writing your resume. Also, keep in mind that all of that must be done with words only.
After reading dozens of resumes, I find it odd how people simply can’t get it right. That’s why I decided to lay down a couple of tips on what to do and what to avoid when writing a CV.
What to do:
Cover letter / Letter of intent
You can either start your resume with a cover letter, or attach it as a separate document. In it you should write why you decided to apply to that particular company, and show the employer what kind of position you’re looking for. It’s important because it shows character, and as you will see below – basically everything revolves around character.
Describe your previous jobs in great detail and specifics
The only way for the reader of your CV to understand what experienced you truly have is if you are specific in your description. Don’t fear you’ll bore your potential employer by going into details on what you did before. Being too vague about it is what bores people, as it is hard for them to understand what you did and they can’t relate to it. Ditch the diplomatic language and hit the topic straight on the head. Note that when I say details I don’t mean going into extreme length, but rather focusing on exactly what you did on the job.
For example: Developed a large scale project as part of a client-server platform while incorporating high load database interaction. Participated in the lifecycle of the product from inception to launch. This is disastrous as it tells the employer nothing about you, the project you worked on and the company you worked for. Remember: Character.
Instead, go for something like this: Worked on the company’s advertising portal as a web application engineer in a team of 4. Built several web-apps from scratch using a Ruby-on-Rails + MySQL + Redis + EC2 stack, while scaling one of them to 50MM users.
Whatever you do, people like to see you do it. If you’re a coder, that makes your job that much easier, as you can show people your code in action. Whatever you did, programmed a website or an app – show it. Make sure you add your Github account, as well.
Don’t hide your social media
Any decent employer will Google you anyway, so you should make sure they have something to look at when they’re there. Beef up your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn profiles. Keep them updated, nice and clean.
Remember: Character. Nobody likes working with a bookworm who can’t take a joke or crack one in the office. You’re not drones and you’re not slaves. If you don’t show character you’re doomed, and what better way to show character than to present the things you do in your free time. That can be anything from playing an instrument to hiking, to whatever, it really doesn’t matter – as long as you do something besides work.
Search for “software engineer resumes” and casually see what other people’s CVs look like. Also, have a friend look at your CV and give you some helpful feedback. If you have a CEO among friends, that’s even better.
CV Graphic Design
It’s very easy nowadays to get your CV designed properly. All you need to do is give your CV to a freelance designer to give it some touch. This can be done for as cheap as 5 dollars with the help of online marketplaces like Fiverr. Consider throwing in a small thumbnail image of yourself. Remember, you’re not designing a museum, just giving your CV a touch of color and novelty with a professional hand’s help. Totally worth it.
What not to do:
War and Peace. Have you read it? Most likely not, it’s 1,456 pages long. Nobody likes a wall of text. Keep your CV within a single page. If the CV needs adjusting for a specific position, don’t be afraid to craft one especially for that application. Keep only the relevant info and ditch the rest.
Seven years in Tibet
Nobody cares what you did in primary school, or how you volunteered fifteen years ago in a local supermarket. You should only list activities that are directly linked to the position you’re applying for and in reversed chronological order. I want to know what you did three months ago, not ten years ago.
Keep it clean
Seeing Word Art makes me want to vomit. Seriously, if you’re applying makeup to your CV, you’re doing everything wrong. Keep it clean, minimalistic and concise. Don’t use tables, and for the love of God, don’t use a bordered table with rows per each work place.
Sometimes, employers go through tons of CVs every day, it gets tiring very fast. Before they even know it, they’re not reading CVs, they’re simply scanning through them. Put those eyes at comfort. The employer isn’t always aware of this, but I can definitely testify that when I get a nicely laid out CV, I give that candidate some extra points without even noticing.
Avoid mentioning general skills
Like I said earlier, keep it short and sweet. Use only relevant information. Show character. Writing that you know JSON and XML will only ring the bull*** alarm in my head. Everyone works with these formats today, and there’s absolutely nothing special about knowing them. It’s like saying you know how to use Gmail.
And that’s basically it. From what I’ve learned, people who have a good CV usually do well in interviews too. Also, make sure you stick to what you wrote in your CV. If you claim to know Java, you better know Java, otherwise you’ll be looking at the door fast.
Employers won’t ask you random questions – their questions will revolve around what you wrote in your resume and what they found on your online accounts.
And don’t forget – show character!