July 17, 2018

Some advice about CVs

One day I’d like to write about the most recent hiring experience I had in 2017, to compare and contrast against my previous written and recorded experience in 2009. One of the things that struck me about my record keeping is that although I did a pretty good job of describing the steps, I didn’t really record how it felt.

However, it’s a big piece, and so I’m putting it off.

In the mean time though, over the past couple of years I’ve talked CVs with a lot of people (both irl and with denizens of rands’ leadership slack), had to update my own CV heavily last year, and currently I’m reading a lot of other people’s CVs as a hiring manager. So it’s a thing that’s been on my mind a lot.

All that practice has given me an opportunity to refine my story and reflect on what’s worked and not worked for me (and others). Maybe one day I’ll do a “most confusing CV” post, but today is about being helpful, so here’s a reasonable stab at a written version of the advice I’ve offered and received over the past few years about CVs.

Before we get into the juicy stuff, let’s start with a brief definition and a reminder of what a CV is, and isn’t, for.

I talk about CVs, which depending on where you are in the world mean different things, but for me this is a 2(ish) page document that covers all or some work history, education stuff and your key skills. There are some more formal definitions of what a CV is, how it’s different from a resume, and why you’d use one over t’other and in which country and all that jazz, but for me, it’s as above.

As for it’s purpose, I believe it’s pretty simple: convince someone else that you’re worth talking to. Breaking that down a bit further, it is not make/break for getting a job. It’s a foot in the door. You need to offer enough information and hooks to someone to convince them to get you on the phone so you can really sell yourself. It does not have to replace your stories or stand in for you in your entirety! It should also be easy for the person reading it. Since the consumer of a CV is a hiring manager, and hiring managers are notoriously busy, work in terms of most-important to least-important when it comes to the content.

Caveat: the advice and thoughts I have are based on my experiences in technology. Different industries have different norms, so know your industry!

With that out the way, let’s do this! Roughly in order of reading:

Personally identifiable information

No one needs your address. Your locale or area or county etc is good enough, and one recruiter once told me that it can be useful to put your intended location on the CV as well or instead. Obviously, be weary of not being truthful, but it might help automated searches find you.

Phone number and email, absolutely must. Portfolio links, yes. Website and/or blog addresses, yes if there’s something interesting or relevant there. Twitter? Social media? LinkedIn? Probably not so much. As a hiring manager, I’m not sure I care that much about social media at this point.

Past the contact details phase, everything else is a value-add.

Candidate summary

I’ve also heard this referred to as the hero paragraph, which I really love. This is part cover letter, part objective. It’s a small taste of what a team might get if they get you, and spells out what you want and where you want to go. Spoon feeding people who are busy (like hiring managers) is always helpful.

Experience

Reverse chronological is good, and again, find a way to spoon feed the hiring manager. In some cases you might find it beneficial to write a context-line of the role, but then it’s about your impact in the role you undertook (not just your responsibilities). Specific is better (numbers are great!), but don’t make anyone guess why having done Thing A is a good thing. There’s also some value in looking at the depth of your experience in certain areas (especially in the currently hot devops market) - again, don’t make anyone guess if you’ve got book-writing experience or merely exposure.

What you’re looking for are ways of crafting hooks, making it easy for someone else to say “This is really interesting, tell me more … “.

Page length

2 pages is fine - put enough on page 1 for people to care to look at page 2. Intrigue, and then they can keep reading if they want to see how you got to where you are.

Additional activities

If you do things that are outside of work that are still important, put them on, but don’t make the hiring manager guess why they are important, spell it out. Value-add.

Phrasing

Different hiring managers will respond differently to different styles of writing and turns of phrase. If you want to cast a wide net, keep things professional and consistent (pick a tense and stick with it!). If you know your audience, then it might be appropriate inject more personality into the phrasing you use.

Design

This is a way of making you stand out from the crowd, but I believe that a really good CV is easy to read, parse and get to the details out of. So long as being innovative with your design doesn’t prevent that from happening, great, otherwise maybe leave it alone. I stuck some splashes of colour in mine, to match my website, because that seems neat to me, but ymmv.

Cover letters

There’s is a whole ‘nother post right here, but this is where you can outline some of your stories with a view to explaining, in your eyes, how the skills and experiences you have match up with what the company you’re apply to is looking for. For the positions I hire for, I don’t require a cover letter and have rarely seen one arrive unsolicited, that said when someone has taken the time to drop a few words about the role next to their CV, it has stood out to me.

Own it

I’m currently of the opinion that your CV should match LinkedIn, because you’re probably going to be googled anyway and you may have already been contacted because of your LinkedIn profile. Save yourself some cognitive load: you’ve done all this work for your CV, why not use it elsewhere?

Believe in it

Ultimately you need to be comfortable with what your CV says about you. It’s your foot in the door, so if you feel it represents you well, then it’s like your best suit/dress/shoes/interview clothes - you feel more confident in it, and other people who talk to you will get the rest of the story.

Your CV is working if you’re getting plenty of calls about it. If you can’t get through to a face-to-face, that’s probably not because you have a bad CV. But that’s another topic, for another time.

While I’m not in the market for a new job as of this post date, you can find my last used actual CV here and my hero paragraph and current work history on LinkedIn where I’ve taken most of my own advice.

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