The 5 Do’s and 10,000 Don’ts of CV Writing

Disclaimer: there isn’t really 10,000 don’ts, in fact there is only one. But it is pretty darn important. I’ve written and read enough CV’s to have a pretty good idea what constitutes a good CV and what constitutes good bin liner and so I thought I’d share my thoughts. Let’s start with the Do’s:

Do’s

  1. Keep It Pithy: I’ve had to read many CV’s in my time, and nothing is more off putting than a CV that is longer than Milton’s Paradise Lost. Remember, the hiring manager will have a pile of CV’s and perhaps will dedicate all of 5 minutes in deciding who makes the initial shortlist and whose to bin, so help them make a quick decision by keeping your CV short. The optimal length of a CV should be no more than a page, or 2 pages if you have to. But no one is going to care that 20 years ago you worked on a Saturday washing cars. You may have a great job history, but try not to go back too far. And the older the job, the less detail you need to put in. This still gives you a chance to shows something you’re really proud of in an old role without going into too much detail.
  2. Keep it Pertinent: You need to keep in mind that no 2 jobs are the same yet chances are you will apply for these different roles with the same CV. So you need to focus on the profession you’re applying for. If you’re applying for a job that is a DBA, keep that as your focus as you write it. The hiring manager is not going to care if your hobbies are going out with your friends and taking long walks on the beach. Cutting out the fraff like this will also help keep it short. You don’t want your CV to be the next Voynich Manuscript .
  3. Keep it Presentable: So you’ve got to keep it pithy and pertinent, yet you also need to keep it clear. So this is where most people who do keep it short and pertinent may fail in trying to cram everything in. Consider your font type: using something like Calibri over Arial or Verdana. By all means keep the margins narrow, but don’t over do it. Use bullet points as opposed to full sentences. Brevity is the key. If you want to draw the managers attention to something, highlight a word or two in bold. And use spell and grammar check! Despite technologies best efforts, I write with many typos, because I am lazy when it comes to typing. Rather embarrassingly, as a DBA, I still misspell “FROM as “FORM”, yet spell check will not pick this up. So get someone to proof read it. This is different from critiquing your CV: just make sure the sentences make sense and that there’s no daft typos.
  4. Show The Value: the benefits of certain technologies that you know about may not immediately present their benefit to the hiring manager, so you need to demonstrate that you understand the business value of your expertise. Listing technologies shows nothing other than you know how to write a list of technologies. You know how to write PowerShell modules… great. Who cares? You wrote a series of PowerShell modules that transferred backup files over a dodgy FTP connection and would retry any failed transfers so that no one had to log in over the weekend and check the progress of transfers? OK, that sounds much better.
  5. Plan and Prepare: there’s a military adage called the 7 P’s . Mild expletive aside, it’s important to take the time to write your CV and give it the attention it deserves. Your CV is the first impression that hiring managers have of you. If you just bash out some bullet points and don’t put the effort into applying the four points above, your putting out the impression that you aren’t really that serious about looking for a new job, so why should the hiring manager be serious about calling you in for an interview?

Don’t:

  1. Lie.

Simple right? Just tell the truth and you’ll be fine! OK, let’s go into more detail than just that…

At some point in all our working lives, we will decide to move on and look for a new job. Inevitably, this means we need to update our CV. And this can be a daunting and time-consuming process; there is so much conflicting advice on what a CV should look like (but trust me the advice I have you above is pure gold of course!), it’s enough to put you off finding a new job. But one piece of advice that everyone will universally agree on is “don’t lie on your CV”. It sure is a tempting thing to do; you may feel that your skills don’t match what people are looking for in your profession: maybe you felt you’ve become “de-skilled” and are only good for the niche you have found yourself in at your current place of work. But the fact is, unless you are actually really bad at your job, you will have skills, soft or technical, that employers will be looking for. But supposing you give in and decide to lie on your CV. Maybe something like….. you have some experience in managing replication in SQL Server. It’s a highly sought after skill, it’s probably the most challenging feature in SQL Server. Let’s play out a few scenarios here:

  • You will only ever be put forward for roles you are not suitable for: hiring agents see replication, match you to a job with replication, and call you and you may/may not be put forward or it. Meanwhile there’s another job that matches your real skills that you’d be great for and yet your CV will probably not come up as a matching CV because you’ve filled your CV with lies.

But supposing you fooled the hiring agent and the hiring manager was impressed by your CV and experience in replication, because they’ve sure been having a lot of problems with replication and want an extra hand who can come in with ideas on replication and will require little time to acquaint themselves with replication. So you’ll be called in for an interview, and you spend your time preparing for an interview you’ve probably already failed, because you lied on your CV.The hiring manager then asks you several questions pertaining to replication that most people who have worked with replication could answer, and you bumble and stumble through with some nonsense answer. Two scenarios play out here:

  1. The hiring manager knows you’re lying about working with replication, loses any trust in you and anything you have written on your CV, and ends the interview not long after. You won’t get the job and you’ve wasted their time and your own and probably lost the trust of the agent.
  2. Your nonsense riffing on a complex subject is taken as probably right by the manager because they don’t understand the topic either. In some respects, this is the worse scenario, because you’re being hired by someone who has little understanding of what the job requires, and would be a lousy person to work under, and most likely this is would be a bad job at a company full of people like this manager who has no idea what is going on.

Lying on your CV is a betrayal of the trust and confidence you have in yourself. If you don’t believe enough in yourself, and that the skills you have are good enough to get you to where you need to go, then no amount of lying on a CV will compensate for that. You want to get confident, and maybe add something to your CV? How about

  • Self fund a training course to get a bit of confidence, and show that you’re serious about developing yourself as a professional.
  • Go to a user group; see what other technologies other people are using. And see how much people actually use, or how familiar they are with your own line of skills.
  • Go to a conference and attend sessions about the technologies you use; I find that I may think I know a lot about a subject, but hearing a session on same gives me measure as to how much I know, and what other people in the room know.
  • Write a blog! Seriously it’s a great way to learn, impart advice and meet some good people along the way. And you’ll spend more of your time worrying about your next blog post instead of worrying about if your CV is “good enough”. I know for a fact my CV has helped me get at least one job since I started blogging some three years ago.

But above all be honest with yourself, you owe yourself that much!

Author: Richie Lee

Full time computer guy, part time runner. Full time Dad, part time blogger. Knows a thing or two about Pokémon. Knows too much about SQL Agent. Writer of fractured sentences. Maker of the best damn macaroni cheese you've ever tasted.

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