08 Oct 2015

How To Impress Us With Your Tech CV

There’s a lot of advice on the internet about what makes a good CV for an engineering candidate. Unfortunately, as with many subjects, you’ll find that there are a variety of opinions. Rather than attempt to debunk these, we thought we’d list our advice for putting your best foot forward in a job application to Geonomics.

The basics

Make it easy to read and process your CV. It’s a small amount of work and can make a big difference in the impression your CV makes. It also helps show you’re serious about considering a new job.

  • Send your CV as a “.doc” or “.docx” Word document or as a PDF document. In either case, make the file name the same as your name. That’s more useful than calling it “cv.doc” or “résumé.pdf” as it helps us distinguish it from other candidates’ CVs.
  • Pick a sensible font and font size. Sure we can zoom in and out on the screen, but the easier your CV is to review, the better. We do print CVs out — eg for candidates we’re going to interview — so make sure it looks good when printed as well. If you’ve put everything in 8-point Arial Narrow, then your CV will be hard to read.
  • Put your name and contact details (email address, phone number, postal address) at the top of the document. You don’t need to put titles such as “CV” or “curriculum vitae”. And, unless you’ve got an incredibly common name, we don’t need all your middle names.
    Bad — extra words don’t add anything Good — concise yet still clear
    ADDRESS: 123 The High Street, Somewhereville, Countyshire, AB1 2CD
    TELEPHONE: 07123 456 789
    Chris Babbage
    123 The High Street, Somewhereville, Countyshire, AB1 2CD • 07123 456 789 •
  • Keep the length down to 2-3 pages. If your CV is longer than 3 pages, we’ll find it hard to get to the end unless it’s really gripping. If you’ve got the content right (see below), it’s unlikely the CV will need to be longer than 3 pages anyway.
  • Don’t write a cover letter that repeats what’s in your CV. Even worse, don’t omit key facts from your CV on the grounds that they are in your cover letter. The CV is the most important document and we usually look at it first. If that’s missing key info, we may not even read the cover letter. In any case, a cover letter isn’t essential. If you do want to write one, use it to tell us why you’re keen to work at Geonomics.

The style

In some ways, the way that you write your CV is just as important as the content. Our teams work really well together and that’s partly because we hire good communicators. You don’t need a line in your CV telling us that you’re a good communicator or have strong attention to detail — instead, show it to us by communicating well throughout your CV.

  • Make sure what you write is clear and unambiguous. Get a friend to read your CV to see if they understand it all. We’re not overly worried about how idiomatic or grammatically correct your English is but if we can’t understand what you’re saying, or the meaning is ambiguous, then how do we know you’ll be able to communicate clearly with your colleagues?
  • Get the details right. You’re applying for a technical job where a typo in a source code file or shell script could cause a bug or outage. Demonstrate your attention to detail by proof-reading your CV. Use a spell-checker. If you’ve put hyperlinks in your document, check they work. If you’ve used technical terms, look them up to check the capitalisation. Then proof-read your CV again. And maybe one more time for luck.
  • Be consistent. If you say “JavaScript” in paragraph 1, “Javascript” in paragraph 2 and “javascript” in paragraph 3 then it makes you look a bit slapdash. Having lots of inconsistencies in your CV suggests that your code/scripts/documentation will have inconsistencies too, and likely be harder to follow than they should be.

The content

There are some key things that we’re looking for on your CV. If they are not there, but your CV is great in other respects, then we might come back to you with questions. But otherwise we’ll probably make an assumption instead. And our assumptions might be a bit pessimistic. (For instance, we might assume that the reason you haven’t told us about that year-long gap between two roles is because you were doing something shameful involving cross-border telesales of unlicensed financial products. It’s better that you tell us up-front what you really did.)

  • The most important content on your CV is your career history and your education details. Spend your time getting this right.
  • Give us start and end dates for each job and each period of education. Month and year is fine for each date. (Year by itself is too vague. At the extremes, “2012-2013” could be a two year stretch or a short period from Dec 2012 to Jan 2013.)
  • If you’ve got a degree, tell us your degree grades. Otherwise, it looks like you just scraped a pass. If you graduated within the last five years, then tell us a little bit about your course (not every module but the bits you enjoyed most) and also let us know your A-level (or equivalent) grades.
  • If there are gaps in your career/education history (other than the odd month here or there), explain what you were doing so that we don’t have to make an assumption (see above).
  • For the role descriptions, unless they were particularly unusual, the day-to-day responsibilities of the job aren’t that interesting to see. We know what a typical Software Engineer job or Systems Engineer job entails, so you don’t need to tell us that you “fixed bugs” or “deployed software” or “used such-and-such ticketing system”. Instead, focus on what your contributions and achievements were. Imagine you’re talking to a friend or a colleague and you’re telling them what you are most proud of having done in that role.
  • Try to be specific—tell us facts and details rather than trivia. If you improved the way backups were done, give us a measure of how much better they became (X% faster, Y fewer hours per week of manual process, Z% more coverage etc). Don’t get lost in unimportant details (what model tape drive you replaced, the exact distance from your office to your data centre, etc).
  • In a similar vein, don’t be vague about what your role was. Lots of candidates tell us they were “involved in such-and-such project” or “participated in meetings about some project”. Those sorts of phrases make it sound like the level of your involvement was quite small: maybe you made tea or helped keep a chair warm in a meeting room. Your contribution was bound to have been more substantive than this, so tell us what it was.

Things to leave out

You don’t need to use up space with information that’s not going to help us decide whether to hire you. If you need one of the sections below because a recruiter has asked for it, then it’s fine to have it—but we probably won’t pay much attention to it.

  • Photos and random facts. We’re not hiring actors or models, so we don’t need your photo. Nor do we need to know whether you have a driving licence, what your marital status is or what your favourite film is. None of these things will affect your ability to do the job.
  • Long lists of skills. If you tell us you are “expert in Technology X” or rate yourself “7/10 on Framework Y”, it doesn’t count for much. It’s so subjective. You probably know someone who thinks they can sing brilliantly in the shower but who’s never going to get a record contract. We would much rather see from your role descriptions where you used a particular technology and what you did with it.
  • Profiles and Personal Statements. Unless you’ve got something particular to highlight, don’t write a lot of boilerplate. We’ve seen hundreds of variants of “I am a self-motivated fast learner who is dedicated to achieving great results, keen to advance my career and a great team player who is also capable of working well by myself”. It doesn’t really add value to your CV.
  • Long sections about your personal interests. We want you to you have a life outside work. It’s a good thing. How much of it you put in your CV is a different matter. If you’ve achieved something outside of your education/career which shows us what a strong character you have, that’s great to see. Equally, if, in your spare time, you regularly contribute code to the Linux kernel, then that’s also interesting to us. But most people enjoy “socialising with friends” and “watching films” so you don’t need to highlight that to us. If you can’t think of anything stand-out to put down as an interest, don’t worry—we’re not going to think you’re boring.

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