How to Write a Winning Tech CV

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I must confess upfront that I’m no expert at writing CVs. I mean who are really experts at writing CVs? Are they the people who have written thousands of CVs? If that is the case then I would not call them experts at anything; or are they the people like the creator of facebook or Microsoft who never wanted to write a CV? Well let me put it this way; I’ve written a few CVs and have seen a few CVs in my career so far. So I can roughly tell you what employers look for in a proper tech CV.

Part 1: What is a CV?

A CV is your chance to tell a potential employer who you are and what you can do in two minutes or less. If it takes longer than that to read your CV, then you most probably will not get an interview. If this is the case then it might help to watch “Dargons’ Den”, a somewhat dramatic talent show by the Brits, which can help sharpen your CV.

Part 2: Do I need help with my CV?

We all need help! Only with time will we come to grips with this fact. My first CV was eight pages and this was fresh out of university. I was quite proud of having eight pages by that time but luckily when I went to the UK, I got my CV evaluated by professionals (i mean people who really know a thing or two about these things. Luckily the university paid for it. So it would be your best bet to speak to the people in the careers center in your university). The feedback was to drop all the BS I had put in there and stick to single line spaces. They advised me that my CV should be two pages the most and that I should drop all references to things I couldn’t really do. Although humbling, this simple piece of advice made my career.

Part 3: Opening statements

There are a few ways to do an opening statement. You can use the tried and tested keywords like hard worker, passionate, skilled, team player, self learner etc. etc. but you need to understand that all of these keywords are relative. The first question a potential employer would ask you is whom you compare yourself to when you say hard worker? This will be a blow to the gut and will leave you winded throughout your interview. So might as well not explicitly say these stupid things. Let the interviewer figure these out on his/her own during the course of your interview. Also never say you compare yourself to Zuckerberg or Gates or Branson or Ghandi; and never ever say you compare yourself to Einstein or Hawkins. This is just stupid… “If you are as good as them then why are you looking for a job here” will be the next question. Check and mate! “My role model is my dad/mom” would be the best possible answer. They will save you one more time.

So what really is the best way to open your CV? Have a concise header which gives all the info. The following is an example.

CURRICULUM VITAE
[Dr./Mr./Mrs./Ms.] First-Name Last-Name (avoid embarrassing middle names or nicknames)
Postal Address
Email: (an actual e-mail address where they can reach you) Contact phone No: (a phone which you use frequently) Website: (your own e-potfolio)

Email address: make sure you have a gmail, hotmail, yahoo address. Don’t give out your current office e-mail address. This is just stupid as both the potential employer and your current employer will know all they need to with a single e-mail. Don’t use sexytyron@xxx.com as your e-mail address. Your e-mail address tells a lot about you. So just use a format like firstname.lastname@something.com and make sure you check it regularly.

Phone number: don’t give out the phone number your friends call you on. Have a different number which you will pickup even during an important meeting. Excuse yourself and take the call. If you miss it you might not get a call back. Tell your current boss it was your mom. You plan to leave the place anyways so what does it matter?

Website: You need to get yourself an e-portfolio. There are a lot of free services like blogger, Google sites etc. which will allow you to do this for free. Take the time to put up a good e-folio. Remember the BS you took out of your CV? Well you can put all of that on your e-folio.

Social networking: The first thing the potential employer will do is ask his/her secretary to facebook you. So make sure you don’t post stupid stuff on there. It pays to have your academic and professional profiles updated and made visible to everyone. Have a nice casual profile pic too. Nothing implicating you in parties or other wild activities. Have some good pics shown to everyone like the time you won something or the time you presented something or the time you saved the neighbors cat from the IRS. This is one more tick in the “give this guy a shot” checklist.

Part 4: Tell them what you can do and not what you have done

Write a skills profile. Just a comma separated list of what you can do. For example Java, C++, VB.Net, SPSS…. Again only state what you can really do. Do not try to BS the BSers.

Part 5: Tell them what you have studied and where

Don’t spell out your life story here.Just your highest qualifications which you are proud of. If you have a degree then don’t mention high school. This can go into your e-folio. For the love of god don’t list the subjects you took. No one really cares… Also don’t exaggerate and say how good your were… You are just making it tougher for yourself. Explain this face-to-face during the interview. The interviewer will believe you better that way. Also don’t put the name of your uni in BOLD. The guy who is interviewing you might have studied at better ones. Always state what you have achieved during each degree (very briefly). You can just put down the title of your projects or thesis. Your projects and thesis will tell a lot about what you can do for the company. Note that no one cares who your supervisor was including your supervisor. So omit that part.

Part 6: Interests

Use a comma separated list to introduce your interests related to your job. For example .Net development, algorithms, web services etc. This would be a good place to introduce any professional memberships or qualifications as well.

Part 7: Employment history

Follow the format below

Position, Company
From – To
A brief note of your responsibilities (2 sentences max)

They just want to know where you worked. Not what you had for lunch everyday.

Part 8: Other relevant information

The keyword is relevant . Use a comma separated list to note down all other things you feel would add value to your application like awards etc. The key is to omit BS and just keep it real.

Part 9: References

Just say “References will be provided upon request”. No one cares about your references when they call you in for an interview. They will only check them if you get selected. So what’s the point of putting them in? Also you never know whether the interviewer has bones to pick with your referees. So better not let a referee screw up your chance of an interview. If they ask for references, you are already in.

Part 10: Keep it simple

Any interviewer will print out your CV in black and white. So don’t bother with the fancy color schemes. Just make sure your CV prints out well. Always have page numbers and a footer with your name.

No one writes cover letters these days as all CVs are sent via e-mail. Just make sure you are polite and make a good first impression in your e-mail. Every interviewer will make a printout of your e-mail. This says a lot. Have a good professional e-mail signature and a disclaimer. Don’t use phrases like “I’ll be back..” in your e-mail signature and don’t quote famous people. This is lame!

A CV can get you through the door for an interview. That’s all it is supposed to do. After that it is up to you to re-enforce what you have said in the CV. However the first step is to get that call. So it pays to spend some time doing up your CV.

Last but not least, don’t attach your certs to your CV. If they want your certs they will ask for them.

Good luck!

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