I have been working in the I.T. industry for around 25 years, mostly as an application and systems developer, sometimes a technical writer, but more recently as an infrastructure engineer and solutions architect. Over the past twelve months, I have been helping SkillStruct by providing feedback on CVs. In this post, I would like to explain a little bit about my approach to putting a CV together in a format that is useful when applying for I.T. jobs.
This is just my opinion about how to make a CV stand out for someone who is hiring for technical work. That said, I would trust this format more than some of the resumés I have seen which have, for example, been butchered by recruitment consultants before being submitted.
Note from the author
Opinion based on 25 Years of Experience
The feedback has varied from one document to another, but grammatical changes, reformatting and restructuring have been the most common advice given. I have also advised some people to reword some sections or expand a section to include a summary in long form rather than just bullet points.
When you are starting, it is natural to find a CV you like and copy the style and like me genuinely horrible-looking CV for about 4-5 years, that was routinely reworked by recruiters, I eventually copied the style from my big brother! This can be successful depending on what is appealing to you. Since that time, it evolved and grew as I gathered more experience, and it needed reworking after every single job. Frankly, you get quite bored of doing it, and it can feel stressful having to chop bits of it out to reduce the length. Space management is key, but so is knowing which bits need to stay.
The essential structure that I believe you should aim for looks like this:
- Name & Contact details
- Personal statement
- Work Experience / Employment History
- Personal Interests
Looking back through the feedback I have given, I noticed that in some cases I changed the running order slightly. Usually, it would be the Skills section that moved. The truth of it is – sometimes it just feels that it should go elsewhere because it visually flows better when placed later in the document. At some point, you will hopefully gain the sense of knowing whether the flow of it works for you and from the point of view of the employer.
Name & Contact details
Get your name right there at the top of the page. Follow it with your date of birth, email address and contact phone number. You do not have to make it 72pt or in a little box to stand out – just make sure it is clear. Email addresses are an interesting point – if you have got comedy vanity domain for your email, remember that a joke may fall flat to some audiences, and that first impression matters. You can always make a forwarding rule from your new, boring Gmail to email@example.com
The most common piece of advice, ensure that you summarise who you are and what you are looking for. This is the TL; DR (too little; did not read); of the entire CV and you only have a couple of sentences to grab someone’s attention before they look at your skills and previous experience. So, here you should briefly state what you are looking for and what your current situation is.
The wording here should dovetail with any text you write in a cover letter. They should support each other and be correlated. It is quite common for someone to customise this text so it fits the exact role that they are applying for, so you may end up with a few versions for various positions.
This section can also be used to talk a little about your interest in a particular field and what you would love to be doing within it. You could also briefly talk about your style of work (e.g., producing designs on your own, or collaborating with a small team of professionals).
Try to avoid writing this in the third person, which is something that recruiters will occasionally be due to the text because they want it to be about them bringing this wonderful person to the attention of a company, rather than a statement that you have written.
“I’m a 3D-Modelling BA student seeking a trainee role in a design consultancy who is very comfortable working on projects within a team or individually. I have been interested in 3D since I was at college and have used it to produce flyer designs for local music events.”
This is something which I recommend having as a standalone section and putting some thought into its categorisation and presentation.
Start with technical skills, leading with ones most relevant to your career path, and indicate experience and confidence level.
Your years of experience in technical skill is a useful thing to be able to convey and can give someone reviewing potential applicants an at-a-glance view of where you are at in your development or engineering knowledge. It can also be useful to describe how confident you are in using it by using terms which will add character.
|Python||2 years||fairly confident||Machine Learning with TensorFlow and mlpack|
|Java SE 16||1 year||starting out|
|MS Office Word/Excel/PowerPoint||4 years||seasoned|
Depending upon how much space you must play with, it can be good to provide this information in a table as an extra convenience to the reviewer. This is about the only place that you should be putting a box around anything in your CV as simple tables tend to translate between platforms unscathed.
The following are examples of “soft” skills that may be harder to pin down. You may wish to talk a little about each of them or at least add some context for their inclusion in a list.
- Time management
- Analytical skills
- Languages [not computer programming languages!]
Work Experience / Employment History
I would advise that this section be “Employment History” this is because I believe if you want to add an actual item of work experience (e.g., a 4-week work placement from a college course), then the term becomes overloaded.
The order should be the most recent first. There may be an overlap between some jobs and that is ok just clear about the dates.
I recommend using a familiar format for the headlines in your employment history, ensuring that they appear uniformly. This is the format which I usually use:
(Name of employer) (Location) (Start and End month and year in short form) (Position)
For example: Tyler & Co – London – Mar 2002 to Nov 2002 – Front-End Developer (Intern)
Do not forget to include extra job titles if you got a promotion during your time there! E.g.: Wax Digital Ltd – Manchester – Apr 2003 to Nov 2010 – Junior Developer, rising to Developer
Each entry should have a short descriptive summary about the role/position unless it is in the distant past or something obvious like being a food delivery driver.
Remember that this is for a CV to be used to apply for a technical position, so details about some previous work may not be relevant and will accept valuable page space. Your most recent (technical) role carries the most weight, so you can afford to go into more detail about it than any previous roles. This can turn previous roles into one-liners, and that is okay.
For example, a most recent/current role summary might be something like: ‘Working as an intern Programmer at the Romford Foundation Trust with a team of five other developers. The team builds and maintains three Patient Administration databases and I was able to use my experience in SQL to help solve performance issues for the new database releases.
If that role had been further in the past, you might shorten it to the following: ‘Intern Programmer role working in a development team, using my SQL experience to help solve performance issues.
After the summary, it is time for the bullet points. These are the keynotes and highlights of the position. Sometimes it can feel like you need to include everything you did in these sections, but it is wise to put a little effort into narrowing the bullet points down or it can appear as if you are trying to arbitrarily extend the section, or just do not know how to self-edit. Be as concise as you can but without being terse – it is a balancing act, but it is worth thinking about as you want to convey the good things you have done efficiently.
- Creating 3D scenes for a college engineering show using Maya
- Assisting with team review meetings
- Worked in a team to program a simulated robot to roller-skate in an AI competition
- Delegated work to team members with appropriate skills
- Built a metrics dashboard using Grafana to act as an information radiator for the development team
- Created a version-controlled documentation website, backed by GitHub, for the new starters’’ pages on the council’s intranet
This section is both a list of your educational qualifications and the universities and colleges you have studied. Like the Employment History section, this should be in the order of the most recent first. It is also relevant to record any technical qualifications in this section.
Some people have lots to say about their education, and some people don’t. Both approaches can be equally valid but be mindful of how much space they can take up which may squeeze more important stuff.
This may be controversial, but my experience has been that once you’ve held at least one technical position, e.g., a trainee developer, it is very unlikely that anyone will mind if you skip your GCSE results. This is something which carries on through an I.T. career; at some point, it doesn’t even matter what degree you did, or if you have one at all unless you’ve applied to a corporation with an aggressive hiring scheme that requires academic prowess.
Some examples of academic items and qualifications:
St Christopher’s High School, Huddersfield, 2012-2014
- GCSE A* English, Maths, Further Maths, French
London Design and Engineering University Technical College, 2017 -– 2019
- A Level Mathematics (A), Physics (A)
- BTEC Creative Computing (Merit)
BSc Hons Computing (2:1) – Middlesex University, graduated 2021
- Wrote a distributed door-lock management system in C# as a final-year project
- Microsoft Certification Exam 483 – Programming in C# (August 2021)
This is where you should write things about yourself whether it is about what kind of books you like to read, your hobbies, sports you are involved in, places around the world that you love, your pets, and all that good stuff. It is not supposed to be an essay, and it is going to be more casual than a dating profile.
I am a huge fan of 5-a-side football and play once a week. I also enjoy cooking, and indoor climbing and I read a lot (mostly sci-fi). After visiting Italy, I fell in love with the place and am planning to go backpacking there in a few years. To help prepare for this I am studying Italian in evening classes and using Duolingo with a couple of friends.
Resist the urge to put boxes around everything! Unless you are a final year or post-graduate graphic design student this will end up looking A) cramped and B) more like a form, which can play tricks on the eyes. The presence of table cells in the document also makes it a nightmare to edit or maintain, especially if it gets translated in between e.g., Microsoft Word and Google Docs (as it invariably will). Keeping the structure simple is a huge help in maintaining its integrity when it gets translated like that.
As far as fonts are concerned, try not to use multiple different fonts within the document – find a simple one that you like. You can go classic (i.e., serif) or modern (sans serif), with the bias towards a modern font since you want to keep things clear and regular. Arial is and always has been terrible, but it is noticeably clear. It pays not to cause someone too much visual readjustment when they could be reviewing an armful of CVs.
If they are not immediately comfortable reading something then that would, in some small way, count against you. Avoid mono-spaced fonts and Lucida in its entirety, since it will feel like they are reading a Linux console.
Quick list: Arial, Roboto, Verdana, and good old Times New Roman.
Use Bold/strong emphasis for certain fields – e.g., job titles and course titles. This has the effect of visually implying structure. Avoid using colour, if possible.; If it gets printed then it will be in greyscale and it’ll be easier than hitting any problems with colour blindness. Say what you need to and emphasise using Bold and Italic if necessary.
This could be the most important document that you have ever written – the hook which gets you that first break, the evolving journal of your career as it starts. You should spend time distilling it down to be the best and strongest it can be. Writing it well and then being able to present it clearly will give potential employers a much easier route to getting you in for an interview.
Ensure that you have used both a spell-checker and grammar-checker on the text as mistakes will stick in the mind of a reviewer. You should allow other people to proofread it for you and to read it back to you so you know how it sounds as well as how it reads – fresh eyes on the text can notice things that you will not have noticed.
Do not let recruiters rewrite your CV! I have seen this happen and it is rarely if at all helpful. If you are concerned, then consider sending it to a recruiter as a PDF which is much more effort for someone to modify.
Be prepared to accept criticism about your CV which you may receive during the interview process.
And finally – do not give up!