The Do’s and Don’ts of CV writing

Did you know that a significant number of CVs are rejected after only 6 seconds? When your CV is in front of a person in charge of employment, it usually takes between 10 and 30 seconds to create an impression. While many underestimate its importance, having a fine CV will increase your chances of getting an interview invitation and eventually a job offer.

Photo by Markus Winkler

First impression

You how they say that the first impression is always (the most) important? Well, your CV is the first phase of your presentation to a potential future employer, so it better be a good one. The way it’s composed will say certain things about you. It probably won’t be a deal-breaker for the job (if we exclude some extreme cases🙂), but it can influence the employer’s decision to invite you for an interview. It can also create an inaccurate picture of you before the interview if it has not been correctly worded.

Keep it simple

Long gone are times of overly decorated and complicated CVs, with too many colors and weird fonts. (Not sure if they were interesting to anybody, but there have been plenty of them back then). The most effective ones today are simple, black on white documents filled up with information about you on a maximum of 2 pages. Candidates often write them from scratch, using just a few different fonts to distinguish sections and highlight the details. The purpose of CV is not its magnificent appearance but the content and clarity of the information you provide to the person in charge of the employment.

A CV should be set out in a way that makes it easy to read and engage with, even if it contains a lot of information. Avoid adding less important things that will distract the recruiter or interviewer from the relevant content you think will interest them. List and highlight things that are specified as required in the job description and you are good at, citing the achievements you had doing the same or similar things.

If you have difficulty creating a fine CV from scratch, there are many online tools that offer well-set-out, predefined CV templates with optimized fonts and spacing that ensure better readability. Be careful though. Although there are plenty of them available, what you need is just a basic form to help you to structure your information, not an extravagant template with bright text colors. Pick one with an understated, professional appearance.

Tell your story

Certain things should be included in your CV, without which it will be incomplete, increasing your chance of rejection. Arrange the information according to the selected CV template.

  • Personal information

Most candidates add basic personal information like first and last names, but for some reason, they omit things like contact information (or they just put an e-mail address), the city they currently live in, and date of birth. Some people are reluctant to include their date of birth but it will help the interviewers to have a better picture of you and your experience. If you have any doubts that you could be discriminated against for the position based on your age, feel free not to include this information in your CV.

If you have a personal website or profile on a platform where you have your work displayed, you should list it together with the personal data, or inside specialized Social links section if your CV template has one.

  • Current occupation and specialty

In this part, you should emphasize the things you are an expert in that could be of use in the job you are applying for. Mention where you work and what your role includes. Try to cover as many things from the job ad as possible. If you know some of the company values, tell if you nurture it, too, it will suggest that you are a good fit for the company.

  • Education

For most job applications education is an important factor, so the recruiter and interviewer will want to check yours. Put your formal education (sorted by latest on the top) and significant courses and certifications. Again, these courses and certifications should emphasize your ability to contribute to the job you are applying for. Otherwise, move them to a section entitled Other Significant Achievements near the end.

  • Past employment experience

Make a list of your past experience with a short description of your position. If possible, enrich it with some specific accomplishments so it will have a stronger impact on the reader and it will be easier for her/him to remember you since most of the candidates don’t do this. Don’t include the projects that you weren’t working on unless you played a significant role in them. If you are applying for your first job or changing industries, instead of a Past Experience section you can create a Past Projects section where you can mention projects you have done at school or in your free time. It is desirable that these projects can be viewed online.

  • Other significant achievements

There are probably some things you are also good at or that can show how fast a learner you are that aren’t directly connected to the job you are applying for. In this section, you can mention those achievements, courses, and certifications.

  • Other occupations and hobbies

To complete the picture of yourself, include some general hobbies and occupations you enjoy in your free time. Perhaps you love reading, you compose music, you cook, etc. The same as for inappropriate e-mail addresses in the Personal Information section, pay attention not to share too many details or to mention hobbies that may seem weird to an employer, for example, hunting bears or something like that!

  • References

As for the other sections, include only relevant references such as one from your previous employer or a professor at the university you attended.

  • Cover letter

While it is not a part of the CV, cover letter should be included with the job application. Usually, it is a simple e-mail where you state your interest in the job, your appreciation of the company and its products (if you don’t know what the company does do some research). Briefly state your past experience and how you would contribute to the company from the position you applied for.

Avoid the pitfalls

Many candidates are rejected in the early phase of the hiring process due to a poorly organized CV. Pay attention to small details like spelling and grammar mistakes and incorrect or bad formatting.

Be careful with picking the right e-mail address to include in your CV as having an inappropriate one could give the wrong impression. The same goes for your picture if you decide to put it in the resume. It should be a professional-looking head and shoulders photo with a neutral background.

As already mentioned, you should avoid putting in things that don’t add significant value. For example, adding Udemy courses you have completed is not necessary, but mentioning that you are a Microsoft MVP or Google Developer Expert is important. The point is to include certifications that aren’t easy to achieve.

Another potentially dangerous thing people do is to put things they don’t know much about into their CV just to make it look better and richer. Later, when the interviewer asks them something about it, it creates an awkward situation that produces a negative effect because they have misrepresented themselves. Include only things you are familiar with and would be confident if questioned about.

You can create a special section for things you’ve learned but you’re not that good at towards the end. Here, put things like projects done by experimenting in your free time, in high school or bootcamps attended a few years ago in a separate section to tell the interviewer that it is something you have done but they were some time ago and you maybe aren’t familiar with all details now.

Validate

We can be 100% sure that something is a great success and still be wrong. We need another pair of eyes to validate our work. If possible, ask a friend or a colleague with experience in hiring or interviewing to evaluate your CV and give you honest feedback, so you can improve it before sending the job application.

Update regularly

Most job ads are unique, requiring specific things and skills relevant to the position and company. If you want to get a chance for an interview, you need to prepare your CV particularly for the position you apply for, for the company you want to work for. This means you will have to adapt your CV when applying for different jobs, stating and emphasizing things that matter for the job you apply for.

Takeaways

There are many things in favor of why you should invest your time in preparing CV, some of them mentioned at the beginning of the post. You can start writing it from scratch or find a well-structured CV template and fill the information in prepared sections. Remember to keep it simple and easy to read, even if you have a lot of information to share. Do research on what specific information should be included based on your job specifics, and on which parts you should pay attention to. Update your CV regularly when applying for another job, prepare it for that specific position, show how you are capable of doing what that company needs.

Let your CV be a story you will use to introduce yourself in the best light. Good luck!

Senior Software Engineer and Writing Enthusiast.