What makes a good software developer CV?

Writing CV is a bit of a game. You are trying to create a short piece of writing, focused on yourself, that will get you to the interview. Ideally, this short text will also help set you up for a successful interview and boost your chances of landing a job. I have screened hundreds of CVs over the past few years, here I want to share with you some advice on how to win the CV game.

What do you want to win with your CV?

As already mentioned, you can see preparing your CV as a game. As with any game, you can play it well, or you can play it badly. Let’s look at the objectives once again:

  • You want your CV to be read rather than simply discarded
  • You want to be selected for an interview thanks to your CV
  • You want the interview to go your way- you want to get the sort of questions and conversations which will show you in the best possible light
  • You want to get the job that you are going for (rather than an offer, but for a slightly different job)

From this point forward, I will look at different parts of a CV and identidy good and bad strategies.

The length…

How long would you want your CV to be? 1, 2 or maybe 8 pages?

Good Strategies

  • Keeping the CV short – 1-2 pages will maximise chances of someone actually making an effort to read it
  • Trying to make it shorter rather than add unnecessary length
  • Converting your CV to pdf to ensure that the layout stays unchanged
  • Puting some effort into getting a clean layout- you can fit quite a lot on 2 pages
  • Using a font that is easy to read (big enough)

Bad Strategies

  • Going significantly above 2 pages. It may be acceptable to have 3, maybe 4 pages, but you are entering dangerous territories here. There are people who straight up reject any CVs above 4 pages
  • Thinking that the length of the CV does not matter
  • Diluting your CV with less important/impressive things

An Introduction

Most CVs open with a few sentences about yourself, introducting who you are and why someone should hire you.

Good Strategies

  • Keeping the introduction specific to the role you are applying for. The more specific the better.
  • Writing in the first person- it often is more engaging.
  • Putting your biggest achievement/most impressive think about you here..

Bad Strategies

  • Putting cliches into an introducion. Everyone is a “team player”, everyone is “motivated” etc.
  • Writing it in a third person, in a very formal style. You can do it if you know exactly what you are doing, I would not advise it though.

List of Technical Skills

Most developers have list of technical skills- programming languages and frameworks that you are proficient with. This section could also go down very well, or end up a disaster. It often sets up large parts of the interview that follows.

Good Strategies

  • Knowing every technology that you list there pretty well
  • Keeping it focused on the tech that is relevant to the interview (perhaps putting these languages and frameworks at the front)
  • Organising it logically
  • If you decided to put technologies that you are learning (but are not fully proficient yet) making it clear.

Bad Strategies

  • Turning that section into a keyword bingo.
  • Listing every version of technology you ever worked with. Writing Java 5,6,7,8,9 or Oracle 9, 10, 11 does not look good, unless you can elaborate in depth on every specific version (and this is relevant)
  • Putting things like MS Office, Windows, Linux etc. You can do this if you have some exceptional skills (like Linux administration, or advanced MS Excel macros etc.)
  • Not knowing technology that you listed (lying). If you are caught it puts everything else on your CV in doubt. It is also unethical.

Education / Qualification

This is where you put your university, education, certification, boot camps etc.

Good Strategies

  • Keeping this list short and clear.
  • List the full name of your school and qualification.
  • Making the most relevant qualification stand out.

Bad Strategies

  • Adding useless information like the grades you got in your primary/secondary school.
  • Not listing the full name of your institution (even if it is international, or relatively unknown).
  • Attempting to lie, make things unclear.
  • Listing certifications achieved many years ago in legacy technologies that you are not going to use.

Experience / List of Previous Roles

List of previous roles and experience. This is where many CVs go horribly wrong…

Good Strategies

  • Keeping the description focused on your role.
  • Listing your personal achievements and contributions.
  • Keeping the descriptions brief, or only including the title if this is not relevant to the job that you are applying for.
  • Tailoring the descriptions to the job that you are applying for.

Bad Strategies

  • Repeating all the technologies that you already listed previously.
  • Adding a long description of different companies businesses. Yes, we know that Goldman Sachs is an investment bank…
  • Adding half a page on 10 different roles resulting in 8 pages long CV.
  • Making all the descriptions so similar that the reader loses the will to read. If they are so similar, then your job title is probably enough.
  • Adding a list of things that you have “participated in”. This CV should focus on you.

Personal projects and interests

Many CVs can include personal projects, interests etc. This can be very helpful or backfire.

Good Strategies

  • Add your intererst and projects if they are relevant to the job. If you are working with Arduino, or creating Alexa skills in spare time- that’s great, add it here!
  • If you have achieved something impressive, but it is slightly unrelated to the job, you may include it as well, but don’t overdo it. If you have raised large amounts for charity, or participated in a sport at a national level- one line is probably enough.

Bad Strategies

  • Making this section very long. This is a CV, not your social media account.
  • Adding banal things like “watching TV” or “interested in technology”.
  • Putting this section at the start.

Being creative

Some CVs are little more creative than others. Creativity on your CV is something I would generally not advised for software developers. I don’t see how it can help you “win”, unless you feel that your CV would not be good enough on merit alone. Taking that into account, I advise as follows.

Good Strategies

  • Limiting creativity if you have good experience and are qualified for the job
  • Focusing your creativity on things like providing good descriptions of your roles or a beautifully written introduction
  • If your CV may be lacking, or you are from a less common background (self-learned for example, or changing professions) you may use creativity to stand out and win that interview invitation!

Bad Strategies

  • Making a very different CV when there is no need for it.
  • Missing important information from your CV due to creativity.

Summary

There are different opinions on what makes a good CV. Different companies may have different cultures, so it is difficult to go with one-size-fits-all advice for CV writing. What I advise you is to take these strategies as a baseline, do some research on the places that you are applying for and develop them even further. Your battle for your dream job starts with your CV!

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