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How to write a CV for jobs in tech

learning on the job, retraining, woman on computer

By Rhona Kennedy

I’m a Technology Recruiter with over six years’ experience – I look at dozens of CVs each day (I dread to think how many CVs I’ve cast by beady eyes over in my career!) and I talk to the people doing the hiring every day about what they need/like/hate to see in a CV.

I know that CV-writing is a) daunting and b) very important to get right because there’s a lot riding on it.

After years of pestering my clients for what they see when they look at a CV, here are some of my top take-home tips.

Start with the good stuff

There’s an oft-quoted statistic that the person reviewing your CV spends only 7-10 seconds looking at it before making up their mind.  With this in mind, a “skills matrix” or easy to read summary of the technology and tools you’re comfortable with is a good place to start. Avoid dumping on loads of tools you’ve only touched or read about or haven’t used since University – stick to things you’re actually capable of working with.

Your CV is a marketing document. Its purpose is to sell you enough to secure an interview. It may not come easily to you to big yourself up – but you need to do it. Asking friends/colleagues for help with words/phrases that describe you might help with the cringe factor.

Also make sure your vital information is front and centre and easy for the reviewer to access.

How long is too long?

Be concise. Choose your words wisely. Write in a succinct manner – and then take more out. Like, Coco Chanel said, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.”

However, if your CV is longer than two pages, don’t stress – especially if you’re a seasoned professional with many years of wisdom/experience. As long as it’s all relevant stuff, then it deserves to be there. If you’re really struggling to condense your CV, bullet points might help. Bullet points are also easier for the human eye to digest than large walls of text. Helpful when you consider the point about 7-10 seconds, above.

Get your CV past the robots!

Assuming you’re applying for a job in 2019 and not relying on snail mail, the first person to read your CV will, most likely, be a robot, or at least a piece of parsing software. It is increasingly common for technology companies and Recruiters alike to use an Applicant Tracking System or ATS. Here are some tips to get your CV past the robots:

  • Don’t have critical information (contact details, name, location/postcode) in headers/footers – the software often doesn’t “read” these. In fact, skip headers/footers altogether.
  • Keep formatting simple – avoid unnecessary tables/images which will inevitably get reformatted in a less-than-pretty way.
  • Word documents are generally handled better than PDFs.

Some CV basics

Some of this advice might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at how often these points can be neglected!

  • Please proofread your CV – if spelling and grammar are not your forte, rope in a pal (or a friendly Recruiter!) to look it over.
  • KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid. Keep your formatting simple; stay away from headers/footers, text boxes/columns and fancy graphics/images.
  • Choose an appropriate font (and size and colour) and keep it consistent throughout. Remember the “don’t use Comic Sans – we are a Fortune 500 company, not a lemonade stand” meme? Yeah… don’t be that guy.
  • Don’t get too smart – your CV is a video game? Cool… but how do I contact you? How do I share with my client?
  • Location (including postcode) is essential – it’s how Recruiters and prospective employers find you.
  • Weird one: be sure to use a portrait orientation, not landscape.
  • In the UK, it is not a requirement to have your photo on your CV, and many managers I’ve spoke to really dislike this practice.
  • Unless your hobbies are really interesting, I’d skip it – we’ve all read Harry Potter and we all say we go to the gym…
  • Spell check again, just to be sure!
  • Finally, if you’re ever in doubt, let us help you! We look at dozens (hundreds?) of CVs every day and we’re here to help! Rope in a “professional CV reviewer” or Recruiter, as we’re more commonly known. Or have a friend who works in your field review your CV.

About the author

Rhona Kennedy is a Principal Consultant at IT Recruiter Consultancy Cathcart Associates; for the last six years she has been recruiting Software Developers across Scotland for some of the country’s most innovative and exciting organisations. Rhona also volunteers with Girl Geek Scotland and is a passionate advocate for women in STEM and loves working with and supporting female Developers at all stages of their careers. In her day job, she leads a team of Recruiters and is responsible for motivating the team, setting targets and is heavily involved in the hiring and training of new recruits.

CV writing

Talent Tips: interviewing & CV writing techniques for women working in tech

Article by Kate Thrumble, Director of Talent, EMEA at R/GA

CV writingThe onset of Covid-19 has fundamentally and irrevocably changed the way we work. And it’s yet to be seen how it affects the way we hire.

With in-person interviews becoming logistically challenging, it’s more important now than ever to make an impression during your initial contact with a new company: the CV, and that first interview. R/GA London’s Director of Talent, Kate Thrumble, has dedicated her work to helping women overcome barriers to career progression, both internally and externally, and here shares her advice for how to plan for success...

Ultimately, there are two key things to remember. With the CV (which is ultimately the paper version of you) and the initial interview (the 4D version of you), you need to:

  1. Step into the role you want, not the one you have, and
  2. Learn to co-drive. An interview is a two way thing.

Step into who you are

Don’t minimise yourself or carry previous workplace baggage. Leave that at the door or preferably in the rubbish bin on the way in. Women, more than men, fall into the trap of using minimising words such as ‘maybe, possibly, might, just’. Don’t sabotage yourself. Think about your language and try out phrases like “I’m confident/I’m convinced/I strongly believe”.

The same goes for your CV: be punchy and to the point. Think about the role you are going for and whether your CV matches that clearly. The role needs management experience which you don’t have? Pull on every aspect of your role that reflects this, even if you aren’t a manager (yet). Use mentoring, proactive sessions to help more junior talent or buddy systems to illustrate how you can transfer your skills. This might mean having a number of CVs so the most appropriate one is sent out.

Keep it tidy

With your CV, be smart about the space being used. Use the header for your name and contact details so they are easy to find at a glance. Don’t leave in the paragraph you wrote about being a keen diver if actually you haven’t been diving in 10 years!

For your interview, think of 3-5 examples where you have really done a good job. You’ll find that you can use them as examples to answer almost all interview questions. Think about the structure of your answers. It’s so easy to waffle - try the Situation, Task, Action, Result model (or STAR for ease). Think of what the situation was to give the context, what were you being asked to do, what was the action and then what happened in the end.

Silence your inner critic 

Those voices inside saying you aren’t senior enough? You aren’t cool enough for this brand? You are too old? Too young? Too female?! STOP.

If the interviewee asks you a question which triggers any of your insecurities then take a step back and think about what you would logically do. Act as if you are giving a friend advice. For example, if your hang up is that you’re too young and you get asked about something you don’t have experience in, take a step back and think about how you would logically respond in that situation, and try to weave in aspects of your experience as evidence to support your response.

To make sure you leave the interview knowing that you got what you need and gave it your best shot, be brave and ask: “Have you got any reservations about me that we can use the remaining time to address?”. A question like this allows you to cover off anything that might have been missed, and can help to quieten that inevitable post interview noise in your mind: “I wish I hadn’t said that, why didn’t I talk about this?”

Be authentic

Ask the questions you want to ask, not the ones you should ask. If you don’t actually care why the interviewee loves working there then don’t ask the question. Use the time as you want to — you will find you get a lot more out of it.

Take the driving seat. Jump in with questions — a two way dialogue can make the whole thing feel a lot more relaxed. Remember an interview is a two way thing, often people forget this. Just as going on a date isn’t solely about you getting the person to like you, you have to like them too!

Final thought

The last tip, although it sounds corny and cheesy I promise it helps - write on a piece of paper ‘You’ve got this’. Put it somewhere you can easily touch during the interview, like your pocket. If you are having one of those panic moments during the interview, touch it or just remind yourself it’s there and then think how proud 12 year old you would be right now - look how far you have come.

Kate ThrumbleAbout the author

As R/GA London’s Director of Talent, Kate is responsible for developing, implementing, and leading the people strategy for the office. As a member of the executive team, Kate is also responsible for the talent planning and retention efforts across R/GA’s EMEA region.

An experienced human resources professional with over 13 years’ experience spanning five industries, Kate joined R/GA from Momentum UK, where she previously headed up the Talent team and was responsible for the full employee life cycle from attraction, retention and exit. Kate was also a board member at Momentum. Throughout her time at Momentum, Kate partnered on a number of global projects leading to greater cohesion and development of standards across many of the different in terms of its people practices. Prior to joining Momentum, Kate worked in-house at Burberry and Hearst Magazines. A well-respected thought leader in the industry, Kate has collaborated with industry organisations such as Creative Equals over the years, as well as being a contributor to industry publications such as Campaign Magazine and The Drum.

Kate holds an MA in Human Resource Management from The University of Westminster and is a certified predictive index analyst.

If you are a job seeker or someone looking to boost their career, then WeAreTechWomen has thousands of free career-related articles. From interview tips, CV advice to training and working from home, you can find all our career advice articles here


Being a mum and returning to work

desk-with-laptopArticle by Steph Ashby, Sales Manager within the Public Sector for UiPath, the market leader in robotic process automation (RPA)

I love my kids and they were the most beautiful babies in the world, ever, - fact- but I definitely would have been stark raving mad if I’d stayed at home with them, so getting back to work was a priority.

It was hard.  I went through the whole gamut of buying guilt presents for my first born in my lunch hour, trying desperately to reconcile getting that bid out the door with getting home for bath time, heart aching for them when away for work. The fact is you just can’t do it all.

I remember waking up one day, my tiny daughter vomiting and unable to go to childcare or a friend’s house, my boyfriend already at work, no family locally and me with a full diary including a meeting with half the board.  Crisis. Stress. Cue wonderful Mother in law driving 50 miles to take care of the sick baby. I virtually threw the ill baby at her and ran out the door, ran to the station, made it to the meeting 10 minutes late. I slid guiltily into my seat (the only woman, and the only one late, the only one sweating profusely) as my lovely colleague surreptitiously handed me pen and paper. ‘ what did I miss gentlemen?’. Honestly if they knew what it had taken to get there they would have made me a cup of tea (or a large gin), awarded me a day off, and pinned a ‘dedicated to the cause’ medal to my breast.  But no, they just noticed that I was a bit late. And they probably didn’t care. And several years on I still remember it, but they won’t.

Career Development

  • Say ‘yes’ to things.  Experimenting may lead you to find something that you love and are good at, that you may initially think isn’t suited to you.  Whatever the outcome you will learn from it. For me changing direction to be a programmer and working in IT (way back in ancient times before the internet was invented) was a huge departure and everyone thought I’d fail as I was rubbish at maths (I thought I might fail too, but actually ended up a fully-fledged tech geek).  Here I am 30 years later proving them all wrong .  But don’t be afraid to change direction – there are always options and new paths – you just need to look for them.
  • Ask! Women can be reticent about asking to take on new roles and responsibilities, or to be considered for promotions. We assume that everyone can see how good and efficient we are. News is, they often can’t , or don’t notice because they are too busy dealing with their own stuff – or listening to the people who are telling them how wonderful they are at their job. How many times have you seen a less qualified but more vocal person get the promotion?  My move into sales from a long career in delivery roles came about by me asking a board member to sponsor me.  He did and even arranged for a coach to help me transition. My coach became a life-long friend and supported me to move successfully into the ‘dark side’ of sales (as delivery people call it!).
  • Be ‘good enough’, not perfect We often wait until we have the ‘full’ set of skills before taking the leap to the next level.  Sometimes 70-80% is good enough.   Training, mentoring and coaching are all there to help you add to your skills and grow into a role.  Use those resources to their full extent.
  • Be brave – you are better than you think.  Put yourself out there. If you haven’t read ‘ Feel the fear and do it anyway’ by Susan Jeffers, please do. It will honestly change you for the better.
  • Be nice – this is a biggie.  Be the person you’d want to work with.   There’s a fallacy perpetuated that senior women need to be ‘queen bees’ and that they squash the ambitions of younger women.  Don’t be that woman.  Be the one who aims to help that clever, amazing grad to be your boss one day.  Being nice makes work so much nicer, and if you help people they help you back – often when you need it most.  My current team is my favourite team ever. We have fun, work hard, challenge each other, drink wine together and collaborate - everyone wins and we have a ball whilst working in what is a pretty pressurised sales business.

Interview tips

  • Prepare – an obvious one, but do it.
  • Be yourself – If they don’t like the real you then the job wasn’t for you anyway
  • Don’t assume  - it’s a bit like an exam when you were at school – don’t assume that they know your skills and expertise – show them. For example ‘how would you grow a new sales territory?’ the answer is not ‘Marketing’. It’s your whole potted strategy for identifying the market, segmenting it, finding spend, current suppliers/competitor analysis, finding partners etc etc….’ Be succinct but flesh out your answers. You’d be amazed at how you can miss ‘stating the bleeding obvious’ and how important it is for the interviewer to see your knowledge and ideas.
  • If you don’t understand, or are totally baffled, I was given this as a brilliant tactic (especially for acronyms and tech stuff that might bamboozle you): The question  ‘how would you approach BlockChain ?’ you answer ‘mmm, what do you mean by Blockchain?’ often you’ll find out that a) they haven’t a clue either and that line of enquiry fizzles quickly, or b) they tell you what they mean and give you the answer.

CV Writing

  • Be brief – no more than 1-2 sides of A4. No flowery language. Use a thesaurus if you need to but edit, edit, edit!
  • Bespoke it – a CV is a sales tool. Make sure that your introduction and overview meets the needs of the role spec and the corporate tone of the organisation.  You will fail in the first 2 seconds otherwise.
  • Facts and figures – show off!  Values, % improvements , team sizes achievements.
  • Include quotes from people who think you are fabulous ‘ xxx was the best project manager I’ve ever worked with’.  Collect a store of these over the years and use them.  A CV is no place for modesty.
  • Be interesting – a simple hook of a conversation starter can be a real godsend for the poor interviewers who may be seeing countless ‘drones’ before they get to you!

About the author

Steph is a diversity role model who has made waves in the IT industry. She started off as a programmer – during a time when the industry was made up of predominantly men – and has followed a meteoric career trajectory, overcoming several hurdles along the way. Steph has survived workplace bullying, two cases of sexual harassment, and being smashed against the glass ceiling. These setbacks simply made her more determined than ever to succeed, and to help other women around her do the same. During her career, she’s coached, mentored and supported the people around her that aren’t white middle-aged men.

Outside of work, Steph has appeared in a BBC programme called ‘Back in Time for the Weekend’ about leisure, and how technology has changed the way we live and enjoy our spare time.