Top Tips For Your Curriculum Vitae

What follows is my personal view of hiring Testers with some hints and tips on how to put forward an excellent CV to help get the job you want. The views and opinions will be different to other Hiring Managers, but I hope that some of the advice may help you understand a little more about how to put together a strong CV.

I’ve been hiring Testers for a number of years now and I’ve not exactly been floored with a significant number of candidates I’ve seen. There have been some great Testers in the pool who I promptly hired, some great Testers who weren’t suitable for the context I work in, but overall the quality has been fairly low.

I haven’t interviewed each and every candidate I received an application from so I could have missed out on hidden ‘gems’. With hundreds of CVs I do the typical filtering process of rejecting a number of people based purely on what their CV and online presence tells me. What it tells me could of course be wrong. Which prompted me to write this article.

I believe in the capacity of all people to achieve great things. Yet I also know that some of these great things may happen in an environment different to the one I work in. There is a candidate for each and every organization. An ideal candidate maybe? Yet, if this ideal candidate can’t articulate their skills and experience on their CV, or can’t get their experience in front of a recruiter or Hiring Manager then they’ll potentially remain elusive.

In today’s social world it’s becoming increasingly important to have a solid online presence too. I know of many recruiters who don’t recruit outside of LinkedIn for example.

So you need to make your skills stand out. When I say stand out, I don’t mean using pink paper for your CV. You need to make your CV the greatest advert of your skills. You need an online presence that helps to convey your message and add kudos to you as a candidate.

You need a Hiring Manager to be giddy with excitement at the prospect of the ideal candidate. Someone different to the masses; perfect for that Hiring Manager’s environment.

What follows are some ideas from my perspective as a Hiring Manager. Obviously, what I look for in a candidate will be different to other hirers, but hopefully the following points may help to give you that edge, encourage to make some changes to your CV or to start thinking about how you convey your skills and experience in your application.

A Disclaimer

This article will probably be completely irrelevant for those testers who are applying for a “resource” Testing role. What I mean by this is that the role you are applying for involves you ticking boxes and following scripts, and in essence, could be done by anyone.

The role is just another role. In these roles you will be treated as a resource (like a projector, or laptop) and standing out may actually go against you. Unfortunately, this type of role is very common, but we are seeing a tide of change.

The Basics

As with all communication, I would advise that you take the time to analyse the Audience and the Purpose. It should in theory be fairly straightforward to define the Audience and Purpose when thinking about your CV and online presence.

Audience

  • Recruitment Consultant?
  • Hiring Manager?
  • Both?
  • Who are they?
  • What sort of business do they work in (straight laced, formal, chilled, startup, scripted, fun, modern)?
  • How is their advert written (formal, brief, in-depth, informal, fun, old fashioned, boring)?

Purpose

  • To intrigue?
  • To persuade?
  • To inform?
  • To convince?
  • To impress?

Once you have defined your Audience and Purpose you can then start to tailor your application, CV and online presence to fit these two elements. For example, if it’s a formal job then a casual and fun CV won’t cut it.

Look at what is expected of you in the role and tailor your application to suit.

A Quick Overview of What I Think Makes a Great CV

  • A document of no more than 2 pages. Website CVs are ok, but they are often not printable and many hiring processes require a submitted document
  • An advert of your skills, experience and mindset on Testing which will hopefully convince me that I really want to talk with you in person
  • A short introduction to your previous career history
  • A short summary of your main skills
  • A short summary of what really makes you tick
  • A low touch document to let me find out more about you (i.e., I don’t want to struggle with formats, printing or language)

Most Hiring Managers want to read a simple, clean and superbly articulated CV that makes them keen to talk with you further.

I don’t believe it should be a full-blown document that details everything you’ve ever done. If I want that level of detail, I will invite you to an interview or check out your LinkedIn profile (or other social presence).

It should provide a taste of what you are capable of, with just enough information to give me a good picture of you, your skills and your outlook towards Testing.

If I’m bored when I’m reading the CV, then you’ve conveyed a message to me about you; rightly or wrongly. Your CV should match your personality and the audience’s expectations.

So How Can You Make Your CV Stand Out?

Here are some top hints and tips on how to make your CV “stand out”.

Make it Match the Job Description

Everyone should have a stock CV that covers the basics.

This “Stock CV” should never be sent for any role you apply for.
A “Stock CV” sent as an application is easily detectable and suggests the person is just after a job. Any job.

The “Stock CV” should be the starting template for each new job application; the building blocks that enable you to keep your core message consistent.

When recruiting, I look for people who want to work with me and crucially, work for the company I work for. This is very important to many companies who look for someone who will fit in, not just fit the skills set.

There is a reasonably healthy market for people who just want a job.

When I say make the CV match the job, I don’t mean lie.

You need to think about the skills you have that meet the requirements described in the job role. It’s a simple case of focusing on the skills that the Hiring Manager is looking for. It’s not about lying or exaggerating, although an amount of “gloss” is to be expected. If you don’t have the skills and really want the job then don’t lie; instead spend your spare time developing the skills you need.
For example, if the role is asking for good SQL scripting skills, then focus on your experience with writing SQL scripts.
For example, don’t describe in great depth how you configured a Linux Server if the role is asking for Microsoft Windows based skills only.

 

Writing a winning CV can be a daunting and difficult challenge

Writing a winning CV can be a daunting and difficult challenge

 

Don’t Just List Buzzwords

A giant list of Buzzwords is pointless for most Hiring Managers without some context. I could list a giant number of technologies and platforms and environments I’ve worked on, but the truth is I’m more comfortable in some than others. I have better skills in some than others. And I prefer working with some than others.
When you do list buzzwords, make sure they are relevant to the job role and give a little extra context about when you used these skills, how you learned these skills and any challenges you overcame.

Check Your Spelling

A spell check takes a few seconds to run but is well worth the effort as spelling mistakes on a Tester’s CV gives a really bad impression.

Sure, there may be typos that are spelt correctly but are the wrong word. “There” and “Their” come to mind, but try to weed these out too, although I suspect these would be more tolerable than spelling mistakes.

If you are applying in a language that is not your native tongue then reach out to the community and see if anyone is available to help you fine-tune the language or help you to review the application. There are always people willing to help you out.

Don’t Include a Certification Logo

I can understand why some people may want to include their favourite Certifier’s logo on their CV when applying for a “Resource Role”, but this is a real turn off for me. I have no issue with people taking the certification courses but it is just a short course with a certificate, not a branding for life.

Certificates will come and go. They are hotly debated and passionately discussed. They are not a sign of excellence. So I would advise not including the logo on your CV.

The list of certifications belongs in the career development / training / education section.

Why include a logo of your certification board and not one of your University or School or Gym Club or favourite Operating System?

Create and Nurture an Online Presence

I would expect every CV in today’s market to include a section listing your online presence.

At a very basic level, this should be a LinkedIn account. At a more advanced level, it may include Twitter links, a blog or a website.

I’m not suggesting you MUST have an online presence, but I would expect any practicing Tester to have some form of online community involvement. Maybe you belong to the Software Testing Club or another online community, or you contribute to an Open Source project or do some voluntary testing for charitable/non-profit organisations? These all add a level of commitment, experience and enthusiasm that’s tough to get across in a CV.

It’s a definite plus to include these channels on your CV, and here are two good reasons why:

  • Recruiters are increasingly looking at LinkedIn profiles of candidates to garner more information before inviting for an interview or sending a CV to a client. (If you’re not LinkedIn, you’re increasingly Left Out …or something like that)
  • Interviews (even phone screens) are expensive and time consuming, which is why many people search for as much information beforehand as possible to aid in the decision making.

I like to think of your online presence as being an extension of yourself. It can provide Hirers with a great deal of information about what you think, what ideas interest you and what you do to keep your skills sharp.

I’ve always worked on the assumption that I would rather be open and honest about my online presence than let the Hiring Manager search for me and potentially find someone else; someone who may not be the greatest advert for me.

Saying that, it is also important to point out that a Hiring Manager would be negligent to hold the past against you for a current role. However, there are countless tales of people being fired because their management team found something offensive online that they wrote 10 years ago. It happens and it’s becoming increasingly problematic for generations growing up with the social web at an early age.

So be careful, but don’t be put off. An online presence really can make the difference to your application. A positive online presence will communicate much more than a CV alone could ever hope to.

Have a Section Outlining Your Past Work and Projects

A section containing all of your last work and projects is a good idea, but only if it’s summarised to highlight the key points. Many people will have too many roles to list on a CV so I’d suggest you summarise to make it relevant for the role.

You may wish to supplement it with a website that provides a full listing. I have no qualms about reading more on a web site. In fact, I’d be positively impressed.

The problem with including everything in great detail in your CV is that it could start to consume the whole CV. A large amount of this career history listing could be repetitive and may add little value.

I’m personally interested in what you are like now and how you have developed over the last few years. What you did 10 years ago has surely influenced who you are now, but do you currently hold the magic I’m looking for right now?

Don’t get too hung up with “years of experience”. It is better to have three amazingly diverse and creative years than ten years of the same year. Experience is hugely important, but so too is relevance to the role, to the culture and to the fast-moving industry.

Make Your CV Look Good and Print It Out

A massive list of bullet points is a big “no no”. It’s always good to add easy to read and descriptive titles to sections and bullet points are to be encouraged, but think about how easy the text is to read. Make it as simple and easy to read the highlights as possible.

In my experience, many people read documents by skimming the headings and then skimming the first few sentences within each heading before deciding to read the sections in full. Play to this technique by adding clear sections, clear titles and well written, but simple sentences.

I saw a Hiring Manager once do this skim review and create three piles of CVs. One pile was for YES to an interview. One was for NO to an interview. And the other was a MAYBE about whether or not to read it further. He would only return to this pile of MAYBEs if no one in the YES pile were good enough. A harsh approach, but when faced with 200+ applicants it’s a logical system to avoid wasting time.

So even if you have the skills, you still need to articulate them clearly and get yourself in the YES pile.

The clearest way to do that is by using a neat layout, short and simple sentences that are easy to read and as little jargon/technical language as possible. Or at least use this approach for the first few sentences, which will lead people in to the finer details if they are interested, which of course you want them to be.

Appreciate that your CV will be printed out, so check it looks good and is still readable when printed. Check your page margins too. It would create an awfully bad first impression if the Hiring Manager had to edit your CV just to get it to print properly.

Don’t Use Colour to Signify Anything

Not only is about one in twelve people colour blind, but also more often than not CVs are printed out in black and white. Any meanings you intended using colour could be lost, which could make your CV appear jumbled or confusing.

Watch Your Language

Most Hiring Managers (if they are looking to build a great team) will be looking at how well you will fit in with the team. A person fit is often more important than a skills fit. You may be awesome at Testing, but if no one likes you and you cause grief in the team then that’s a problem.

Watch your language in the CV. Study it. Re-read it. Put yourselves in the shoes of the Hiring Manager. Read about good language use on the web. Look for elements of language where you may appear selfish and not a team player. Or you may describe your skills in a way that shows a lack of confidence. You may come across as bullish or aloof or arrogant.
There are plenty of good books on language, writing and communication. “Drop The Pink Elephant” by Bill McFarlan is a good start [1].

Leave the Jargon Out of It

Unless you are applying for a role that asks for specific tools, try to keep your jargon use low.

For example, a well-known mainstream tool uses the term CR for defect (or issue, ticket, etc.), yet in some businesses a CR may refer to a live architecture change or requirements change or something altogether different.

I’m not advocating ISEB/ISTQB standardisation, as universal Testing terms are a myth. But if you must use tool talk, then it’s always best to explain what that term means and lay down the context so it makes sense to the reader.

For example:

“When raising a CR I always include a good title, main steps to recreate and version numbers”.
This is fine, but it would be much better as “When raising a CR (defects/bugs) I always include a good title, main steps to recreate and version numbers”

Using Jargon and/or language very specific to your environment can be confusing and misleading for the reader. Always consider whether your language would make sense to someone who didn’t work in the same environment.

However, I have made a massive assumption with this point.

I am assuming that every Tester knows there are different terms for the different elements of Testing. If you really don’t know or can’t think of a way to describe your element/idea, then a few minutes spent on a Testing forum should give you some idea about what terminology others use or how best to explain it.

A Sample CV

Here’s my opinion of what I feel would make a good CV in terms of sections and content, obviously the following would be useless if the content inside is not worthy.

Current Employment
Explain your role, responsibilities, challenges, learning, day-to-day activities, tools and techniques. Think about how you work as a team, how you push boundaries, how you help deliver great software.

About Me
Your address, telephone, contact details, blog/web/twitter information

Testing Information (or similar title)
Describe your outlook on testing, automation experience, testing experience, skills, etc. that are relevant to the role. How do you up-skill yourself? What communities are you involved in? Do you volunteer your spare time to test Open Source products? How do you address current Test problems like cross browser testing?

Education
Your education background. I find this section interesting because my job descriptions never include formal education backgrounds (school, college, university etc).

I’m more interested in someone with passion and enthusiasm and self-learning. Saying that, it’s a de-facto standard to include this section and some employers still cling to formal education as a filter technique.

Training
In this section, I would include all training completed including certifications. No logos though.
Date of Training | Training | Skills obtained

Tools and Applications
An opportunity to describe your skills and experience with tools and applications. For example, how competent you are with Selenium or Firebug.

Previous Employment
I would list each company with relevant dates, complete with a “one-liner” on what you did there, what skills you used and what you achieved.

References
Include suitable references here or state they will be available if successful for the role.

Conclusion

Your CV is often the first impression your possible future employer has of you and you have to make it count. However, no amount of prettifying a CV or using simple language will work if you have nothing of value to say.

If you do feel you have nothing to shout about and want to experience more of the software testing world, then hop on board to The Software Testing Club [2], join some Testers at the Weekend [3] or on a Weeknight [4], volunteer your time to Open Source or Non-Profit products, or simply start taking part in the big wide world of the Software Testing Community.

Oh yeah, and if you are looking for your next Testing role, then why not check out The Software Testing Club job board? [5]

Author Profile – Rob Lambert

Rob Lambert is The Creative Director of The Software Testing Club as well as the Test Manager at NewVoiceMedia where he’s helping to build an awesome team of Testing talent. He normally hangs around Twitter here @rob_lambert and can be found blogging at The Social Tester. [6]

[1] – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Drop-Pink-Elephant-Ways-Mean/dp/1841126373/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1318935946&sr=1-1
[2] – http://www.softwaretestingclub.com/
[3] – http://weekendtesting.com/
[4] – http://weekendtesting.com/archives/tag/weeknight-testing
[5] – http://jobs.softwaretestingclub.com/
[6] – http://www.thesocialtester.co.uk

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3 Responses to “Top Tips For Your Curriculum Vitae”

  1. Tim HallNovember 29, 2011 at 6:37 pm #

    What sort of things are you looking for in someone’s online presence?

    I know some people try to firewall their professional online presence from their non-work activities lest the “unprofessional” things appear on recruiter’s radar.

    I’ve been blogging for years, but my blog has always tended to focus on what I do outside of work. I have no idea how that looks in to potential hirers – I would hope that anybody who wouldn’t hire me on the basis of anything I’ve written online isn’t the sort of employer I would feel comfortable working for,

  2. Tim HallNovember 29, 2011 at 7:18 pm #

    And I need to change that Gravatar image to something more neutral.

  3. ElizaFJanuary 16, 2012 at 11:44 am #

    My short and simple advice is always to write the sort of CV that you would like to read if you were in the Hiring Managers place.

    That way, you are more likely to catch the eye of the type of person you want to work for and who wants to hire you.

    I do think (borne out by my experience last year) that good CVs are not getting in front of good employers except when the employers are employing directly or taking part in the testing community.

    Said before and I will say again, the recruitment process for testing and QA has to be changed so good employees get in front of good employers.