Writing a Great CV for Your First Technical Role — Part 1

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For a few years now, I have been giving feedback on CVs for many people who are seeking their first position in the industry. Many of them are students or graduates with no prior experience, or have experience they gained in student positions or side projects.

Having looked at many CVs before and after those feedbacks, and noticing in my workplace which types of candidates our team leaders tend to get back to — I would like to share some practical tips I found to be useful. With the right guidance, your skills and experience can stand out. All you need to know is what to emphasize, and how.

Great CV — the Importance & Challenge

Your CV is your first ticket to an interview, and therefore to your next job. Writing a good CV is not always easy, and with no prior experience in the industry — many times there’s a lack of relevant perspective regarding what’s more and less important to write or emphasize, and how to format the file so it looks professional.
Moreover, CVs are usually briefly skimmed by your potential interviewers, so you have a short period of time to convince them you are potentially a good fit for the role.
Therefore, understanding how to write a good CV is essential.

This series of articles will break down the CV sections, and cover each of them. As we discuss those sections, we’ll see what to include and exclude, go over good and bad examples and analyze them. By the end of the series, you shall be a CV ninja, and make your experience and skills stand out in the most professional manner.

So, let’s break it down

File Name and Document Title

These are the first things to be noticed by the person who reviews your CV. Make sure to write them professionally.

Common issues I have seen in those sections:

File name

  • Not containing the candidate’s name, or the file’s “purpose” — which is CV / resume. The “who” and “what” should be easily understood from the file’s name
  • Containing version’s number, such as V2 / final, or any other irrelevant words and numbers. This makes the file look less professional

Document Title

  • Not containing the candidate’s name. The candidate’s name should immediately stand out to the reader.

Good examples for file names and document titles are:

  • CV — Lily Johnson
  • Lily Johnson — Resume
  • CV — Lily Johnson — Software Developer

Bad examples for file names and document titles are:

  • final v2
  • CV 2020
  • Resume 2021

The commonly asked question about which file type to choose, PDF or DOCX, will be discussed in the third article of this series.

Contact Details and Personal Details

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What to Include? Phone, Mail and Important Links

Your phone number, email address, and links to your professional profile should be included in your CV. Also, make sure there are no typos 🙂

Additional notes to keep in mind:

  • Attach links to your professional profiles such as LinkedIn and GitHub.
    The links should be clickable, which can be done by marking them as hyperlinks.
  • Your profiles should look professional. When you attach links to LinkedIn and GitHub, you expect the interviewers to visit those pages and assess you by them. Here are some references explaining how to do that:
    Linkedin Profile Tips — The Muse
    7 Tips to Improve Your GitHub — PitchMe
    These are two references I liked, but I invite you to investigate this topic further yourselves.
  • Are you searching for your next position abroad / internationally? Add your country code to the phone number

What to Omit

There are two types of details we want to exclude from the CV:

  • Irrelevant details — no added value to the application
  • Sources of biases — might decrease the chance the interviewer will get back to you

Irrelevant Details — Example

  • Having a driver’s license. As we are discussing applications to technical high-tech roles — this is an irrelevant detail

Sources of Biases — Examples

  • Marital status and number of kids
  • Birthdate / age
  • Address — partial or full address is not relevant. If you are looking for positions in a specific region — you can mention it in the intro paragraph, of which we will discuss in the next section.
  • Gender
  • Profile picture. I will discuss this topic further in part 3 of this series

Biases are there, and even interviewers that are highly sensitive to biases and try to avoid relying on them when making decisions — attest they unintentionally get caught in such biases every now and then. Write your CV in the most bias-neutral way, to enable your interviewer to assess you mostly by your skills and experience.

Intro Paragraph / Objective

picture by Peggy_Marco @ Pixabay

The purpose of this section is to promote the added value you bring to the role you are applying for and to clearly define what you are looking for.
The added value you bring would most often be your technical skills, experience, and maybe something that differentiates you from others.
Make sure to keep this paragraph concise and easy to read — up to 3–4 lines should be ideal.

Let’s look at a few good examples and bad examples for such intros, and then analyze them.

Good Examples

  1. Junior Software Developer, and third year B.Sc. Computer Science student in New York University, GPA 86. Experienced with Java and C++, familiar with Python and SQL. Looking for a student position in Manhattan, NY, or around.
  2. Industrial Engineering student, looking for a full-time entry level position as an Analyst, QA, NOC, or another technical field in East London. Experienced with analyzing data with SQL and have high attention to details.
  3. A Biologist shifting to the high-tech industry, looking for an entry-level position in Silicon Valley. Previously a laboratory researcher, experienced with analyzing data using R language. I am a meticulous and organized person, and love working with data.

Good Examples — Analysis

All candidates emphasized their technical skills that are relevant for the position they are applying for. Note that none of the candidates above has previous work experience, so when they write “experienced with” or “familiar with” — they refer to the experience they gained with academic and side projects, hackathons, and so on.

Also, all candidates explicitly mentioned what they are looking for — which type of role they are interested in, which regions of the country are relevant for them, and if they were looking for a student position — they mentioned it as well.

Most roles are full-time, so if you are looking for a part-time job — make sure to mention it explicitly.
Also, if you are a student but available for a full-time position — make sure to clearly state it as well.

Bad Examples

  1. I am a highly motivated person, always love learning new things, and expanding my horizons. Looking for my first opportunity in the industry
  2. Looking for a software developer position
  3. I am a B.Sc. Computer Science student, highly motivated, hard worker, with great interpersonal skills.
    My technological stack includes Python, Pandas library, Java, C++, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, SQL, and MongoDB. I am also familiar with Git, Jira, and Sumo Logic. Additionally, I devote my time to volunteering at an animal-care shelter, and participate in the university’s debate club. I am looking for my first opportunity in the high-tech industry, preferably in a position of 2–3 days a week.
  4. Not writing an intro paragraph at all

Bad Examples — Analysis

Example #1 analysis — the candidate focused on their motivation to learn and grow, but that’s it. The issue is that anyone can attest they are “great” — everyone is a fast learning, motivated, hungry to succeed person. But is that true? How can the recruiter tell if the candidate has what it takes to succeed in the position?

“Actions speak louder than words”. Are you indeed a motivated person? Engage in an open-source project to improve your technical skills and add them to your CV.

Are you a fast learner or a hard worker? Look for an excellence award you received somewhere you volunteered or worked at that you can mention in your CV, or any other achievement to serve as a signal for your recruiter.

Example #2 analysis — this candidate didn’t mention skills and experience that are relevant for their application.

Example #3 analysis — this example is too lengthy, and includes some irrelevant details, or ones that should be mentioned elsewhere. The extracurricular activities can be removed, the technical skills part could do without the “familiar with” sentence, the search after an “opportunity” could be replaced with a “position” or a “role”, and the personal attributes at the beginning may also be removed.

On the other hand, there is no mentioning of the roles the candidate is looking for, or the geographical area. If all entry-level roles are good — it’s cool. But better to mention that.

Example #4 analysis — not writing an intro at all is a missed opportunity.

The Secret Sauce of Great a CV — Plan & Work In Advance

As you probably noticed, all candidates in the good examples bring something to the table. They are either students, have previously participated in hackathons, and / or worked on side projects. This should be a given when you are applying to your first role with no prior work experience.

The competition is fierce, and while there are many open positions in multiple companies — there are also many candidates applying for those roles.

Working on a great CV starts long before you begin writing them. Plan in advance — work on side projects, participate in hackathons, work on meaningful academic programming projects and more, to make your CV stand out.

Technical Skills Section

Some of you have probably gained some experience in a variety of technologies before deciding to apply for your first position. Since we aim to keep the intro paragraph readable and concise, we won’t necessarily mention 100% of those technical skills there. So, adding a short section that puts your relevant skills upfront could be useful.

Good Examples

  1. Python | Flask | Pandas | SQL | MongoDB | git | HTML | CSS
  2. Experienced with: HTML, CSS, JavaScript
    Familiar with: Java, C#, Matlab, SQL

Order of items — I suggest ordering the skills from most experienced to least experienced, and also give some weight to skills that are more relevant to the roles you are applying for.

Experienced With vs. Familiar With — How to Categorise?

Well, it’s not so easy to set the threshold here. For example, a person with no prior experience in the industry will probably add to the “experienced with” languages and technologies they have worked with on several projects. However, a person who has been working in the industry for a few years will set the skill that has been in use only in several projects under the “familiar with” category.

So I don’t have any formula to provide regarding this categorization, but I would say that as long as you feel comfortable to be assessed and examined on your proficiency level at a specific skill without having to practice it in advance, then it probably belongs to the “experienced with” section.

That’s It for Today. In the next parts of this series, we will dive into the rest of your resume. We will see how to present the academic and side projects you have been working on, what to write in the education section, whether or not to mention hobbies, how to make the general appearance of your CV seem welcoming to the reader and so much more. Hop on to article #2 in the series to read further.

I hope you found this article useful, and that you will make use of the next ones as well.

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