During my career I’ve been an engineer in a variety of teams and I’ve helped hire engineers at various levels as a technical assessor. I’ve spoken with a number of hiring leaders about what they look for in a CV and I’ve collated them here!

To get a job in the software engineering industry your CV needs:

  • To be between 1–2 A4 pages long
  • Your full Education and Employment history
  • To address every part of the job specification
  • Be in 12pt serif font, avoid using images, and preferably in black and white for printing
  • To include your hobbies to make you appear more human

This is what some hiring leaders genuinely believe…

“If I get a CV that’s longer than a page I just bin it”

  • A 1–2 page CV limit means that I have to stuff all the content in tightly, creating a wall of text. I also can’t easily differentiate different types of information.
  • Education is life-long, many of us won’t have done well in school, why does my grade E in GCSE drama need to be scrutinised? I’ve been coding in a multitude of languages for 10 years, why do you need to know I got a “D” in my computing A-level?
  • I worked in a large FinTech company, using Java/JavaScript/React/Angular/ Spring. Ok… but what did you do? If you built a poorly-designed monolith of an application using a WYSIWYG and it had to be replaced 1 year later that statement could still be true, but I might not want to hire you.
  • A CV should be a representation of you as a professional. If you pander to every specification then you have to create a new professional image for every role. Are you telling the recruiter the best things about you if you’re trying to prove you have experience with XML?
  • There are some BEAUTIFUL templates out there. There are some super basic ones too. The design, layout and style of your CV is a way to communicate your own personality. Why would you want it to be identical to 8 other candidates and boring to look at?
  • Does saying you like rock-climbing and watching Netflix make you a better person to hire? We’re all human, for now at least.

For reference my latest CV clocks in at 4.53 A4 pages. Some people will read that and wince. I assure you it’s fine.

The reason my CV is this long is because I put a good 20–30px around each block of text. I put in a few icons and images to make my point more visually. I also took out all the page breaks. My CV is a one-page PDF, easily viewed on a mobile or desktop, and 134.5cm in printed length. I used a few techniques to make the content more interesting:

  • I used different fonts and styles to convey different type of information (subtitles, metrics, quotes, anecdotes etc.)
  • I pulled out all the box-ticking and buzzwords out into a word cloud at the end of each section. So if a recruiter wanted to see if I used Kafka in my event-based application that I’m discussing they can see it below. I don’t have to list the 10 or more technologies or frameworks I used in my main message.
  • I use colour and shadow to distinguish between different topics I want to discuss (What I’ve coded, who I’ve led, what I value, etc.)
  • I’ve been succinct. I have made sure I don’t waffle on too much, and only provided context that lends itself to what I want to demonstrate.

Which brings me to my first new rule:

Make it easy to read

An infinite scrolling Reddit, Facebook, or Instagram is easy to read. It doesn’t matter how long your CV is as long as you don’t bore your audience.

Rule 2:

Tell me what you did

My CV contains no mention of where I have worked before. It states I’ve been coding for 10 years, and that’s it. Instead, I have filled my CV with diverse examples of my work, and I’ve been doing this for years. Recruiters love it because they get a fully formed look at an aspect of my professional life. It’s so much more informative than anything else you could tell a recruiter, because it shows what you can actually do, and why you did it that way.

I have included my BSc and my MSc in my CV but I haven’t provided dates, just a word cloud and a one sentence synopsis of what I learned. It’s important to show where you started, but no where near as important as where you’ve been since.

A little bonus to this style of CV is that recruiters will want to interview you. They’ll have better questions about your CV because there will be something’s they’re interested to learn more about.

“What real-world applications did you work with in your MSc?”

Rule 3:

Show me who you are

I’ve touched on this already, but the style of your CV says a lot about you. It’s also important that the content is what you feel are your best qualities, because that adds a window into your personal values. If someone has mentioned they led a team of 20 engineers to a resounding success of a delivery, but doesn’t mention anything about how they helped develop those people; I can perceive their priority is not necessarily in nurturing their team, but in driving results.

Depending on what I’m looking for in my role that might be perfect, and if it’s not, would the candidate enjoy the role?

The recruiter is almost always looking for the right “fit” for the role, this approach can help them gauge that, and gives you a better chance of joining a team where your ideals are valued.

“What do you do for fun?”

“Which team do you play for?”

“Yeah, I thought it’d be fun, so I made a seating chart using a k-means clustering algorithm, let me tell you about it…”

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. I hope that you’ll join me in breaking some rules and making our own. If you’re recruiting for a role, think about whether this is something you want to see more of.

Full-stack Engineer