CV: A Tutorial
The word “CV” is so deceptively simple: Just two simple letters (they even placed together on the keyboard) and yet it embodies the main hurdle between me and starting my job hunt. I am sure a lot of you feel the same way. So I finally figured a simple (ok maybe not that simple) way to get tackle this gate keeper head-on.
The Master List of Awesomeness #
Most people simply list down everything they can think about themselves. The object of a CV isn’t to throw facts at the recruiter. The object is to wow them. The recruiter has no interest in your father’s name, your date of birth, your NIC or that one time you went fishing. None of these things contribute towards convincing the company that you are a valuable addition to their team.
So the first step in making a CV isn’t compiling a list of facts about you, it’s to make a list of things that make you awesome. We will call this list The Master List of Awesomeness. Why are we calling it a Master List? Because it lists down all of the things that make you awesome, irrespective of context.
At this point it’s highly likely you would mope and say “but Musa, I am not awesome!” Well of course you are! Everyone is. But if you, who has known yourself all your life, can’t see those things, how can you expect a complete stranger to read a page or two and be completely in awe of you? So take a good long look at yourself and find those things. Ask your friends if you have to. Dig in to your FB Time-line if you must! You may not know what those things are, but you will find them, and you will list them.
At this point, each of these things should be a couple of words or a sentence. Whatever it is, you need to be able to put each item down concretely in a single sentence. Writing down solidifies an abstract thought. Force yourself to write down things that set you apart. For example:
- Math makes sense to me.
- I paid attention in class.
- I have a bunch of freelance projects under my belt
- I am used to working my butt off.
- I have worked on X technology.
- I have a lot of ideas.
Perhaps some of these things overlap, and that’s okay. Keep jotting down items. The more you write them down, the better you will feel about yourself. Remember, you have to be your own fan before you can convince others to join your fan club.
Now for each item, find evidence. Right now it’s just a claim. You need to prove these claims by supporting real-world examples. This could be a time you demonstrated said skill, or this could be a note on how you acquired the skil, or simply an elaboration of it. For example:
Math makes sense to me
- I have the highest grades in my math courses.
- I made this project that required a lot of math skills
I have worked on X technology.
- I built this with X
- I also built this with X
Now you have a repository of nice things to write about yourself, with evidence to back it up.
The Need for a Custom Tailored CV #
You thought we were going to make one CV didn’t you? Well guess what? You were WRONG! This isn’t Lord Of The Rings, and you ain’t Sauron. There is no one CV to rule them all.
Every employer has their own needs and requirements. What they are looking for, is someone to fulfill exactly those requirements. Based on these requirements, they have a profile of the ideal candidate. From their perspective, the entire hiring process can simplified to the question “Who is the closest match to our ideal candidate”.
So while it’s pretty cool if you have worked on simulations for quantum physics, but if the employer wants someone to write an enterprise application for a bank, your quantum physics experience means nothing to them (unless you can demonstrate how it maps to their needs).
Employer’s Checklist #
To custom tailor your CV, you need to first understand what your target employer needs. This section demands an entire post on its own, but we’ll simplify this into a few basic questions for now:
- What does the Company do for a living?
- What kind of people do they need to accomplish that?
- Are you that kind of a person?
Most public job postings come with a list of criteria, but if you are applying to a job in any other way than a public posting (this is arguably a more common way to recruit), then you need to understand what the company is looking for. You must get inside their head to envision their Ideal Candidate.
This may involve:
- Scouring their Website
- Understanding their products
- Talking to contacts inside the company
- Thoroughly reading the job description
List down your findings as a collection of qualities they value in a candidate. This is the Employer’s Checklist which they will be using to judge your CV.
The Shortlist of Awesomeness #
Now that you know what the employer is looking for, shortlist items from your Master List that make you look like their ideal candidate. This will give you an outline for the content of your CV. The points are what you want the employer to think of you. The proofs of those points are how you will showcase that side of yourself.
The Template #
Start googling for CV templates. Things to keep in mind:
- Don’t go with the most popular one amongst your friends or fellow candidates. It pays to stand out.
- Don’t go over the top eccentric. We don’t want them to question your sanity… just yet.
- Don’t focus too much on the sections listed in the template. You will make your own sections as needed.
- Focus on finding a nice, clean, visually appealing template that stands out.
- Also consider ease-of-use of the template. If you are looking to custom tailor your CV for each employer, you will need to modify it quite often and so the process must be very easy.
- Ms Word isn’t the only tool out there for this work. There are a lot of templates available for photoshop. If you are tech-savvy enough, you can even use this markdown resume builder
Organizing Your Content #
As I mentioned before, don’t follow the template’s sections. Make up your own based on what makes sense for you. The few sections you should keep:
- About me (This is simply the title of the CV which is your name, plus some contact information)
- Education (reverse chronological list of your places of study along with a point or two about what you did or achieve there)
- Experience (if you have any. If you have never worked anywhere its better to simply skip this)
- Technical Skills (a simple list of technologies you have worked on, but only do this if your list is impressive. If like me, you only have one or two items, skip it. There are other ways to showcase your talent. Don’t fake this list, recruiters can tell).
As you may have guessed, a section detailing your bio data is useless. It’s a waste of space so delete it if your template has it.
I am not a fan of the objective line either as everyone writes something generic. Consider replacing this with a Why Me? section where you make your main value proposition. Briefly explain why you think you a good fit for the job. For example, I would point out to financial software houses how I bring my actuarial skills to the table along with my proven coding skills.
Personally I abhor the Skills section (eg: leadership, team player, communication skills). It adds nothing of value since these are just claims. Writing these does not automatically mean the candidate has these. In fact, as as a recruiter, I often skip this section. Yes, these skills might be points in your short list, but instead of listing them outright, we will hint at them.
The recruitment process is a lot like dating. You don’t just tell the girl you are a loving and caring (or even filthy rich) person. You show it to her, or at least you hint at it. Similarly we will hint at your fine qualities using the proofs in your shortlist. These will make up the meat of your CV. Organize these into sections that make sense and write them down in your CV.
Projects (perfect place to showcase your tech skills, by showing what you have done with them. Don’t make this a long bullet list cramming in that crappy game you made in second semester. Find the two or three most relevant projects that you may have used as proofs and write a titled paragraph about each of them. Write what technology you used, what was it about, and the main reason that makes this an awesome project, and makes you awesome by extension)
Advanced Courses (if you took up some electives that makes you a prime candidate for this job, write about them. Write what you learned in that course or what you did or made)
Domain Knowledge (If you have some experience with the company’s field of work, you can write about that. For example, when I applied to financial companies, I would write about my actuarial science studies. I even cleared an entire interview once using this tactic)
Research Papers (Like everything else, this works best if your research work is relevant to the company. Otherwise, it just feels like page filler )
Roles and Responsibilities (If you have been very active in co-curricular activities and feel this highlights qualities important to the employer, then write about these. I suppose it works better if you played a key role in an event sponsored by the company)
Achievements (I usually save this section for last if there is room. I use a simple bullet point to show my competition wins and academic positions. You should do what feels right to you)
This isn’t by any means an exhaustive list. These are nothing more than just samples. It depends entirely on your proofs. Go with the best organization of that content you can think of. At the the end of the day, the objective is to get your point across and you should strive to find the most efficient way to do that.
Finishing Touches #
Expensive leather shoes still look crappy if you don’t polish them. So after all the effort you put in to making your CV, don’t skip out some basic rules and etiquette:
No Typos. The recruiter and his entire team will laugh at you if you write “Peer-to-peer” as “pair-to-pair”.
Don’t start a new section at the bottom of the page. Shift it to the new page.
Fonts and formatting should be consistent. Don’t let it wary page to page.
If emailing, send a PDF not a word document. Certainly not a .txt file (someone actually sent me that).
If handing in a hard copy, invest a little and get a color print out.
Lastly go through your CV again while keeping the Employer’s Checklist at hand and see if you meet their criteria.
Getting them to read your CV #
For Fresh Grads, best case would be to have an awesome CGPA. They will actually email you to ask for your CV even if you miss out on their recruitment drive. Even for old graduates, the best case would be getting a call from their HR depth asking for your CV. It happens. Although, I usually decline such offers stating I am very happy at my current job and do not wish to switch. This is usually a good (albeit mean) prank to pull on your colleagues though.
If you are not getting a call, the next option is to approach them during their recruitment drive. Companies often attend events hoping to hunt down some talent. They get a lot of applications though so make sure yours is captivating. This is also a good time to chat up their people about their firm and what they are looking for. Developing a rapport with them also helps if you put a picture on your CV which they would later use to link it to you. Though the picture trick can be tricky to pull off and one person complained it made the entire HR depth laugh at him. Yet, sometimes it may result in employees of the opposite gender beg the recruiter to hire you. (Sidenote: For the love of decency, please don’t put your figure measurements in your CV!)
If there is no recruitment drive either, seek out contacts inside the company (or approach their CEO on twitter if it’s a start up) and talk to them about your interest in the company. Maybe they can route your CV to the relevant people.
Last option, just email their HR people. Almost all company websites have a careers/jobs page. Use this to you advantage. (This is also a great place to visit when trying to assess the company’s requirements).
I hope this helps in your hunt. Feel free to contact me to tell me how awesome I am or why my advise sucks (look for the “say hello” button if you don’t know me on any social platform). Though don’t feel bad if I take my sweet time getting back to you. It’s not you, it’s me. I almost always have too much on my plate (hence the bulging belly). Unfortunately, it’s unlikely I will get time to review your CV so please don’t me in a position where I have to say no to reading your masterpiece. If you do get a job based on a CV you made from these steps, do send me THAT and maybe I will do a Hall of Fame sort of post later to help future generations.