Self Improvement

156 applications later — how to write a killer CV and ace that interview

Whilst preparing for my maternity leave, I looked at exactly 156 resumes and did about a dozen interviews before finally landing on a guy last minute — a week before my final day at work.

There were bad resumes and good resumes. Then there were also ones that clearly didn’t read the advert or are just outright lies. While people wonder why companies don’t do courtesy rejection emails anymore, I now understand why.

When you’re trying to fill a job that has a wide range of skills required, you begin the process by looking at every application with an open mind. You debate with your fellow decision maker if the person behind the CV just isn’t that great at English or that perhaps our advert was too vague. After the fifteenth CV, a few hours later and you realize that you still have to do your actual job as well, you start skimming each application with a brutal yes/no mindset with no maybes allowed.

That was me.

We trashed a lot of CVs, not because they demanded too much pay, wrote too much or not enough — it was because the CVs were not relevant to what we were looking for. The skill set wasn’t right and 90% of those that didn’t make it clearly did not read my carefully crafted advertisement.

It got to a point where I decided to put a code word requirement in the advert. If you’ve read this to the end, put ‘Git is Glorious’ in your application.

Only 3 people did. Only 3 showed the ability to follow instructions when required.

And out of the 3, only one made the effort to show his skills. If I wasn’t going on maternity, I would have brought him in for an interview for a different role. But alas, I was not allowed because we had an objective — a senior skilled person to cover my position whilst I was gone. Besides, we’ve already got two juniors and they’re going to need someone to keep the projects pumping.

Put in some effort. Write like a human.

A lot of the CVs that came through were generic and very mechanical. Its like they all googled ‘How to write a CV’, copy-pasted the example and tweaked a few words here and there in 8pt font.

First pointer towards a killer CV: make it readable.

If I can’t read it, I’m not going to try. Remember how I still have all those other tasks I still have to do before I get to go home?

A wall of bulleted point text doesn’t help either. It would be good to know that at the very least you know how to format Word documents properly.

Use titles and sectioning to break up your CV into logical parts. It doesn’t have to be massive titles, just bold font on the important bits that summarizes what you want me to look at will do. If I think it’s interesting, I will read what’s underneath.

Don’t half arse your CV’s content either. Write actual sentences for me to read. Putting ‘computer skills — word processing’ doesn’t really tell me anything. I want substance. It doesn’t have to be a long novel or essay. 140 characters should be enough of what you want to communicate.

Be proud of your experiences. That’s what I want to see. Telling me that you know AWS, java and an endless list of front end technologies doesn’t tell me anything at all. Give me projects you’ve worked on. People you’ve dealt with. Things you actually did.

Do things a little differently. Inject your personality into your CV. Don’t write what kind of person you are. Actually show it in the formatting, your choice of words and how everything is presented.

But don’t give me bar graphs of your skills. It means absolutely nothing. Your version of expert level may actually be amateur hour. Besides, who and what are you measuring and basing that measurement off? Have you been tested somehow to prove that you are indeed 70% proficient in whatever skill you’ve listed?

Don’t f*cking lie. Because if you’ve made it to the interview, you will most likely get grilled for it, especially if you’re in for something that requires it as an actual skill. I’ve had so many CVs that made it to the interview stage only to find out that they twisted the core technical requirement just to get through into the hot seat.

Actually write your cover letter. Yes. Write it yourself. Don’t google it. Don’t copy it from somewhere else. Just sit down, fingers to keyboard and write it from beginning to end on why you want the job. Yes, we do read this and if it’s generic and past lunch time, there’s a high chance your CV won’t be opened.

That’s the bare minimum I look for when going through CVs. Then a shortlist is made and we beginning scheduling in the interviews.

How to ace your interview

Turn up. It kinda helps if you turn up on the right day and time. I had one guy who showed up on the wrong day but correct time. We gave him the benefit of the doubt that perhaps one of us got it wrong and gave him an interview anyway. But not everyone will be as nice.

Project confidence. Because if you’re unsure about yourself, chances are you won’t get hired. We’re paying you to know what you’re doing. We’ll give you a bit of leeway if its a junior role but for intermediate and senior roles, we are paying extra dollars for your skills and experience.

Be prepared to learn. Every job is different. Isn’t that one of the reason why we make changes? There’s a difference between being confident in yourself and being so stubborn and self absorbed that you think you are always right. Being prepared to learn and showing in your interview that you’re willing to do so adds a touch of humility and there’s a higher chance that you won’t clash with the rest of the team.

Come prepared. Actually research what you’re getting yourself into. Have a rough idea of what the company actually does. This will help gauge where you might fit in with the organisation and what you might end up doing.

Talk. And keep talking. The best interviews are the ones that lasts longer than an awkward ten minutes. Talk about your experiences, what you did to solve problems that came up, how you worked with other people. Just keep talking. Remember that if you get hired, you might end up working directly with the people that’s interviewing you. If it feels awkward, then it’s going to be an instant silent no. If you manage to crack a few jokes and maintain a good conversation with your interviewers then they’re more likely to remember you. And if you get stuck, ask questions.

* * *

Each job application is different and you should treat it like so. Send out quality content and you will be noticed.

This is a fact.

When an application comes through, it doesn’t go into an abyss of no replies. Rather, it gets shifted through at lightning speed because in the grand scheme of things, the person looking at your CV is starved for time.

We want to know who you are and made a judgement based on those 2 minutes that you have of their time. So don’t waste it on fluff and unimportant things. You have only one shot to spark their interest and if you don’t, then you’re not the right fit for the job — even if you think you are.



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