Thursday, 1 April 2010

So you want a job in IT?

Background: My company is looking for a software support engineer. I had cause to deal with some curriculums vitae before passing them along to my employers. Obviously I perused these little slices of life before actually forwarding them along.

What I saw therein made me die a little inside... I can understand that people write like this in everyday; they don't give a crap about their writing in everyday life because their teachers cared about it at school and they're being rebellious or something. In a CV though? Your employment, your very livelihood may depend on the person reading your CV. Do you really care so little about yourself that it doesn't matter how you're perceived?

On the one hand, I don't want to offend possibly prospective colleagues by criticising their CVs. On the other, a CV which fails to impress me will almost certainly fail to impress my bosses. I sent back lists of corrections and a suggestion to re-read their CVs very carefully. The corrected CVs still contained errors. Lots of errors.

Is it wrong of me to expect proper spelling, grammar, punctuation and formatting? I won't go into specifics here. Herewith, however, a few suggestions if you are updating your curriculum vitae with the purpose of actually landing a job:

1a. There is NO excuse for incorrect spelling. EVER.
1b. A word may be spelled correctly yet be the wrong word. Read your CV out loud.
1c. Get your spelling-and-grammar-Nazi friend to correct your CV. With a red pen.
2. The apostrophe indicates possession, not plurality.
3. A unified look: Your CV is not a collage, nor is it a ransom note. Jumping around between different fonts and font sizes makes your CV look like a tabloid "news" story.
4. Nobody cares what your first holiday job was unless you're applying for another holiday job.
5. Don't claim to have good attention to detail and yet miss more than half a dozen errors in your CV after being told to look for mistakes.
6. Smiley faces. Are you serious about getting a job? Then don't use a Unicode smiley face in the place of a period. A smiley face on a CV is what the interviewer draws if they like you very much.
7. Names and certain abbreviations are capitalised when appearing in the middle of a sentence; a regular  verb is not.
8a. No contractions under any circumstances. (don't, I'm, etc.)
8b. Never EVER use "etc." on a CV. If you do, however, then don't spell it "ect."
9. Call me picky, but a bullet list of statements about you tell me far less than a concise paragraph wherein you describe yourself.
10. We use the South African English dictionary in South Africa. US English is for when you're actually physically present on the North American continent. When in doubt, spell it like the British do. (Hint: We use far fewer Zs in our words and words like "colour" contain more letters.)
11. Underlining random lines in your CV is pointless and confusing. If it's that important, devote a page to it or turn it into a section heading or something.
12. Non-unified formatting bothers and confuses most people subconsciously. If you use a period at the end of list items in one section, use periods at the end of your list items in every section.
14. EDIT: Sentences start with capital letters.

If you want to suggest any more items, please do so in the comments below.


  1. I posted this as a comment in google reader.. that was silly of me. oh well.

    At our company we check people's facebook profiles, so posting stupid shit publicly is not a good idea. There was a survey that over 50% of companies here now do it.
    Also, lying about skills. We had that a few times. When people came in for the interview, my manager in ZA was so tired of them being full of shit that he printed out a questionnaire with basic programming questions (reverse the alphabet, what is a session, write a SQL statement to do so and so) and wouldn't see them unless he liked their answers. For people claiming more than 5 years experience, he gave them difficult questions in the email and told them to bring the answers in on the day of the interview(they had about a week to do them). One guy brought back the difficult questions and they worked perfectly. when asked why he used static methods(not that it didn't work) he couldn't say. he then couldn't even tell us what static methods were. or whether or not his own function used recursion. re-reading my big blob of text in this obnoxious little box, I notice something you can add to your list. Sentences start with a capitalised letter.

  2. Hi Andaith

    I'm often amazed at the lengths people will go to to wangle themselves into a job for which they are unqualified. I mean I've lied^H^H^H^Hembroidered my way into jobs before, but since nobody has noticed in a 7-year career I feel morally unsullied by this. :D

    I added your suggestion, thanks for reminding me of that one.

  3. [rant]This just off-putting and kind of sad from the perspective of a guy who ended up getting panic attacks from perfectionism.

    I am Afrikaans, which means when it comes to English, my spelling and grammar just is not the best thing in the world.

    You note how stupid that sentence sounded WITHOUT contractions? This is my problem with you equating ability with grammar and spelling. That is like saying that if the who decided to study IT for a month to get a certificate is more skilled than the person who does not have a certificate, but has been working with computers for like 15 years?

    I am tired of being overlooked because of this nazi mentality of exclusion based on stupid mental paradigms. Would you rather have an efficient, experienced and hard working individual or somebody that spends 4 hours checking their grammatical style to fit your expectations, whom only decide a month to go that IT was where the money is at? I can guarantee you that following this mentality WILL only lead you to below par and pretty anal type (in the classical Freudian sense) of employees.

    Anyway, I have said my piece about this now.[/rant]

  4. Hello Brenton

    Thank you for your input. I realise now that I should have been more clear in my original post regarding the actions I eventually took.

    (Bear in mind that I do not handle HR in the company, I was just passing the CVs along.)

    I received three emails that day, none of which were perfect. I sent the same advice to all of the applicants. Two of them rectified their mistakes and sent me their updated CVs. The third, despite *literally* being told that "2010" is not spelled "20010", failed to correct this... despite claiming to have a good eye for detail!

    "Happy are those who can hear their faults and put them to mending." -- Much Ado About Nothing, W. Shakespeare.

    A spelling and/or grammar mistake on a CV is career suicide. Not my rules, and yes, it shouldn't mean skilled individuals are overlooked. In an applying-for-an-interview situation, the reality of the matter is that you have one chance to impress the recipient, and only one channel with which to do it... your CV! The recruiter truly does not care that you rescue puppies on weekends and know computers inside out; all (s)he sees is an incorrectly spelled and/or plug-ugly CV.

    If you know you tend to fail at grammar and/or spelling, why not get a friend to correct it for you? Use your grammar nazi friend's super language powers instead of berating them for being themselves. Spotting errors is not just a talent, it is a marketable skill.

    Yes, talent, skill and experience should be everything. It's not that simple, though. Consider: If you're all of the above and your impressive CV has some spelling errors, most would overlook it. If, an obviously-fluffed-up-to-cover-the-fact-that-you're-totally-inexperienced CV is stretched to two pages through the evil powers of bad typesetting and language errors, the candidate may not be applicable for the job.

    I don't want someone to spend 4 hours checking their own spelling mistakes; that would mean they'll spend 6 hours checking their own scripts and/or config files for spelling mistakes. When you're bug hunting, you don't want to have to contend with typos too.

    The "choice" you hold up is, luckily, not the only one. There are efficient, hard-working, and experienced individuals out there to whom language comes naturally. Are you going to spend the rest of your life bemoaning the fact that you're not one of them? They have a skill you don't. Will you allow that to ruin your career?

    Laastens: Afrikaanswees beteken vir my nie dat ek 'n agterstand in Engels moet hê nie; vir my beteken dit dat ek absoluut seker is ek kan enige taal baasraak as ek wil.

    Daar's 'n goeie en goedkoop tegniek wat ons in joernalistiek geleer het: Koop 'n Afrikaanse en Engelse koerant elke dag en lees beide van voor tot agter. Dit verbeter nie slegs jou Engels nie, maar ook jou Afrikaanse vaardigheid en woordeskat.

    Ek hoop dit help!

    Ns. As jy geen grammar-nazi vriende het nie sal ek na jou CV kyk :)