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Recruitment From The "Other Side" - Part 1

Published Mon, 6 Jul 2009 • 2 comments

Five tips for people applying for an IT or technical job.

Recently I was involved in recruitment for a number of development positions. Although I have reviewed CVs and done interviewing before, it had been specific roles with only a couple of candidates, whereas the recent positions had a large number of applicants for multiple positions.

This was a very interesting process to be involved in, and has given me a different perspective on the job application process which I believe will be helpful in the future when applying for IT jobs. Read on for the common problems and some tips I found when reviewing candidates applications...

NB. This is solely based on my personal experience and (of course) I am not a HR professional, but often for technical roles it will be a technical resource that evaluates the candidates, so with that in mind, read on...

Key Point

Think about the person who is reviewing your application and communicate to them.

They probably have a whole pile of CVs and application letters to read through, and they have a good idea of the sort of candidate they have for the job(s). They are trying to eliminate as many people as they can on that basis, as quickly as possible.

And, more than anything else, they want to know how well does your experience match up with the job needing to be filled?

With that in mind, tailor your application to make the reviewer's job as easy as possible.

Tip #1 - Keep it simple and concise.

1113494_84748570You have no idea how many people have applications numbering almost 10 pages. With a CV of that size you are telling the reviewer one of two things:

So you're either inept or lazy, neither of which are desirable? in prospective employee. Keep your CV to 3 or 4 pages at the most, less if you can. Don't add lists of skills you say you have, but can't back up with some tangible experience or qualification.

Which leads me to the next tip...

Tip #2 - Remember that the reader is a skeptical one. Dog with glassesThe reader will be skeptical of your past work, performance and achievements. It is your task to prove to them that you are as good as you say. A lot of applicants tend to write down the things that their company or team did, not the things that they did. That's the worst mistake you can make.

Make it clear what you did.

Some people seem to think that being in a team that was building a product "X" or using a technology "Y" means you can say you are an expert in creating and using "X" or "Y". That might get you an interview if you're lucky, but you better have the skills to back it up.

In most cases, it is very time consuming and difficult for someone reviewing an application to figure out what the applicant actually did in their past work.

So make sure you write your past experience in the context of what you did while you were there, and what you contributed specifically!

Make it clear the technologies you used to do the things you did.

Just because someone in your team used [technology X] doesn't make you an expert in [technology X]. The person reviewing your application knows that, so tell them what tools you used to achieve the things you said you did.

Notice I wrote, "the things you said you did". A large number of applicants write a big box at the start of their CV's with 50 different technologies / languages / frameworks and a number of years experience. Someone reviewing your application is very unlikely to take something like that at face value, and similar to my first tip, shows that you are just trying to get a foot in the door on the basis of some buzzword. It might work, but it adds more noise than signal, and again, you better be able to back up all those technlogies with skills and experience.

Tip #3 - Write your past work experience in layman's terms.

Wine GlassesUnless you are applying for a job at a workplace in the same industry or business domain as your last one, try to explain all your past projects in layman's terms. Avoid domain-specific language or buzzwords, and concentrate on the value delivered to users and types of systems (technology) that you built and delivered.

My rule of thumb would be -

Explain your past work experiences as you might explain them at a dinner party with friends.

Industry-specific jargon and buzz-words will be lost on the reader if you are applying for a job in a different domain, and just add noise to your message. You want the reviewer of your application to understand what you did, not be baffled by it.

Tip #4 - Ditch baggage.


This is an extension of Tip #1 - more is not always better.

If you have 10+ years industry experience, you don't need to include a university transcript with all your results. For any professional position that requires tertiary qualifications, you certainly don't need to mention your primary and secondary school activities!

Similarly, if you have past experience that you're not proud of, for example poor university results or a job at a company that didn't reflect well on you, leave it out! You need to sell yourself (without distorting the truth), so leave out old baggage. You can talk about some of those things at the interview if you are asked, and maybe comment on those less-than-stellar experiences in the context of learning experiences, but don't present them on a CV where you can't put them into context for the reader. (Remember the reader is a skeptical one!)

Tip #5 - It's okay to have a personality!

Dude with hat and sunniesThe? vast majority of applications read very professionally, and very dry. Most people have interesting personalities, likes, dislikes, quirks and interests. It's okay to present yourself with a little personality. In fact it is the single easiest way to set yourself apart from other applicants.

Talking about the hobbies and interests you have outside of work (and consider writing a sentence about them, not just personality-less dot-points) is a good way to let the reader know what sort of person you are.

If you are passionate about, something, anything - talk about it. Appear as a person, not a "professional". We work with people, not professionals on a daily basis, despite what some companies or cultures want you to believe.

Your past experience and technical knowledge are only 50% of what contribute to getting you a job, the other 50% is personality and attitude. If you don't have a personality on paper you are hiding half the information the employer needs to make a decision on whether to hire you.

A note about including photos of yourself...

Including a photo of yourself is one way to add personality to your application; but make sure it's a good photo! If you include a weird, poorly lit or too casual photo then you're better off not to include one at all. I would recommend that you err on the side of not including a photo, unless you feel very sure that it will add value to your application. Wrapping Up. So, that covers the application process. Stay tuned for? Part 2, which will cover the next step of the process - the dreaded job interview.

About the Author

Richard Nichols is an Australian software engineer with a passion for making things.

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