Job search tips and tricks: how to make a killer CV

by Laurent Meyer

How do you get a great job in software development or data science, some of the most exciting areas in technology today? At Constructor Academy, you will gain tons of knowledge from amazing instructors. But that is not enough: once if you have gained the right technical skills you still have to prove to employers that you are hot property.

Unlike these other members of the Constructor Academy team, I am not a technology expert by training, but one of my biggest contributions is coaching students through the job search process. Among my many roles in the academy, this particular role is by far my favorite! Working together with motivated students towards a common goal – landing a great job – is one of the most exciting endeavors at Constructor Academy, second only to the excitement of seeing the student getting the job.

In this short overview I will share some of what I have learned about what makes a killer CV, through an experience of many years which, at Constructor Academy, has led to our students joining such companies as Novartis, Swisscom, eBay, UPC Cablecom, Swiss International Airlines and many other established companies, as well as many popular startups. What does it take? Here in my experience are the ingredients to the recipe:
  1. Making a killer CV
  2. Writing a Cover Letter that people will actually read  
  3. Maximizing the power of LinkedIn
  4. Implementing a job search strategy and tracking your applications
  5. Mastering the art of the interview
  6. Knowing your worth and how to negotiate your salary
As part of the team that has coached students in roles at companies like Novartis, Swisscom, eBay, UPC Cablecom, and Swiss International Airlines ... as well as at many popular startups, these recommendations are based on real-life experience.

So let’s start with part. But first, a disclaimer:

* Our focus at Constructor Academy is on tech jobs. You will find, however, that much of the advice can be applied to other industries. 
* There is no one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approach. Everything here is a suggestion. Every case is different: use your best judgment to adapt the advice to your own background and unique personality. 
* Our target market is Switzerland. Still, a lot of this can be used anywhere in the world (including the areas of my own experience, the USA and other European countries).

With that out of the way, let’s go straight to what I believe are the top 5 most important tips and tricks to put together a killer CV.

1. Keep it short and to the point

A CV is your one-page business card. It should answer a basic question: what are my skills and what can I do for you?

Those making hiring decisions in a company receive lots of CVs. If you can save them time by giving them the most important information in a condensed format, they will appreciate it.  In return they will give your CV attention and ultimately, consideration. 

Some people do not like the one-page CV format. That’s fine. Make it longer, but what you put on it should be pertinent and justifiable. If you are in your mid-twenties, though, you should definitely not have more than one page. The general rule is one page for every 10 years of experience.

2. Stand out from the crowd

Since Constructor Academy started I have read more than 1000 CVs. (Yes, that’s a thousand!) It is obvious that many do not give the CV’s design the attention it deserves. Black text on a white background with a laundry list of successive experiences does not make you stand out. It becomes painful to view, to the point where the recruiter’s eyes no longer want to read it. You get put into the “OK, just another applicant” category.

That’s not where you want to be. The goal of an appealing CV is to get the person looking at it to move on to your cover letter (see below!) which is your second chance at making a good impression. The CV is your opportunity to show you’re creative and think outside the box.

First: use color, but wisely. Choose attractive colors to highlight certain sections of your CV, while making sure you are not overdoing it.

Then: continue along these lines by showing artistic icons behind the name of each section (Experience, Education, Skills, Hobbies, …). You are making the viewing experience appealing, suggesting to the reader that you will also be appealing as a colleague...

There are many templates out there on the web. For our students, we recommend using the CV generation function from JobTracker, a tool developed by the Constructor Academy team to help students monitor their job applications.

CV Laurent Meyer

In the example above (using yours truly), you see that all topics are addressed in this blog, including those already introduced and that I’ll explain in the next section. In essence, please refer to it from now on.

3. Clear summary and objective

Everyone loves introductions. They set the tone for what’s to come. The introduction is your one-time chance to capture the attention of the reader (and hiring-decision-maker) for those first 30 seconds when he or she decides whether you are worth their time and further attention.

Write that first short paragraph with particular care, to tell the future employer who you are, what you know, and what you are looking for is such a time-saver. Think of it as your elevator pitch – in writing. 

At first it may take you some time to describe yourself in such a short format, but the effort will help you discover yourself and practice the art of getting to the point.

You can also adapt that crucial introductory paragraph each time to fit the job description. We give our students a CV template done by our designer, where we recommend text such as the following: Aspiring Full-Stack Developer, proficient in JavaScript, Python, React.js, Docker, and Django, looking for a role as a software developer. If you are applying to a FinTech company and you have experience in that area, you would add: experience in the financial sector as a stock broker. I think you get the point.

4. The basic must-haves

As a potential employee, you must show that you are someone who follows the norms of today’s tech world. A picture, GitHub username, email, LinkedIn URL, address, and phone number are all a must. 

The picture is the first thing that you should get right. Business casual clothing, face looking straight into the camera with a nice smile, professional background, and clear resolution. It is as simple as that. Too many people think that they can just reuse their Facebook picture. Wrong move!

The GitHub account must show activity and a recent one at that. This is where the tech person involved in the hiring process will go first so don’t lose her or him from the get-go. 

The remaining items are self-explanatory but they should be there and (super important!), don’t forget to link them. Which brings us to our next point (and the last one for this time).

5. Treat your CV as your own personal homepage 

Links are crucial. Today, the reader of your CV will almost certainly read it on a screen as a PDF. You can allow them to treat your CV as your homepage and straight to important information not listed on your CV.

You need links not just for the basic identifiers mentioned above (email, Github etc.) but also for such information as: companies you’ve worked for, Universities where you studied, papers you have published (if you spent time in academia), anything else to which you want to direct your readers (rather than having them google for it, not necessarily finding what you prefer them to find!). If you provide them with the links they will get this information through a few more mouse clicks.

These five points are the basic tips. Constructor Academy students get the full version, of course, but I hope this article gets you started on the perfect CV that will get you your dream job. See you soon for part 2: How to write a cover letter that people will actually read.

Interested in reading more about Constructor Academy and tech related topics? Then check out our other blog posts.

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