IT jobseekers need to devise a winning business case just to get to first base with recruiting companies, and the key to landing that elusive first interview is your curriculum vitae.
Most applicants assume that they are aware of the basic dos and don'ts when constructing a CV, but thousands are rejected each year. Getting it right depends on four golden rules: clarity, structure, brevity and relevance.
"With the increase in online application forms, some people may wonder what the value of a clear, well-written CV is," said Richard Frodin, operations director at recruitment specialist Reed Technology.
But most job applications still require a CV, and a well-written one will be essential if you want to get an interview.
"Employers get inundated with CVs and will usually spend a very short time reading each one," Frodin said. "If they do not see something they like, yours will not be read again."
Although there may not be a guaranteed formula that will make a prospective employer reach for the phone, there are a few basic points that must be included to give a positive first impression of your abilities, said Frodin.
According to Caroline Edwards, director at IT recruitment specialist Harvey Nash, the key point is that your CV is a representation of you in paper form - it is your sales document.
"Do not get bogged down with personal history," she said, particularly if it bears little or no relevance to the post you are applying for. "You have to sell yourself, you have to advertise yourself and you have got to express the absolute truth," she said.
A summary profile, with emphasis placed on your proven achievements, is the best way to begin your CV, said Edwards. This allows a prospective employer to assess the suitability of every candidate in the first few words without having to trawl through the entire document.
The impact and quality of those first few lines will determine the likelihood of the entire document being read. The summary paragraph should then be followed by a skills summary, career history, achievements and professional education, ending with education and references.
A major problem with many IT contractors' CVs is that they tend to be three or more pages long to account for all the projects they have been involved in. But Frodin warned that failure to trim down a CV normally results in it being binned before the first line is read.
"Quite often it is the CV's appearance that lets it down. If it is too long or difficult to understand, it will be binned. If it is an e-mail attachment that cannot be opened, you could also miss out," he said.
For any IT professional who has been in the business a long time, there is no need to list every assignment over the past 20 years as this will lose the attention of your prospective employer. But it is crucial to list the individuals you have worked for on major projects and not just the company name, according to Edwards.
Andy Billington, IT director at retailer Burberry, said a CV should be kept succinct and to the point. "Tailor the CV to match what the position is offering and de-emphasise all the irrelevant stuff that gets skimmed over anyway," he said.
The single biggest reason a CV is chosen and considered is because it shows potential to fit the position and is factual, according to Frodin. Most recruitment agencies agree that appearance and a lack of appropriate experience or skills are the next biggest reasons for discarding a CV.
But if you are aiming to change career, it is important that your CV addresses this, said Edwards. "It is important that you highlight skills that can be transferred to your new vocation."
Do not dwell on skills that bear no relevance to your future career. Highlight skills you have acquired from your previous experiences which will help you in your new role, but never lie or exaggerate.
"Remember to bullet-point your achievements as you can elaborate on what you have done previously in the interview," said Frodin.
Finally, keep up-to-date with industry changes. For example, being fully trained in a particular programming code may not be relevant when trends shift in favour of a different technology, so make sure your skills are in line with what is needed now.
CV dos and don'ts
- Match your skills with the skills required for the job
- Include references as a list available on request
- Get someone else to read it
- Include job descriptions rather than a job title and company name
- Start with your most recent position first
- List responsibilities, skills and achievements as bullet points
- Give reasons for leaving a role.
- Make it longer than two pages
- Use coloured ink, logos or photographs
- E-mail it as a large file
- Exaggerate or lie
- Leave unexplained gaps in employment
- Include humour
- List a lot of personal interests.
Source: Reed Technology