UX Your CV takes the principles and ideas we use in User Experience (UX) design for web pages and apps, and applies them to the document that we send to prospective employers when we want to work for them. There are very few unbreakable rules when writing a CV, so we'll consider your underlying objective, the realities of recruitment, and help you to feel confident making your own decisions about what to include and how to present it, and how to tailor it to specific roles.
Yes, so, my first open-ended question is: what do we need the CV to do? So, when you're thinking about user experience, this is where you need to start. Like, "What does my site need to do? What does my app need to do?" Let's count that as rhetoric consolidate, shall we?
It needs to get us an interview. That is its singular purpose. That is all a CV exists to do. Everything else is extraneous. When I'm thinking about my CVs, this is my touchstone: does it get us an interview. The thing with CVs is there is no objective one true way of writing them. If you take your CV to five different people that write a lot of CVs, you will get five different sets of advice. So that is why I thought about my philosophy of CV writing. I'm not going to give you my tips, I'm going to explain why I give them to you. If someone else has conflicting ideas, awesome, ask them why they think those ideas work, and an aspect of using experience we can use is A/B test them.
A/B testing is where you have a new feature on your app and roll it out to half of your users, or a portion of your users, and see how they compare to the people still using the original version.
If you've got an idea to make a CV that is like huge splashes of colour, and graphics everywhere, and it looks really eye-popping, like, awesome, send it out, see whether it gets you interviews. At the same time, maybe you want a really boring conventional one that is just text. Send that out. See which ones gets you more interviews. If you want to make a CV that looks like a PokÈmon card, or it's like a exe like those are brave ideas and some employers might respond to them, but it might be worth doing it. I would say A/B test it. Try it versus a more boring conventional one as well.
So, when we talk about user experience, we need to know who is the user. For a CV, who is the user? Totally happy for this to be a rhetorical question as well. The user is not you. You are not the user of your own CV. The user is the employer.
This is something that is really easy to lose sight of. Yes, the hiring manager, whoever is in charge, is the user. Yes, writing a CV is a super personal thing. You're trying to put down the facts of your life, but you are not actually the centre of attention when you're thinking about it. The centre of attention should be the employer, the prospective employer. So, what is that person like? In user experience, or, yes, we have the concept of user stories, where we make these hypothetical people that will be using our app, or using our website, and we say, as a type of person, I want to do this thing, so that I can accomplish my goal. So, "As a user of public transport, I want to be able to figure out the best route to take for my destination so that my travel is easy."
If we were going to put together a user story for our hypothetical hiring manager, what are they going to be like? This one I'm - I'm not going to make this rhetorical. If you want to jot a couple of words to describe this hypothetical person into the chat, go ahead. What is the person that has to read CVs like? Yes, busy. "Busy" is a good word. How will they feel? They have targets and deadlines. They could well be a manager. They are under pressure. Oh, they're analytical. That would be nice. They could be HR. What is their emotional state? There is a little about it. Do they have the skills to look for quickly. "Distracted" - I like it. Overwhelmed and under pressure. This is the kind of direction that I tend to go in when I think about my hypothetical user. So, as a hiring manager, I want to not be tired, rushed, and sick of seeing CVs. This is how I imagine the person who is going to read my application: they've got other things to do, under pressure, they've got deadlines. They don't want to be spending time on CVs. They want to get back to the other parts of my job. It depends on who you are applying to. If you're sending a CV to like a small start-up, then it's probably the founders that are looking at your CV, right?
If they've grown a little bit, you need to hire someone for your team, have a look through this stack, maybe they've got someone who fulfils an admin function, and it's like, I know that you're busy, doing our finances, but here, you're in charge of hiring now as well.
For a much larger company, they might have a dedicated HR function, so my very first jobs were admin assistants in HR departments, and, let me tell you, HR people don't like looking at CVs, either. Nobody enjoys this part of the job. So, this is what I'm imagining when I'm creating a CV, the person receiving it isn't receiving it at all. They're bored, distracted, got other things they would rather be doing. So that informs us when we come to our design brief.
What are we thinking of when we are putting our CV together? And so, given that our user is distracted and busy, we want to give them the information that is relevant to them as painlessly as possible, and this is a user experience principle as well. You want your users to have the minimal cognitive load to get to the functions they need, like they shouldn't have to go digging around cryptically labelled menus to find the settings they need, like it should be obvious to them that I want to do x. Oh, look, here is function x.
So what information is relevant to the employer? How do we determine what counts as relevant? So some stuff is going to be obvious. I will give you a chance to type a reply here. What counts as relevant information to the prospective hiring manager?
Previous experience. Relevant experience if you have it. Yes, your skills, your education, your work experience, projects. Contact details. That is an important one. Do not send out CVs that have a typo in your email, because they don't work at all. You do not get interviews from those. Yes, pre-corona, they would be interested in your location or your time zone. A/B test the typo! Nice. Values for culture-fit analysis. Nice!
Cool. Is there anything else we can tell them in the CV that is going to make you stand out compared to the other people sending in the CVs? Whether you do other things apart from work. Your achievements. Your name. Yes! Short profile. Side passion. Side projects. That's cool. There is one other thing ... soft skills, good call.
Right, so we want to show them that we have the skills that they need, so that could well be by pointing to previous experience, where we say, "Hey, look, I've done a job that is basically identical." It could be that if we don't have that experience, we might point to other stuff I've done to say I've got those skills. So your side projects and passion projects might well be a better illustration of your skills than your previous job, like, if you're changing career, you won't necessarily point to your last job for the technical side of the skills, but you might point to it to say, look, I've got people skills. I can work in a team, like if you've done like retail or hospitality experience, that gives you the kind of social skills and teamwork skills that somebody fresh off a computer science degree won't necessarily have. Like you can prove that you've got real-world people skills.
Now, the trick here is we're talking about the skills they need, so, how do we determine which skills they need? We all have a constellation of skills, if we just emphasise all of them equally, we're not necessarily targeting their specific needs. They're tired and bored. They don't necessarily want to read through a list of every single skill we've got.
The way that we do this is we show them that you've read the job description, so, yes, the job description is fantastic. So, quite often job adverts are set out like job descriptions nowadays. They will say, "Here are the requirements that we want you to have," and often, "Here are the essential criteria you need to have." Sometimes, you might want to contact the employer directly, and say, "Hey, is there an expanded job description for this role?" Cool. So I saw a question: how do you evaluate whether to put projects on a CV versus a link on a portfolio? I will get to that in a second.
Yes, the job description will have a list of what they're looking for. What you need to bear in mind is that the job description is a wish list. The perfect candidate that descends from the sky in a beam of light will tick every single box, but they know that that isn't likely. They are just looking to see that you hit a bunch of the requirements, and even the list where it says, "Essential", you don't have to tick every single one of them.
Analysts show that applying for jobs depending on how many boxes you ticked, there's a strong cultural and gender aspect. Men will go, "I think about half of them" and apply, whereas non-male identifying will be much more hesitant and will want to tick many more boxes. What I encourage you to do is try and have the unearned confidence of a mediocre white guy like myself. Like if you tick about half the boxes, it's worth sending an application in. And, again, think of it as A/B testing. You can apply for half the jobs where you're like you tick every box. Apply for other jobs where you only tick half of them and see whether you get interviews. That is your criteria for success.
So, I saw a question: how do you know what the requirements is an actual requirement versus a nice to have? Sometimes, they are explicit about it, and will separate them out. Other times, it's less obvious. Potentially, you can look at their website, look at their blog, to try and gauge what they think is important, like look at the sort of posts they put out, look at any information you can find about their team. If you can do some LinkedIn stalking, you might be able to drum up a conversation with someone at the company to find out a little bit about their culture.
In general, though, like I said, the hiring people have this list, and they know that almost certainly nobody is going to tick every single box, and they can be flexible, like as long as you tick about half, you can potentially persuade them that they should still give you a shot. Like especially with boxes that you don't tick, you could potentially point to skills you've got that are very similar, or point to incidents where you've learned a similar skill quickly, so you can assure them, "I don't tick this box, but I know it's important to you, and here's the reason why I think I will be able to tick it with a little bit of support and training from you."
Now, the one thing that our design brief includes that didn't come up when I asked what information is relevant to the employer is to show them that we actually want the job, and this is an aspect of job searching that almost always goes overlooked. Possibly, there's a British cultural element in it, where British culture, you're not meant to blow your own trumpet, and not meant to seem too eager, like people find it embarrassing to say, "I actually want this job. I want to work with you." If your CV specifically says to them, "I want to work for you," that is going to make you stand out because almost everybody else doesn't do that.
I like to include the name of the company in the very first paragraph of my CV. So I like to say, like, "Hello, I am an X with this experience, and I would jump at the chance to join your team, Company Y." If you mention them, the hiring manager can see this CV has been written for us. It's not a form CV that you bashed out to ten different places. This is written for me.
Obviously, don't send a CV with somebody's company name in it. You can A/B test that if you like, but I'm pretty sure it won't go down well!
So, here are the practical steps that I encourage you to take with your CV, and step 1 is declutter. If you are applying to a tech company, the odds are they will be looking at your CV on a screen. They are not - I'm going to take a guess - the kind of place that will print out your CV. They will probably not go through a stack of papers.
So what that means is we can open up the margins. You don't need lots of white space around your content. You don't need a huge header and footer. You can use all the space on a page.
Just like you wouldn't make an app where all the content is at the top of the screen, and then you've got a great big blank space at the bottom, spread it out so that it's easy on the eye. Remove unnecessary labels. You want to strip away content that doesn't add anything to the CV. So you don't need to have a label saying "telephone number" and then your telephone number, because it's a telephone number. They can tell what it is. You don't need to label it. You don't need to write CV at the top of the CV. They can tell that it is a CV.
Yes, like quite often it's very clear that we need to label it.
You can also strip out any information that isn't legally necessary for them to have. You don't need to mention any of the protected characteristics on your CV. Unless you want to, like, if there is a reason why you think bringing something up will be in - like, if you were going for a job with a company with a particularly strong agenda in some areas, so, if they were like, I don't know, catering kosher meals, then you might want to bring up that you're from the Jewish background, and you have a knowledge of that sort of thing, but in most cases, you wouldn't want to bring up unnecessary characteristic. You don't need to put your date of birth, or any information about yourself that you don't need to.
And then maybe the toughest part of decluttering: remove unnecessary content. And this is really hard because in my eyes, everything I've ever done has been necessary and all of my job experiences and all of my outside experience has been all part of my life, so why wouldn't I include it? We need to remember that the user of our CV is the hiring manager, and not everything is going to be relevant to them. So you need to be ruthless at trimming out content that you don't need. I'm stopping video, and hopefully that makes my audio more solid. You don't get to see my flailing hand now. That is fine! Removing unnecessary content, not referring to specific projects, but also, it can, it also just means stripping out language. For the bulk of a CV, I don't think you should write in full sentences. I'm a huge fan of bullet points, like, so have a bullet point that starts with a verb. So you don't need to write "In this job, I had the following responsibilities ...". all of that text is redundant, because it's a CV. They know you're going to be writing about responsibilities in a job. You don't need to write every month I had the task of ... "Every month I had the task of compiling a report to a tight deadline." You can just write "Monthly reporting to deadlines", so you can shorten your language, and make it very scan-readable, and again, we are thinking of this user that is tired, and distracted, and we want them just to be able to like scan with bullet points, get the gist of what you were doing, and not have to spend too much time on it.
So, yes, the way that you can decide what is necessary is again look at the job description, and try and be ruthless by looking at it through the employer's eyes, and stripping out content that they don't need.
Now, what you might want to do is have a master CV where you put everything you've ever done into it. You list every single job, every single voluntary thing you've done, every community thing you've done, and in each job, you list every single duty, and so this, like, this uber CV might be like six or seven pages long, and then, when you come to apply to a job, you start with that, and then you just start ruthlessly deleting and whittling it down, just to the content that is relevant for that particular job.
So, yes, that can help. And a good thing to do is get somebody else to help you remove content, because other people can be much more objective when taking an axe to your CV than you can, like I might struggle to be able to remove a paragraph from my CV, but if I pass it to someone else, they will say, "This job here that you loved is not relevant to this particular employer, so let's lose it."
So the next thing I want to talk about on your CV is the visual hierarchy. So, when you're designing a web page, like, I imagine we're all into our fundamental page, right? You have the one single H1 that is the most important title on the page, and then your H2s, you use sparingly, to break up the content. We want to apply the same principles in our CV. So we want the important sections to come first. So there is no particular order that you have to give the CV in. I usually like to start with a professional profile, a paragraph of text, and that will be about the only paragraph that I use, where I just say, "Hello, this is who I am. This is why I love your company more than all the other companies, and here are some other relevant details."
After that, I will often have a key competency section, and that will just be two or three of the most important things, whatever they are, so, for some jobs, I might have just my academic stuff appear there. For another job, I might point out specific experience I've done, or specific voluntary experience I've done. But, yes, the key competency section as an area I can tailor to that specific job and it just highlights content that otherwise might be hidden on page 2. So I see someone has asked would the professional profile be a mini version of what goes in a cover letter? Yes, absolutely. When I write cover letters, kind of play the same game: so you're still trying to get a hiring manager to see things that ticks the boxes as easily as possible. Some hiring people hate CVs, and if there - hate CVs and if there is a they are, they will go straight to the letter. Other managers will ignore the letter completely and just go to the CV. Not knowing what kind of person they are, you want to include your biggest selling points in both places, so no matter where they look, their first impression is, "This person ticks boxes." I don't think I've said that explicitly yet; but, recruitment is a tick-box exercise. The list of requirements on the job requirements on the job advert is literally a list of boxes to be ticked to get through to the next stage of recruitment.
So, by looking at the job be description, you can look get an idea of the boxes that should be ticked, and - I tick a bunch of these boxes. I like to imagine that hiring managers probably wait until they've got a bunch of CVs to go through in one go, and what they will probably do is spend literally 30 seconds on each one, looking to see if they can just throw it away, so they will look at each CV very briefly and try and go, "No, no, no, oh, maybe ... " and the maybes they will put to one side, and after they have culled as many CVs they can, they will pick up the maybes, and those ones they will actually read all the way through. So you want the top of your CV to have the most important sections first.
So if you've just left education, or if you've just redone your education, like if you've gone on a bootcamp, or if you've worked for a bit, and you've gone back into education, you might want your education section above your job history section. Into two parts, like relevant experience that comes first, and you list anything that is even vaguely techie. And then you would an other job experience where you list roles that are less relevant with much less details. In your job history, I also like to mix paid work and voluntary work interchangeably, like if you do tech community stuff, list it as a job. If you do volunteer stuff, list it as a job, because, to the employer, it's not important, really, whether you were paid to do something or not.
What is important is that you did the thing, you gained the experience, you developed your skills. Whether there was a pay cheque for not is not so important. Another visual hierarchy point: ensure the section headings don't catch the eye above all else.
Now, the reason that I say this is because. It is a CV. The context has been established, the employer knows that they are looking at a document that will have a specific type of information grouped up ready for them. So, if you were doing a website, or an app that is brand new to people and using concepts they don't really understand, you might want really big headings to draw the eye and say, "This section does this, this section does this," but if your app is something like a to-do list where the concept is very familiar to everybody, you don't need a massive heading saying, "To-do list", like they will understand what it is by looking at it. I generally like to make my section headings smaller than some of the other text on my page, and I will just have a horizontal line to show the person this is a new section, and, if you need to know what section it is, and you can't figure it out at a glance, then you can look at the text over on the side which will tell you. I also like to be sparing with formatting details. So I generally, I won't use any italics or underlining almost at all.
I will use and little bold as I can, because what I want is for the bold text to jump out at them. If there is too much bold on the page, it's overwhelming, and the eye doesn't get drawn to any one particular place. If you use it sparingly, then it will be easier for their eye to get drawn to specific things.
I also like to make a point of putting job titles, or qualification titles at the start of a line, and that is due to the way our brain has been wired to approach written material. So I don't know whether you've ever seen heat maps of attention? They look like this. So, people who were brought up in a culture that reads left to right, their eyes have been trained to jump to certain points on a page. So these heat maps are tracking somebody's attention in the first second or two, or maybe even shorter period of time, that they look at a page, and their eye will naturally jump up to the top left-hand corner, and scan down the left-hand side of the page. If the left-hand side of your page has visually distinct job titles says, "Senior engineer, junior year, trainee software developer", in a blink of a second, they've just understood your whole career to date, like, without even really understanding it. You're subliminally feeding them the story of your career.
So, yes, you want to put the most important information at the start of a line, and, if you make it visually distinct, it will catch the eye at a reflexive level. They won't even be aware they've ingested your CV, but that then works in your favour because they will have a rough idea of what you've done, your paragraph will tell them more, and then the rest of your CV is just confirming what they already know.
The last thing we want to do is optimise for the specific role that we are replying to. Most of what I'm talking about today is picking a specific role with a specific company, and writing a CV for that role. I'm not a fan of having a general CV that you just bash out to a people, because I think that doesn't work nearly as effectively. You might want to come up with a generalised CV. If you're going to have one on your website available to download or submit it to an agency website, you might need to have a role, might need to have a CV that isn't optimised for a specific role. In that case, what I would recommend you do is get five or ten job adverts for the type of role you want, and look for the commonalities, look for the things they all ask for, and sort of optimise for that. But, yes, when you are applying for a specific role at a specific company, you can be more thorough with your optimisations. So some tips I would recommend are change your job titles to match their job titles, where possible. Like, don't tell them that you've been in a job that you've never even remotely done. But if they call the role "Junior web developer" and your previous company called it "front-end engineer", or "front-end engineer trainee" then just train it to be junior developer there. Job titles don't really mean anything. Every company defines them in a slightly different way. Language can be used interchangeably, or not, like they might have special significance, so, if they call it a software engineer, you call yourself a software engineer, if they call it "code jockey", you can call it "code jockey". You're telling them I've looked at your company and your culture, and I've done the, that you're looking for.
On a related note, brand yourself as what they're looking for, so, if they've called it "full stack web developer", if I can plausibly call myself that, my very first line will be, "I am an experienced full-stack web developer", like use the exact terminology they're using, because again it sets the expectation in the manager's brain: this person is that thing that I'm looking for, and then the rest of your CV will hopefully confirm that impression. If you're looking to change career slightly, you can still bring up the job title quickly, so maybe you want to move into DevOps, so you can say I'm a full-stack web engineer with a passion for DevOps looking for my first role in that field, like, again, tell them I know what you're looking for, and it is me.
Then you can start doing optimisations, like just shuffling your bullet points around, like, the way that they lay out the job description will tell you what they think is important. Some companies might prioritise working within time limits and budget limits as being the most important thing. They're a serious enterprise-y type place so to make sure that any talk of you working in limits and deadlines is prominently displayed. In other places, if it is like, "We are a collaborative friendly company which is all about teamwork", you can make sure that those bullet points come earlier in that job description so they can see. Yes, you have looked at what we think is important, and you have shown us that that is prioritised first.
There is a question in the chat: is previous job title something worth bolding making obvious in that first line? Yes, could be, especially if the previous job title is the same or similar to what you're applying for. It really doesn't hurt to bash them over the head with, "This is the thing that you want and this is me," so ... . Have a look at mirroring their language. If they talk about working under time constraints but your CV says working to dead lines, just switch that language to to "working under time constraints". I'm not saying copy and paste whole bullet points from the whole job description because that looks a bit transparent, but it's terminology and jargon. If they have a specific way of saying something, and it is essentially the same as something you've done, use their term for it, because that cuts down on the hiring manager's cognitive load. They don't have to try and translate between your old job's jargon and your new job's jargon, where they can see that that person has done the thing that we are looking for.
Right, okay. We are going to move on. I am going to show you some examples of my CVs. Cool, you can see my cursor on screen, right? So this is my CV that was submitted in 2010, maybe. Yes, it's got curriculum vitae at the top in big letters. That's definitely content they needed to have pointed out to them(!). The most prominent is a list of labels that they can absolutely figure out on their own. Please don't still my identity based on any of the information you see here! The most eye-catching text on the page is the labels, and then is like a giant confusing block of bold. You basically have to read the whole thing to figure out what is going on. At least I used bullet points. Not a complete loss. And then, yes, like a big confusing mess. Like the dates are at the start of the line. That is not important. They don't - they might need the dates eventually, and then massive headers. Huge margins. Not a great CV. It was good enough to get me a job teaching CVs but, fine. And then also, I did this weird talk about yourself in the third person verbal gymnastics, like why did I do that? I guess I thought I needed to. But, yes, you can talk about yourself in the first person. It's fine. It sounds much more natural than "Matthew rose is a versatile and intelligent individual ... " so after having worked there for six years, I then went and did a development bootcamp, and this is the CV that I used after having done that development bootcamp to get my first developer job. We've got a much more streamlined upper section. They don't need my full address. If they want it, they will ask me more it. I don't need to tell them it's my email address. It's my email address. I'm a fan of having, I like to have enough of the link so they can enter it manually if they want it. You don't need to include HTTP s://. My professional profile, straightaway, I'm a freshly qualified junior developer. Like, at that point, I was a bootcamp grad, but call it a junior developer. And here, I talk basically about what I did in the bootcamp. With only a passing reference to my previous career. My key competency section, it's all bootcamp. I don't mention anything I did in my previous life at all, because a tech company is only going to be interested in my bootcamp skills. Therapy not really going to care too much about what I did previously.
Without having all that what did experience, I make a big thing about the projects that I did during the bootcamp, so these are hot links to the repositories, there is an actual there is a vulnerable version on Heroku that they can look at to get more information about what I did. Everything else I did in my life gets booted to the expected page, because it's not all that relevant to a tech company. So here, OpenCode is a meet-up that I used to run in Birmingham when the world worked and we could do stuff. This was a once-a-week voluntary thing, but from a tech point of view, it's my most important asset, so I've put that first.
So, Ingeus is the company where I learned to write CVs. I did about four or five different job titles while I was there, but I've just picked one of them, like while I was a group facilitator, I taught people that had never used IT before how to use IT, and so from a tech point of view, that was the most relevant thing I could pull out, so I talk about that.
And then I did some other stuff, just to pad it out. English teaching, and then here, I was a database super user. I was, for like about six months, out of the total. I've combined two different jobs here, because they were - basically, I've pulled out reporting data entry data cleansing. That was a tiny part of the job, but it was the most relevant one, so I will bring it to the top.
Education-wise, I will make sure that those are bold and at the start of the line, and so they jump out, and personal interests. I am a fan of including a hobby section or a personal interests section. If the rest of your CV is doing its job, it portrays you as a perfect robot designed for their job, so your personal interest is an area where you can humanise yourself. What is my best karaoke song? It is, I'm in Motorhead's Ace of Spades is my go to! There are a bunch that I really like. Do you Smule? I do not. I do not know what that is. I will look it up afterwards.
This CV was enough to get me my first developer job.
And then after leaving that job, I, these are two CVs that I did afterwards, so, we're back down to just one page, now that I've got some experience in tech, I don't need to spend all that time talking about the bootcamp. So this is - I think this is the CV - oh, this is the CV that I submitted to npm. I applied to npm and GitHub at the same time. So here I call myself an experienced support specialist with a background in web development and education. So all of my previous experience just gets distilled down into those words, that I'm a support specialist, which is the thing they were looking for. My key competencies are all about providing support in writing, and a little bit of developer knowledge, and community empathy. And then my employment history again, I've put my voluntary stuff first, because it seems more relevant, like tech stuff seems more relevant. Then my actual job I was a web developer, and I said I was a ... and that is more relevant to the support role. At Ingeus, I changed my job titles there. I did do those things, but I've made it more apparent to them.
At the same time, I was applying for technical writing roles. So I hadn't done - I put "technical author, freelance", I hadn't done that much. But an experienced developer and educator, my competencies are about writing docs. Again, I kept it about as a technical writer.
So you can put your jobs, so you might want to break employment history into two sections where you have your relevant jobs first on the CV, and then other jobs. If you were out of work for a while, you might want to instead of writing dates, you might want to put durations, so just say at this job, two years. And if they care when those two years were, they will ask you. One thing I do as well: I never mention months. If you just mention years, then it, like let them think those were whole years, right? If you did a job that started in December and finished in January, put 2020/2021. Don't lie about it if they ask you, but if they care about the specific dates, they will get you to fill in an exhaustive application form where they ask the exact dates of everything you've ever done. If you don't - if they don't dare that much about the dates, put the years, and let them assume. If your most relevant experience was a long time ago, put two years, or 18 months. Put durations rather than dates. Again, that is something you can A/B test.
Okay, so, as I work at GitHub, ... so, yes, I think that there are lots of good reasons why GitHub should not be an extension of your CV. The little green squares - am I muted? .I'm not muted, I don't think. Can everyone hear me?