While most organizations within the United States (with the exception of academic and research institutions) require only a one- or two-page resume from job applicants, many organizations outside the United States insist on the more substantial curriculum vitae (CV). CVs can easily run 30 pages, and because they are so long, it becomes even more vital that an applicant catch the IT manager's attention in the first few pages. Failure to do this could result in your CV being tossed into the wastebasket. In this article, I'll share tips to help you increase the chances that an IT manager will read your entire CV—and call you in for an interview.
General curriculum vitae information
If you're new to the concept of a curriculum vitae, check out the following Web sites for more information:
- Curriculum vitae tips
- JobStar Central’s curriculum vitae page
- University of California Career Center: Curriculum Vitae and Application Letter
- Hanover College: Writing your vita
Culling the herd
Depending on a position’s description and the how well the position is advertised, it's not uncommon for an IT manager to receive dozens of CVs, if not a hundred or more. While the IT manager is probably excited about hiring a new team member, seeing a mile-high stack of CVs on your desk can’t be pleasant. Imagine 100 applicants, each with CVs from 20 to 50 pages long. Do the math. Our IT manager would need to read between 2,000-5,000 pages! So how does the average IT manager quickly select the best candidates without getting eyestrain?
Many IT managers, myself included, rely on a triage method to fit reading CVs into our already tight schedules. With little time to devote to the process, there's no way a typical manager can read every page of every CV. Instead, the manager is likely to read only about the first three pages of each CV. Therefore, the key to getting your CV noticed is to make sure the IT manager reads all of your CV's first three pages. A mistake or weak section on those first three pages could make your CV DOA.
Get your CV noticed
If a manager is impressed with the first three pages, chances are good that your CV will end up in the "deserves-a-second-look" pile instead of the wastebasket.
The following tips are all things I look for when reading through a stack of CVs and are all tips that should help your CV avoid the trash—at least through the triage stage.
1. Avoid colored paper
The first thing your IT manager will notice is the color of your CV pages. But this isn’t the best way to get noticed. Fancy colored paper, super-bright white paper, onionskin, and the like, stand a good chance of being thrown into the reject bin. They just don’t belong in IT. Let your words and deeds stand out, not your paper-stock choice.
2. Keep the binding simple
The next thing is the binding. Keep your CV layout in portrait mode and stapled on the top left. Resist the temptation to bind a thick CV. Spiral binding, heat binding, and the like can make your CV look like a tedious book.
3. Keep the cover letter short and to the point
Your first page should be a one-page cover letter, designed to attract the IT manager's attention. Presentation plays a big role here. Keep your cover letter uncluttered and limit it to three paragraphs. Do a great job here, and the IT manager will certainly move on to your second page.
4. Customize your cover letter for the position
CVs that contain generic information get funneled into the reject bin quickly. Make sure that your cover letter and CV contain information that is relevant to the position. Do your research and customize your CV for each position for which you apply.
5. Ensure the job is open to your geographic area
Your second page is the cover sheet for your CV. Include “Curriculum Vitae,” your name, and your contact details on this page. If the position is based in Sydney and you are currently based in Chicago, make sure that the position is open to international applicants. Otherwise, you will only waste your time.
6. Stay relevant when listing accomplishments and education
Your third page includes your educational background, certificates, seminars you have attended, and associations or clubs in which you are an active member. Be thorough but don't go overboard. Only list seminars, clubs, and associations that are relevant to the job for which you are applying.
7. List each job on a separate page and avoid gaps in work history
Use one page for each job that you’ve had. Use the mm/yyyy format for starting and ending dates for each previous job, making sure that there are no time gaps. Leave a time gap, as little as one month, and you might lose out since many IT managers check for gaps in work history.
8. Attach copies of all support documents
Make sure that you provide copies of any degrees, diplomas, or certificates that you mention in your CV. You can attach these documents at the end of your CV, with a footnote in the text explaining where they can be found. Since these supplementary documents are generally printed with a landscape layout instead of a portrait layout like the rest of your CV pages, include the support documents so that the staple hits them on the top right corner.
9. Don't exaggerate your skills
Simply listing IT abbreviations or short names, such as MS-Office, VB, JAVA, C++, ActiveX, W2KS, and ASP, is not enough; you have to be able to support each one with personal work involvement. In other words, don’t claim to be a specialist or expert in a specific area, unless you can prove that you are one through your work history.
In my opinion, a specialist is one who has at least two years of experience or about 2,660 working hours in that field. If you’ve just finished a 36-hour networking course in Windows 2000 Server, it’s best to indicate in your CV that you have little experience but that you are willing to learn. Don’t oversell; just be confident in your ability to learn new things.
10. Don’t forget to double-check your work
Finally, as with all professional correspondence, remember to double-check your CV for accuracy, proper spelling, and proper grammar. Too many misspelled words, and your CV, along with your chances for being hired, will end up in the wastebasket.
A final word of advice
While it’s certainly a waste of time for an IT manager to have to pick up a CV that has typos, irrelevant accomplishments, obvious exaggerations, work gaps, and is printed on canary yellow paper, it still doesn’t take long for that manager to toss it into the trash. On the other hand, the tech that put together such a sloppy CV would have wasted much more time and effort. Follow my CV tips and save yourself from that fate—not to mention the rejection letters.