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Résumé / CV Sift

David Wickes
British. Strong opinions held weekly. No, that's not a typo. Teaches when and where and what I can.
・2 min read

So we're hiring -- who isn't? -- and my colleague hands me a stack of CVs. That's 'Curriculum Vitae' here in Merrie Olde England, aka a "résumé" for those of us who enjoy using accents.

"These are the ones I'd like to interview," they say, "but there's still too many. Could you take look at them?"

"Well this one for a start," I say, handing them back the first CV on the stack. "There's two typos in the first paragraph."

"What? Why does that matter?"

It matters. It matters a lot. When I'm going through a stack of résumés I'm not looking for reasons to accept, I'm looking for reasons to reject. And quick ones too; we can get hundreds of applications for a position, especially for a junior role, and I have an actual job to do at the same time. So I want to get rid of 90% of these applications. And the ones with typos are the first to go.

If you can't be bothered to proofread your own CV a few times, or get a friend to read it over, then I'm not going to read it. Why would I hire someone who won't take the time to check how to spell "JavaScript"?

If your CV is more then two pages (one in the US), then I bin it. I do not have time to read your life story. No, changing the font size to 7pt won't help you. You will have to cut stuff.

I select on other things too -- poor formatting for instance -- but you get the idea.

Some people think this is unfair. I get told that we're hiring developers, not writers, and who cares if they can't spell.

The first thing I'd say is that this is fairer than just binning 50% of the applications from the start, at random. Yes, I have seen that done.

But also, these criteria; what are they really testing for? Concision and accuracy. These are two excellent attributes for a developer to have, as well as the diligence to check your work before you send it off.

I want to hire someone who cares, who has a sense of pride in what they produce. And I think that starts with the CV and the job application.

What do you think?

Discussion (24)

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quii profile image
Chris James • Edited

The IT Industry:

Recruitment is so horrible, both from an employee and employer perspective. It's so hard to find the right candidates

Also the IT industry:

I have an actual job to do at the same time

Recruitment is part of the job and is no less real than working through some dumb tickets. In some ways it's more important than the "normal" work because who you work with and how your team works is so important.

Throwing away candidates with low attention to detail to save time is throwing away potentially excellent people.

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gypsydave5 profile image
David Wickes Author

I have an actual job to do at the same time

This is poorly worded. Perhaps I should say that I'm not a professional recruiter and have other priorities to manage? Recruitment, like child care and keeping a house, is a full time job. And just as exhausting...

Throwing away candidates with low attention to detail to save time is throwing away potentially excellent people.

At every stage of a recruitment process you're throwing away potentially excellent people. You have to accept that. And you're always doing it to save time. What you're trying to do is maximise your discrimination while minimising your effort. If you wanted to give everyone the absolutely fairest chance you'd have them all interviewed by the same people, in the same room, at the same time of day, with no screening. Far too much time and effort, and even then you'd miss some great people.

So you've got to find ways of reducing the number of candidates -- narrowing the funnel -- as soon as possible. Telephone interviews. Tech tasks for people to do at home. Multiple rounds. All with benefits and drawbacks.

If you, or your organisation, has decided to recruit using the "CV and covering letter in response to a job description" approach, then you have to decide what that's for? Are you going to sift some of those CVs away? Which ones?

Hard to do when every CV is entry level and looks the same. And so we get to 'reject typos and more than two pages'. Because, frankly, if the candidate doesn't care enough about their CV to do it properly, then why should I?

I would make exceptions for positive discrimination, i.e. ensuring underrepresented minorities get through the first stage no matter what.

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charlesdlandau profile image
Charles Landau • Edited

If you wanted to give everyone the absolutely fairest chance you'd have them all interviewed by the same people, in the same room, at the same time of day, with no screening. Far too much time and effort, and even then you'd miss some great people.

I hope you mean you'd control for all those conditions but still do interviews separately. You'd miss a lot of great people with group interviews -- they're a terrible idea. Group interviews with no screening are worse.

  1. You walk into a room and say who has any experience with Framework? Everyone who doesn't raise their hand spent their afternoon and travel money to leave in the first minute.
  2. You have N minutes in front of this group. The most assertive loudmouth will get more minutes of your attention. Are loudmouths better devs?
  3. Accessibility?!?!?!
  4. Many developers completely withdraw from the application if you mention group interviews

I would make exceptions for positive discrimination, i.e. ensuring underrepresented minorities get through the first stage no matter what.

???

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gypsydave5 profile image
David Wickes Author

I hope you mean you'd control for all those conditions but still do interviews separately.

I certainly do. I agree with your comments regarding group interviews.

???

Care to elaborate?

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charlesdlandau profile image
Charles Landau

I'm happy to elaborate.

I would make exceptions for positive discrimination, i.e. ensuring underrepresented minorities get through the first stage no matter what.

...is a very different attitude and approach from what I usually see. If you want an inclusive hiring process I think it's harder than just ensuring all the people from underrepresented groups skip one stage of the process, which is how I read this part of your comment. I'd be the first to say I'm not an expert but I certainly made the (???) face when I read that quote.

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gypsydave5 profile image
David Wickes Author

If you want an inclusive hiring process I think it's harder than just ensuring all the people from underrepresented groups skip one stage of the proces

Can't argue with this - there's 1001 things that everyone can do to make the whole hiring process more equitable, and I'm not saying this is my silver bullet or anything. It's just something I'd consider doing.

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codegiggler profile image
Amos Bunde

I think the major problem is we are looking for the right or best candidate. No one is best for the job, just look for some who has the skills, adaptive, experience and hungry.
Understand what drives someone, future plans and what plans he has for the company should he join.

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nataliedeweerd profile image
𝐍𝐚𝐭𝐚𝐥𝐢𝐞 𝐝𝐞 𝐖𝐞𝐞𝐫𝐝

No obvious portfolio on your CV is another reason I personally might reject a CV. As developers, I want to SEE your work; especially if you're a junior! I appreciate not every piece of work can be put online, but add what you can. Make your portfolio super obvious on your CV (it's up at the top of mine, near my contact details).

Some people think this is unfair. I get told that we're hiring developers, not writers, and who cares if they can't spell.

This is actually an important point. I've worked on sites where variable names have been misspelt and that's caused a whole host of issues! Being able to accurately write comments and function documentation is also super important to developers. No they're not writers, but spelling and communication are important skills.

Perhaps the bigger question is whether CV's are an accurate way of hiring people nowadays? Especially in our field. As you mention you could be throwing away a truly excellent developer because they have a bad CV.

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scottishross profile image
Ross Henderson

I would say it depends on the level of the job you're looking for. When I was applying for entry-level positions, I was sending hundreds of CVs out a week.

Since moving up the ladder and now having a bit more choice in the CVs I send out, I highly personalise and can spend a whole day making sure my CV is perfect. But I wouldn't do it for entry-level.

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gypsydave5 profile image
David Wickes Author

If your sending out hundreds of CVs a week (!) consider the poor people at the other end who are receiving those hundreds of CVs a week from developers like you.

Are they going to read every one carefully, or will they look for any excuse to drop it in the trash?

This is an exercise in strategy: do you write five good applications, or a hundred bad applications? What's the most efficient strategy. I choose to go with the first from my experience of applying for jobs, and reading CVs when hiring. But if there's data on the subject...

My worry about the second approach is that can lead to a vicious circle. None of my hundred applications worked out? Next week I will write two hundred, etc, etc.

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scottishross profile image
Ross Henderson

You raise a very good and valid point. Though my situation was more "I need a job and I'll take anything" rather than "This is a job I want".

But you raise a good point, maybe spending a bit more time per CV and sending less out may have done better.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald

I get told that we're hiring developers, not writers, and who cares if they can't spell.

I tell my interns and mentees, if you can't be bothered to master English grammar and spelling, which is relatively (comparatively) forgiving, then how can anyone assume you'll be able to master the grammar (syntax) and spelling of a programming language, which is never forgiving?

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babrown93 profile image
Bill

Thanks for the article David.

I'm not a junior nor applying for that kind of role, but I have a general question on your method there. You say longer than 2 pages or 1 in the US and it gets binned. How can you ensure good formatting, accuracy, and full technical background in 1 page? 2 pages I agree with you, but 1 page?

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hwolfe71 profile image
Herb Wolfe

This has always puzzled me as well. Up until recently, I've seen 2 pages as being acceptable.

I am looking for junior roles. I have several years of professional work experience, but not much programming experience. My current resume is about a 1.5 pages. To get it down to 1 page, I'd have to remove the bullet points and job descriptions or decrease the font size two point sizes.

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gypsydave5 profile image
David Wickes Author

I know, sounds incredible doesn't it? But, from my experience, most US resumes are one page only. Give it a google and you'll see what I mean.

Yes, it's a hell of an exercise in brevity. But it's possible if you treat the resume like the 'answer' to the job spec. Stay focused, trim the fat and it'll probably fit.

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ambuj_twitt profile image
Kumar Ambuj

I agree with you. I have been trying hire a good candidate for a while and had a bad luck. Recruitment dumps a bunch of resume on to my desk and I have to sit and sort through it. I feel the same way, if you don't pay attention to the resume I don't think you are really looking out for a job or are serious enough.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald • Edited

Some people think this is unfair. I get told that we're hiring developers, not writers, and who cares if they can't spell.

English (and any other human language) is far more forgiving than programming languages. If one cannot manage English grammar and spelling, they certainly will not be able to manage programming grammar, spelling, syntax, patterns, idioms, and algorithms. Any apparently "clean" code such a developer produces is a side-effect of their IDE's correction tools, and you can bet it will be harboring no end of logic errors.

It sounds harsh, but it's true.

But also, these criteria; what are they really testing for? Concision and accuracy. These are two excellent attributes for a developer to have, as well as the diligence to check your work before you send it off.

Yep.

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nikoheikkila profile image
Niko Heikkilä

What's the general opinion on applicants who don't send a traditional CV?

Personally, I've never bothered too much printing my skills on paper or putting them inside a PDF. I've gotten most of my jobs by sending an informal application via email with links to my portfolio, and maybe give a short phone call to check that application was received.

As a person looking through job applications, I would honestly rank people with more creative ways of proving their skills higher than those who email me a basic A4 made with Microsoft Word.

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gypsydave5 profile image
David Wickes Author

I would honestly rank people with more creative ways of proving their skills higher than those who email me a basic A4 made with Microsoft Word.

Indeed! I've got my CV as a GitHub repo - you can choose the format yourself!

But, more broadly, I'd turn the question around: if you wanted to make a fair comparison of a hundred CVs, would you be pleased when one of them looked completely different to the rest, or annoyed?

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97amarnathk profile image
Amarnath Karthi

You also made a spelling mistake in the second last paragraph. 😬. So I guess mistakes are made by even the best.

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gypsydave5 profile image
David Wickes Author • Edited

Well that was inevitable! Comes of blogging with one hand while rocking a baby...

Happily I wasn't applying for a job :D


I've corrected it; thanks!

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97amarnathk profile image
Amarnath Karthi

Lucky indeed that you weren't applying for a job yourself. :)

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nirlanka profile image
Nir Lanka ニル

Amarnath, but I think that's not the point he's making. This is the reality. Whether it's fair or not, recruitment processes in almost any company will have this step of elimination based on spelling and grammar.

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th3n00bc0d3r profile image
Muhammad

Good Read...