I'm just back from judging entries for the CWJobs Augmented Reality CV contest. The idea is that presenting your skills and work history using multimedia technology is more engaging than doing so with a few sheets of A4 paper. In the judging session, we looked at the best CVs from hundreds of entries, with the winners getting a professional augmented reality makeover for their jobseeking efforts.
The augmented reality bit is a neat twist, but I doubt we will see it become a mainstream technique for submitting a CV. At the same time, it seems extraordinary that we are still so reliant on traditional CVs, particularly in the IT industry. Still, given that situation, what does it take to create a CV that will impress and get you interviews?
My perspective on this is unusual because I'm a technical journalist rather than someone in the recruitment industry. That means I'm in the business of communicating technical information; and I noticed that many of the CVs we looked at were poor in this respect. In reading the CV, you had to do detective work to figure out what sort of skills the person has, and what sort of work they have done, rather than this being clearly stated. Often there was too much information, and the CV was verbose and hard to digest.
There is no harm in assuming that the person reading your CV has little time or patience, which means you have to communicate the essentials at a glance. For example, you could think of the three top reasons why someone might want to employ you and place them as bullet points in your introductory profile.
My general suggestion is to be as concise as possible, avoid jargon and meaningless management-speak, be wary of littering the CV with too many unexplained acronyms, and get a friend to check basics like good English and grammar. You might imagine that everyone does this; but judging by the CVs we saw, simply getting these easy things right will lift your CV above the crowd.
Moving beyond these essentials, the question that interests me is how individuals can make use of the internet to communicate their skills and experience. In some cases it seems obvious. If you are a web designer, for example, it seems odd if you do not include a few links to work you have done. It is harder for developers or admins whose work is less public and often confidential; but nevertheless there may be forums where you help solve technical problems, or an open source project to which you contribute. Similarly, if you are an IT consultant, there could be blog posts or online papers which demonstrate your insights.
Another idea is to create your own skills cloud - CW Jobs has made this easy with a drag-and-drop web site for this purpose.
In a tough job market, it seems to me that building an online profile is a great way to invest some time and energy. It can also lead directly to job opportunities, as potential employers come across your work.
It does seem to me inevitable that traditional CVs will become less important as we learn to make better use of the internet in this context, though I am not sure whether this means the emergence of electronic CVstandards, or more reliance on profiles at key web sites, or some other trend. The CV is resilient though, so in the meantime it still pays to make it as good as possible, but supplemented by online content that will bring it to life.
Starting my career in the software
development trenches at consumer electronics company Psion, I've seen the
challenges of recruitment from all angles. And as my career has evolved from
job seeker to recruiter the frontline experience has stayed with me.
Particularly the ability to recognise the very best skills for the job. I also
have an appreciation from both angles of how important it is to invest time in
recruitment to make the right decisions. A bad judgement call has repurcussions
on the individual, the immediate team and the wider business. In recent weeks,
I've once again found myself in a situation where considerable people growth is
required. I'm working on a project at Accenture, assisting their Embedded
Mobility Services group. Mobile is increasingly a hot topic, and there's
strong demand for people providing expert consuItancy in a variety of mobile
development project settings. This experience has led me to review my beliefs
about the best way to carry out recruitment in such situations. Permit me
to think aloud...
To start with, I remain a huge fan of graduate recruitment programs. The best graduates bring fire in their bellies: a "we can transform the world" attitude that doesn't know what's meant to be impossible - and often carries it out! Of course, graduates typically take some time before they can be deployed in the frontline of commercial software development. But if you plan ahead, and have effective "bootcamp" courses, you'll have new life in your teams soon enough. There will be up-and-coming stars ready to step into the shoes left by any unexpected staff departures or transfers. If you can hire a group of graduates at the same time, so much the better. They can club together and help each other, sharing and magnifying what they each individually learn from their assigned managers and mentors. That's the beauty of the network effect.
That's just one example of the importance of networks in hiring. I place a big value on having prior knowledge of someone who is joining your team. Rather than having to trust your judgement during a brief interviewing process, and whatever you can distill from references, you can rely on actual experience of what someone is like to work with. This effect becomes more powerful when several of your current workforce can attest to the qualities of a would-be recruit, based on all having worked together at a previous company in the past. I've seen the benefit of this effect via networks of employees, sometimes at competitive companies, who all knew each other and who could vouch for each others' capabilities during the recruitment process. I've also utilised internal networks of high-calibre people from newly mergered and acquired companies, a time when talent can easily get overlooked. The benefit here isn't just that you know that someone is a great professional. It's that you already know what their particular special strengths are. ("I recommend that you give this task to Mike. At our last company, he did a fantastic job of a similar task.")
Next, I recommend hiring for flexibility, rather than simply trying to fit a current task description. I like to see evidence of people coping with ambiguity, and delivering good results in more than one kind of setting. That's because projects almost always change; likewise for organisational structures. So while interviewing, I'm not trying to assess if the person I'm interviewing is the world expert in, say, C++ templates. Instead, I'm looking for evidence that they could turn their hand to mastering whole new skill areas - including areas that we haven't yet realised will be important to future projects.
Similarly, rather than just looking for rational intelligence skills, I want to see evidence that someone can fit well into teams. "Soft skills", such as inter-personal communication and grounded optimism, aren't an optional extra, even for roles with intense analytic content. The best learning and the best performance comes from ... networks (to use that word again) - but you can't build high-functioning networks if your employees lack soft skills.
Finally, high-performing teams that address challenging problems benefit from internal variation. So don't just look for near-clones of people who already work for you. When scanning CVs, keep an eye open for markers of uniqueness and individuality. At interview, these markers provide good topics to explore - where you can find out something of the underlying character of the candidate.
In summary, I see recruitment and induction as a task that deserves high focus from some of the most skilled and perceptive members of your existing workforce. Skimp on these tasks and your organisation will suffer - sooner or later. Invest well in these tasks, and you should see the calibre of your workforce steadily increase.
While there was a time when job seekers could afford to be choosy about the roles they took on, which company they worked for and the hours they worked, unfortunately, there's no doubt recession and large-scale redundancies have had an impact on the IT industry, turning the job-scene very much into a buyer's market. As candidates find themselves competing with many others for fewer roles, flexibility will be a key factor on deciding who gets the job.
Although there are definitely jobs available in the market, especially for those with specialist skills and relevant experience, candidates who are willing to show flexibility in their requirements do give themselves an added advantage. Whether it involves taking on a different role than you're used to, working different hours than usual or considering short term rather than longer term contract work, a willingness to adapt to the changing needs of the market could be the one key skill that propels you to the top of a potential employer's list.
Nor does flexibility necessarily involve making sacrifices; one very positive effect of the new jobs market is that it has removed some of the barriers that have stopped candidates putting themselves forward for certain roles in the past. Perceptions about the kind of roles and responsibilities they could get or take on have often caused candidates to take a cautious approach to job-seeking in the past. Now, however, as employers demonstrably place more value on specific skills (rather than generic 'IT skills') and a willingness to understand the wider business context, candidates are in a position to explore avenues that they may not once have considered, whether that involves applying for a different type of role, considering a change in sector or approaching a different kind of organisation.
As long as they remain realistic and willing to negotiate, there are still many opportunities for IT workers in today's market; while knowledge and skills are always important, a change in mindset can be the key factor that makes the difference between finding or keeping a job and not.
Gaining experience during a period when the number of readily-available jobs is steadily declining may seem easier said than done, the importance of this seemingly obvious step cannot be overestimated. Although skills and knowledge are very important elements to building a strong CV, an increasing number of employers are looking at practical experience within a relevant field or role as an equally important factor in choosing the right candidate for a job.
For university students or fresh graduates, the process of gaining relevant experience may seem easier as placement schemes can be a good way to get a foot in the door to the IT departments of some great companies. While the pay is rarely significant (and in many cases is non-existent) for these roles, having relevant, real-life experience within a business environment adds considerable value to a CV which will stand candidates in good stead throughout their career.
For those already in jobs, the process may not be as straightforward but can be very rewarding, both from a CV-building perspective but also as a networking exercise. In many cases, employers may be quite willing to let existing employees take ownership of projects or additional responsibilities that would otherwise require them to bring in additional, external resources that they can ill afford. For an employee, this is not only a great way to prove their worth to their current employer but also a chance to build up their credentials for when the next job-hunt begins.
The last decade has seen huge investment in ICT for schools, with a figure approaching £5bn being dedicated to technology and innovation. And with a further £857m earmarked for schools in the next three years, Britain could in many ways be seen as leading the charge with technology in the classroom. Some 99% of schools have made the switch to broadband, and over half have interactive whiteboards in the classroom. Add to this the successful 'Computers for Schools' initiative, which has already benefited some 100,000 young people in the UK as well as Civica's recent deployment of IT services to a number of secondary schools; we can soundly say the education sector is a thriving area of opportunities for IT professionals.
It's often noted that the public sector has some great prospects for IT professionals and the field of education is no different. With budgets available and long-term investment planned by the Government, the education sector remains one of the few that is actively recruiting for skilled IT workers, even in therse difficult times. Educational software packages, school hardware and increased investment in school technology infrastructure, present a number of job openings for both graduates and seasoned IT professionals.
In terms of breaking into the industry, education is similar to many other areas of the public sector. Having relevant experience working in education will of course give you an advantage but it isn't the be all and end all for prospective employers. Accreditations go a long way in any IT job application so highlight any that you already have or consider investing in a few relevant courses to get a few! There are several key players in the education technology market and even some that cater soely to the education sector; as such there will be opportunities available for the right candidate.
With the ever changing nature of the IT industry, so called 'growth areas' tend to come and go on a regular basis. However education appears to be one sector which bucks the trend, making it the place to be in IT circles.
Using the following simple techniques will ensure that your CV comes up in searches and that your skills and experience match the recruiter's search string.
When writing your CV, think carefully about your choice of words. If you are applying for a job advertised on one of the job boards such as www.cwjobs.co.uk then look carefully at the words being used in the advertisement and utilize these same words in your CV. I'm not suggesting that you mention skills and experience that you don't have but it does make sense to use the same terminology.
Remember that if your CV is sitting on one of the job boards, or perhaps on a recruitment agency database (along with thousands of other CVs) then these are the words and terms that a recruitment consultant will probably use to search for CVs.
For example, if you are looking for a position in IT as a Project Manager then a quick scan of the on-line advertisements for Project Managers might throw up a number of words and phrases that are common to all. These terms may include: Project Manager, Project Management, Prince 2, life-cycle, budget, change control, risk register and Microsoft Project. These are the words that a recruitment consultant may use to search for Project Managers. Make sure that you include all the appropriate words and phrases and all their variations in your CV.
Using the right job title is also another important factor. Many organisations use job titles that are meaningful and relevant within the context of their own business but which would not be used very commonly in the outside world. If your CV records that you have been (for example) a "Senior Critical Situation Manager" when in fact you are looking for a position as a "Problem Manager" or "Service Manager" then be sure to use this job title in your CV, perhaps in the Profile section.
I have seen many instances of Recruitment Consultants searching for candidates on a CV database and "missing" some of the best candidates simply because they didn't have the "right" job title on their CV. Identify all of your target job titles and ensure that you use all of them in your CV. For example Analyst Programmer, Software Engineer, Software Developer and so on.
When listing your IT technical skills you should also try to use all the variations of terms that a Recruitment Consultant is likely to search on. For example if you have good Java ME skills don't forget to use "Java Micro Edition" as well. Remember that Recruitment Consultants can't be experts in every technical field and if their client's job specification indicates a requirement for "Java Micro Edition" that's probably the term they will use in their search.
Finally remember that Recruiters will probably be viewing your CV on a computer screen so make sure that you get these important words and phrases at the beginning of your CV and not hidden away at the bottom of the secord or third page.
Using these simple techniques will ensure that your CV comes up in searches and that your skills and experience match the recruiter's search string.