Reviewing CVs is like code reviews – the code must be clean, concise and readable; otherwise, it’s returned for refactoring. The difference is that no one is going to return a CV for refactoring, they will just archive it. Learn what mistakes you should avoid coming from real-life experience.
I had a colleague who would invite everyone to an interview. Well, I guess not absolutely everyone, but he would give a chance disregarding a not-an-A-grade résumé. I admit I’m not like that and I have rejected some candidates looking at their CVs only.
The ultimate rule is – if the candidate hasn’t put enough effort to 1) read the job posting and 2) assemble a decent CV, we can’t expect that they would put enough effort in their job tomorrow when we hire them.
I’ve looked through ~200 CVs for the last 2 years. It’s not a lot for sure, having in mind that I’ve seen job postings with several thousands of candidates. Still, the amount will do the job for the statistics. There are enough articles about how to assemble a perfect CV. However, I still encounter ridiculous creativity in many applications, so yet another piece of advice about the do’s and don’ts seems necessary, so you don’t get a really quick “No”.
What is so special about software testers?
Software testers need to demonstrate a unique set of qualities. The profession is like no other. Testers have the privilege to get paid for criticising others’ production. The primary job of software testers is to report bugs. (What software testers do is a whole new topic.)
A bug report has to be crystal clear. It must take no more than a glance for the developer to understand what the problem is. It’s the same with a CV. The hiring manager should need no more than a glance to decide if they should call you or not. My CV used to be unnecessarily long. What I did was to publish everything on LinkedIn since people tend to love reading long texts on an app rather than on a document and create a one-pager for applications.
I’ve been testing for years, and it’s absolutely apparent to me that finding a complicated, high-risk defect is just part of our daily job, but a tiny typo in our bug report has colossal exposure and impact over our credibility. And that’s when you have a job. Now, imagine a résumé full of typos, confusing organisation of the information, controversial skill set and messy design. The tools listed in a software tester’s CV will not suffice if the rest of it is hurting my eyes. Here are some more details about what to be careful with when assembling your Curriculum Vitae:
Do you have a clear perception of where you are and where you want to go in your career? Juniors might not know the job market well, neither have a broad view of different companies and their work style. There are open platforms where current and past employees or interviewees share their experience with the companies and it’s full of groups in the social networks. Of course, it might be that you’re looking for just any job because you need to gain initial experience but still try to apply for jobs that sound like the most proper for you.
Quality Assurance is a vast discipline, and there are QAs in all industries. You might be responsible for the quality of food products or car details, that’s amazing. It’s a waste of time though to apply for a Software QA unless you are indeed heading at such a career and have already started the transition.
Read the job offer carefully. If it’s explicitly required that you have at least 3 years then a 3-month course without proper background does not qualify.
If a company has open positions for a junior, senior QA, front-end dev, product owner, UI/UX designer and DevOps engineer – please, do not apply for all of them. If you apply for more than one position, add a note, write an email, explain why you are doing this and how do you qualify for all jobs. Still, it’s quite odd and shows sufficient lack of common sense. You must know what you want to do and what direction you want to develop your career in.
The first thing that your potential employer sees is the design of your CV. Information completeness, correctness, relevance, structure, integrity, etc. are quality characteristics that are part of the software testing objectives. Both for the details testers provide in their reports and for the deliverables they test. Hence, a messy CV speaks a lot for you as a software tester because paperwork is a testing skill regardless of the media. If the design is not your power, there are numerous free CV templates online. Download one, modify it, fill your data and convert it to PDF.
Good looking CV is important. I’ve heard many times that great engineers are not designers and they don’t have to, but that’s not right. It shows attitude and diligence. Hiring managers are busy and sometimes decisions need to be taken quickly. The look matters a lot. Why should the recruiter expect that your code will be clean if your CV is a mess?
The only format for CV so far is PDF. Not RTF and not DOC for sure. Many companies have applicant tracking systems (ATS) that automate the hiring process. ATS use parsers to extract essential data like name and contacts from your CV. Some work best with PDF, others – with DOCX. Make sure the document is appropriately constructed. Add metadata, proper naming and test it by sending it to a friend. Some ATS don’t like tables and columns, for example. What you don’t want is your name to appear “undefined Smith Period from” in the ATS of your dream job employer. Of course, you can’t validate your CV for all ATS, but as a tester, you can try to do proper research and do your best.
Grammar & Style
If you’re a software tester, then you surely expect that a test manager will look into your application. And you very well know that good testers catch issues immediately. Your CV is under test. The second thing your future test manager will assess is your literacy.
Do not misspell!
It happens to let a typo slip through, but if you have added excellent writing and communication skills, then a poorly written CV will get you a definite “Reject” status. Always proofread your résumé before sending it! Ask a friend to check it for you or use an online proofreading tool.
The issues with spelling could get hilarious, especially if you’re non-native. I’m from Bulgaria, we write in Cyrillic. In the dawn of the mobile era, not all of the devices had Cyrillic, so we all used to type Bulgarian words with the Latin alphabet, something like a phonetic alphabet. We didn’t have other option back then. Today, all devices have all alphabets, and it’s unforgivable to do that. Watch out for this disgusting mistake, also in your LinkedIn profile. For non-native Bulgarians, here it is how it looks like: the Technical University is Технически Университет. Some people still write Tehnicheski universitet. I’ve also seen the other way around that really shocked me – the English word requirements written in Cyrillic. It’s awful.
Another issue for non-English applicants is to mix the languages. For companies in your own country, don’t write your name in your mother language and then the rest in English. Either provide two versions of your CV in the different languages, or only one in the language of the job offer. But make sure it’s all in one language.
Grammar and style are essential, don’t overlook them. It doesn’t matter that you’ve listed all new fancy technologies, bad writing means a difficult written communication. You can’t compensate it with a long list of tools.
If you pass the visual and grammar inspection and your application is still in some of the active statuses in the ATS, the person in charge will read your CV comprehensively. Now, you should be really worried.
There are a few mistakes that every junior does. Since juniors don’t have many practical pieces of evidence to add to their résumés, they add anything they can think of. It really depends on what you’re applying for, but usually, the more adequate your content is, the higher the chances to get called. The list of recommendations here is endless, let’s take a look at a few of those that made me the worst impression.
- Attending conferences and workshops is not the same as presenting at conferences and leading workshops. It doesn’t show any level of expertise. You might have attended but browsing on your cell phone, so don’t do this.
- Summer jobs and internships are useful only when they have been somewhere around the same industry. Sometimes it’s totally irrelevant and doesn’t even justify similar work habits.
- Watch out with skills. If you have studied Perl in the university for half of the semester, it doesn’t really mean you can independently program a real business requirement in Perl. You should expect that you’d be asked to solve a task in Perl. If it’s not relevant to the job offer and it’s not something you can prove then don’t write it in your CV. Do not list 50 tools and technologies, the interviewer might actually be an expert.
- Demonstrating understanding of the terminology, especially in the field you’re applying, is crucial. It’s not program languages, it’s programming languages. In IT, make a difference between tools, technologies, platforms and products. Microsoft Visual Studio is a tool (despite quite complex), and WCF is a technology, .Net is a framework. Balsamiq and Jira are tools.
- Do not write clichés that you cannot really explain like Software Development Lifecycle. It’s such a broad topic that the fact that you’ve heard the term doesn’t mean you can go into the depth of it. Instead, write that you understand how software is made and what efficient development lifecycle looks like. This shows you have an actual opinion, the reader will get intrigued and will want to hear more from you at an interview.
- Don’t add “participating daily scrums”. It is important to show that you’re able to report shortly (at a daily standup), but that line doesn’t tell that. Neither it says you actually understand Scrum. You may add a sentence that your team has practised Scrum by the book or was new to Scrum, but only “participating” doesn’t mean anything.
- Don’t repeat. If you’ve changed a couple of companies as a software tester, it might be that you’ve done basically the same stuff – analyse requirements, write test cases and automate them, execute tests and report and verify bugs. Do you think it’s worth writing the exact same general information for all your previous jobs? Of course, you’ve done these. It would be quite odd if you’ve been a tester and you didn’t test (another note to self, however that doesn’t apply for the SEO rank of your LinkedIn profiles). What really interests a recruiter is what your contribution was. Add a short description of the projects in which you were involved; the technologies that you got familiar with during that employment but mostly what did you learn and how the project and the team benefitted from having you onboard.
- Show your contact data clearly. Yes, I’ve seen CVs without a phone number and/or email address or wrong ones.
- Add precise data about your previous employers like a link to their website and address. Same with your university and schools.
A general rule (to everything you do in life) – it must make sense, it better be easy to comprehend at a glance and contain valid references.
Last but not least are the applicant’s manners. These are the deal-breakers.
Applying 4 weeks in a row for a job is creepy. Do not do that. Ever. Send your CV once, they will either call you or not. Make sure your phone and email address are valid and check your spam folder regularly. If someone is interested in you, they will call you. Decent companies have HR management software and (sorry to tell you that) automatic replies. It takes them one minute to send you a “Sorry, we’re not moving forward with your application” email. But whether or not you’ve received a call or a message, do not call first, asking if they got your CV. Same applies to your behaviour after the interview. It’s even worse to ask how you’ve performed. There are myriads of companies, if they haven’t called, they’re not for you. You will surely miss your dream job if you call, especially if you’re a junior. Some companies value motivation a lot and have high self-esteem, they might be flattered, but if you’re a reasonable person with higher EQ, you would not call first, and you would not be sending your application every 3 days.
It’s getting less and less popular, again because nobody has time to read, but another thing that might help not to get considered as a total misfit only by looking to your papers is a cover/motivational letter. A proper one, though. I don’t care that “you think your skills are suitable for our job/company”. Of course, you think so! What I care about is how do you know us (it’s OK if you don’t), what did you like about the job that made you apply for it, why do you try. Be honest too and tell us that you just gave it a shot without really expecting anything. It might sound ridiculous, but a good and meaningful note could earn you an interview even though you might not be the perfect candidate. Yet, if you show us that you’ve done your homework – read the job posting carefully, did research about the company (I never do this personally….), you might even tell us our site breaks on that browser/device. See, where I’m heading at? You’re applying for a software tester (and not only) so behave like a good one. Don’t make assumptions and be well-prepared.
Don’ts during the interview
It doesn’t end with getting a date for an interview. Without being too thorough about it, I also want to share a bit of my bad experience with candidates with sufficient CVs and terrible live performances.
- That’s too difficult; I can’t do it; I don’t understand it; it’s not what I’ve been working with. Answers like these end the interview immediately. Why are you there if you don’t even try? Of course, there could be, and there will be tasks that you can’t solve. But you must give it a try! You must show your approach. There will be such assignments in your daily work life as well – are you going to quit your job because you’ve never done them before or you’ll learn it?!
- Do – Very often candidates are too nervous, that’s fine and it’s a good sign, actually. Excitement shows that you care and have a humble character. However, learn to turn your anxiety into a driver for your performance. Focus on the interview, the questions and the tasks. Keep the tiny voice of low self-esteem quiet and smile. Smile and honesty are the best advisors here. Tell the guys your nervous and a good interviewer will take care to make you feel less exposed. You can’t hide it and the more you try, the worse. If they mock you though or misbehave, go away.
- Inadequate self-esteem – You could be a great software tester and not know how to program, or have no experience in an Agile environment, or doesn’t really know the fundamental test process at the time of the interview. It’s all acceptable. When I do interviews, I try to dig in various topics. If the candidate is not familiar with a term, I always try to ask the question differently so they could understand the meaning and try to answer. It works most of the time. Sometimes though, candidates with higher confidence refuse to play. For example, I give a user story and ask various questions about it, from the different aspects of testing. Of course, I start with “How are you going to test that story?” If you were about to giggle and answer “With functional and non-functional tests”, you’re not getting to the next round.
- Asking strange requests – good interviewers will make you feel at home but you shouldn’t. So don’t get too much comfortable.
- Being too late – It happens. It might help if you called. I was once late for 2 hours and then spent 11 years at the place… but usually getting late will get you a “No”, so don’t.
- Don’t get offended if they don’t hire you – remember, you’re one of hundreds. Also, very often 2-3 candidates get to the final round. The reasons one to get preferred over another could be totally outside of your performance. Sometimes, the position gets closed due to budgeting before someone gets hired.
I don’t want to end on that terrible disappointment, so my last piece of advice is to respect yourself and the reader of your CV. If you’re new to interviewing, do some research. It can’t be that unclear to you, even if you’re a junior, that a “how to get a job” Google search can help you a lot. So, do your homework, design a meaningful résumé and suit up for your next employment. It only takes authenticity and proper preparation.