The danger of words

Ok, so here I am back on the theme of recruitment. Why? because I am trying to fill two roles in my team, and it has been a struggle.

There is a fundamental problem with CV’s. There are many different ways in which a CV can be laid out, many different words used to describe experiences, but no hard and fast industry rules or best practices governing them.

Every CV is a personal statement, therefore should reflect the individuality of the author. Layouts do not need to be the same, although the type of useful information should be uniform. A good example is where candidates will list a job role, and the first bullet point isnt about their experience or responsibility – its about the company or product, lifted from a web page somewhere. I’m interested to a degree what type of application they work on, but I dont need a company history! Or there are many fonts used (refer to previous posts for that one), or messy tables that make it hard to read.

So, what should a candidate cover?

Thats easy – it’s the skills, direct experience and responsibilities that they are doing/have done in each role – e.g.

  • Writing a Test Strategy for Project X.
  • Working as part of an Agile scrum team, attending Planning, Retrospective and Demo meetings and Daily Stand-Ups.
  • Estimating user stories.
  • Writing tests based on User Story acceptance criteria.
  • Writing automation tests using xyz, in K* language.
  • Executing manual and automated tests, and raising defects in ppp.
  • Performing non-functional tests – Performance using nnn, load using zzz.

And so on.

One of the biggest issue however is how candidates justify the use of certain words, expecting those reading the CV’s to know what they mean.

I’m referring to ‘Experience in‘ and ‘Knowledge of. Both in my opinion are dangerous!

I spoke to a candidate on the phone who had used both of the above all over the CV, including for a tool that I needed the candidate to have used, in order to fit into the team and hit the ground running. Unfortunately we don’t have time to train someone from scratch due to looming deadlines, so I had reviewed a batch of CV’s to narrow down to 3 candidates. This candidate gave me a run through of the skills and tools that they used, but missed out this one. I picked up on this and asked about it – and the reply was that they were aware of the tool but had never used it. I asked why it was on the CV – to which the response was “That’s why I used the phrase Knowledge of”. Wow! Priceless answer……except for the fact that I am in no way a psychic, therefore have no idea what the candidate was thinking when writing the CV! The candidate proceeded to argue with me (never a good idea in a phone interview) until I pointed out that to include it was dishonest and that only skills or tools that they have practical experience should be covered. I also asked how I was supposed to know the difference between their statements! Needless to say the call was ended shortly afterwards.

I then experienced the flip side of this in the next phone interview where someone HAD used the tool on a personal project at home, but decided not to list it. It’s interesting how people’s minds think. My view is that even if you have used something for a short while, or as a home project, it is fine to list it within its context. This shows that although it is not a skill that would be useful if the role requires someone experienced, it could be if there was time to train someone up with basic knowledge already, and it shows initiative and a willingness to learn.

Another issue is repetition. Do candidates realise how many people search through CV’s using the Find function in Word?. If I need a set of technical skills, that’s what I’ll do to see if they are listed in the body of the CV, and not just in the agency cover sheet (believe me, it happens far too often). The problem is that candidates will have performed a number of similar roles, and copied bits and put them under each role. Why? I understand that a candidate will have estimated, tested, attended Agile meetings etc in 3 companies, but surely there is a way of rewording a little in each one – to not do so looks very lazy. If a candidate can’t be bothered to show that each job differed a bit, then a) why move in the first place, and b) does that show a lazy attitude to work, or are they trying to reuse phrases and show me something? Its hard to know, but the decision to phone or face to face interview hangs off the information that is presented in the CV. As a manager, I cant afford to waste time finding out.

Not everyone will agree with me, but I am speaking for myself as a recruiting manager. I want the basics. I have a number of CV’s to review and not a lot of time to do so. Poor layout, waffle or repetition is wearing, annoying and wastes my time, and will not get the candidate through the door.

The best CV’s cut the waffle, tell me what I need to know, don’t contain lies, and are not craftily worded to try to get the CV past me to try to gain an interview. Lies or discrepancies will come out in an interview where everyone will have just wasted a lot of valuable effort, and the candidate will not get the job anyway, so why bother?

My advice to anyone writing a CV is this – read it as someone who has only 5 minutes to screen it. In an ideal world every manager would have longer but that doesn’t happen. What are the standout items that you want them to read? Do you have to put all those bullet points in from a job you did 3, 4, 5 years ago? The most important roles are the most recent 1-2 years, so focus on those. Remove any duplication – the fact that you have used Selenium Webdriver doesn’t need repeating 14 times! And use words carefully! Words can be dangerous – they can mislead and they can give a false or negative impression of you if not used with care. What does ‘Experience in’ really mean. Contextualize it. Help the person reviewing your CV to find the real you. And get someone else to proof read it.

The fact that I mention that I am recruiting is NOT an invitation for recruitment agencies or candidates to make direct contact. You can however find details of roles that we have open in my organisation here: – direct candidate applications only.

Thanks for reading.

Oh – before I forget, the above ‘Curriculum Vitae’ image is from a site who are a group who have set up a website aimed at helping people on a local estate in the north of England to write good CV’s and help them find work. What a great thing to do – well done guys!


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