Thursday, September 14, 2006

Applying for a Job

I have, for a while now, been contemplating writing a guide for prospective employees about how to get a job with the company I work for (or any western company for that matter). As others have discussed recently on TalkTalkChina, it's clearly apparent that:

a) A lot of people don't know what western employers are looking for in their employees
b) Those that try to research it on the internet aren't using reliable resources from actual Western employers so even they get it wrong
c) Universities clearly abrogate their responsibilities to help people get a good job and don't bother teaching them these skills.

An example of why this is so important for people to get right...

I interviewed a guy recently for a relatively low level Unix developer role - based on his 9 page CV (or Resume for speakers of American) I had to walk through the positions he had had, largely because there were no dates on his career history and no way of distinguising projects from employers. Whilst he was walking me through his career he revealed he was a Certified Oracle DBA (there was no mention of any Oracle skills), then that he had two years Java development experience (again, no mention).

This guy was lucky to have got close to an interview simply because his CV was atrocious.

Before I launch into this, it should be noted that there are dozens of books available on 'writing the perfect CV' or 'getting that job' - applicants could, if they really cared about their application, obtain a copy of one of these. All I'm doing here is listing some points which, to me, are obvious - but to many of our applicants, they're not.

The absolute fundamentals of CV (resume) and Cover Letter Basics:
  • Look at the CV. Does it look good? Is the text all lined up neatly? Is it all in the same font? Headings for individual sections? Is it a sensible length (I would suggest 2 pages if you've got less than 5 years experience and NEVER more than three)? Is it easy to read? Does it have the 'key' information in a place where it's easy to find?
  • Check all spelling and grammar. Ask several people (preferably a native speaker) to read your CV and give you feedback. Don't forget to check that you have spelt the name of the company you are applying for correctly! Poor spelling and grammar make me, as an employer, think that you can't be aren't really interested in working for my company because you don't think it's worth the extra effort.
  • Don't copy draft CVs from the internet. Most of them are flawed. For example - Google for the phrase Have a good command of both spoken and written English. Past CET-6" - the wording is incorrect yet I've seen dozens and Google has hundreds of CVs with the exact same phrase.
  • Does it contain all of the relevant skills for the job you're applying for? You should consider tailoring a CV for every individual job you apply for.
  • Have you written a cover letter (or email) to send in with the application? Have you paid the same amount of attention on the letter as you have on the CV? If you haven't you should rewrite it.
  • Bear in mind that employers often get hundreds of applications for a single position. If your CV is 10 pages long, filled from edge to edge with text in 5 different fonts and I can't understand the first sentence I read, it's not going to get through the initial screen of CVs because lots of the other applicants have made that effort.
  • Print your CV off and look at it (I know this was my first point but it's so important I'm going to mention it again). As a manager, I'll often see your CV only on paper. Does it look good. Are you proud of the way it looks? If not, go back and try again.
CV Content

  • Opinions do vary as to what should go into the introduction but think about your audience.
  • If you're applying for a job as a Java developer, why would I care about your weight, height, political party affiliation and what message are you trying to send me with your photograph?
  • Make sure you provide all your up-to-date contact details, and that the cellphone number you supply is correct!
  • Think about your email address. If you use your personal address and it's 'tequila_tony@...' am I going to think 'Software developer' or 'wannabe party animal'?
  • Personal summary - You should include a section at the beginning. Don't copy one from the internet (e.g. one that says you're Aggressive - that's just wrong). You need to try and sell yourself to me (and this is where a native speaker will help) . Be relevant to the position you're applying for. Enthusiatic but not annoying. Believable but not uninteresting. Write in the first person.
  • Keep this section simple:
    What dates did you attend University. What qualification did you get? Only go into much more detail if its relevant (e.g. if you have an IT degree and are applying for an IT job, then you might want to list relevant course modules you did as part of that degree but if you've got a mechanical engineering degree I probably don't care)
  • Don't go into too much detail on projects. I don't want to know what you did in great detail. I want to know what you achieved and what skills you gained
  • Do you have any relevant industry certifications or awards?
  • This is the most important section (certainly for an IT employer). What I want to know is: What can you do? How well can you do it?
    If the only mention of Unix is somewhere in your three pages of 'projects I have done' later on, I might miss it completely. If you've got 3 years Unix experience, 5 years Java, 12 months C#.Net, tell me!
  • Keep it simple - a table is best - Skill - length of time working with this skill - experience level (familiar/knowledgeable/proficient/expert).
  • Management skills/project management - put them down here and back them up in the next section.
Career History
  • Where have you worked? What have you learned? How much experience have you gained? What have you achieved?
  • Make sure you include dates so I can follow the timeline.
  • Include information that shows you have initiative (project you proposed to your manager), flexibility (volunteered for role in Ulaan Bataar for three months), intelligence (had your proposed solution adopted), enthusiasm (a desire to do more than you've been asked to do)
  • DO NOT include details of every aspect of a project, where you just did the work people asked you to do, without any details of what you actually achieved (worked on the XYZ project - a 10 man project to implement Zebra functionality in the Kazoo system) as that doesn't tell me anything. Are you telling me you were in a 10 man team in the hope that I'll think you managed it? If so you're wrong. I'll assume you're trying to make me think that.
  • I want to know what you did, not what your team did.

Don't waste my time and yours by lying:
1) Language skills - if I'm looking for someone that can speak English, and you really can't speak English, don't waste time getting your friends to write a really good English language CV and tell me you're fluent.
2) Certifications - yes, we do check to make sure you've got them. In the worst example I've seen someone claimed both Microsoft and Cisco certifications and in interview was forced to reveal that he didn't actually have either and hadn't got any skills in either area.

Do you really want to get an interview with my company only to have to reveal that you don't have the skills you say you've got? Thought not...

Other Information

Include any other information you think is relevant and will make me want to hire you. If you like going to KTV and watching TV - think 'what would this potential employer think of that?' (Answer - you would be better off not telling me). If you like mountaineering, scuba diving and are involved with a local charity, tell me because that's interesting.

I'm sure there are plenty of other opinions out there and advice I can add but I guarantee you, if you are a good candidate for the jobs you are applying for an heed the advice above, you'll be more likely to get through to interview than a lot of the other applicants.


HistoryElephant said...

That's a long rambling blog entry (blentry?), so here's a long rambling list of observations and questions.

1) Isn't it funny that the British use a Latin term, Curriculum Vitae, whereas the Americans use a French word, Résumé - and then we argue about which is the correct 'English' term.

2) Something I was never able to judge for myself was: are the Chinese language CVs just as bad as the English versions?

3) Do they publish 'How to Write your Resume' books in Chinese?

4) The last CV that actually got me a job (11 long years ago) was just one page long, with 'Page 1 of 1' written at the bottom - which was perhaps a bit silly but I got away with it and that's what counts.

5) Whilst in the States recently, I listened to a news item on TV which used the word 'aggressive' to mean 'determined' when talking about people looking for work - I wondered if the word has slightly less menacing overtones for our US cousins and that this is where the Chinese dudes are getting it from - although Merriam-Webster does point out that 'Aggressive implies a disposition to dominate often in disregard of others' rights or in determined and energetic pursuit of one's ends' - so perhaps I'm wrong.

6) The old 'CV versus application form' question. It's often argued that how someone puts together a CV (or resume) tells you a lot about them and that this is useful for weeding out people you don't want. However, if you get them to fill in an application form you can get people to tell you the information you want - rather than having to guess it from their CV.

dB said...

Sadly time, tiredness and the nature of the material leads to long and rambling.

1) Oddly enough, this came up in my last Chinese class - the question (from the teacher) was 'What's the English for 履历表' - My answer was the the English for it is actually CV because all of the other terms are adopted, foreign words...

2) I assume the spelling and grammar are better but the layout and readability often aren't. I guess it depends on what you look for and I imagine Chinese employers aren't as fussed by it.

3) I'm sure there are at least guides out on the web. I'm also sure that most of them haven't been proofread or had any input from a native speaker, hence the 'Past CET-6' goof. It has occurred to me that there's a market for a (admittedly snappier than this post) book out there, but it hardly seems worth it as it will almost certainly be plagiarised and published on the web before you've made any money, only the advice and sample CVs would be transcribed incorrectly.

5) Possibly. Aggressive to me means 'I don't want to hire this person'

6) Which is why for some roles we are firing back something like an application form when people apply with their CV just to try to get the rest of the information out of them.

HistoryElephant said...

Of course, you'd prefer a 'past CET-6' to a future one

J from the Granite Studio said...

Your suggestions remind me of what a visa officer who had done some time over in the Beijing embassy once remarked, "Whenever Chinese ask me 'what to say' in an interview, I never have a good answer except to tell them: go to the Chinese language BBS's, write down what they tell you will definitely work, then say anything else except that."

It seems a lot of information out there about how to "get a job with an international company" is just plain off. Thanks for the good corrective, there's actually a couple of people I know soon to be on the job market in Beijing who could benefit from it.