CV's: How Do You Write Yours?

This is very good, Kate, thanks :slight_smile:
I’ll just have to put my imagination to work…

it is very helpful info!

1-2 pages maximum. Focus on roles in last 3-5 years at most (nobody cares what you did 10 years ago) and talk about achievements (I did X, the outcome was Y) rather than list responsibilities.

I’ve only worked in one testing role, but been in it for 6 1/2 years, with all previous jobs being unrelated (shop floor jobs in retail).

Are they worth giving role, employer and dates?
If so, it clogs it up with junk.
Without them, it could seem like I’ve not had another job prior to this one.


I would say that the “unrelated” jobs depend on what narrative that you want to display. But believe that in the testing world, very few jobs are completely unrelated. Take me for example. After working technical jobs for a long while, I stopped and worked as a retail manager for two years. After that, I stepped even further back and worked “unskilled” labor for two years. Both of those roles are (against professional advice) on my CV. Both roles are often intensely questioned in interviews, despite that it was 15 years ago.

But the conversations are very important to both myself and the interviewer. When they ask “why stop with tech for 4 years?” I can reply about my first stop was to help with an ailing family member, or… I put my family first in my life. The second was because I had moved to a new country where I didn’t speak the language and had to do something to put bread on the table while I funded my further education and created opportunities. This speaks to my risk-taking approach and my ability to plan what will happen if/when the risks don’t pan out. In other words, the gaps speak volumes about who I am, and their reaction to the gaps speak volumes about who I will be working with. i.e. Would they be supportive if/when I choose to put my family life before my professional one? Or could they see the planning and effort (and reward) it took to move to a new country?

On the other hand, the fact that I worked fast food in high school, on production lines in summers, or campus security in college never made it into my CV at any time in my life. I didn’t (and still don’t) see the value of mentioning those jobs in relation to a testing career. They never fit into a narrative which I wanted to talk about more than “I can test this”. And no interviewer has ever asked what I did prior to leaving university.

So from my perspective as someone who has interviewed for a lot of jobs in the past is that you could write both versions down, then read them back (or better, have a friend/family member/coach read them) and then ask what you would ask about as an interviewer. What does the narrative say about you?


I really like how you’ve put the perspective on this!

I kept a 3 week work placement on my CV until it was no longer relevant. It was hugely relevant in my first 2 jobs in software. That placement was working in a hospital dealing with confidential patient records. My first two software roles were dealing with confidential patient data. I had no other previous experience to show that I fit that job requirement so well so I kept them there.

I’ve always been uncertain about the role I worked while in Uni. I’m personally very proud that I worked my way up from cashier to cash office to supervisory level while working part time and completing studies. Some companies are impressed with that, others are not. For me, it shows that I was able to balance work and studies, progress my career and hold posts of great responsibility (dealing with very large sums of money regularly). Many people tell me to remove it but I’ve always been unsure what to do.


How to tell the story of you on paper…
It seems in Canada they are super keen to know what tools you worked with. I mean I get it no investment in teaching you if that’s their thing, but I see tools as a learning experience and I don’t think it matters if you can use wireshark or Charles. Same crap different day.
I also tailor each submission as company x doesnt care about older experiences that cannot be cross applied; sometimes it’s in and sometimes its not.
I once worked with a coach that said intros are a waste of valuable space and gives reason for you to end up in the bin. He talked about activities that land you in the bin and that was his one big one Which brings me to cover letters… also a binable offense.
He said to use consistent tense, ‘ing’ for example. Dont mix them up.
The topic of length… no more than 4 pages, if you can’t find what’s important in career based on the job description applying for it’s a flag to a recruiter that your thought processes cannot figure out what’s important. I have been on the receiving end of many CV’s and will toss then out if you make me sweat.
Spelling, seriously… this is the one document that it seriously matters if you are a tester. I’ve binned countless for this. While no one is perfect this is one where perfect is key.
I will also shift sections around depending of how the advertisement is written. If they stress education first, lead with that block if not I go with experience/work history.
We in Canada don’t have photos, age or martial status, its a discrimination thing and laws prevent these things.
A dead give away that you are a new Canadian is the photo.
Now after all that, you need to leave them wanting to know more about you… that’s how you land the interview!

Sorry to necro the thread (I searched for recruitment for advice), but I figured I might be able to offer some advice as I’m going through the interview process at the moment (although I’m now worried that this might flavour ones I get…). Other prospective employers will obviously vary – I can only speak about things I consider.

  • I like to know at least something about the person. I like to know if someone collects Nintendo Game and Watch handhelds or did a wheelie the length of Hadrian’s Wall. It gives me some idea of personality, and we’re looking for someone who fits our culture. Technical skills can be taught, being a pleasure to work with, less so.

  • Inflating your importance at previous jobs can look ridiculous. Cashing up tills at the end of the day is not managing a shops accounts.

  • Don’t add buzz words, especially not because you saw them on our website - be assured that I will raise them as topics for conversation in the interview, and if you give me a blank look when I ask or show a misunderstanding of the topic, it’ll be obvious. If someone says on their CV, for example, that they are experienced in Agile and Waterfall, I’ll ask them to talk about the pros and cons. I’m not so interested in a right or wrong answer as I am seeing if there’s at least some sort of understanding there.

  • Spelling and grammar. Part of your job will be checking this, so if your CV is full of mistakes, it won’t help your cause. The odd one, I’ll let go, for example, apostrophes after initials when it’s not a possessive is sadly incredibly common now. If anything suggests you haven’t re-read your CV at least once before sending it, it really won’t help - I’ll assume that you don’t have the attention to detail I expect, or you sent it off without thinking (I’ve done this myself - after particularly bad days at an existing job, I’d get home and rattle off applications without proof-reading).

  • I know I mentioned not adding buzz words because you’ve seen them on our site, but if there’s something that suggests your CV is individually tailored is cool.

  • Showing that you haven’t read the job spec is pretty much inexcusable. If it states that you are expected to work from the physical location and you ask about remote working, that’s a quick route to the bin.

  • I’ll always be happy to get CVs from MoT, as it may suggest an engagement with testing outside of your daily job (interview related, not CV, I love seeing someone’s eyes light up when talking about testing, and I like to think I can tell this is genuine).

Hope that helps. I may write an article about my recruitment process once I’ve finished this round of recruitment – I don’t want to have people just ‘faking it’.


Hi Chris, one thing I’ve heard quite a few times particularly from @betterallies on Twitter is referring to people who are ‘not’ a culture fit could be a warning sign that they are not considering if they could be a culture add. Diverse teams are better for everyone be that background, culture, ethnicity or personality such as being on the autistic spectrum. I’m definitely not saying that’s what you are doing, I just thought it worth highlighting.

Since I posted my CV in this thread I’ve also removed my picture as its use might be seen as leveraging my privilege.

I look forward to your write up which sounds really useful to lots of people.

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Definitely not what I meant! I should have expanded my point, so apologies. Without wanting to devolve into cliches, we are an incredibly friendly, welcoming and diverse bunch here (there’s even a West Bromwich Albion fan). I more meant that if someone were potentially unpleasant, that would be a concern.


The one time I had a rejection that said that I was “a poor cultural fit” to the office, it was from a company where the testing team was perhaps the most monocultural office I’d set foot in for twenty years. Except for one thing: I was older than everyone I saw there. Of course, that sort of thing isn’t legal in the UK these days (but just try proving it…), so I usually see “poor cultural fit” as shorthand for something far less acceptable.

Eventually, I ended up with a software house where I am far and away the oldest person in the test team, and it’s been a revelation - they’ve taught me more about testing in two-plus years than I ever learnt in the preceding twenty. At the same time, I’ve passed on the fruits of my knowledge about business in the real world, and how that influences the way users actually interact with software products. I suspect that was the company’s plan all along.

I feel like I’ve dug myself a hole by trying to frame something in an overly simplistic way. I’m regretting posting it now, to be honest. All I was trying to do was help people to write CVs, and to say was that we look for people that are not unpleasant, and are willing to learn,. Those things you hint at by saying ‘less acceptable’ are never a reason we’d consider as a reason not to employ someone. As for age, I was in my 40s when I was employed. The only problems that causes are when I make cultural references and get blank looks…

Don’t regret posting. It’s very important that we all know that some phrases (like Cultural Fit) are very loaded to some people.

Your initial post and the follow up were also, to put it bluntly, brilliant.

So you done good. Thanks

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Hi Chris, please accept my apologies if I made you feel bad in anyway which was not my intention. It was more a general comment on being aware of culture fit being used as a way of blocking people ‘not like us’. I thought I’d been clear with the line below but that’s on me to try to be clearer in future.

I’m definitely not saying that’s what you are doing, I just thought it worth highlighting

I completely take your point regarding ‘unpleasant’ people. You are definitely not in a hole and you are helping people. As generally the ‘oldest person at the conference’, a nickname given to me by my partner when she came with me to Agile and Automation Days in Poland last year, I’ve seen first hand those comments about fit when they mean they are worried the old guy won’t be able to keep up!

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I’m sorry too. I was getting a bit sensitive…

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Cultural fit doesn’t necessarily mean that all people in the company should have the same interests or like the same things. Diversity is welcome, but there are situations where some people simply won’t fit, and it’s ok to say no if that’s the case.

We have had one dev that was cultural mismatch for the whole company and yet management tried to keep him because he was very good. He never attended team building activities, constantly complained about noise (open office) and other people, hated internal meetups, etc… It wasn’t pleasant experience having him around, especially for us who worked on the same projects with him. In the end he decided to quit himself.

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Chris, I certainly wasn’t trying to be critical of either you or the company you now work for. Getting a good fit to the rest of the team is pretty important: the company I’m with now take a very broad view about cultural diversity in particular, because we’re building products that are going to be used all over the world by staff in universities of all sizes and sorts. We have to be culturally diverse because our target customers are equally diverse, in needs, backgrounds and experiences.

As for age: I was 58 when I went through my last bout of unemployment and rehiring. And I certainly get the blank looks with cultural references thing! The last one was the phrase “sent to Coventry” (for non-Brits, a form of ostracization through personal isolation in the workplace as a peer-imposed punishment for some transgression or other) which my younger colleagues were completely unaware of. The funny thing is that we are based in Coventry.

Sadly, though, the unacceptable practices I mentioned in my last post do happen, much as we’d like to think that they are dying out.

Bringing the discussion back to CVs, I covered the problem of how to highlight key features of my career that don’t fit neatly into a tester’s career narrative by putting the good bit first - starting with a combination of personal statement and key achievements from a career that hasn’t all been about testing. I was able to draw out ten very varied highlights that showcased the range of my experience. This was intended to do two things: catch the eye and pique the interest of someone who was interested in people; and hopefully actively discourage anyone only looking for a cookie-cutter candidate. Desperate as I was for a job, I knew that my skills set was a bit unusual, and there was little point in my pursuing applications with companies who wanted applicants with a standard set of well-defined but ‘vanilla’ qualifications. I worked on the basis that those who would reject my application on those grounds were probably companies I would not want to work for anyway.

The strategy was good enough to get me sixteen interviews in just under six months and was ultimately successful.

But a CV can only tell you so much about someone. In the end it has to come down to meeting on a one-to-one basis before you can decide if a candidate is going to fit in with the rest if the team. Then we’re into exploring the dynamics of interviews, and that’s a whole different subject.

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