Writing your CV

For many of us there are few things more painful than writing a CV. The pig is a boastful creature and in another lifetime may have been a writer of romantic fiction... and so quite enjoys it! It helps to keep things in perspective. Some of the advice contained here is so simple if could be seen to be offensive. But fear not - the job seeking piggy doesn't want to upset anyone.

However its often true that people forget why they are writing their CV and end up with a document that doesn't serve its purpose. To this end the Job Seeking Piggy has included a document that it wrote in a former life as an IT recruiter - this is a guide to writing CV's for IT and Finance contractors in the UK and European market but the basic principles apply to CV writing in general. It is important to remember the purpose of your CV and its role within the process of gaining employment.

Your CV is your primary means of obtaining an interview with an employer and thus getting a contract. It should showcase (in order of importance) your experience your skills your qualifications your personality For example, In order to obtain contract work in the UK you will be required to use recruitment agents. Recruiters will call hundreds of managers a week searching for vacancies. When they get a requirement they will search through their internal database for suitable candidates and/or advertise on sites like www.jobserve.com for people to fill these jobs.

Using recruiters is the quickest and easiest way for you to get an interview with a client. The primary means for a recruiter to assess your suitability is your CV. The average recruiter will have seen thousands of CV’s and be able to tell a good one from a bad one quickly. It is important to have a well-constructed and clear CV in order to make it through this initial selection process. If your CV is full of grammatical or spelling mistakes, poorly laid out or just hard to read then you run the risk of the recruiter putting your CV in the unsuitable bin, even if you are a good match for the job.

So what will recruiters look for in your CV? Firstly let’s talk a little about the recruiter mentality. As a salesperson their main motivation is to successfully place a consultant with the client and earn some money. So they want to put forward candidates who have the best possible chance of getting that job. Generally they have no background in Computing or Finance, so for most recruiters the specific skills and jargon mentioned on your CV have no real meaning for them.

They are just trying to match the words on the job description to the words on the CV. If they can match the words then they will read your CV a little more thoroughly to understand whether your experience matches the experience the client is looking for, what sort of companies you have worked for in the past, whether you have good qualifications, and what sort of employee / person you are. Initially they are reading your CV to include you in their shortlist, then they are reading it looking for selling points – reasons why you will get the job as opposed to any other candidate.

If your CV satisfies the recruiter it will get forwarded to the client who will look through it from a similar perspective but dwell more on the projects/companies you have been involved in and your specific experience with the various skills and technical tools they are looking for. Clients look for a contractor to be able to come in and perform a specific piece of work within a given timeframe. They want to see from your CV that you have previously performed the same piece of work (or something very similar) in a commercial environment.

If they find this in your CV then you have an interview! So how do you tailor your CV to work with the technically illiterate recruiter and the technically literate client? As you will see, we do this by providing a combination of summaries and detail. This enables a recruiter to work out within two minutes whether you match a job description and also allows a client to understand exactly the business objective, technical environment and particular duties of your recent projects.

Your CV should have the following sections: Personal information: Name, Contact details, date of birth, visa/passport held, education (If you have a degree and have completed a few appropriate courses. If you want to list every course you have done – put only the most important to getting work at the front. The rest can go in Additional Information at the end of your CV). Skills Matrix: List the skill and the amount of commercial experience you have. This should not dominate the CV or be excessively long. It should be concise and easy on the eye. Its purpose is to provide an easy way for a recruiter to compare your skills to the job specification they have available.

You may want to group your skills according to Languages / Operating Systems / Database / Methodologies / etc. It is important to be realistic with your matrix and avoid the temptation to put in everything you have ever used or studied. For contract work employers are generally only interested in commercial experience. It is not relevant that you did a 3 month assignment using VB in second year Uni. If you want to give a really detailed matrix then put it in an appendix at the back or a separate document. This initial matrix is just for the recruiter/employer to tick of that you have the skills they need. You can even tailor this on the fly as you're submitting your CV... be sure to highlight the skills that were mentioned in the advert.


Employment History:

This is the most important part of your CV and is where you should focus most of your time and effort when writing the document. You should start your employment history on the first page, so at least your description of your most recent job appears on the first page. The skills matrix has an important role, but you don’t want it to detract from your single biggest asset in seeking work:: your previous commercial experience. You need this section to be easily understood by the layman as well as having the technical detail to satisfy the scrutiny of an IT manager or technical specialist. In order to do this you should go into progressively greater detail as you describe each job. Each role should have the following basic sections.


Company Name & location:

You may also like to include a description of the company, especially if it was not a UK firm. UK recruiters and employers will likely not know of the clients and companies you worked for in your home country. Even the largest companies in South Africa, Australia or New Zealand are relative minnows in the UK. So if you worked for the 3rd largest investment bank in South Africa it is well worth mentioning here.


Job Title





Skills Summary :

outlining the environment and various technologies you used. You will likely be repeating the technologies listed in the skills matrix, but here you are showing that you used these specific skills in this particular role. Eg: J2EE, SOAP, XML, RUP, Rational Rose, Visio, Weblogic Integrator, Apache, Tomcat, Oracle, Documentum, CVS, Solaris, AIX, Linux, Windows.


Description of Duties:

Description of duties is where you can give the reader a really good understanding of your experience and abilities. If you write it well they will also get a picture of what you are like and whether you were good at your job. If you were in a permanent role you might want to break your description down into the various projects you were involved in. You can then devote a paragraph to each major project and maybe a general paragraph covering any other duties. It is best to start with a description of the project’s business objectives.

You can use this to show you understood the needs of the business and how your work fit into achieving these needs. It sounds straightforward but a surprising number of people leave this out. In a competitive marketplace it is good to show the client that you have a well rounded understanding.


e.g. Westpac are one of the largest banks in Australia. For the “MyLife” project Westpac commissioned an online virtual marketplace and service center through an ecommerce portal. This allowed Financial Advisers to offer customised financial planning and management utilising product offerings from Westpac and their partners from the customer site or any remote location. The products offered ranged from bank accounts to investment funds and disability assurance. I worked as technical pre-sales on the bid and then took over the role of Lead Architect for the project itself.


Then give a detailed description of the technical needs of the project and your involvement. Use this chance to show what technology you have used and in what capacity within the project. Especially mention additional benefits you were able to offer like training other staff, internal consultancy, mentoring or any other things you did that set you apart (in a good way!) from other consultants.


e.g. Architecture, design and implementation of a Weblogic 6.0 portal and components interfacing with a number of bespoke applications. The portal had a single-on and supported different authentication methods with the rear portal applications. The implementation used JSP, Servlets, Sockets, HTTP1.1, Tomcat, Weblogic 5.1, Weblogic 6.0, Netbeans and extreme programming. The portal was required to deal with up to 50000 enquiries a day ranging from delivering mortgage quotes to opening trading accounts in a secure environment. Extensive stress testing of the application and components ensured fast and error free functionality. Since implementation the portal has experienced less than 0.02% downtime. Mentored junior developers throughout the project. 

It is a very good idea to include any special achievements. If your project saved the client millions or if your personal contribution saved the project from disaster. Make sure you mention it! 


Additional Information:

In this section you can put any other information you feel is pertinent. This could include the following:

  • Interests and hobbies
  • More detail of your university degree or thesis
  • Courses completed
  • Other achievements
  • Extended skills matrix 
  • Further personal details 

Remember that your CV is primarily a tool to sell your experience and skills to an employer so if there is anything that you feel makes you more employable, then include it.

By including it in a section at the end you give the reader the option to find out as much or as little information as they need to. If you overload them with too much detail at the beginning of your CV they may not pay as much attention to the most important part, your experience.