Reading CVs is suffering

Ah yes, another year is slowly coming to an end. This means that project plans are nearing fruition/failure. Maybe people start to feel the call for change, thinking to themselves that 2023 will be the year when they leave the hell hole they wander daily.

Or maybe their company is bought by a eccentric billionaire who decides to lay of half of his software engineering team based on the lines of code written in the last year - sick metric by the way!

Whatever the reason might be, we get a ton of applications at my company. Since I am one of the most senior member of my team I get the honor of screening all those CVs together with my boss. A process that turned out to be surprisingly painful.

So I thought I share some of that with you. Mostly to entertain. But who knows? Maybe there will even be an insight in here.

The Context

Allow me to give you some context.

My Company is based in Germany. So some things I complain about might not be relevant in other countries like the US.

Also, the position we are trying to fill was the one of a Senior Python Developer. So, we wanted to quickly identify people that can show relevant experience and invite them to an interview.

As it turns out, this is not that easy.

Brevity Is The Soul of Wit

Let me start by saying this: I don't like reading applications! It keeps me from doing my actual work.

There is clearly the need for it. Our workload is increasing and we can always use some fresh meat. Yet, I get mildly irritated when I have to read a CV for more than 5 minutes.

Again, all I need is the faint impressions that you have done some Python in the last 3 years. BAM Your are in the next round!

A CV is not there to get you hired. It is there to get you invited to an interview.

Yet, what I was getting were applications that meticulously wrote about the projects they have been involved in. Pages over pages. In the worst cases it was not even apparent what their part has been in all of that.

Some I topped that, because it was not already enough to read. they Also added an evaluation from their current employer. Two pages of prose about what a great employee they are written in font size 8. At least this is what I suppose it said because I did not bother reading it.

You want to seem professional? Then respect the time of whoever is going to read you application.

The Other End of the Spectrum

There were also CVs that were drastically different.

One guy, fresh from university applied to the position and sent a one page CV that only contained the information that he just recently finished his Bachelor Thesis.

The infuriating thing here is not that he applied to a Senior Positions with hardly any work experience. This could have been due to the fact that our Recruiter actually was the first to approach. No, it was infuriating because there was nothing the read from this CV.

"If the CVs are long it is bad but if they are short it is just as bad. Seems like this guy is never happy" might be what you are now thinking. So allow me to elaborate what I was looking for in a CV.

Your Past Experiences

If you want to apply for developer position using language X then make it clear why you are the right one for it based on your past experiences. Highlight the problems you solved with X, which libraries you have used etc.

Also, be more detailed in recent jobs and become more coarse with jobs that are longer in the past. It is not really convincing when the last relevant job experience was 15 years ago.

This is even applicable if you are fresh from university. You might not have any work experience but there hopefully are some coding projects you can name where you have used X.

Now that we have established what I would like to see, let's continue with some things I did not like to see.

Tell Me Something About You

Here in Germany it is common practice to end you CV with some words about yourself.

By that I literally mean that a couple of activities are listed, people do in their free time. I assume the idea here is to give an impression of the person behind the CV.

Yet it seems rather futile to compress something as complex as a humans nature into 5 nouns.

Well, this CV does not contain any relevant work experience but the fact that she likes to perform traditional polish dance is intriguing. We should definitely give her a chance.

And please, for gods sake. If you are thinking about adding 'Watching Netflix' to it ...


Really, I mean it.

Which scenario are you imagining where this would make you more attractive as an employee?

the screen gets blurry and the next thing we see is the Head of a software engineering team lost in deep contemplation

"I'll be damned. Before me sits the best team of software engineers the world has ever seen. Each one of them has their own area of expertise which they complement with a broad overview other topics.

They are living and breathing software development. Each waking hour is spent either writing, reading or thinking about code.

Heck, some of them even learned lucid dreaming so they can keep solving engineering problems while they dream.

But not a single one of them can give me a recommendation what to watch on Netflix. I am getting sick and tired of rewatching The IT Crowd."

He is torn from his thoughts by the sound of trumpets echoing from above. Confused as to what could be the origin of these otherworldly melodies, he approaches the window.

What he sees is that the clouds are parting. His eyes squint as he adjusts to the heavenly glow. Finally he can make out a shape. It is the hand of the creator of all things reaching out for him.

To an outside observer this scene would be reminiscend to "The creation of Adam".

But unlike in the picture, the hand is holding something. Something divine. Something to end his monotonous binges.

It is your CV.

Snap, back to reality.

If this is the scenario you are hoping for, then good luck with that.

I Really Want to Work at {insert name here}

Not sure whether this is a thing outside of Germany. But here we usually get a letter alongside the CV that allows the applicant to give a more detailed insight into reasoning for the application. (This is changing somewhat, yet often times we still get them)

Most letters I have seen share two qualities.

On the one hand, they are a joy to read. They eloquently explain the applicants motivation. Why your company is the ideal workplace and how thrilled they would be to get a chance to work alongside you.

Sometimes these letters are so poignant that I am filled with a deep gratitude. Because I am actually working for this wonderful company.

If only it weren't for the second quality: Being written so generically that it could fit any company out there.

I do understand that it is unrealistic to write a unique letter for each company you are applying to. Still, if you decide to add a cover letter, then make at least one paragraph unique to the company. Refer to something found in the job description for example.

Yet, even better - although it will put a tear to the eyes of all those cover letter ghost writers out there - do not bother with it.

The Worst is yet to come

You know what I really despise about reading CVs?

It is when people are judging their skill set themselves. There even seem to be websites out there that create these overviews for you.

Just choose the technologies you are familiar with and then indicate your skill level on a scale from 0 to whatever.

Aside from the fact that they sometimes are so horribly formatted (font and color scheme) that I dread just looking at them. They are also absolute BS.

There are probably enough studies out there indicating that we are not capable of objectively judging our skills. With a clear tendency towards overestimating the own proficiency.

Thus these overviews are only a groundless claim. Worthless without backup.

If, on the other hand, I see that they have been working as a Python developer for the past five years. Explicitly naming - some of - the projects they have been working on, together with the libraries / technologies used. It becomes a more reliable basis to judge the skill.

Bottom line: Ditch these overviews. They are just noise (and make my eyes bleed).


In case you had as little patience with this article as I was having with some CVs and skipped right to the end, I want to repeat the main point.

Past experience is key.

List all your past experiences that are relevant for the position you want to apply to. Be succinct and precise and cut out all the noise.

The interviews are the place where you can shine with your unique personality (and your Netflix recommendations).

Let me know in the comment section how you approach the topic of a CV or maybe you are in a similar position and have read some CVs in the past. Then feel free to share your opinion as well.

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