As a recruiter in Cyber Security, I have many horror stories to tell, people who were ignored for a job or who were overlooked despite having all the qualifications on paper. People who at that very least should have been given a shot at an interview, but for who instead the first post, that of sending in their CV was where they fell. Hopefully by highlighting some of the main issues within CV writing, we can help you land your dream Tech role.
First of all I'd just briefly like to say what a CV is. A CV is a summary of your professional life and because of this, the first main thing to avoid is spelling and grammatical errors! Now not all of us are master wordsmiths, for some reading English might be a second or even third language, so how can you be sure? First and easiest thing to do is to get something like grammarly to check the spelling and grammar. The free version should help find any major flaws. If you are still nervous, it's worth asking someone else to proofread it for you, ideally someone who is native in the language the CV is written in as they should be able to find any mistakes.
Now onto tech specific stuff. Writing a Cyber CV which usually ends up in the lap of someone non-tech, such as HR and hiring managers, is a tricky issue to crack. The key thing you must have in the back of your mind is this: What if a non tech person is the one reading my CV? Will they understand it? Am I using too many keywords? Is it laid out so that the most important things are what you see first?
How long should my CV be?
First of all we'll talk about how long it should be...and by long we should really aim for short! Try to keep everything onto a maximum of 2 pages. Why? Well when you are reviewing 10-20-30 or 40 CV's and only have a limited time HR or the recruiters will be skimming through them trying to spot the things they've been told to look out for and they won't be taking too long to do it, if your CV is long it could mean that the thing they want is on page 4, by which time they would have lost interest in it.
Cyber Security CV's tend to be loaded with keywords, be it tools, programming languages or even IT certifications. People love loading up on keywords, sometimes to their detriment. The main issue they face is that - if a keyword is on your CV, for example if you put EnCase as one of the tools you can use, expect someone to ask you about EnCase during the interview process, even if the role has nothing to do with it. If you're not confident to answer questions about that keyword then best take it off and same goes for anything else. Obviously if the role we're talking about is an InfoSec role and there's no mention of the tools you use you won't get very far either but let's assume if that is the role you're applying for, then you're going to be fairly confident using that language anyway and it would be on there.
Some firms will use automation to detect keywords in CV's and if that's the case you do want to have as many on there as possible. This is where you can be clever and key word bomb the CV to trick the bot. Basically stick all the keywords at the bottom of your CV, make the font as small as possible and change the colour to match the background of the paper. The bot will pick it up but humans won't notice so the CV still looks clean. But still be able to back up what you put in there should someone with sharp eyes spot something!
Never self evaluate!
Often I've seen a skills section that for example on a tech CV would say python skill: 3/5 or a progress bar showing how competent you think you are. Best avoid that as you could be underselling yourself. Instead if you think you can code in python well enough to answer questions on it, then put it on there, if you happen to have a GitHub that backs that up and shows your key skills, then I would put it on your CV too.
If you have one then USE IT, the best GitHubs are the ones that are regularly updated, it does take some effort to do, but is definitely well worth it! As to where to put it - right at the top underneath where your name goes. If you have LinkedIn or a blog you can also put these here too, but remember as this is on your CV make sure both are up to date and looking professional should any employer take a look at them.
As mentioned previously, you want to try and stick to a max of 2 pages long... but what is the best format? Obvious starting point is your name and contact info, you need to include at least one method of reliably getting hold of you should the need arise. Next often comes a blurb or brief intro, keep this to a few lines only, if you start making paragraphs then you're writing too much. If you have security clearance at SC or DV it's worth adding at the top or in your blurb that you a "cleared to a high level/ highest level" although you're not supposed to say to what clearance you have you are allowed to say that at least.
So far so good, but what next?
Being honest it depends on what level you're at, but remember this as it's usually the way with most tech jobs: experience trumps everything! With that in mind your work experience needs to be higher up on the CV so recruiters/hiring managers can spot it first. Many people put their education above work experience, but once you've been doing the same tech job for 10 years, your university degree won't be as important as your work experience to an employer.
If you're entry level and do not yet have any work experience then you're going to want to emphasise more on the learning and development you've done, so education such as degrees or IT certifications will be higher on the list. I would recommend a blog link if you have one as well in this section or any relevant experience that can highlight your ability to learn quickly and get up to speed with the job as soon as possible.
A bit more about work experience - always put the dates of when you were there on , along with company names and job titles. The most recent job should have the most detail in it and the clearest way to get the details out there is to use bullet points. Details that would be important are things like tools used in that job, languages used to code in and results of that project if you're able to disclose them.
A question I often get asked is"If I'm studying for a certification can I put it on my CV?"T he answer is yes but you must state that it is in progress with a date for the exam already booked.
Finally, finish your tech CV at the bottom with any references and hobbies or a sentence about yourself if you really want to show a little personality. Keep it appropriate and professional of course!
Paul Charles is a specialist Cyber/InfoSec recruiter at Forward Role. Paul has represented the UK on global technology recruitment panels, you can check out his Cyber Job Hunting discord channel and find out more about him here
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