How to make CV for first job – and clinch your first interview

CV by Oli Lynch on Pixabay

In our previous posts, we have already emphasized importance of cover letter, and art of writing a killer cover letter to get the first job interview. In this article we will emphasize how to write CV for your first job – exactly what sort of content makes recruiters / tech managers want to interview you before anyone else.

How to write your CV if you are applying for your first software job?

Tip # 1: Never pay to buy a CV (or resume) format. A simple Google image search is quite resourceful, takes only half a second, and is completely free.

Tip # 2: No matter what your recruiters tell you: CV format is overrated. As far as you stick to some basic rules, it doesn’t really matter how many pages long it is, which font is used, or how cool you look in your photo. What are those basic rules anyway?

  • simple order or things: summary, experience (projects, if you are fresher), education, extra-curricular stuff – in that order.
  • Easily available contact details (in headers / footers)
  • Readability (simple fonts with correct sizing) & consistent formatting

Tip # 3: A software programmer’s CV must never miss out on necessary programming skill names. If you are a Javascript programmer, your CV must include Javascript, along with inter-related skill names such as CSS, HTML, PHP / NodeJS etc. If you miss to list them, a non-tech person (HR or recruiter) reviewing your CV might reject it.

Tip # 4: Think it backwards. You not only need time to draft the CV, but also improve upon skills that are must-haves in your CV for a programmer’s first job.

Writing CV for your first job is harder than you think, especially if you are yet to nail your first job interview. It takes time. It is better to spend that time once, and write a robust CV, instead of bombarding every HR in town with your half-baked document.

Writing a relevant CV with just enough content is a challenge, and this article is focusing on how to do it.

What to write in the CV if you are applying for a first job?

It requires three essential proofs, namely:

  • Proof of computer Science knowledge
  • that that you completed software project
  • that of activities / initiatives
Proof of computer science knowledge:

This is a must-include item to write in a CV for the first job. If you are not a university graduate / diploma holder in computer engineering or equivalent degree, you must prove that you possess the knowledge necessary to execute a computer program. (well, even if you are a software degree holder, it’s crucial if you could show some proof)

Q: What constitutes this proof?

A: Knowledge of operating system, data structures, algorithms & OOP.

Q: How to demonstrate that knowledge?

A: Degree of an online course teaching the above.

Q: Is it enough?

A: Depends on your competition.

Q: But an online degree is never enough.

A: Link to your programming profile is crucial here – make a profile on sites like Topcoder, Hackerrank and the likes. Solve algorithmic problems and earn points. You may not be the best there, but the fact that you have tried something speaks a lot.

Proof of a complete software project:

Software industry needs executioners, not just code warriors. Proof of a completed software project ensures that you have gone through necessary phases of SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle).

Q: What constitutes this proof?

A: Your final year / semester software project is enough.

Q: A page for a project is enough?

A: No way! It should not exceed 5 lines! If you have to write too much to describe it, you have probably little to show. Days of multi-page CVs are over in 90s.

Also, it is important only to include what you accomplished, rather than trying to explain how the product is architected and what it does.

Q: For example?

A: Instead of:

SMS is a utility to handle school student data. It involved setting up a web interface, database and application tier to handle student / teacher requests, store them, and provide useful student data. I was responsible for designing the Java application tier.

write this:

Implemented core application logic for School Management System using Java 8. Wrote business components and data-helper classes to enable student / staff data storage and retrieval in a user-responsive and performant manner. Implemented search and sort functionality for exam-results data.

Why was the later version better?

  • The later example doesn’t waste a line to describe what the software does (Student data processing) – because it is a detail best kept for explanation during interview
  • It shows what specific Java version you are proficient with
  • It also shows you have applied algorithmic competency you learned during college / course
  • It shows you are capable of summarizing significant chunk of work in one line (the last one) – and you can be expected to demonstrate same brevity while working on specifications within the team.
  • The later version establishes that even though you have made the CV for your first job, you are ahead of the crowd. You take pride in your work that’s worth taking pride over, and not just cramming words.
Q & A:

Q: Cool! Any guidelines which projects are acceptable in a CV for my first job interview?

A: It should be able to demonstrate your core software skills mentioned above – data structures, algorithms, operating systems and OOP.

Q: For example?

A: Tic-Tac-Toe – made with OOP.

Q: But it does not include everything you mentioned here. For example, where is OS knowledge in Tic-Tac-Toe?

A: Doesn’t it? Think of ways. Store high score on user’s machine.

Q: Is it really necessary to include every computer science concept in project?

A: Not really. Just make something that works out of the box. Make some demo video if you really want to save your employer’s time.

Q: Ah, I see. But where to upload those projects? And where to show video link?

A: Upload on Github, put video link inside readme.md file. If the project belongs to a company / your college, you should ask their permission to publish it. If they do not allow, simply include short description of what you did in the project.

Q: OK, so I will soon make a tic-tac-toe now.

A: Not necessarily. Do not take pain implementing something that’s done by hundred others. Look for games that are not programmed in your favorite programming languages.

Q: But I am not good at game making.

A: You can make a utility software too – like search/select/update/delete employees in a company. And nothing wrong in reinventing the wheel – as far as it’s not copy-paste code.

Your interviewers wants to see your objects, your design, your log messages, a programmer you through your projects. Just bear that in your mind.

Q: What if my project suck in code quality and it’s for them to see on github?

A: It should. Especially if you are a fresher. And employers expect that at this stage. It’s completely OK.

Unless they are big billion dollar companies with thousands applying for single programming position, they will surely pay attention to your CV if your cover letter is good enough. And they will call you for an interview if they can see method in your madness.

Proof of activities / Initiatives:

The fact that you have done something productive recently with what you know, far more outweighs the fact that you know something. It is a perfect candidate if you are making CV for your first job.

If you are not experienced, your recent activities in software programming carries far more weight than your software projects. Sometimes, they blend into each other. For example, you could include a project that you did as part of some community code camp.

Q & A:

Q: But how to show activity if I am fresh out of college?

A: That’s why you have to do it.

Q: There aren’t any Javascript code camps in my area.

A: Are you sure? Because I am not.

If you are sure, organize one, have $5 entry fee, offer free bear, and reward the winner with “MyCityJSFreeCodeCamp T-Shirt”.

Q: But I am not an event organizer sort of person.

A: There are numerous events happening around the world, and around you. You can surely find something if you look for it.

Q: There is not much happening around me as far as my skill is concerned.

A: You could start a free blog about it, and include it in your CV. In the long run, it may also establish you as a subject matter expert.

Q: But all this takes time. I am preparing my CV right now. I cannot miss applying at XYZ Software Solutions.

A: Writing a CV does take time. Give it how much it deserves – you won’t regret it later.

XYZ isn’t going anywhere. But you will be going places, if you write the best content in your CV, and try to match it with your best efforts.

Conclusion:

Lot has been written about how to write CV for your first job. Keep the following things in mind while writing your CV, and you are sure to get an interview call:

  • Content is more important than format. If you can demonstrate all 3 important aspects of a fresher computer programmer, there is no reason you won’t get an interview call.
  • That said, better looking CV doesn’t hurt. It’s crucial if you are applying for a UI / UX designer’s role. Just that it doesn’t deserve too much of your time, and definitely not money.
  • Unlike your cover letter which is customized for every position, you need to do write CV only once, and you can re-use it as many times as you want, until your career plans change significantly. (change in skills / desired role etc are valid reasons for a CV change).
  • That said, if the CV made for your first job does not land you single interview out of 25-30 application attempts, you are confident about your technical prowess, and you also know there is market demand for you, it is worth revising your CV before sending it to more recruiters. Always remember: Resistance to improvement is the biggest bottleneck to your career.