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How to impress with a technical CV

Graduate Prospects runs the UK's official graduate careers website prospects.ac.uk – here you will find graduate jobs, postgraduate courses, work experience and careers advice. In this article, editor Tasha Albanese considers how to approach an IT application.

There is a fine line between selling yourself on an IT-specific CV and blinding prospective employers with a load of technical jargon and not much else.

The key to writing an effective CV for this sector is to get the right balance between describing your experience and competency while also communicating your soft skills. Making it understandable to a non-technical person – such as a human resources manager or recruitment consultant – is a bonus too.

Although you might be tempted to showcase every one of your technical skills, remind yourself of the expertise the employer is looking for. Refer to the job description throughout your application, and highlight relevant skills first and foremost.

Technical CVs call for a different kind of structure to ordinary applications; here are four ways to getting it right:

Show off your skills effectively

A technical CV should make it clear what skills you have, and these should be easy to find. To highlight your skills in the best possible way, break this section down into easily digestible chunks:

  • Have an introductory paragraph titled something such as 'Profile'. Here, you need to mention the technical expertise the employer is asking for and any relevant experience – remember to refer back to the job description, tailor it accordingly, and keep it concise.

  • Have a 'Key skills' heading which allows you to put more detail of relevant skills and technologies, including brief information on your level of experience. Use bullet points to keep it easy to read.

Highlight your work experience

Listing your work and educational experience is where you can prove how good your technical abilities really are. Education and careers specialist Johnny Rich suggests trying to focus on achievements and outcomes, especially those that might be understood by non-technical individuals.

'For example, saying you were responsible for rewriting an e-commerce package is all very well, but it's better if you can say you did it on schedule and it increased web sales by 50%,' he explains.

It's a common mistake, especially for graduates looking to start their first serious job role, to say you're an 'expert' or 'experienced' at something when you're not. While it's important to focus on showing off your skills, don't oversell or exaggerate. It will come back to haunt you at the interview stages, or even when you start in your new role.

Prove your personal qualities too

Complementing your technical skills with your personal qualities is the key to a well-balanced CV.

'Don't reduce yourself completely to a set of IT skills. While it's critical that you tick all the job-specific boxes, being a rounded individual who can take a wider business perspective and contribute as part of the whole team may make the difference that clinches you the interview,' Johnny says.

List your transferable skills, including things such as communication and organisation, and give examples to prove these.

Always include a cover letter

Whether it's an email with your CV attached or a formal letter, attaching a cover note with your CV is crucial to draw attention to specific skills and experience. Explain where you heard about the job, why you wanted to apply, and briefly explain why you are a great match for the role.

Read more in the full article at prospects.ac.uk