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A blog for electronics professionals, amateurs, hackers, and anyone interested in the world of electronics.

11 April 2011

*Sigh* - Work, Employment Agencies and CVs / Resumés - A Little Advice

(Note to non-British English speakers, C.V. = Resumé)

Before I start, part two of the precision LCR meter will be along shortly. It is all written up, but still needs a couple more diagrams drawing. What can I say, the weather here in the UK at the weekend was absolutely glorious; sunny and warm, with all the spring flowers out. After a long and miserable winter I didn't feel like staying inside and doing computer things. Sometimes even the most techy of engineers has to take a step back and spend some time being an analogue human being.

Don't You Just Love Employment Agencies?

Anyway, here we are. Another Monday, another annoying employment agency. Actually no, just the same employment agency, again. To recap, a few weeks ago I received a phone call from an employment agency who had seen my business details in a trade directory (Electronics Yorkshire) and wanted to know if I was recruiting. I said that I was not, as my business consists mostly of me, with the occasional assistance of some trusted hardware and software people that I have known a long time. After hearing this, they couldn't get off the phone quickly enough, but were very polite about it. So far so good.

A couple of days later I received an email from the aforementioned agency, with an attached CV. To be fair, the email did say "If this candidate is not relevant to you, please let me know and I will amend your details" so I emailed them back, explained that I was not recruiting and would they please stop sending me unsolicited personal information. I don't think it is fair on the candidates that their information should be shown to complete strangers, and to people who could potentially be their current employer. Even with basic personal details redacted, it isn't that difficult to tell who they are if they currently work for you.

Just four days later, I got yet another email with the title "AVAILABLE ELECTRONICS ENGINEER" (I do find that titles in all capitals really help, don't you?). Despite redactions, after 30 seconds on Google I had the candidate's name. 4 minutes and I had his address. The power of the Internet is scary sometimes. Unfortunately not powerful enough to supply me with an email address for the engineer concerned or I would have let him know what his agency were doing with his personal information. Would a paper snail mail be over the top? Probably. I think most engineers are cynics anyway, and rarely amazed by what agencies get up to.

Today I received a third CV from them - entitled "Available Embedded Software Engineer". Sounds like they are diversifying, I wonder how long before they are sending CVs from Control Systems and HVAC engineers. Still, "know your enemy" is a useful maxim, and it is always good to see what the competition are offering, so I thought I should have a look at it. I'm glad I did. If these CVs are anything to go by, I am seriously under-valuing my skills. I am also nowhere near as good at spouting bulls**t as I should be. Yes, I can tell this surprises you.

Like most people, I hate writing my CV and am never totally sure what to put in and leave out. There seem to be as many "correct" ways to do it as there are employers. Even so, I was amazed at the quality of this particular CV. Or the lack of it. So amazed that I thought I should blog about it; partly to amuse and partly to show younger engineers and students what they shouldn't be doing.

Writing Your CV - Some Advice.

First things first. Four pages is way too long for a CV. Two or maybe three pages is plenty to get across the bare bones if your history. Details can be given on additional sheets if you need to, or on a password secured web page. This way you can make your relevant details available live, and you can ensure that they are up to date. Any sample documentation or photos of your work is a bonus, but don't put it in your CV.

Get someone to proof-read your CV. 

There will be spelling and grammar mistakes in your CV that your eyes just don't see, just like there are in this blog. If you are dyslexic (and many creative people are), or English is not your native language, then there is no excuse for not getting someone to check it over for you. You would really hope that a good employment agent would check it over too. A CV is a hugely important document which exists to get you an interview and it is representing you as a person, so check your personal statement particularly carefully. For example, do not write the following:

"I am (a) very determined and enthusiastic individual with (a) very clear understanding of my future goals. I would like to peruse (pursue) my career with a company which will give me early responsibility and is committed to staff training. I have a firm believe belief in myself and my abilities to meet any challenge as my career progresses forward."

Sorry about getting all schoolteachery there - the red text and strike-thoughs are my additions. Yes, this is from the CV I was sent today; 6 mistakes in 55 words, half of them in the first sentence. A 31 year old engineer who doesn't know the difference between peruse and pursue, or believe and belief, and is asking for "Between £34,500 and £37,000 (negotiable)". It is hardly surprising though, most agencies don't seem to know the difference between principal and principle. If you don't know why I have corrected "future goals" and "progresses forward" then you should read up on tautologies.

A word about the content: at 31 you are also no longer a fresh graduate, and responsibility at that age is not "early". Good luck finding a company with staff training. Most tech departments now are quite small and don't have any formal training.

It is not what you write that matters, but what you leave out.

Part 1: Experience

This works in two ways. First of all, employers are really not interested in what you did for a few hours once. If you are getting a job based on a small amount of experience then you will get found out quickly anyway. Cut to the chase and tell them what you can do well. Secondly, don't tell them what you are bad at! I'm not going to quote the poor sod's CV here there is no point. Briefly:-

18 lines of "IT/computing and technical skills"  (is there a difference?) of which 4 skills are described as "basic" level. In a list that big, those 4 can comfortably be dropped. Otherwise it drags down your perceived average. What are you good at? I mean really good, not just something you did for a week or so. Being able to wire an RS232c lead is not an outstanding engineering skill.

28 lines of text describing what you did for 3 years at one particular company, many of which are describing the same thing in a different way. I lost the will to live after 5 lines (hey, reader, if you made it this far then well done!) 

The more specialist your skills are, the less you should need to write in your list. Target them at whatever role you are applying for too. If you make your lists hard work then your CV will get binned in no time.

Part 2: Qualifications

What matters most to any employer is what you are now and what you can do. A word to Mr Anonymous-CV-Owner: When I saw the marks for every single chuffing test you have done in 4 years of University (yes, he really did, all 34 of them), I did rather wonder how the University of Bradford managed to award a 2:1.

Now, there are some decent scores in there, mostly in the mid 60s, with a couple in the 80s, but what my brain sees are these:
Radio Transmission and Reception  40%
Signal and Systems Theory 47% 
Financial Management 45%                        
Embedded Systems 45%
Analogue Electronics 1  48%
See where I am going here? You got a 2:1 and my brain is seeing just-scraped-by marks, especially the one in embedded systems - and you are applying for an embedded software job. The thing is, most of us have marks like that! I have never, ever, been asked for my individual test marks. Which is probably a good thing, because I have no idea where they are. So don't tell them! Instead, just say you have a 2:1 B.Eng. Honours. and an M.Sc. If they want details then supply them, but not until then.

The Elephant In The Room

I was once in an interview (oddly enough with a company that was a spinoff of our hero's University) when the interviewer said a surprising thing. He said I should always attach a photograph with my CV. I asked why. In not so many words, he said it was because I was 6ft tall, slim and, quite frankly, white. He didn't say white, but he used many many words to avoid saying so. Ever since then I have declined to add a photograph to my CV. I know this is probably strange coming from an Anglo-Saxon white male in Middle England, but I want to be judged on my abilities not my skin colour.

Our hero lists his under-16 education as a Foundation College in Pakistan. With the best will in the world, that could be the Eton or Harrow of Pakistan and I wouldn't have a clue. However good they are, you can be pretty sure that any employer will not rate it as highly as UK GCSEs, and it is going to be very difficult to verify your marks.With a Masters Degree and experience under your belt, I would only add details of my pre-16 education if I got stunning results in the locally accepted examination system.

Under "Additional Skills, Activities and Interests", he also lists Languages: Urdu and Punjabi (Fluent-native). This does partially explain the standard of English (although not why it wasn't checked), but why include it unless you know it is necessary for the job? Why not list English too? Don't give the person filtering out CVs any excuse to be in any way racist. Don't pretend to be something you aren't, but instead persuade them to concentrate on being able to do the job.

What It All Boils Down To

Remember, when applying for a job, of all the people you come into contact with, only one has the power to say yes. All the rest are there to say no. Give them as few reasons as possible to filter you out.

Oh, Just One More Thing...

If you are an employer or an engineer looking for work in the UK, the name of this agency is Progressive Recruitment, based in Manchester. Use your own judgement as to their standards, just consider that they don't read emails, and that they send out personal CVs to people who haven't requested them.

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