What should I include in a web developer CV?

Putting together a decent CV can seem like a bit of a daunting process. You want to present yourself in the best possible light, but you have to keep it short and concise. Employers hiring will often disregard a large percentage of CVs before taking on candidates for interviews, and in a competitive market they can be strict on the smallest of mistakes. For this reason it's important to get the basics right, and then try to make your CV stand out from the rest. In this article we'll look at the CV do's and don'ts, and considerations that are specific to a web developer.

CV Objectives

Before we get into the specifics, let's consider what we're aiming to achieve in a CV. Almost all web development recruiters will be looking to tick off a key set of skills, so as a developer you want to clearly demonstrate:

  • You are capable of producing high quality web sites / applications
  • You can work to deadlines / under pressure
  • You have good communication skills
  • You can work as part of a team, or independently as required
  • You are positive and motivated
  • You are knowledgeable and have experience in the required technologies
  • You are a good fit for the company

So how do we do that? The CV provides a medium for you to introduce yourself, communicate your skill set list, and then back this up with experience in the career and education sections. But it's important to remember that above all else employers will want to look beyond the CV to see your digital footprint of what you have created, your activity with the community and code examples - so make sure you have a powerful on-line presence to stand out from the competition.

Cover letter or no cover letter?

This first question sparks much debate in the recruitment community - should you include a cover letter with your CV? The reason a lot of people say you shouldn't bother, is because they're often ignored. The reason for this is that most CV cover letters contain the same content fillers and key phrases - they're often so generic it reveals nothing about the candidate.

So if you are going to include a cover letter avoid the fluff and make sure it's tailored to the company you're applying to. It can be an opportunity to promote knowledge about the particular job you're applying for and why you would be a good fit, or inversely in can show you're just sending out blanket CVs to lots of different companies. Examples of work are what will get you an interview, so consider including links to your work directly from the cover page to get you off to a good start.

One option for getting around the cv or no cv question is to use the email to the company as the cover letter, in the same way you'll often find job sites provide a box for a short intro rather than burdening the employer with a full separate document.

The Personal Statement

The personal statement is probably one of the trickiest areas to get right, as you're trying to cram so much into so little space. Ideally you don't want this introduction to be more than five lines long. This is your opportunity to introduce and sell yourself - try to demonstrate:

  • The skills you offer that match with the company's requirements
  • What qualities you have - consider the keywords you want to use that will be important for this role (e.g. conscientious, motivated, helpful, ambitious, innovate, organised...)
  • What relevant experience do you have?

Let's look at an example for a company recruiting for a PHP Developer working with the Zend or Symfony frameworks:

I am an ambitious problem solver with a passion for web development and over 10 years experience doing front-end development and working with the full LAMP stack. In recent years I’ve worked on a diverse range of projects from content-managed sites for start-ups through to larger enterprise level applications predominately written using the Zend and Symfony frameworks. I'm currently seeking a challenging new opportunity to join a team of like-minded developers.

This introduction uses keywords of 'passion', 'ambition', 'problem solving' and 'challenging' to indicate the candidates qualities. Experience is demonstrated by listing the years and what type of projects that experience has been in. Keywords of the main technologies 'Zend' and 'Symfony' have been mentioned so that from the outset the recruiter knows they are dealing a good fit in terms of skill set.

What order should I put things in?

This is a recommended and common format for arranging a technical CV:

Skills

Create a list of your core skills that match up with what the recruiter is looking for. Try and use keywords that demonstrate an up-to-date knowledge of the technologies you use. This gives the recruiter the opportunity to quickly recognise that you match their technical requirements, and that you know what you're talking about. In the next section you can then back this up with experience.

Career

Place this in reverse chronological order so that your most recent role is first in the list. You should give your job title, the company title and the dates you started and finished the role. An introduction should be a short sentence or two, and then a bullet point list of responsibilities and achievements makes it easy for readers to digest the key points from each of your roles.

Education

The later you get in your career, the more demonstrable experience will trump education, so this section generally comes last. If you're fresh out of university, consider what other experience you can demonstrate (such as open source projects you've worked on). Education can be short and concise - what university / college / school did you go to and what grades did you get. If school was sometime ago, you don't need to list every granular grade you got, a summary such as "10 GCSEs including English, Mathematics and Science all A-C grade" will do fine.

Tailor your CV to the company

It's time consuming if you're making a lot of different applications, but it's very affective - make sure you tailor your CV to the company you're applying to. Prioritise the experiences or achievements that are going to be most relevant to the recruiter.

Show that you're pro

Link to a portfolio

Every developer should have portfolio or at least a web site that documents what they're working on. The candidates that stand out are the ones with their own portfolio, github account demonstrating code and those who are blogging. These all show a commitment and passion to web development, and that you're active in the community.

Don't make spelling mistakes

A lot of candidates fall at this hurdle. It's an amateur's mistake and shows lack of attention to detail - why would they want to hire you to build them a web site when you can't even be bothered to check your CV is accurate? Run your CV through a spell checker, if grammar isn't your strong point then get someone to check it who is.

Don't give links to broken web sites

How many times have I seen this, a CV full of links to web sites that don't even work. What qualities does this demonstrate to the employer? Check any external URLs before sending them out, especially those you don't have control over.

Use a professional web address

You're a web developer - get a portfolio, get a domain, get your own email address. I recently received a CV from a web developer with an email address @aol.com, this CV quickly found itself in the bin.

Send a PDF instead of a word doc

This helps you to control the look and style of the page, and ensures it isn't tampered with between the recruitment agent and the company.

Dos and don'ts

Here's a quick list of do's an don'ts including a recap of some of the points from above...

Do

  • Be honest - if you're going for a junior role you won't be expected to have lots of professional experience
  • Customise the CV for the company you're applying to
  • Include examples, and provide URLs where possible
  • Keep the layout simple
  • Be professional
  • Stand out - have a portfolio and show you're active online

Do Not

  • Bore the reader - don't waffle or include long lists of acronyms
  • Use generic, meaningless phrases
  • Overwrite - keep it short and concise
  • Send the same CV every time without adapting it for the company
  • Make obvious mistakes - check your spelling, check your links

Make it easy for the employer

A last couple of tips - title your cv properly with your name and year to make it easier for the employer, and send your CV as a PDF - this will stop recruitment agents tampering with your content and deleting contact info.

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David Bainbridge

Coveloping co-founder and regular contributor to the Coveloping blog. David is a contract web developer based in Bristol, UK also posting code snippets and tutorials on the Code Synthesis blog.

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