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Debugging your CV

This guide (git.io/mycv) is written to help you debug your Curriculum Vitae 🇪🇺 🇬🇧(CV), based on common bugs 🐛 we've seen in students CVs (also known as Résumés 🇺🇸) submitted to the School of Computer Science CV Bank at the University of Manchester.

Wherever criticism of your CV comes from, don't take it personally - it is probably one of the first you have written. Think of your current CV as version 0.1, alpha or beta release. There are many chances to debug and improve your CV during your study but before potential employers read it. The aim of this guide is to help you improve your CV, whatever stage you are at. Employers often tell us that Computer Science graduates lack written communication skills, with CV's being the prime example. This guide is designed to be used in conjunction with similar resources from the careers service, especially CV first steps, the CV and LinkedIn guide and the covering letter guide.

DISCLAIMER: If you ask three people what they think of your CV, you will get three different and probably contradictory opinions. CV's are a very subjective thing. The advice below is based on common sense, experience and ongoing conversations with members of our industry club. What makes a good CV will depend on the personal preferences and prejudices of the reader. There are some general rules, which are described below.

While referring to this guide, remember that:

  1. the main purpose of your CV is to get an interview, not a job. Your CV should catch attention and provide talking points for an interview but not give your whole life story
  2. the chances are, your CV will be assessed in seconds, rather than minutes so brevity really is key
  3. Bullet points are good way to be brief, leading with key verbs git.io/verbsfirst, rather than lengthy sections of prose

Quick CV debug checklist

A lot of the mistakes that undergraduates make on CV's are easily fixed: Here's the top bugs we've seen in the School of Computer Science:

  1. Is your year of graduation, degree program, University and expected (or achieved) degree classification clear?
  2. Are there any spelling mistakes, typos and grammar? Don't just rely on a spellchecker
  3. Does it look good, decent layout, appropriate use of LaTeX or Word or whatever?
  4. Does it fit comfortably on either one (Résumé) or two pages (CV) only?
  5. Is it in reverse chronological order? Most important (usually recent) things first?
  6. Have you talked about what you have actually done using prominent verbs, rather than just what you think you know? See git.io/verbsfirst for examples
  7. Have you mentioned things you are studying now, not just courses you have finished?

Improving specific areas of your CV

The links below take you to specific instructions on how to improve and debug particular areas of your CV:

Area of your CV How to improve it
Education (ED) git.io/mycved
Experience & projects (EX) git.io/mycvex
Skills (SK) git.io/mycvsk
Formatting & style (FM) git.io/mycvfm
Structure (ST) git.io/mycvst
General points (GN) git.io/mycvgn
Hobbies & interests (HB) git.io/mycvhb
Personal details & references (PD) git.io/mycvpd

Next steps

Once you've read the above, here's what you could do next:

  • REPEAT IT So release early, release often. According to Linus's (Torvald's) Lawgiven enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”. So the more people who see your CV, the more bugs you can squash. Do a CV swap and peer-review with a fellow student (if you haven't already). Show it to your friends, colleagues, family, personal tutor, pet dog etc. The more people who see it, the better it will get. You can apply many of the the principles of agile software development to your CV. Iterate round this loop as many times as possible.
  • IMPROVE IT See five steps to take next: 1) Explore, 2) Connect, 3) Communicate, 4) Reflect and 5) Apply careers.manchester.ac.uk/myfuture and if you are in:
  • CHECK IT Have another look at the CV and LinkedIn guide from the careers service, there is good advice mentioned there that is not in this guide
  • UPLOAD IT Upload an updated version to the CV bank once you've changed it and ask for more feedback if you need it
  • DEAL WITH IT It is hard work finding a job, most people will make several unsuccessful job applications and have multiple interviews before receiving a job offer from an employer they are interested in. Coping with rejection is routine part of applying for jobs. Keep trying and aim to get better each time, learning from your mistakes rather than repeating them. If you need moral support, through what can be a stressful and demoralising process, see from concerned to confident and remember that help is always available if you need it.
  • SUGGEST IT If you have any comments or suggestions on how to improve this guide, raise an issue or submit a pull request. The source is written in markdown, and I welcome constructive feedback on how it could be improved.

Good luck with your applications and interviews. If you need any help speak to Mabel Yau, your personal tutor or myself. The careers service also provide good non-technical generic advice. I'm happy to give more feedback on improved versions of your CV in the future, while you are at University.

--Duncan Hull, September 2019

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