An alternative CV strategy

This is my second attempt at writing this. Memo to self: after hitting the Post button, make sure the post has actually been published before navigating away from the page…

I’ve been reading a fair number of CVs recently, and I’ve been struck by just how much experience everyone seems to have. At least, everyone claims to have a breadth of experience that I just can’t match. I haven’t counted, but I suspect most of the CVs I’ve been looking at have listed over 100 technologies. In light of this, I’ve been considering how I’ll market myself when I’m next interested in getting a job.

There are a few things in my favour which most candidates don’t have, mostly in terms of community – MVP awards, book reviewing, web articles, this blog, newsgroup posts, open source contributions etc – but I don’t know how much attention prospective employers really pay to that kind of thing. What I find frustrating is the way that traditional CVs don’t really convey any of what I find important – either as a potentially employee or as someone involved (to whatever extent) in the hiring process. I have begun to wonder whether a list of values would do me any favours:

  • I prefer working code over perfect UML
  • I prefer whiteboards over Visio
  • I prefer code which can easily be read over code which runs 5% faster but no-one else understands
  • I prefer code reviews which force me to change my design over reviews which stroke my ego
  • I prefer being laughed at due to my trousers over being disrespected for being sloppy
  • I prefer going home at 5 to sleep on a problem over staying at the office until midnight and then being useless the next day
  • I prefer carrots over sticks
  • I prefer progress over process
  • I prefer keen developers with much to learn over experienced developers who feel they have nothing to learn
  • I prefer close collaboration over the heroic coder mentality
  • I prefer solving problems people are having in the real world over providing marketing with a new toy to show off

Maybe that doesn’t go far enough towards selling me though. How about some more direct statements?

  • I write clean code in a timely manner
  • I test my work and refactor mercilessly
  • I don’t assume my code is perfect
  • I love to learn new techniques and technologies
  • I love to teach, and can explain things clearly
  • I pick up new things quickly
  • I have an affinity for code which lets me solve issues quickly
  • I bring passion to whatever I do

If someone presented me with a CV based on the above lists, I’d be interested. Yes, I’d probably check that the candidate had worked in some sort of similar area before, but frankly if you take a bright person and ask them to learn Java or C#, it’s not going to take them that long to do it. Learning design principles takes longer (I’ll let you know if I ever think I’ve finished!) but with good mentoring, it’s not a problem.

CVs can’t be trusted. People can write pretty much anything on them. However, they’re making a choice about what image to present to the world – and that choice itself makes a statement. I want to work with smart people who love what they do. I want to see a spark in their eyes when they tell me what they’ve been up to. At an interview, I want them to be so busy getting me enthusiastic about what they’ve been looking at that I don’t have time for the standard questions.

You may well consider the lists above to be unprofessional to an extent. I agree – but I’m not sure whether it’s a problem. I enjoy my work immensely – so much so that I hardly think of it as work for a lot of the time. That’s not to say it’s not important to do a professional job – but there’s often not much of a gap between what I’m interested in for fun and what I earn money doing.

I suspect if I gave an unconventional CV to an agency they’d either demand a rewrite or they’d change it themselves. Maybe they’d be right to do so – maybe managers aren’t really keen on this sort of thing. What do you think? Comments are always welcome on my blog, but I’m particularly keen on feedback this time, as it could have a real bearing on what I do when I’m next in the job market.

10 thoughts on “An alternative CV strategy”

  1. Hi Jon, I enjoyed reading your post and found it very timely. I’m in the market myself, and having just gone through a resume update, I really tried to communicate my *values* as a developer vs. just providing the obligatory list of technologies and project work. To be fair, I do have a small list on there, but only to get me past the HR recruiting filter and on to actual hiring manager.

    I tried to have my resume show what I care about (testing, automation, and *more* testing) while providing examples which demonstrate my committment to those ideas. If somebody passes on me because my I didn’t list the entire System.Xml stack on my resume, I didn’t want to work for them anyway!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. John,

    There’s a great book I’d like to recommend on this topic: “Ask the Headhunter” by Nick A. Corcodilos. His website is at

    Corcodilos is a headhunter in Silicon Valley. He observed the actual realities of the hiring process were so at odds with what job seekers were taught that he wrote this book.

    Essentially, Corcodilos’ job forces him to face the reality of the hiring process. That reality includes:

    – As you’ve noted, CVs are worthless. They are historical documents which give little or no indication as to whether or not the candidate can actually do the job.

    – Managers hire people because the manager has a problem he/she wants solved. If the job candidate understands what the job entails, can do the job, can do it in the way the boss wants it done, and can do it profitably, then the manager will most likely hire that candidate.

    – The candidate has to be proactive and show the manager that they can fulfill the requirements listed above (understand the job, do the job, etc.) The candidate should start demonstrating these qualities to the hiring manager *before* the interview takes place.

    – How can a candidate do that? By doing some detective work. Investigate companies you would like to work for. Choose a handful that meet your criteria. Find out who the hiring manager is. Contact that person, find out what their current problems are, and how you can help (i.e. a “pre-interview” to get your foot in the door for an actual interview). As a rule, do not contact the human resources/personnel department nor send them a CV. They don’t make the actual hiring decisions. Even if the company says it’s under a “hiring freeze”, or says it has no open positions, ignore that. A good manager will find a way to hire a qualified candidate. Personally, I’ve seen those so-called freezes sidestepped so often I don’t pay attention to them anymore.

    – At the interview, the candidate needn’t be pushy or overbearing, but they should be proactive by taking control of the interview and treating it as if it’s their first day on the job. Ask what problem(s) does the manager need solved? At this point, the candidate can do what they do best, and the manager can get immediate, direct feedback as to what kind of employee the candidate would make. The “traditional” interview seems to revolve around indirect queries (e.g. how would you move Mt. Fuji?), the answers to which the manager must apply a murky kind of inductive logic in order to arrive at a hiring decision. Such a strange ritual…

    – At the end of the interview, it’s apparently taboo for the candidate to have the gall to actually say they want the job (gasp!). Nevertheless, this is what Corcodilos advocates. Again, in a polite professional manner, the candidate should feel free to state whether they want the job, or if they should be removed from further consideration. Looking at the situation realistically, how else would the manager really know the candidate did or didn’t want the job?

    Sorry for rambling on, but I’ve had excellent results using this approach in my consulting work. If I had to describe this technique in one sentence, it would be:

    “When looking for a job in software development, act like a software developer, not a job seeker”.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice article Jon, this just emphasises the divide that is often found between developers and managers. (Not all I might add). It would be really refreshing and fun to work in an environment like that, though I am quite liking how less-involved the managers appear to be where I work now :).

    I dread the whole CV writing and interview thing anyway because it’s just far too formal for me. When I got the job I’m in now, the HR lady moaned that I came dressed in trousers and a shirt – “Where’s her jacket?”, I’m just glad the developer laughed!

    I think if we employed people using some of the techniques mentioned above, we’d have far less people with a negative mindset that usually succeeds eventually in dampening the enthusiastic and positive people.


  4. > I want to work with smart people who love what they do

    A lot of those people should already know who you are, thanks to your blog and web site. For them, perhaps you don’t need a CV!

    Your list of values is great. I think I agree with you though, that many employers don’t consciously share those values. (I say “consciously” becuase they don’t think of themselves as valuing those things, although if those things did happen in thier organisation, they may appreciate the good results)

    Perhaps the question is to what extent you want to limit your search, to companies which _already_ have the values you list. If you live in an area with lots of IT companies, that might be a workable strategy, since hopefully at least _some_ would be enlighened enough to value those values.

    In my case, the pool of employers is fairly small in my area, so strategies like that become a bit difficult. Last time I looked for work, I gave a very clear, very honest description of what I was looking for. Not quite as values-focussed as yours, but there were some similarities. I figured that companies with different viewpoints simply wouldn’t hire me. What happened was that a company with a somewhat muddled viewpoint (i.e. little real agreement, within the management team, on what their values and goals actually were) _said_ they matched my criteria. I don’t really think they did. Perhaps they were just desperate for staff. Even now, after over 12 months working there, neither they nor I can clearly articulate their values! To some extent I feel I was conned. But, on the other hand, the job’s not bad. In fact, its better than most others I’ve had, and I’m fairly contented. (Although I’d rather work for an organisation with the values you’ve listed!)


  5. It most certainly depends on context.
    The points you listed above are strikingly similar to points that I used to put on CVs when my experience was lacking.
    It might suggest to potential employers you have added this because your CV is lacking in other areas.

    To most managers it would not qualify as a good CV as you are making assumptions on what people deem as “good working practices”. Managers that still pursure heavy waterfall processes with strict documentation would probably dismiss it.
    As would managers without proper development experience.

    Too often, I note that the recruiter understands little about what they are looking for, a lot of them just put up checklists of the technologies they want, check them off and then define the quality of an applicant by thier levels of experience.

    CVs are a bit like music. If you want it to appeal to the widest possible audience you have to dilute it to be as inoffensive as possible (a la Pop Music), which includes making no assumptions about peoples working practices.
    However you can do a “Mars Volta” (awesome band) to ensure the only people that listen to your music (C.V) are those with good musical (development) taste (as you have done).

    If you are trying to make sure you are only employed by people who you want to be employed by then it’s a good idea but I would suggest that it would result in you getting less responses than a “standard” CV.

    I do agree that it is a better CV (IMO) and I am also frustrated that I can’t make my CV say what I want it to say without risking getting less responses, but unfortunately I don’t think a majority of potential recruiters see it that way. :(


  6. >- I write clean code in a timely manner
    >- I bring passion to whatever I do

    Hey, we’re exactly the same! (Get the point?)

    I agree with the poster re Corcodilos. If Corcodilos wants to learn how to program in C#, it makes great sense to learn from you. Why not learn from Corc when it comes to his specialty?


  7. Righto – I’ll definitely buy Corcodilos’ book next time I’ve got an Amazon order. (It’s not urgent enough to pay for shipping :) Good to get recommendations on this kind of thing.

    I think I’ll try the “values-based” CV if I end up speculatively sending my CV out rather than urgently. If I need a job in a hurry, I’ll go back for the more traditional one.


  8. I have a couple of comments which may or may not be of relevance (since I’m in an unusual position, in some respects).

    Firstly, if someone sent me a CV that started by laying out their preferences as you do, and they were in that kind of vein (so largely agreeing with you), I suspect I’d interview them without reading the rest of the CV.

    Secondly, if an agent tells you to rewrite your CV *straight away*, walk away from them. Recruitment agencies in general work for the employer, not the employee, and if an agent thinks they can have a single CV represent you correctly to all their clients, they aren’t doing their job by their clients, and they’re certainly of little use to you. The one recruitment agent I use often has people rewrite their CV before passing them on to us, which is of course what you’d do if you were applying directly.

    At the level you’re at, you will probably be better off not going through agency positions anyway. As it sounds like Corcodilos is advocating, direct contact works particularly well for well-qualified candidates, and particularly with your kind of outlook. (Although letting some head hunters know you’re available won’t hurt :-)

    Finally, if you see a CV which lists 100 technologies, either they’re lying or they don’t know them well – or you can’t afford them. If they genuinely do know all that stuff in depth, start a company with them :-)


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