What to (not) put on a CV for a tech startup


It’s been a while since my last post but one of the things that’s been keeping me busy is hiring staff for the tech startup I work for.

I’ve been through almost 600 CVs for four different positions in the last few months and there are some definite trends on what to do – or not do. During the process I’ve been making notes of some of the more common ones, as I really think that it will be useful to people applying.

Disclaimer: I’m not an HR specialist. I work for a tech startup and all of my advice is tailored towards that. This is not true in all cases, but it is what I’ve found relevant in my case. Use at your own risk…

Ideal format:
There are many schools of thought on how long a CV should be.  I’d recommend a short 100 word paragraph in an intro email with a CV attached. (This depends on what they ask for, but is a pretty safe bet.) The CV should only be two pages. No more. And I don’t care what you’ve done, make it two at a max. Page 1 should be all your personal information, enough for me to gauge what type of person you are. Page 2 should be a summary of your work experience.  Pick the most important stuff.

Short and sweet.
I want to know two things:

  1. Will you fit into the culture (i.e. hard working, smart and fun?)
  2. Can you do the job (do you have enough of the right kind of experience?)

Give me just enough info to answer those and I’ll ask for more info in the interview – bring a long CV then if you want.

Here are some points on what to do: (and not do)

Intro email:

  • Remember, your intro letter is your first interview. It will be my first impression, so don’t screw it up.
  • Make the intro letter or paragraph tailored to the position and company. Don’t throw words like “your perfect candidate” or generalisations if you don’t add the job title correctly and the company name.
  • Send it in .pdf as I’m likely to view it in Google docs (or on a mac) and your formatting will look like crap.
  • Only address the emails to me… no bulk emails.
  • Apply from the email address you want me to respond to… Make sure it’s not “Sexyminx@gmail.com or drunksailor@yahoo.com
  • Name your CV appropriately. In a folder of 200 CVs can I find yours with a search?
  • Don’t attach degrees or ID docs – If I want them I’ll ask, or send them on further correspondance as a second touch point…
  • Don’t email me twice unless It’s been over two weeks since your last one. I’m busy… maybe follow up with a call though. But only one.

Personal details page:

  • Only two pages. Don’t make me say it again.
  • Have a good design. This is not to make it look pretty – it’s about order and form. Does stuff line up? Is it easy to find what I’m looking for?
  • Add colour to stand out, but only 1 or 2. Don’t go mental.
  • Remove placeholder text where the template tells you to “add name here”
  • Social Media – I’m going to look at it… Make sure your pics are appropriate and adjust privacy settings if needed. I use rapportive that pulls in everything linked to your email address. I will stalk you before calling. I promise.
  • Don’ t waste my time. Don’t list all of your school subjects – tell me school and year you matriculated. Just one.
  • Add your range of remuneration but keep it open ended with room to negotiate. I need to know if you are in my price bracket.
  • Adding a photo helps, but it must be businesslike and professional – no cleavage shots… Also make sure it’s a pic of you. No celebs or anime… Yes, that happened.
  • I need some personal info. (sex, ID / DOB, city (not address) etc) This is so that I can gauge where you come from and what type of person you are. Yes I will judge you.
  • Do you have a notice period that I should be aware of? If I need someone NOW can that be you?

Experience page:

  • Start at most recent experience and work your way backwards. Don’t start with the years you worked as a waiter – it turns me off immediately.
  • Use point form. It makes it a lot easier for me to scan and is much more concise.
  • Don’t leave blank spots open on the CV and make sure that the dates are continuous. Fill with info about what you did. “Traveled in Europe for 18 months”
  • Don’t tell me that you waitered or worked the till in a shop… It’s not relevant and shows that you don’t have anything better to add
  • Be concise and to the point. Don’t waste my time….
  • Spelling, spelling, spelling – use spell check. (I’ve thrown CVs out because of “lack of attention to detail”
  • Computer skills – tell me you’re brilliant not proficient and for God’s sake don’t list all office programs or web browsers. I expect you to know those and can’t hire someone who can’t use Excel or Chrome. Tell me about anything special.
  • Overall you need to come across as fun but hardworking. I have to want to be in the trenches with you.

Although the skill set is very important, in a small company, I’m more likely to hire you on having the right personality than on all the required skills. There is always going to be too much to do and I just need to know that you can learn it quick enough. If you’re wanting some inspiration form a couple of interesting CVs, check these out.

11 thoughts on “What to (not) put on a CV for a tech startup

  1. Thanks. It’s been a while since my last post, but after going through 278 Cv’s for the last position I felt I really needed to get some of the stuff out there. Maybe if an applicant is doing their homework they’ll find out how I like it 🙂

  2. Rog – this is really good
    Been sending out my CV recently and it’s good to know I’ve got some things right
    Good idea about sending it as .pdf

  3. Hey Roger,

    This is really great. I’d be super keen to pick your brain about it in detail. It’s so valuable to see the process from the employers’ perspective, and I don’t think many people realise that (certainly not in the recruitment industry currently). Good on you for getting it out there 🙂

  4. Hello Roger,

    Good post; lots of valuable advice in it. However, I would like to differ on two points:
    1. Once that a C.V. is sent out via the internet, there is no telling where it might end up in spite of your best effort at preserving the privacy of your respondents. That is why I would be loath to include in it my ID. With all the other personal information in the C.V., if this should fall in the wrong hands the applicant might become a victim of identity theft. If the concern is if the applicant can legally work in S.A., it should be enough to state so in the C.V.
    2. If the vacancy is one where the person will need either to deal with the public or perform some sales related function, I actually would find it significant if the respondant had waitressing experience in her background. As part of waitressing, a person often has to perform unpleasant duties and deal with the occasional difficult customer, even possibly take insults in her stride. In other words, someone who has been a waitress has had her baptism of fire in terms of dealing with customers and won’t expect everyday on the job to be a party. If I had two applicants who all other things being equal, with one of them having done waitressing, I would be inclined to hire the one who has also been a waitress at some stage in her life.

  5. Fair point on the ID, but I still feel that some sort of age indication is important.

    I disagree on the waitering part though. I can honestly say that wether someone was a waiter or not, would not influence why I hired them at all. (in a tech startup.) Their latest experience, and if none, then their education would be enough to judge if they should come in for an interview. In person you’ll be able to pick it up quickly. Plus, I’ve met plenty of crappy waiters in my time that I would never hire…

  6. Thanks for the great article.

    This made my day:

    “and for God’s sake don’t list all office programs or web browsers. I expect you to know those and can’t hire someone who can’t use Excel or Chrome. “

  7. Thanks for a nice article!
    My cat helped me to get a job once 😉 I’ve put her photo in my CV and managers found it creative and sweet

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