Top Ten CV “mistakes”

Over the years I receive quite a few CV’s, both as an employer, but also as a representative of the university accepting master thesis students, interns, and Ph.D. students. I also write quite a few reference and recommendation letters. I looked in the database recently: and there were some 70 letters for reference/recommendation/visa extension, etc.

While thinking about it, some of the applicants’ email need some … improvements, to at least look a bit more appealing. (And no, I am not saying that there are billion of people wanting to get to Linköping University to study and work. But, just some of my tips and observations.

There are few helps out there, for example:

from which I’ve kind of high-jacked the title from this post. Some of the bullets I add below also touch upon the bullets listed in the references above.

Anyways, to “help” me be able to trash less amount of emails less quickly. Here are some tips wrt. CVs for a position in electronics.

1. Use correct name

My name is J Jacob Wikner. There are some four Jacob Wikner’s in Sweden (in the World?). At one point three of us worked within the Ericsson cooperation. I continued to emphasize the J there to distinguish us a bit (albeit they spell Jacob with a k, as in knowledge).

If you would send a letter to an employer, use the right name and right title. That’s always a good start. It shows that you have oriented yourself well.

2. Don’t make it extremely obvious that you fish

Quite often there are mass mails sent out by the applicants. I can understand them, you focus on creating a good letter and then you want to send that to some professors around the world and kindly ask them to consider them for a future career. You create the template and then go to our home pages and cut-and-paste the info to the blank spaces in the template. Creative! I like that idea…

However, make sure to replace all the blanks and not leave the affiliation or research topic of the previous employer you sent to.

Don’t use an obvious font change:

“Dear Mr Magic, I liked your idea on Digital/Analog Converters that was presented last year …”

3. Expertise

When you list your courses and programmes that you have attended you have to be more specific. A “Basic Course in Electronics” is a very vague description and you need to be more elaborate on the courses, or at least give an appendix or reference for us to look in.

Or even better, check out our course pages, or product pages of the company, and relate to them in your application. This shows that you understand the needs and requirements of your future employer. From the homepages of your professor, you will see what courses he is teaching. Find which you have taken at your Alma Mater and relate them to his/her teaching.

4. Grades do not translate

It does not matter how good grades you present. I can not translate them to Swedish anyway. The vice versa is the same. Heck, not even between countries in Europe the grades are interchangeable – not even after Bologna.

Give a quick guide on how your grading systems work. There are translation tables out there. Possibly relate to the grading system of the recipient.

5. Spell check, grammar check, etc, etc.

Good old story. Make sure that you spell check and have all grammar in place. An Englishman would probably find a lot of issues in my text here, I am not claiming to be an expert. However, at least run the grammar checker and give it a shot. After all, you look for a position in a foreign country.

6. Do not list every single software tool that you have seen throughout your studies

It is tempting to add all possible tools that you have touched upon during your education. But unfortunately, some courses in analog design does not make you an expert in Cadence’ analog suite. Be more modest. If you have indeed worked 6 months extensively with the tools and really dug deep into the functionality of the tool, then it’s a nother story – then promote that instead.

And by the way: Excel, Word, Powerpoint are not valid tools to put in a CV. I guarantee that you only use some 3% of the features in those tools. Remove them from the list. If you have done word processing, technical writing, desktop publishing, then it is another story.

7. Do not list every single possible programming language on earth for the same reason as in 6.

“C, Pascal, MATLAB, Ada, C++, C#, asm, python, java, shell, perl, lisp, basic, visual basic, html, javascript, php, jyquery, etc.”

We/the employer know the similarities between them. Bring forward the languages you are strong in and refer to some kind of project where the qualities can be judged. If you apply for a position in Electronics, look at what’s needed today in the field of electronics. Pages like these might help you orient yourself a bit.

Assume you do know all the languages very well and have extensive training in them? Well, then you’re a software engineer and probably not talking to me 😉 And you would also know how to express yourself differently: “object-oriented languages, etc.”

BTW: Here is my list of four languagebatches you should know: verilog/VHDL, skill/lisp/tcl, python/perl, c/c++. Then for some pretty-printing, etc., presentation of results and more: html/php/js.

8. Show the proof

Show that you are good at the things you talk about. Bring forward some projects in which you played a significant role. Stress on that, relate to that when you describe your skills. For example:

“In one of our courses, we developed a platform for a 6-legged robot that should orient itself along a track. This was a very challenging project. My task was to design the blahblah for the blahblah. I had to dig deep into the datasheets to make my C code hardware-efficient. After all, we had to fit all algorithms in a single PIC24xxx processor …”

Something like that. Now, I can relate to the project, and most likely also know what type of code you wrote.

Same with Cadence design suite, or Verilog, or whatever:

“In another project we designed an ADC. Here the number of corners and test cases were so many, and I had to develop the framework for testing and verifying the ADC. It involved a lot of skill scripts and ocean scripting to be able to handle all data.”

And notice that being “project manager” in a student project is perhaps not the best role to put in your CV…

9. Misc., do not do any name dropping nor add “useless” requirements

Do not drop any famous professor names, nor universities, nor groups, unless the employer already knows them. Do not drop any names that are not in your reference list either. It does not necessarily help your application that you just have studied at a renowned university.

In the first letters, do not demand too much, don’t make the letter sound as if we should provide you with a position just because you’re so good. Be a bit more humble and perhaps point at some gaps where you would fit well. Do the homework and make yourself useful in your possibly new organization.

10. Add some personal touch

If an employer/professor gets loads of these emails and letters. How should he be able to distinguish you from the others? Add something that catches the eye. Something which makes him/her remember you. Do you have some specialties? (If you have done your homework well with the 9 bullets before, you are at a good starting point though.) Perhaps you are skilled at “karate-painting” or whatever. Put a small comment on that in a clever way:

Personal interests
Btw, do you know! I am quite good at whistling through my ears! It is a great way of attracting wild animals.

If you add sentences like that, I will remember you, for sure…


4 thoughts on “Top Ten CV “mistakes”

  1. I think two to three pages as a teaser. Use these to introduce your self, your skills etc. Then you can more or less have an infinite number of appendix. Or links to your home pages.

    Once I find Deyan’s home page I will forward that in this post. A neat little home page describing the different projects he has been working with. It is a good example of how to do it.

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