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Unicorns In Business Suits

July 18, 2019

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Kel and I talk about breaking the rules in CV (aka resume) building! How to stand out, how to be yourself and how doing so helps you find jobs that are a better match for you.

Be sure to check out our new Slack community to meet others who are facing the same things you are and share your journeys!

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  • 00:00 Joshua

    Hey folks, welcome to Getting Apps Done. A mostly non-technical podcast about building software. Today I wanted to chat a little bit about CVs or as I've been told over and over again, they're called resumes. I've been in England way too long, I think.

  • 00:14 Joshua

    We've had some people in the community, specifically Tiffany, and Elyse... I hope I got that right. She can tell me off later if I got that one wrong. Um, they've asked us to take a look at their cvs. We've looked at some cvs in the past, but over the past week or so we've really been looking at theirs trying to help them boost things up. And there were a couple things that really stood out to me that I wanted to chat about because sometimes I think the advice we're given on how you build up your resume and the things you should and shouldn't do is just kind of crap.

  • 00:45 Kel

    That's a good lead in.

  • 00:46 Joshua

    I think that covers it. Yeah.

  • 00:47 Kel

    Yeah, that's, that is absolutely true. I'll let you pick the first one...

  • 00:54 Joshua

    I'll pick the first one. Alright. Um, so I don't have a specific list, but there were quite a few things that did come up and they came up pretty consistently. The first major one that came up that really gets to me is they had it in their head that, and I know exactly where it came from because I was told exactly the same thing when I was in school and when I took resume building courses and things like that. That said, basically just make it as plain and boring as you possibly can because nobody wants anything in there that's about you. No, no! If you want a bright flaming pink header with Unicorns dancing on the front, put them in there.

  • 01:33 Kel

    I mean, that is expecting a lot... But that is a great point. That's the thing we've been told over and over again is to, you know, make your, make your resume conform and not scare anybody. The goal of the resume is not to scare anybody off. And so you keep trying to minimize the risk of annoying a random HR person who thinks you shouldn't have unicorns on your header... They are wrong, Of course. Um, but that also keeps you from being able to stand out. You can't stand out if you look exactly like every single other resume that has crossed this person's desk.

  • 02:04 Joshua

    Yeah. That's the big thing for me when it comes down to it. I don't, I, I'm not fussed about Unicorns or pink. There's nothing that I have for or against them. But the big thing is, and I talked to, uh, I think it was a client a while back and he mentioned something that really clicked for me.

  • 02:22 Joshua

    He said, I would rather have 90 people absolutely hate my guts and 10 people love me than a hundred people not even notice I was there. And that's what we're told to do, make our resume so that nobody notices it. What kind of, what sense is that?!

  • 02:42 Kel

    Exactly. That's very much, I mean this is kinda like marketing one on one, right? Like this is...

  • 02:46 Joshua

    Yeah! Stand out!

  • 02:46 Kel

    Where you start, you have to stand out and you can't do that if you're trying to minimize everything that makes you stand out. And so depending on what you're trying to go for it, like if you were looking for a very like professional job, well then yeah, Unicorns might not be the the thing that you're trying to go for, but they could be very professional unicorns.... you never know. Um, but standing out is the goal. That's the whole point of these resumes and you are competing against a ridiculous number of people for every single job. Everybody is submitting to the same, the same jobs. I mean even in a, even in a job like a group of only 10 people applying to jobs, well they're all probably applying to the same hundred jobs. And so you're competing against all of these people for every single job. Like there is always a competition and there's always a lot of competition and you have to stand out. There's no other way to show up other than just pure luck.

  • 03:39 Joshua

    Yup. The stand out with your professional Unicorns, you know, the ones in business suits....

  • 03:43 Kel

    I mean, I would definitely look at that resume a few times...

  • 03:48 Joshua

    I would too! And that actually, that's a very good point there. When I mentioned this to Tiffany and Elise both, they went back and... Actually this is something that was really cool because I gave them a bunch of tips and suggestions and I was slightly worried that I was actually doing exactly what I was trying to get them not to do and giving them a list of stuff that they should and shouldn't do. And what I loved about it was they came back and not only did they take the advice that I said, but they ignored some of it, which is cool. I like that. And they also went back and they re-imagined everything the way they wanted to. What they came back with. Most of the changes had nothing to do with what I had asked for. They realized that there were parts in it that they wanted to adjust, that they wanted to change and they went back and they did that and they put themselves into it.

  • 04:31 Joshua

    And I think that's the big takeaway from this. I think Kel actually is the one who said this. I don't think we were talking about resumes at the time, but I really liked the phrase, and I like this for a lot of things in the professional world because this is something that we've been told not to do and I think you need to be you, just you be you! That's it because you are what's special about you. Nothing else is special about you, and I'm sorry to say, but other people have gone to the same school. You've gone to, other people have taken the same training courses you've gone to. They've done the same many projects in their bootcamp that you've done and the part that really makes you stand out in an interview on your CV, on your resume, sorry, or anywhere else is you so be you.

  • 05:14 Kel

    Bring your whole self is the, the phrase I hear said quite a bit and a lot of ways it's just though just don't filter yourself that much. Like you, you know where the things are that you shouldn't say in public, but otherwise be yourself. Be, be, you. Don't worry about matching somebody else's standards and whatever. Like you're far, you stand out far more when you actually show your unique self.

  • 05:35 Joshua

    Absolutely. Alright, and now after you figured out how to be yourself, because to be honest, it takes time to figure out who you are and how to be you in a way that... As we're kind of alluding to here, obviously pink Unicorns may not always be appropriate and that might, you might love pink unicorns.. There are certain things that I love that I would never put in my resume because I don't feel comfortable with that and that's cool too. And that's, there's some experimentation to be found there. There's some work to figure out how you want to present yourself to the world and I think you should do that. Once you've done that though, you need to start to focus on how to get people to pay attention to that.

  • 06:15 Joshua

    You've built this thing that's you, it's unique to you, it's special to you, it makes you stand out from the crowd. But then you need to get people to look at it in the first place. And one of the things that nobody was doing that I think is really important, and I learned this one early on and I'm really grateful that I did because it's helped me tremendously in finding jobs over the years. And that's key word fodder because when it comes down to it, we don't send out our resume and job applications... Sometimes. In fact, I have in the past I've sent out specific applications for jobs that I was really, really keen on that I just happened to come across or somebody told me about them. But most frequently if I'm looking for a job, the first place I'd go to is a bunch of job sites and I upload my resume and a covering letter and a bunch of details about me. And when it comes down to it, the way headhunters and companies find you on those sites is by keywords.

  • 07:05 Joshua

    So if they just haven't been looking for somebody who has javascript and Redis and RabbitMQ and you've got all those keywords in there, you're probably gonna get a call. If you're an all qualified, if you don't have those words in there somewhere, they're never gonna find you in the first place. So it doesn't matter how great you made your resume or how awesome it is, and that Unicorn is just flaming and has the perfect business suit. Nobody's ever going to see it because they never knew to look for you.

  • 07:29 Kel

    And that's, that's something that can take some practice to there. There's definitely a skill to learn there. And what are the correct words. Um, and, and that might just take, take, take a step back and put yourself into the mindset of the people looking for, you know, looking for these keywords. What are the things that you would look for if you needed to hire someone to support that particular type of database and these languages and how can you put those things into your resume that shows that yes, you do know those things and they will show up when somebody does a search on, say Java or c# or, you know, whatever technology it is that you know and are wanting to attract.

  • 08:05 Joshua

    Yeah, and it is experimentation and that's actually bonus points here. In fact, again, Elyse and Tiffany asked me about this and it's something I've actually done in the past and they seem shocked that I'd done this, but I, it was really great idea on their part. I used to do ab testing with my CV. I would build two exactly identical accounts. At the time it was all They looked perfectly pristine, identical. I would use both to apply to the same jobs, but with two slightly different resumes. One would have certain keywords with the other one out of other keywords or change the layout around and I'd see which one got more phone calls.

  • 08:43 Kel

    I don't think I applied to the same job. But at the same time I have definitely had multiple up at the same time that were pretty different specifically for that to see which ones attracted more response, more head hunters or more of the correct type of headhunters. You know, I want this type of job, I don't want this type of job and yeah.

  • 09:02 Joshua

    Yeah. And it's not cheating. It's not playing the system or anything like that. It is how you figure out how to get in front of these people because again, you're competing with a lot of other people who probably aren't doing that. So by doing that, you're giving yourself a step forward. You are putting yourself ahead of them because your CV is getting found now and all those wonderful things that you did to make it stand out are suddenly being picked up because people know to look for you.

  • 09:28 Joshua

    The other thing is layout. Layout is important, it's important in everything and it's about design. It's about thinking about user experience and people have gotten the idea that applications need to have some user experience design and websites need user experience design, but a lot of people miss the fact that your resume is the most important thing for you finding a job. It's the one thing that everybody's looking at when you are looking for a job and building a user experience for them that leads them through your resume in a way that they see the things you want them to see is absolutely critical.

  • 10:01 Kel

    Absolutely. I mean it's not, it's both the layout, it's the spacing, the margins and all of those types of things. But even like the information architecture of showing you and a way that's easily consumable and highlights the things that you want to highlight and focuses on the things that are relevant to the job that you're searching for, those, those types of things are really important.

  • 10:23 Joshua

    Yeah. A specific point here, in both cases, their cvs did exactly what you're told to do. You put your work history up at the top, but if you're new to software development, your work history probably doesn't have that much to do with software development.

  • 10:38 Joshua

    That's a bonus here. You should try to find ways that things that you have done in the past overlap. So if you did some project management, things like that, highlight those things that are going to be beneficial to to a software development role. But you don't have any real software development experience in the commercial world. But what you do have is you've got your training, you have projects that you have worked on and those are the things that you need to put at the top. I know you're supposed to put your work history up at the top because that's what everybody cares about. Don't do it, don't do it. The first thing I read on your resume should not be, I worked at Walmart for five years. I don't care if you worked at Walmart. Yes, I want to see some work history in there somewhere.

  • 11:19 Joshua

    At some stage I just want to see that you did do some work and you can have, you have work ethic, basically and that you're gonna stick with things when they get tough and all those things. But the key thing I want to see before anything else is some programming. And while I would love for that to be work history programming that you did for some other company and you got paid for, if you don't have that, I'd like to see some personal projects or a school project that you did or boot camp project or some open source project that you helped out and how you did it and some detail about what you did, how you solve problems. Something that tells me about you as a software developer.

  • 11:58 Kel

    And that is how we mentioned on some of the interview a that some of the episodes where we were talking about interviewing that that's usually where we start is, okay, tell me about projects you've worked on. Tell me about things that you have actually done and built and that experiences. What have you learned from those experiences? That type of information is usually the very first thing I want to know about. And so having it at the top of your resume is great. And when you say that you always hear that like they have to resume has to be in a certain order, in a certain layout and that's kind of BS. Like that's not entirely true. There are no, well for the most part there are no written rules on these things. Um, it's more along just kind of what is the traditional resume and its traditional shape. There are things that need to be on there. You need to have a work history, you need to have your contact information hopefully. Um, but it's not the actual layout, the design, all of those things are just there from tradition. You can, you can stretch away from those things. You can do unexpected things. You can put information there in different ways

  • 12:57 Joshua

    And sometimes it's the unexpected things that really make you stand out. I received a resume not that long ago that something in there really stood out for me. Basically had one of the little LinkedIn recommendation things at the bottom that was, I was, again, somebody who was fairly entry level, didn't have a lot of work history, but had this stunning review from a previous client saying, you know, they did this really great work for me. It was really complex stuff. Kind of gave me a little bit of detail about what they had done and how they made it a little bit more elegant for this person. Made it easy for them to take on a technical task that was difficult... And it was all right there for me. I didn't have to go to LinkedIn and try to find them. I didn't have to go call up other people and find these things. It was all right there on one page, their work history, some of their personal projects, some of the stuff that they had done in the past and this nice glowing recommendation. I had it all right there in front of me.

  • 13:48 Kel

    And that's like a, that's a very informational architectural thing is how much can you put into one piece, you know, one relatively small chunk of, uh, I guess paper... Into a small space and be able to give as much information as possible in a way that's easily consumable as possible. It's, you know, it takes time. It takes iterations, it takes multiple efforts. It's very much a user experience design and it takes some practice, but it can make you stand out quite a bit.

  • 14:18 Joshua

    Yeah. I think there were a lot of tips, but iteration is really the key to all of this. You need to figure out what your style of resume is, how to make yourself stand out and how to share the knowledge that you have, the experience you have and the things that make you a unique developer. And sometimes to do that, you've got to break some of the rules and that's fine. In fact, I would say I would rather hire a person who understands what the boundaries are, but is willing to break the rules up to that point. Then somebody who will always play it completely safe. That might just be me and there will probably be some people who don't like rulebreakers at all and that's fine, but if you're a rule breaker... and you know you are, you don't want to be hired by somebody who doesn't like rule breakers anyway because that's not going to be good for you.

  • 15:03 Joshua

    It's not going to be good for them and it's just, it's not a good match and that's what you're really looking for here. You are first off looking to get paid. I understand that I've been there too. In fact, I'm always still there as well. Everybody is. Most of the time you're trying to find something that will pay you and isn't going to be soul sucking and destroy you at the same time and by customizing your resume, making it you and possibly weeding out some of those people who are going to employ you, that wouldn't actually be a good fit for you. Is probably in your best interest. Even if it does mean it takes a little bit longer to find the right role.

  • 15:36 Kel


  • 15:37 Joshua

    I think that pretty much covers it. I there's an infinite amount of things that you can do with your resume and absolutely work on it. Iterate, adjust, experiment, do some ab testing on or whatever's big at the moment in whatever country you happen to be in, but find something that works for you. Find something that gets people calling you. Find something that really highlights who you are and who you are as a developer.

  • 16:00 Joshua

    Oh, that was another one I was gonna mention. I say there's no more, but there is one more that actually came up quite a bit and there's some polarizing theories on this one. Personal information. I love to put something a little bit personal on mine. I don't go overboard. I'm not going to go tell them about every single one of my hobbies and my life story and why I've done this or that, but mine always has a little note about it that it just says, you know, I love photography. It's a hobby of mine. I do it all the time. It's something I enjoy. It might actually be kind of useful to accompany, but really it's mostly just about me. I like to do this. I am slightly artistic. I'm very visual. I like photography. I also like to run and I like to cycle, but the real reason I do those things is I love cake, so I mention that I love cake. I like cookies as well, but I can only fit one thing on there. Otherwise it just gets excessive.

  • 16:51 Joshua

    And most of the written rules about resume building, say you shouldn't have anything personal in there because it might offend somebody. Again, I don't want to hire robots. I want to hire people and if I've got two CVs that are absolutely identical but one says, "and I love ice cream", I can tell you which one I'm going to call up. Hey, you love ice cream. That's cool. You want to talk about being a software developer? Let's go get some ice cream.

  • 17:16 Kel

    Exactly. Let's do the interview at the ice cream shop.

  • 17:19 Joshua

    That might be a new thing. I might have to start doing that.

  • 17:24 Kel

    You're going to get some interesting resumes after awhile though. It's going to be, oh, there's also this bar and...

  • 17:30 Joshua

    I might also end up with diabetes or heart disease. This might not be the best avenue to chase, but anyway, yes, put some of you in there. Again, you be you. Tell me who you are, tell any prospective employer who you are because again, you're gonna filter out some other people. Somebody who gets offended by the fact that I like cake, I don't want to work for them, so I'm okay with that. I let them know.

  • 17:53 Kel

    And this shouldn't be like a rule, like you don't have to put something on there like that that is cake or photography or a hobby or whatever either. But the, the idea is you shouldn't have to filter those types of things. There's no reason to not put those types of things on a resume. That's, it's not that risky. It's not a thing that you should be worrying about. It's not a thing that it should be that you should be concerning yourself about of offending somebody about cake or cookies or anything like that. Like your, your goal is to present yourself as an employee, as in a person who can do this job. You shouldn't be spending a lot of time trying to figure out how not to offend or how not to scare somebody about you being you. You know, like we've said it before you be you.

  • 18:32 Joshua

    They're going to figure out who you are eventually anyway. Might as well be now before there's a lot of pain and grief...

  • 18:38 Kel

    One way or the other. Yeah, exactly. And it's, it's not a pro, it's not a problem. Like this isn't a rule that you should put something personal on your resume. I've actually heard that too before the opposite direction of this of, you know, never put anything personal. So, oh no, no. You should sprinkle yourself in there and, and people treat that as a rule. And neither of these things are rules. It is, try not to cut yourself out of the resume. I don't keep, you know, iterating it until there is no soul left in the, in this wonderful piece of paper that's supposed to be representing your life for the last, what, 5-10 years. Something along those lines, like you should still be present in your resume in a way that it that shows up that people can see.

  • 19:15 Joshua

    Agreed and like I said earlier, I was terrified that they were going to take these things away or some rules and just go do all of them because I said they should and I don't think anybody should do that. I think there are no rules. You make it up. You be you, you figuring out what the rules are for you. If you don't feel like sharing anything personal, absolutely don't share anything personal. It's that's you, that's part of you that represents you even better. So that's great. That's perfect. That's what you should be doing. Trying to find a way to present you.

  • 19:42 Joshua

    Okay, so that's it for today. I will put some transcripts up at Please be sure to check out my website at and Kel's website at If you are working on your CV... Or your resume, sorry, and you want a little bit of advice or you want somebody to take a look at it, feel free to pass those over to us. We'll take a look at them and we'll get you some feedback. Until next time, thanks for listening.

  • 20:06 Kel