Going to the university of life can be a bit of a cliché. But, if you left school at 16 and everything you’ve learned professionally is from ‘on the job’ training, it can be difficult to reflect that expertise in the ‘qualifications’ area of your CV. Or is it?
The recent lockdown has brought a number of changes to my life. It’s been tough to see many of my colleagues being made redundant but, thankfully, they’re finding new jobs quickly. Although the jobs market’s tighter now, there are still jobs out there - especially in cyber security.
The good thing about this horrible pandemic has been the opportunity to look to the future and reassess life in the present. While redundancy has made life feel more uncertain, the best way to counter that is by creating confidence and certainty through a desirable CV.
A great CV starts with personal development
It goes without saying: the first thing you thought to do with all that saved commuting time was spend it on training, right? Perhaps not. But if you’re lucky enough to have some space between meetings, childcare, or whatever else is on the table, now could be a great time for you to start.
Before diving into a new course, find out what the marketplace actually wants.
If you can, engage with roles and recruiters before you’re actively looking for work. Doing so allows you to build confidence early and understand the marketplace. Seek out job descriptions for roles you’d like to grow into. You don’t need to apply; just get a feel for the personal development you’ll need to grow into similar roles. For example, if it’s a role where you’ll be dealing with card payments, it’s worth looking into PCI: DSS. This is a complex area but even a foundation will help you move forward.
Before you take on any new training, make sure it’s what the marketplace wants, even if it means picking up the phone to a recruiter. There’s no point getting a qualification the marketplace isn’t interested in.
There’s plenty of discount training on offer
Just one example is the (ISC2) Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), one of the most highly recognised cyber security qualifications now.
Beyond this, perhaps revisit your expired qualifications: what’s the path to renewal? Can you add to an existing qualification with bolt-on modules? People forget, most workplaces have online training resources already available. Use them!
Tailor your CV to every role
There is no place for the ‘One-Click LinkedIn Application’ here. Focusing on your on-the-job experience is crucial. Cross reference each requirement in the spec, covering everything you can in your ‘experience’ section and cover letter. Highlight the security angle, showing you think about security by design rather than as an afterthought.
It’s okay if you don’t tick all the boxes, but ‘blagging it’ doesn’t bode well!
In fact, meeting every criterion could make you look over-qualified... Without any areas to develop, interviewers may anticipate you getting bored.
Being honest about what you claim on your CV is especially crucial in cyber security where trust is paramount. And, if you can’t substantiate your claims at interview, it’s a red flag to the interviewer. I once interviewed someone who had recently achieved a string of qualifications but couldn’t tell me anything about them. Anticipate justifying how you applied knowledge from your courses.
Get the basics right
Only two things really annoy employers when reading a CV: poor spelling and grammar and stuff not making sense. Don’t try to blind them to the holes in your experience with technobabble and make sure your CV’s easy to read - it could be number ten in the pile even before morning coffee. The employer will probably only skim read it, so make key words stand out.
The length of your CV isn’t relevant, it’s about what goes onto the first page. When it comes to style and formatting, there are more CV templates out there than CVs and none of them are ‘wrong’. A snappy first page matters most.
- Start with your name and a few key buzz words describing ‘what you’re about’.
- List, as bullet points, your expertise and the technologies you’ve worked with. Tailor these lists for every CV you send and be prepared to back them up at interview.
- List your qualifications in a ‘professional development’ section.
A more detailed ‘experience’ section should highlight your achievements and be easily skim-readable.
A CV should be outcome-based, so show you achieved something in your roles. Separate your responsibilities and achievements for each, so the employer can pinpoint nuggets they find interesting. Wherever you’ve had hands on experience, check it’s clearly highlighted. For example, if you’ve worked on cyber essentials or in environments that directly involve cyber security, say so.
It’s a two-way negotiation
My boss was once asked during an interview, “Why do you want this job?” He replied, “I don’t know yet. I’m waiting for you to sell it to me!” You’re there to assess them too and going in with that mindset keeps the interview balanced.
An interviewer’s technique reveals reams about the job. They tend to use two techniques: either they put you at ease or put you under pressure. The former gets the best out of you because putting someone under pressure puts their guard up and candidates who move to stock answers under pressure are usually wrong for cyber security. High-pressure environments make people avoid conflict, so mistakes get covered up. As a cyber security candidate, that might not be a job you want.
When it’s not face to face
Building rapport with your interviewer might seem trickier online but there are simple ways to make a good impression.
Treat it the same as a face-to-face interview: dress well enough that whoever you live with - your kids, your housemate, your cat - can tell you’re off to an interview. That means no jogging bottoms under the desk! You’re not a newsreader and you might stand up by mistake! When interviewing, keep your camera on, because eye contact and body language is important. Connect by generating small talk and practice on other people if you lack confidence. Something as mundane as, ‘how are things going today?’ is enough.
Find a quiet location that looks professional
You can control the scene behind you so find a simple, uncluttered environment with a light source in front of your face; not behind it. Generated backgrounds might seem like an easy solution if you’re stuck for space but they can look awkward, fake and even more distracting than a busy background. The interviewer may also wonder what you’re trying to hide.
Checking your sound beforehand is a must, or you could sound like you’re calling from a cave. If your laptop’s microphone isn’t noise cancelling, get a headset.
Beware the video bomb!
Quiet’s all well and good, but of course kids (or pets) happen! We’ve all come to expect the occasional unsolicited video bomb. What matters is how you handle the intrusion. Stay relaxed, manage it down and show them how you’ll be in ‘real life’ when people break the flow in a meeting.
Whether or not you have kids yourself, think about how you’ll react if the interviewer’s children suddenly appearing. Being cheerful and saying “hello” usually prompts a shy quick exit, helping your interviewer out.
Give ‘em what they want
Whether you’re looking to expand into new qualifications or find a new role, confirming what employers want is everything. Play to the employer’s laziness and keep your CV easy to read. You needn’t meet every criterion; just show you have integrity and highlight your achievements so far. The past months have been more difficult for some than others but keeping this in mind could put your career in a stronger position than ever.