In the last couple of years I’ve been mentoring, educating and supporting a lot of people who were at the start of their journey with quantum computing. Apart from that, I’ve been helping with hiring for various positions at Zapata Computing. In the process I’ve reviewed hundreds of CVs and given feedback on tens of them and decided that maybe instead of giving people the same advice over and over, I’ll just write a blogpost about it.
I think 90% of the advice is universal regardless of the field, but I tried to add some that is relevant for the new fields with a highly scientific vibe, like quantum computing.
I also gave a presentation at the Careers in Quantum conference in 2021 on the topic of getting a job in QC. I guess since you’re reading this article, that presentation will also be highly helpful for you.
And last, but not least, keep in mind that everything I say here is my perspective. I tried to make it universal, it got reviewed by several people with different points of view, but there is probably still some bias left.
So here we go!
What does the hiring process look like?
Before we get into the details of the CV itself, it’s also important to understand how the hiring process itself works (especially if you don’t have much experience).
So here are a couple of rules that I didn’t realize before I got involved into hiring and that made all my future hiring processes waaaaay less stressful:
- There are people on the other side – they make mistakes, they forget stuff. But they also have empathy and might bend rules a little bit in certain circumstances (e.g. you missed the deadline for application by one day because you got sick)
- Hiring may be one of several competing priorities – imagine a team that started the hiring process but then they discovered a critical bug in a project for a customer and had to spend 2 weeks fixing it. No surprise your hiring process got delayed.
- They have limited time to process the applications – imagine getting over 200 applications for an internship position (I’ve been there!). Do you think anyone will spend 5 minutes per application (over 16 hours in total) to read the whole CV line by line? Or will they rather spend 30 seconds per application and then focus on the several really interesting ones?
- Processes might look totally different from company to company, but also from team to team.
- Different positions might have very different timelines – some positions need to be filled as soon a possible, for some others the team will keep waiting (even months) for someone with specific expertise to come up.
- Applying through the website is only one of many channels through which a company learns about the candidates – I personally never got hired just through an “application form”, it always involved some forms of personal recommendations.
- The hiring process is not always static – sometimes things change while you’re in the hiring process, be it the team needs, hiring managers or some other circumstances. Don’t take it as a bad sign!
To be honest – this (especially points 2 & 3) is not necessarily how it should look like in the real world. But often (especially at startups), people wear multiple hats, there’s a lot of hiring and things are always in flux. I guess it’s just one of those moments where reality sucks…
How to plan writing
Before you start writing your CV, you should have a plan. Here are some tips on the preparation part:
- Every CV I have written in the last 5 years has been written with a specific position in mind. Read the job description, highlight key words, make sure you know exactly what the company is looking for.
- Do your research about the company. Check out the website, search for interviews, see what recent projects they have done. If you can target a specific team, that’s even better.
- See if you know anyone inside the company and you could ask them about the position. Maybe you met at a conference last year, maybe you have a common friend?
- Just search “How to write a CV” – most of the generic advice is actually valuable and totally makes sense!
You did your research, you know what they’re looking for. Now, let’s get down to writing.
Keep your CV short. It forces you to be concise, to focus only on the relevant info. Do you really think anyone will read 5 pages of your CV in detail? No? So why don’t you save some time for the person on the other side and just put in what counts and not all your highschool awards or list of all the conferences where you presented in the last decade. You can put links to your GitHub, Google Scholar, personal website with an extended version of the CV. If your short CV will catch recruiter’s attention, then they’ll definitely want to dig in before proceeding with the process. If it doesn’t, then the long version probably also wouldn’t.
I personally always make mine one page long. I’m not saying this is the solution for every person, but in most cases I’ve seen, people tend to put too much irrelevant information into their CV and limiting yourself to one page is a good way to focus on what’s important. For senior candidates, 2 pages is still fine (I guess I’m not at that level of seniority yet ;) ).
Focus on relevant info. You did your research, you know what they’re looking for. Go through all the items you highlighted earlier and make sure you include something that addresses it in your CV (if you meet the criteria, of course).
Are they looking for a “team player”? Make sure to make it clear that in the last project you worked as a part of a group. Do they say they’re looking for “self-starters”? Make sure to include info about the initiative you started at your university. There’s not a single word about figure skating? Well, perhaps you don’t need to spend half a page listing all the awards you won as a figure-skater, one line will suffice.
When you’re done writing, go through every single item on your CV and ask yourself – is this something that the recruiter will care about? Should I keep it or remove it? I’ve seen people including passport numbers or high-school awards they got 5 years ago, why would anyone care about that?
A couple of extra tips:
- Put the month and year in for dates (not just the year).
- If a role is a contract or side project, make note of that next to the job title so it doesn’t look like you are job hopping.
Put only things that you’re comfortable talking about. Let’s say you’re in the middle of a project. It’s relevant for the job, but you have only started to set things up and you don’t have any significant results to talk about. Would you feel comfortable if they ask you about it during the interview? If so, sure, put it there. If not, please don’t.
For another example: my company, Zapata, has done a lot of research in the field of variational quantum algorithms. A friend wanted to apply to Zapata and he sent me his CV for review. I noticed “variational algorithms” in the “Expert” section. I told him: “Saying that you’re an expert in VQA when you apply to Zapata is kind of risky ;)”. He moved it to the “Intermediate” section. Be aware of the context!
If you want to add a skill that is new to you and relevant to the role, put it in the skills section under the title “Learning”. This says you have interest in the skills needed for the role, even if not an expert yet and it means the interviewer will have more realistic expectations when asking about it.
Taking a “shotgun” approach to listing skills and experience can seriously backfire. Your designated hiring manager may believe—usually after talking to you—that you haven’t cared to distinguish your “actual” skills from those you might conceivably pick up, and will make you a very blurry and uncertain candidate.
Be careful 2
Make sure you don’t include the info you shouldn’t include. In some countries or some companies, there might be anti-bias policies and for example including a photo might work against you.
While I admit it is the status quo to embellish and sometimes slightly exaggerate the truth on one’s CV, absolutely do not lie. I had a situation where a friend reached out to me asking about a person that did a project with me. The problem was that they actually didn’t, but they had that in their CV. We had an initial conversation, we laid out the plan for the project, but I never heard from him afterwards. I don’t have to tell you they didn’t get the job.
I really mean it, don’t lie.
Sure, everyone might have a typo in their CV, but you really don’t want to show that you’re sloppy and so lazy that you haven’t even checked your CV against some online grammar&style checker (e.g. Grammarly).
I also try to pay attention to the “brand names”. The official spelling of the “PennyLane” framework is, well, “PennyLane” and not “Penny Lane”, “penny lane” or “Penny-lane”. Sure it’s not the most important thing in the world and I guess most people won’t notice, but some do. It might also matter more in certain roles that include content creation, (e.g. “technical writer”) or very detail-oriented ones, (e.g. in quality assurance).
Text formatting is an extremely useful tool that will make your CV effective. Use bullet points, colors, bolds and italics, font sizes, all the tools at your disposal, to make it easy to find certain information. Use it strategically, help the recruiter to find the info they’re looking for right away. Make sure that the font has high contrast compared to the white background; for example, do not use a gray font.
Don’t overdo it – you don’t want your CV to stand out visually (unless you really know what you’re doing!), but rather make it easier to navigate.
I learned a lot about how people process visual information from the book (and blog) “Storytelling with Data” by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic. It’s mostly about data visualization, but many points are useful also in this context as well.
- I don’t understand why people don’t include their thesis’ supervisor’s name in the CV. I seriously doubt this could work against them, but if the person reading your CV knows the person, it could work in their favor. This really might be a dealmaker!
- Don’t include names of your references in your CV. If the hiring manager needs to do a reference call, they will ask you for the contact info. Some people might get upset to have their name “out there”.
- Use links – if you write about a project and it’s on GitHub, link it in your CV.
- The job posting will soon disappear from the website, so save it to a pdf. You can keep that for future reference.
- You might have done some really amazing projects, but if all I see is a project title I will never know why it’s interesting.
- Many candidates have lost a job due to a bad Facebook account and did not even realize it.
QC specific tips
To make this section useful, I’ll explicitly limit myself to “entry-level positions in quantum computing companies”.
- For the most part, the characteristics a hiring manager wants to see is unambiguous technical capacity. Hiring managers usually believe technically competent individuals can be appropriately trained in the multidisciplinary field of QC, and thus such managers will be looking for evidence of that on your CV.
- QC-related knowledge and skills are not necessarily the most important things for the recruiting team. It should be pretty clear from the job posting. Some QC companies already have many experts on board and they actually need some other skills.
- Highlighting tutorial-level projects is not very impressive. I would prefer to see a simple “Basic familiarity with qiskit” rather than a whole entry which describes that you’ve implemented the “Grover search algorithm for 5 qubits”, go to GitHub and see 30 lines of codes and one plot there.
- Demonstration of skills adjacent to QC, such as in mathematics, science, computing, and/or academic research will typically be a better indicator and more valuable space on your CV than simple forays into QC.
- It is better to tell a hiring manager you have either no QC knowledge, or pop-sci level, than to try to “talk the talk” and blunder (especially if you don’t even know you’re blundering).
- Highlight any interesting projects that you did and if you did something novel/particularly interesting, make it clear!
- Relevant online courses may be worth mentioning if other demonstrated experience is lacking, but “relevant” is key word here, and don’t expect that an “intro level QC course” will impress anyone.
- It’s a small world – if someone from the field mentored you or you did a project together, please mention their name, there’s a chance that the person recruiting you knows them (if you expect they would give you a good reference of course ;)).
- Mentioning your active participation in the QC community is valuable if kept brief; there is no need to spend half a page listing all your contributions, hackathons, meetups, small-scale presentations, etc.
After you’re done
Ok, you spent the whole afternoon polishing your CV, now it’s time to apply, right?
Now it’s time to do two more things.
First, ask someone to review it, possibly someone more experienced than you. They’ll probably immediately spot some issues that would be hard for you to find. Remember to send them the job posting alongside the CV, so they have all the context they need. Second, get some rest, and come back to it a day or two later. Read it again and you’ll be surprised how many things you’ll find to improve.
Thanks for reading, I hope you found it helpful! If you did, you might find some other resources on my blog helpful as well, so feel free to explore :) As always – consider subscribing to the newsletter: link
Also, just a couple of days ago Olivia Lanes (IBM) posted her thoughts on the topic of breaking into quantum workforce, it might be interesting for you as well!
And huge thanks to everyone who helped with writing this post. They contributed a lot of insight:
- Claudia Taylor – People Operations Manager at Zapata
- Christi Amend – Senior Technical Recruiter at Lambda, previously at D-Wave.
- Peter Johnson – Lead Research Scientist at Zapata
- Robert Smith – Chief of Quantum Software at HRL Laboratories
- Rafał Ociepa – Head of Product at Droplabs and my loyal editor!
Have a nice day!