A hiring manager’s top tips: How to nail your technical job application as a Returner


By James Heggs, CTO @ Tech Returners

When applying for jobs in the tech industry, there’s a well-trodden path: As an applicant, you will share a document that intends to outline your entire life and skillset followed potentially by a few lines of text outlining why you’re choosing that specific business to apply for. First stage complete.

As co-founder and CTO of Tech Returners – an organisation that provides free tech and confidence mentoring to people trying to return to tech after a break – I’ve seen my fair share of technical CVs, within which sometimes the potential isn’t front and centre, but I know it’s there. So, I thought I’d take a moment to share what I choose to look at when reviewing a person’s “Course of Life”. Side note: I’ve never thought to google it before but apparently that is what the latin “Curriculum Vitae” means! 

Here are three key areas I consider when reviewing a series of tech candidates. 


When reviewing a candidate I’ll have a mental “bingo card” of what software engineers require in order to be productive. The skills are the objective part and a lazy (cough), I mean efficient hiring manager will look at ticking those skills off quickly and easily. For example, the role requires Java and Spring Framework – how can I tick those off? Here is where the candidate can exploit that efficiency by editing a CV and putting aligned skills at the top of the skills list. Then, why not include some bonus skills towards the bottom? 

For example, if you’re going for a C# role, it’s important to highlight knowledge of C# at the top. Then, if you’ve got complimentary ecosystem skills like Containerisation, Cloud, Kubernetes, pop them in a little lower. This simple structuring technique takes my mind from “Can they do it?” to “Yes, they can do it. Now, what else can they do that is of value?”

Quick tip: Don’t rate yourself. It’s personal opinion but I believe giving yourself a rating out of 5 for a particular skill is useless at best and misinformation at worst. Ratings are always subjective and context dependent.


Reflecting on the “Course of Life” terminology, I’ve come to think that a CV very rarely reflects a person’s actual course of life. A CV instead focuses on a career course and whilst that is an important part of our identity, it can mean that we miss out other vital aspects of career and life – other aspects that make us who we are.

Once I’ve objectively reviewed skills, the next stage is about trying to gain an understanding of who this person is. This is where I like to see some personality. This isn’t represented by a photo on the CV – something I’ve never connected with – but is more around their personal statement (if you call it that!). I’ll look into what has this person chosen to share with me around who they are? Who are they outside of work? What motivates them? What do they enjoy? 

My goal is to bring different perspectives to the table – just one reason why I love returners! –  and if I recognise that an applicant brings a difference whilst complimenting my current team members, that is someone I want to talk to.

Impact (Interview Hooks)  

The “Impact” aspect is not dependent on level or seniority. It’s actually an area I have been particularly poor at in terms of documenting my own impact. However, it’s incredibly important to record and share the impact you’ve had throughout your career history. What have you achieved? How have you impacted teams, projects, customers?

A great example of sharing your impact is as follows. “I created a feature that drove X% increase in customer sign ups due to Y”.

These kinds of statements provide me with “interview hooks”. I’m able to ask things like, “What specifically do you think it was that led to an increase in signups – tell me more?”


And there you have it—three probably not-so-secret ingredients to shake up your technical CV and stand out in the tech job market. Remember, it’s not just about ticking boxes but crafting a narrative that showcases your skills, personality, and impact. So, next time you’re updating your “Course of Life” document (CV), think lazy, inject some personality, and sprinkle in those interview hooks. After all, why settle for bland when you can serve up a dish that leaves a hiring manager interested and ready to hear more?

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