Hays’ Karen Young shares her top tips for writing the perfect CV and addresses some frequently asked questions.
I ran a LinkedIn Live event earlier this year to share my top tips on successfully creating or updating your CV or résumé. I received many great questions during the event, so I wanted to share the answers to some of the most commonly asked ones.
What’s the difference between my CV and my LinkedIn profile?
Your CV is still the main means of applying for roles and should serve the purpose of giving the recruiter a factual and chronological snapshot of your skills and experience in order to get you an interview. What’s more, the recruiter will need to know why you are both interested in and suitable for this job specifically, and will need something a little more tailored than your generic LinkedIn profile.
Thanks to the visual, flexible and interactive nature of LinkedIn, you have the opportunity here to bring all of your skills and experience to life and tell the recruiter more of a story about who you are and what you are looking for. You can add videos, blogs and also different projects you are working on, which you can’t easily do on your CV.
In addition, a strong LinkedIn profile can increase your chances of being approached by a recruiter first. Recruiters are using advanced data analytics tools to both find and engage with suitable passive and active jobseekers. An up-to-date profile and frequent online activity can certainly get you noticed by the right people. That is, if you make the best use of this platform.
CVs are still your most important personal sales tool when it comes to getting a job, but this should be complemented by a strong, professional and active LinkedIn profile – one which brings all the claims you have on your CV to life and showcases everything you have to offer as a person and as a professional.
How should I tackle any gaps I have in the employment history part of my CV?
Most people have some sort of gap on their CV, whether that’s due to redundancy, caring, travelling or education.
It’s just important you acknowledge and account for any gaps on your CV – there’s no need to conceal the reality of the situation. So, add the dates and a short explanation to the ‘employment history’ section of your CV.
You don’t need to go into specifics or reasons for the gap. What’s important is that you explain how you’ve been using your time proactively and productively. In the case of redundancy, that might be via upskilling, volunteering or working on your personal development, for example. This could also be an area you cover briefly in the personal statement section of your CV.
How do I write a strong CV if I don’t have much experience?
This is an extremely common challenge, particularly when it comes to plotting out the employment history section of your CV. In this case, I would advise that you include all your experience, even if it’s not relevant to the role you are applying for, for instance volunteer work or a part-time job you had while studying. Including these roles will demonstrate your work ethic, transferable skills and employability.
List your experience in chronological order, always starting with your most recent role, and include the company name, your job title and your employment dates. Underneath, write a couple of lines detailing your role and, beneath that, a bulleted list of your responsibilities and which key skills you developed as a result, plus any career highlights and achievements. If you can link to online examples of your work, even better.
Your personal statement is also a great place to explain why you’ve applied for the role. As you might not have as much professional experience to touch on, you can use this to introduce yourself, and explain how your interests, academic achievements and employment background or your key skills, relate to the role you are applying for.
For example: “I am a history graduate with a keen interest in pursuing a sales career. During my degree, I was largely graded on my presentation skills, and this was an area in which I scored highly. I also held a part-time role as a retail assistant and, during this time, I enjoyed developing my interpersonal and customer service skills. I would like to apply my communicative and interpersonal skills to a more challenging sales role where I would have room to grow and develop as a professional.”
If you are lacking experience, it might also be a good idea to optimise the ‘hobbies and interests’ section of your CV. This section is not to be underestimated and can give your hiring manager an insight into your personality. When listing your hobbies and interests, remember to include any extracurricular activities you were involved with during your time in education.
Don’t be afraid to go into more detail in this section, talking about any individual team achievements or personal awards, plus the core strengths and skills you developed during this time. For instance, you might mention how you played for your university’s football team, and how this team reached the semi-finals of the national university championships.
Finally, you could add a sub-heading titled ‘additional information’ to the end of your CV. This should include any other qualifications, licences or certificates that don’t clearly belong in any other sections of your CV. Or those that don’t particularly add much value to the role you are applying for but are still worth mentioning, for instance being trained in first aid or having a clean driving licence.
How can I streamline my CV if I have a lot of experience?
This is a nice problem to have but it can make the prospect of updating your CV all the more daunting.
Start by eliminating any information that just isn’t relevant to the role or industry. Start this process by highlighting the key skills and attributes required for the job in question. Now look through your career history.
Have you used up valuable space describing skills, attributes and responsibilities from years ago, which don’t match up to the role in question? If so, take them out. There’s also no need to include your early education, or first jobs on your CV. Always bear in mind that you need to ensure your CV is as current as possible.
Now that you have only the most relevant information on your CV, it’s time to make sure it stands out as much as possible to the recruiter. As an experienced, senior-level jobseeker, it is vital that you write your CV with your target in mind, and not bombard the reader with everything you have ever done. You run the risk of potentially burying the most pertinent information, which will lead the reader to lose interest quickly.
Ultimately, your CV is your personal sales document. As an experienced professional, you must ensure it is pitched at the right level and showcases your offering, as it stands today, not 10 years ago.
How often should I update my CV?
Even if you aren’t actively looking for a new job, it’s important to get into the habit of regularly updating your CV. So, for example, if you have learned a new skill or successfully completed a big project in your current role, update your CV to reflect that.
When doing so, it’s important to quantify your achievements. Including measurable results will help bring your potential to life for the reader. It’s also a good idea to update your LinkedIn profile at the same time.
If you keep your CV up to date, when you do come to the point when you want to find a new job, there’s no risk that you’ll forget key points when updating your CV.
Regularly updating your CV can also make you more aware of any skills or experience gaps that you currently have that you’ll need to fill to take the next step in your career. Make sure you ensure your trusted recruitment consultant always has the most up-to-date copy of your CV as well, even if you are not actively looking for a new role currently, as it helps them stay up to date with your career journey at all times and will increase the relevancy of information they may send you.
Do you need a cover letter these days?
A cover letter is important and required if the job advertisement states that a cover letter is required, if the employer, hiring manager or recruiter requests one, if you’re applying directly to a person and know their name, or if someone has referred you for the position. I would say it is best practice to include a cover letter even if it isn’t required.
Why? Well, the purpose of a cover letter is to allow you to introduce yourself better. Mention the job (or kind of job) you’re applying for and show that your skills and experience match those needed to do the job. This will encourage the reader to take the time to read your CV.
Think about it: if you were approaching someone on LinkedIn to promote yourself as a potential employee, you would write a personal message online effectively covering the above, which is actually the same as a covering letter.
How long should my CV be?
It depends on your experience and where you are in the world. The main thing to keep in mind when you’re writing or updating your CV is that you must be able to demonstrate and articulate your skills, your experience and your future potential to the reader. If you can do that well in one page, then one page is great.
However, the average length of a CV is usually around two to three pages. Employers do not have strict requirements for a CV’s length but ensuring it is two to three pages helps the hiring manager digest your experience in relation to the position they’re hiring for.
Why is the skills summary an important part of a CV?
The skills section of your CV shows employers you have the abilities required to succeed in the role. Often, employers pay special attention to the skills section to determine who should move on to the next step of the hiring process.
This is because it lets an employer see that you are qualified to do the job, and it is also essential to help ensure your CV and skillset gets picked up by tech when an organisation or recruiter uses an applicant tracking system for example.
Your skills summary is a bulleted list of your transferable skills which relate to the role you are applying for. These skills and relevant professional qualifications can also be referenced in your personal statement and employment history sections of your CV and should include the keywords that you have picked out from the job description, as long as you are able to demonstrate them in a competency-based interview.
Remember to include both technical, or hard skills, and soft skills or competencies. As the world of work is changing, some of the soft skills employers are looking for are adapting. And skills like creativity, social dynamics, cognitive and critical thinking and the ability to work independently are on the rise. Many were anyway, but the global pandemic has accelerated the need to hire more people with these abilities.
By Karen Young
Karen Young is the director of Hays Accountancy and Finance in the UK and Ireland. A version of this article originally appeared on Hays’ Viewpoint blog.