CV writing tips: Your CV questions answered
10 min read | Karen Young | Article | CV & Cover letters Job searching
A well-written CV can help you get your foot in the door. Learn how to optimise and streamline yours with our CV writing tips.
CV writing tips at a glance
It doesn’t if you are an experienced job hunter or new to the world of work – writing a CV can be tough for many reasons:
- You might not know the best information to put in each section
- You may need to leave out some information to keep things brief
- You could need help with structure and format.
Here are eight tips for CV writing that cover many of the more common questions job hunters might have.
1. What’s the difference between my CV and my LinkedIn profile?
First off, ask yourself which one your recruiter will assess first – your CV or LinkedIn profile. The answer to this question all depends on how you apply for a role.
For instance, if the initial job application didn’t require you to submit a CV, (e.g., if using LinkedIn Easy Apply) then your recruiter may search for you on LinkedIn first after receiving your application. Alternatively, your recruiter may find you on LinkedIn if you match the criteria for an open position.
On the other hand, if you register with a recruiter or apply for a job using your CV, then your recruiter will view your CV first. A CV-first approach is typical when applying through a job board, recruitment website, LinkedIn, or directly with the organisation.
Your CV is still the main means of applying for roles. A good CV gives the recruiter a factual and chronological snapshot of your skills and experience to date. Typically, your CV will also be more tailored to the role than your LinkedIn profile – giving the recruiter more information on why you are applying.
Therefore, it is important that you adapt your CV to fit the types of roles you are applying for. You can do this by following some of the points we covered in the live session:
- Tweaking your personal statement to outline why you want to work for this particular industry and organisation
- Streamlining your skills, education and experience to highlight only the most relevant information
- Identifying the keywords used to describe the desired skills on the job description, such as “strong analytical skills”, and ensuring these are incorporated on your CV where possible.
The visual, flexible and interactive nature of LinkedIn gives you the opportunity to bring all of your skills and experience to life. Your profile tells 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 use advanced data analytics tools to find and engage with suitable passive and active job seekers. So, an up-to-date profile and frequent online activity can certainly get you noticed by the right people.
Here are some tips for having a strong and engaging LinkedIn profile:
- Upload an up-to-date and professional photo
- Add a compelling headline that more accurately reflects your specialism and interests, e.g., “Ambitious IT sales professional with a passion for cloud computing, and three years’ experience in this sector”
- Make sure your skills and experience sections are up-to-date and supported by visual examples, such as videos, pictures, PDFs and other rich media
- Include endorsements and recommendations from other professionals in your network
- Optimise your profile using relevant keywords
- Share content relevant to your expertise and industry via blogs or updates
- Like/share/comment on your connection’s updates
- Get involved in forum discussions in LinkedIn Groups
- Connect with people in your network and ask for endorsements and recommendations
- Where appropriate, adjust your LinkedIn profile settings to show recruiters and hiring managers that you’re ‘open to hearing about new opportunities’
- Ensure the chronological order of your employment history plotted out on your LinkedIn profile exactly matches that of your CV.
To sum up, CVs are still your most important personal sales tool when it comes to getting a job. But a good CV 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.
2. 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. A gap can be down to many things, like redundancy, caring, travelling or education.
It’s 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.
3. How do I write a strong CV if I don’t have much experience?
Inexperience 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.
You might add aspects like volunteer work, or a part-time job you had whilst studying. Including these roles will demonstrate your work ethic, transferable skills and employability.
List your experience in chronological order, 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. 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. 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.”
Don’t forget about your skills summary. You may not think you have many relevant skills to include, but you’ll have learnt many transferrable skills that are worth highlighting.
- Self-taught skills: Have you taken it upon yourself to upskill in any way whilst you have been unemployed? If not, it’s never too late to start
- Transferable skills: So, you may not have had a professional job before, but what about any transferable skills learnt during work experience, part-time jobs or education? For instance, using the same example as above, a History degree may require you to write a lot of essays and present them to your lecturer. During this time, you will have developed some strong writing and presentation skills.
- Soft skills: Discover your soft skills i.e. the skills which reflect your personality traits and can’t really be taught. For example, being naturally well organised and a problem solver. Reflect upon which traits people have always praised you for, whether it’s your teachers, friends or family. Take some free of charge online aptitude tests to discover more about your core strengths.
When writing the education section of your CV, add your recent education starting with the last place you studied. List the educational institution, the dates you studied there, your course title and qualification type, and which grade you received.
You can also use this space to include which different projects you worked on at university. Link to any online examples, and mention the skills you developed as a result. If your career history is very limited or you have no work experience at all, you could put the Education section above the career history.
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 extra-curricular activities you were involved with during your time in education. Don’t be afraid to go into more detail in this section. Talk about any individual team achievements or personal awards, plus the core strengths and skills you developed during this time.
Finally, you could add a subheader titled “Additional information” to the end of your CV. Here, include any other qualifications, licenses or certificates which don’t clearly belong in any other sections of your CV.
The additional information section is also a good chance to add further training or skills (for instance, being First Aid trained or having a clean driving licence).
4. How can I streamline my CV if I have a lot of experience?
Streamlining a CV is a nice problem to have but it can make the prospect of updating your details all the more daunting.
If you are in this position, perhaps you are unsure of how to optimise the most relevant information so that it stands out to the recruiter or hiring manager. You don’t want them to get lost in a sea of job titles, skills, qualifications and experience.
So, here’s our advice for writing a concise, yet impactful CV if you have a lot of experience.
- Be ruthless: 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.
- Write your CV with your target in mind 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 job seeker, 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.
1. Contact details:
- Along with your name and contact details, I recommend you provide a link to your online portfolio or LinkedIn profile (if you choose to do this, you must ensure your LinkedIn profile and CV match up in terms of dates and job titles). This way, the recruiter can find out more information if necessary and access examples of your work.
2. Personal statement:
- What really needs to stand out here is your USP – what is your value proposition? Why should the recruiter or hiring manager read on? What can you bring to the company that no other candidate can? Talk directly to the reader here.
- You could also use this section to summarise relevant and notable achievements you’ve had throughout your career. For instance, if applying for a Marketing Director position, you would mention the time you increased revenue at a specific company by X value, by implementing a campaign which involved Y and Z. Give the reader numbers and hard facts. This is a great way to highlight any achievements which didn’t necessarily take place within your most recent role, in a more prominent position on your CV.
- List your principal areas of expertise in the form of bullet points. Use the opportunity to condense any information that is most relevant to the role, but not deserving of a whole paragraph. Try formatting these to the side of your CV, so as not to take up too much valuable room in the body of the CV.
4. Career history:
- List your career history in reverse chronological order, with your most current role at the top. Provide the most information about your current or most current role and give less information the further you go back in your career history. If a previous job was completely irrelevant to the role you are applying for, but you want to avoid any gaps on your CV, simply list your job title, dates and the company you worked for. This will save you space on your CV, whilst providing top-line information.
5. Simplify your language and format:
- Don’t use ten words to say something you could say in five. Get to the point in a way that is easy for the reader to understand and quickly makes an impact. Use action verbs as much as possible. Avoid blocks of text – this will deter the reader. Your CV needs to be easy to read and easy to follow, no matter how much experience you have. Also avoid company-specific terminology that won’t translate to the reader. Lastly, proof-read, proof-read, proof-read – you will instantly lose credibility if your CV is littered with spelling and grammatical errors.
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 ten years ago.
5. How often should I update my CV?
It’s important to get into the habit of regularly updating your CV – even if you aren’t actively looking for a job. So, if you’ve learnt a new skill or successfully completed a big project in your current role, update your CV to reflect that.
When updating your CV, it’s important to quantify your achievements – include measurable results that 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, it prevents you from forgetting key points later – when you need them most. Regularly updating your CV can also make you more aware of any skills or experience gaps that you currently have.
6. 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
- the employer, hiring manager, or recruiter requests one
- you’re applying directly to a person and know their name
- 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 (or looking 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: imagine approaching someone on LinkedIn to promote yourself as a potential employee. You would write a personal message online effectively containing the above. In many ways, this is actually a “covering letter”.
Some top tips for writing a cover letter that will help you stand out:
- Don’t just copy and paste your CV – add something different, this is your opportunity to stand out
- Tailor your cover letter to a specific job, and convey your enthusiasm for the organisation throughout
- Be proud of your past accomplishments and achievements – draw the reader in with an achievement that stands out and enables you to express passion for what you do
- Keep it succinct
- Address the hiring manager personally
- Use keywords from the job description
- Address any concerns they may have about you – such as lacking skills or experience listed on the job description
- Proof-read your cover letter!
7. How long should my CV be?
Your CV length depends on your experience and where you are in the world. A great CV writing tip 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. However, keeping your CV to two or three pages helps the hiring manager digest your experience much more effectively.
There are a few things to bear in mind when your CV is being read. The first page should have the most important information about you and make a real impact. The second is also key, and if you are on a third page then use this for the less important information for example the hobbies and interests and reference sections.
8. 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.
Not only does a skills section help the employer see that you are qualified to do the job. 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.
As I explained during the Live event, your skills summary is a bulleted list of your skills which relate to the role you are applying for. You can also reference key skills throughout relevant CV sections – matching keywords to the role if applicable.
Remember to include both technical, or hard skills, and soft skills.
- Technical skills are the skills which you have gained throughout your professional career, which are either required or desirable for this role, for instance:
- Coding, proficiency in a foreign language, data analysis, budget work, HTML, CAD drawing, employment law, project management with accreditations like Six Sigma or Prince 2 and can include technical systems skills too like proficiency in Microsoft Office (Excel, PowerPoint, Word, Outlook) for example.
- Soft skills are your personal attributes that allow you to work well with others and achieve your goals. For example:
- Decision making
- Time management
- Conflict resolution
- Stakeholder engagement
- Business acumen
As the world of work changes, some employers are searching for different soft skills. Things like creativity, social dynamics, cognitive and critical thinking and the ability to work independently are on the rise.
If you are getting stuck at this stage, think about the transferable skills you may have learnt in previous roles or whilst you were studying. For instance, you may have honed your listening skills at university. Also, think about when you have taken it upon yourself to upskill in any way – for example, you might have taught yourself how to use WordPress when writing a personal blog.
What you need to remember about our CV writing tips
Your CV is your chance to show the hiring manager that you are exactly what they need. Include the important information, remove anything that’s irrelevant, and keep it tidy. Then, you’ll have the best chance of getting to that all-important interview stage.
About this author
Karen Young, Director of Hays Accountancy & Finance UK&I
Karen is a director and recruiting expert at Hays Accountancy & Finance for UK&I. She provides strategic leadership to a team of over 300 accountancy and finance recruitment professionals across nearly 100 offices. With 25 years of finance recruitment experience, Karen has a track record of recruiting top finance talent for businesses across a range of industry sectors, and is a trusted industry voice on recruitment, career planning and market insights.
Karen also leads development and delivery of social and environmental purpose at Hays UK&I. This focuses on how the business supports local communities with a particular focus on improving skills and employability, as well as steps to safeguard the natural environment. Karen leads a Hays UK Charity partnership with End Youth Homelessness focusing on strategic input to the employability element of the EYH Independent Futures programme, that supports young people into work and independent living.