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CV writing: Your questions answered

Karen Young, Director of Hays Accountancy & Finance 


I recently ran a LinkedIn Live event to share my top tips on successfully creating or updating your CV or resume. We received many great questions from our followers during the event, so I wanted to share a blog with answers to some of the most commonly asked questions. You can watch the event back in full here.
 

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 because, even though you haven’t actively applied for a job with them, you match their criteria for a role that they are hiring for.

On the other hand, if you register with a recruiter or apply for a job using your CV, whether this is through a job board, recruitment website, LinkedIn, or directly with the organisation then your recruiter will view your CV first, and is then likely to search for you next on LinkedIn.

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 to date. 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. 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

When it comes to LinkedIn, thanks to the visual, flexible and interactive nature of LinkedIn you have the opportunity 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 – so 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. Here are some tips for having a strong and engaging LinkedIn profile:

  • Upload an up-to-date and professional photo
  • Add a compelling headline which 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 it 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.

For more LinkedIn tips and advice, you may find the below blogs helpful:

To listen back to my answer to this question during the Live event, skip to 30:35 of the video.

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, 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.

For more help and advice, read this blog which outlines seven common CV gaps and how to explain them during a job interview.

To listen back to my answer to this question during the Live event, skip to 34:13 of the video.

3. How do I write a strong CV if I don’t have much experience?

This a topic I have written about previously. It’s 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 whilst 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.”

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 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, such as 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, and 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, linking to any online examples, and mentioning the skills you developed as a result. There are occasions when if your career history is very limited or you have no work experience at all, you should 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, 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 women’s football team, and how this team reached the semi-finals of the national university championships.

Finally, you could add a sub header titled “Additional information” to the end of your CV. This should include any other qualifications, licenses or certificates which 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 First Aid trained or having a clean driving licence).

To listen back to my answer to this question during the Live event, skip to 35:17 of the video.

4. 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. It’s a topic Susie Timlin, COO of UK Government Investments has explored in the past for us. 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, as opposed to getting 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 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 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.

3. Skills:

  • 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. Perhaps 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.

To listen back to my answer to this question during the Live event, skip to 38.24 of the video.

5. How often should I update my CV?

As explained by Nick Deligiannis in this blog, 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’ve learnt 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, as we explored in the live session – 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.

To listen back to my answer to this question during the Live event, skip to 43.17 of the video.

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, or 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: 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 a “covering letter”!

Some top tips for writing a cover letter that will help you stand out:

  1. Don’t just copy and paste your CV – add something different, this is your opportunity to stand out
  2. Tailor your cover letter to a specific job, and convey your enthusiasm for the organisation throughout
  3. 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
  4. Keep it succinct
  5. Address the hiring manager personally
  6. Use keywords from the job description
  7. Address any concerns they may have about you – such as lacking skills or experience listed on the job description
  8. Proof-read your cover letter!

You can find more tips, and an example of a best practice cover letter here.

7. 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.

As I mentioned during the session, 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.

To listen back to my answer to this question during the Live event, skip to 41.40 of the video.

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.

This is because they let an employer see that you are qualified to do the job, and they are 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 (skip to 23:10) your skills summary is a bulleted list of your 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.

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:
    • Communication
    • Decision making
    • Time management
    • Conflict resolution
    • Problem-solving
    • Stakeholder engagement
    • Business acumen

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.

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.

How to create a successful CV

About this author

Karen is responsible for the UK finance recruitment business at Hays plc. With nearly 22 years of recruitment experience whilst working for this market leading global recruitment firm, Karen has a personal track record of recruiting top finance talent for business and helping people build their career.

Her knowledge covers finance appointments across a wide range of industry sectors and she is an expert in tried and tested talent acquisition methods. Karen provides strategic leadership to a team of over 400 accountancy and finance recruitment professionals across a network of almost 100 UK offices. Extremely passionate about helping people to find the right job, she is also a trusted industry voice on career planning and market insights.

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