CV writing: 9 common questions answered

A woman working at her desk in the office
When it comes time to write or update your CV, it’s natural that you will have questions. Even the most experienced professional can worry about potentially making a mistake that could cost you an interview. So, to help you prepare a winning CV, we’ve provided our answers to the most frequently asked questions we receive about CVs.

1. What’s the difference between my CV and LinkedIn profile?

Your CV is the main means of applying for roles and should give 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 so requires something more tailored than a generic LinkedIn profile. 
When it comes to LinkedIn, the visual, flexible and interactive nature of the platform allows you to bring all 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, PDFs and other examples of your work, which you can’t easily do on your CV.
You can also share content relevant to your expertise and industry via blogs or updates to further paint a picture in the recruiter’s mind of your expertise. 
To sum up, your CV is still your most important personal sales tool when it comes to getting a job, but it should be complemented with a strong, professional and active LinkedIn profile – one that brings all the claims you have on your CV to life and showcases everything you have to offer.

2. Do I really need to tailor my CV to each role? 

Yes, it is important that you adapt your CV to fit each role you are applying for. You can do this by:
  • Tweaking your personal statement to outline why you want to work for this particular organisation and in this particular role  
  • Streamlining your skills, education and experience to highlight only the most relevant information
  • Identifying the keywords used to describe the desired skills in the job description, such as “strong analytical skills”, and ensuring these are incorporated on your CV where possible

3. How should I tackle any gaps I have in the employment history section of my CV?

Most people have some sort of gap on their CV, whether that’s due to redundancy, caring, travelling or education. There’s no need to conceal this. Instead, acknowledge and account for any gap/s by adding the dates and a short explanation.
You don’t need to go into specifics. Instead, explain how you used this break from paid employment proactively and productively. For instance, in the case of redundancy you could note that you upskilled, volunteered or worked on your personal development, for example. 

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

This is an extremely common challenge and our advice in this case is to include all your experience. For instance, include volunteer work or a part time job you had while studying. Use these roles to prove your soft skills, such as your strong work ethic and reliability, along with your transferable skills and employability.
Don’t forget to list your experience in chronological order, always starting with your most recent role, and include the organisation’s name, your job title and your employment dates. Underneath, write a couple of lines detailing your role, responsibilities, the key skills you developed and your achievements. 
Your professional summary 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 instead introduce yourself and explain how your interests, academic achievements and 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.”

5. 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. Here’s our advice for writing a concise, yet impactful CV if you have a lot of experience.
  • Remove irrelevant detail: Start by eliminating any information that isn’t relevant to the job in question. 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. 
  • Focus on your recent role: In the work experience section, provide the most information about your current role and give less information the further back you go. 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 organisation you worked for. This will save you space on your CV, while providing top-line information.
  • Write your CV with your target in mind: Don’t 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.
  • Professional summary: What really needs to stand out is your USP – what is your value proposition? Why should the recruiter or hiring manager read on? What can you bring the organisation that no other candidate can? Talk directly to the reader here.
  • Highlight key achievements: You can also use this section to summarise relevant and notable career achievements. Give the reader numbers and hard facts. This is also a great way to give more prominence to any achievements that didn’t take place in your most recent role.
  • Contact details: Along with your name and contact details, provide a link to your online portfolio or LinkedIn profile. This way, the recruiter can find out more information if necessary and access examples of your work.

6. 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’ve learnt a new skill or successfully completed a big project, update your CV accordingly. Quantify your achievements by including measurable results to bring your potential to life. It’s also a good idea to update your LinkedIn profile at the same time.
Regularly updating your CV can also highlight any skills or experience gaps so you can fill them as soon as possible. 

7. Do you need a cover letter these days?

The purpose of a cover letter is to allow you to introduce yourself better. You can mention the job you’re applying or looking for and show that your skills and experience match those needed. This will encourage the reader to take the time to read your CV.
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
  • Do your research and tailor your cover letter to a specific job. 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
You can find more tips, and an example of a best practice cover letter here.

8. How long should my CV be?

The answer to this question depends on your experience. The main thing to keep in mind is that your CV must demonstrate and articulate your skills, experience and future potential. If you can do that well in one page, then one page is great.
However, the average length of a CV is usually 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.

9. Why is the skills, systems and competencies list an important part of a CV?

This section of your CV shows employers you have the abilities required to succeed in the role. It is a bulleted list of your skills, systems and competencies which relate to the role you are applying for. These can also be referenced in your professional summary and work experience sections and should include keywords from the job description.

This section lets an employer see that you are qualified to do the job. It’s also essential to ensure your CV is picked up by an applicant tracking system.

Final thoughts 

Your CV needs to succinctly present a recruiter or hiring manager with all the information they need to determine your suitability for an interview. If you are unsure how to structure your CV, you can download our template or reach out to your local recruiter.

About this author

Nick Deligiannis, Managing Director, began working at Hays in 1993 and since then he has held a variety of consulting and management roles across the business. In 2004 he was appointed to the Hays Board of Directors. He was made Managing Director of Australia and New Zealand in 2012.

Prior to joining Hays, he had a background in human resource management and marketing, and has formal qualifications in Psychology.     

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