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Your Top 10 Questions About CVs and Resumes Answered

We answer your top 10 cv and resume questions you'll likely encounter when starting your job search. Find out about cv vs resume, length requirements and best formatting.

Finding a job is hard and getting started is even harder.

That’s why we decided to help you get started by providing the top 10 most commonly asked cv and resume questions from our support team and professionals in the industry.

This should help you get on the right foot and stop that procrastination about applying for that dream job.

Are CVs and resumes the same?

In casual conversation, the terms ‘CV’ and ‘resume’ are often used interchangeably. Many people use both words to mean the same thing. What they are actually referring to, however, depends on location. In the UK, for example, a ‘CV’ is what Americans would often call a ‘resume’.

There are some important technical distinctions, however. Strictly speaking, a CV (or ‘Curriculum Vitae’) is a detailed, multipage document detailing every aspect of your academic and career history. A CV will include every professional role you have held, every degree and accreditation you have earned, and every project you have had published. Your CV does not change much over time, it is simply added to as your career progresses. CVs are used almost exclusively by people in academic fields.

A resume is shorter, more customizable, and much more common. A resume should not be longer than two pages (in fact, one is usually enough) and is a document specific to each job application. It is not a static work like a CV, it is a living document that needs to be tailored for every position you apply to. Resumes don’t show every single aspect of your career, they highlight the skills and achievements that will best sell you for the specific role and employer you are applying to. Where a CV is a record of your entire professional and academic life, a resume can be seen as a marketing document with the specific intent of impressing potential employers.

If you are just beginning your job hunt and aren’t sure whether you should use a CV or a resume, the answer is almost certainly a resume. CVs are usually reserved for academics, so unless you are applying for a job at a university you should be using a resume. If you still aren’t sure, it can’t hurt to ask the hiring manager at the company you are applying to.

Can my resume be more than 1 page long?

It is widely believed that a resume should not exceed one page. While there is nothing wrong with a one-page resume, don’t worry if a second page is needed to fit all of your experience. Though there was a time when resumes were expected to be a single page, today’s employers won’t likely have a problem with two.

Note, however, that you should only be using a two page resume if you really need both pages. Shorter is always better, and a dense one-pages is far superior to a sparse two-pager. Generally, only individuals with more than a decade of professional experience require more than one page. If you are a recent graduate or relatively new to the workforce, stick to one page.

Remember, a resume is a marketing tool where you can sell yourself and your accomplishments. One or two pages should be enough to summarize your work experience. You don’t need to include every position and every skill, you only need those that will best suit the position you are applying to. Any more than two pages and the information on your resume becomes less relevant and more boring. The only reason to go longer is if you are in the late stages of your career and you really do have three pages of impressive, interesting accomplishments that simply can’t be omitted or must be explained.

Can my resume be double-sided?

For many job applications, this question is irrelevant. Your application will take place entirely online and the PDF or DOCX file you send won’t have any ‘sides’ at all. However, there may be cases where you are required to print out a resume on actual, physical paper.

In such cases, your resume should not be double sided. You don’t want a hiring manager mistaking your double-sided resume for a one-page resume and failing to read the second half of it. Further, with two pages an employer can spread the pages out and view the entire resume at the same time. Printing on two pages what could be printed on one may seem like a waste of paper, but it is important to make reading your resume as easy as possible for potential employers.

Should I customize my resume for each application?

Yes! Customizing your resume every time you apply for a job is paramount to a successful job search. Your resume should be tailored to fit every job and company that you apply to. Each job posting will have a distinct set of requirements, and a single unchanging resume can’t be expected to suit each position without adjustments. No two employers have the same expectations for an ideal candidate, so your resume must change to cater to their individual needs. Relying on one resume to impress dozens of hiring managers is a poor way to score an interview.

To customize your resume, research the company in question and study the job posting. Try to mimic the language of the job description closely, so that your resume will have the keywords that the applicant tracking system is looking for. In your work experience section, focus on the skills and achievements that are most directly relevant to the job you are applying to, and in your summary show that your goals and values are in line with those of the company. By tailoring your CV in this way, you stand a much better chance of capturing the attention of both an ATS and a hiring manager.

For more customization tips, you may want to check out How to Customize Your Resume to Land the Interview.

What resume format should I use?

Most resumes are written in a reverse-chronological format. This means that you start with your most recent position at the top of the page and work backwards through your work history, detailing your accomplishments in each role. The reverse-chronological resume is the most popular resume format for good reason. A work history displayed in reverse-chronological order is easy to read and understand quickly, can be parsed coherently by Applicant Tracking Systems, and puts an emphasis on your most recent accomplishments. Hiring managers can easily scan your resume for an impression of your experience and the path your career has taken. For the vast majority of job seekers, this is the resume format you should use.

Less popular is the “functional” resume format. In functional resumes, skills take precedence over work history and the resume typically begins with a loosely grouped list of skills or “competencies” that will sell the job-seeker to an employer. Though this may seem useful, the functional resume format makes many employers suspicious because it obscures the timeline of your past jobs. “If a hiring manager thinks you are using the functional resume format to cover up a long gap in your work experience or erratic job-hopping, your likelihood of landing an interview will plummet”, says VisualCV CEO James Clift. Should you decide write a functional resume, take pains to ensure that you don’t appear to be covering up an imperfect work history.

If the skills-focused nature of the functional resume still appeals to you, however, consider using what is called a ‘combination’ resume. This resume format leads with skills, but still includes a brief reverse-chronological work experience section that outlines your career journey. With this format, you can draw employers’ eyes to your skills without obscuring the career path in which you learned those skills. Natalie Severt at Workopolis recommends combination resumes to “talented professionals with lots of experience” and job seekers who are “transitioning to a different career and want to show off [their] transferable skills”.

For a more detailed look at resume layouts, check out VisualCV’s CV Layout guide.

How can I show my education on my resume if I didn’t graduate?

Don’t let an incomplete education get in the way of a great resume. You don’t need to omit your education section or be unclear about your academic experiences. You should simply be honest about what you achieved, even without having graduated, and write the best resume possible.

While it is important to make sure that your CV doesn’t indicate that you have a degree when you do not, it is quite acceptable to make a note of the institutions you attended and the relevant courses you completed. Jessica Holbrook Hernandez, CEO of Great Resumes Fast, recommends that you pick one of two options:

“1. List the college you went to, the program area you studied, and dates you attended school. You’re not including a degree here because one was not awarded. 2. State the university you attended, relevant courses you completed (especially if they’re related to a position you’re pursuing), and dates you attended the school.”

Which of these options you choose will depend on the job you are applying to. If you have specific courses or projects that are relevant to the job and will help your application, feel free to include them. If not, simply noting the institution and area of study is sufficient. Always do what best suits the specific job you are applying for.

Are resume writers worth it?

Resume writing is a highly specialized skill. It is a skill worth developing, as you will be writing and editing your resume all throughout your career, but the appeal of having someone do it all for you is hard to deny. Professional resume writers are skilled at assessing and summarizing work experience and showcasing what will be most impressive to potential employers. If you need to summarize many years of experience in many different positions on a short document, a resume writer will probably be better equipped to do it than you. In a crowded job market with tough competition, a professionally written resume may give you the edge you need.

A resume writer can also help to manage any undesirable qualities your resume may have. According to VisualCV’s James Clift, “It is important to account for resume red flags. Job hopping, long employment gaps, a career trajectory that looks unfocused or is unrelated to the position - these are all things that employers are wary of.” These are all difficult situations to depict in your resume, and a professional resume writer will know how to present them in the most flattering way possible.

Of course, there are lots of resources online that can help you write your own resume. If the resume you wrote for yourself is free of red flags and is attracting positive attention from potential employers, a professional rewrite is probably unnecessary. However, if you don’t have the time to write a resume, or you still don’t feel confident in the resume you have created, or after multiple revisions your resume still isn’t getting you any interviews, a professionally written resume might be the solution you are looking for.

When considering whether or not to hire a resume writer, assess your writing skills, your professional experience level, whether or not your current resume is working, and how much time and money you are willing to spend on a new resume. Many resume writing companies offer a free resume review that can help you make your decision. Topresume, for example, offers a free review here.

How can I write a resume when I don’t have experience?

You may not have formal work experience, but you are still employable. There are plenty of experiences and skills that will sell you to potential employers that are not directly related to employment. When writing your resume, focus on your education, skills, and extracurricular activities to show that you are a hard-working and talented candidate.

Volunteering experience is a good example of something employers will appreciate seeing on a resume. So is participation (or better yet, leadership) in clubs or community organizations. If you are a student or recent graduate, awards, electives, and projects that are related to the current job are an important asset. TopResume’s Riya Sander recommends that you ask yourself questions like: “What can you do well that this job requires? What will be useful to the hiring company? What have you done in school and what have you studied that has prepared you for assuming this job?” Any experience counts! If you investigate your activities and education you will be sure to find the skills and experience you need to land your first job.

For more a more detailed look at writing a CV with no experience, check out VisualCV’s article 13 Tips On How To Write A CV When You Have No Experience.

What should I include in my resume?

All resumes have a section for Work Experience and a section for Education, as well as contact information such as your name, phone number, and email address. This is fairly obvious — without this content, most resumes would be rather slim.

Other sections are optional, but recommended. For example, a section that highlights skills or core competencies can make for a great resume. So can sections detailing important projects, volunteering experience, and a personal summary. If you are in a creative field, a portfolio of past projects is an important feature. For a detailed look at which sections you should include (and how to write them), you may want to take a look at VisualCV’s resume guide.

Some things should not be included in your resume, despite a persistent popular belief that they should be. Examples include:

  • Your home address. Your city of residence will suffice. Including your full address is unnecessary.
  • Your references. If an employer wants to contact your references they will ask for them. This typically comes after an interview, not before.
  • An objective statement. Objective statements, though once common, are now outdated. Consider writing a brief professional summary of yourself instead.
  • A picture. Pictures are acceptable in online resumes, but should be omitted from more formal applications.

Please note that the above advice applies primarily to North American resumes. The specific expectations of a resume will depend on where the job is located, as different countries have different resume requirements. In much of Europe, for example, a picture is expected. In much of the Middle East, your age and nationality are usually indicated on a resume. For a more detailed look at different resume requirements across the world, please read VisualCV’s What to include in a CV - an international guide.

How do I write a great resume?

A great resume is well organized, easy to read, and concisely written. Choose an attractive template, use a readable font, and be sure to have it checked for errors in spelling and grammar. When describing past positions, use action words that indicate hard work and success, like “developed”, “trained”, and “coordinated”.

Your resume should focus on achievements rather than responsibilities. A simple list of routine tasks is not enough for each job description; you need show that you met goals and accomplished tasks that had a real impact on the business. Where possible, use quantifiable information to show your achievements. This could include “sales volume, profit margin, donations generated, savings on expenses, expanding memberships, grants secured” and more, according to Alison Doyle at The Balance. Numbers are a great way to show the size and scope of your responsibilities.

Of course, there is more to writing a great resume than what can be covered in a top ten list. For a more detailed look at each of these tips, and more, please check out VisualCV’s resume guide.

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