CV Format: How to Structure Your CV
In order to impress recruiters and prospective employers, your CV not only needs to sell your skills and achievements but also convey professionalism. This is why it’s important to pay attention to CV format and structure.
A well-formatted and structured CV will make it easier for recruiters to scan its contents, but format it badly and your CV won’t even get a second glance.
Depending on whether you want the focus to be on your linear career history or your skills, there are two main types of CV: the chronological CV (which prioritises your work experience) and the skills-based CV (which places the focus on your skills). In recent times, the combination/hybrid CV has become more popular as it allows both work experience and skills to be showcased. Irrespective of the type of CV you choose, there are basic guidelines everyone can follow with regard to CV format and structure. In this article, we share best practices for creating an interview-winning CV.
When it comes to CV format, the rule of thumb is clear and well-presented. This includes:
- Choosing a professional font (Arial, Calibri or Times New Roman)
- Opting for a 10-12 font size for normal text and 14-16 for headings, depending on the font size
- Breaking up text with clear headings and bullet points
- Setting margins to 1 inch on all four sides of the page and spacing to 1 or 1.15
- Making use of white space between sections
- Keeping your CV length to 2 A4 pages, with only the most recent and relevant information displayed
Your CV structure provides a template for you to organise your work experience, skills and achievements so that your CV can easily be read by recruiters and ATS software.
While it’s essential to tailor your CV to the job description, in most cases, every CV will contain the following sections:
As a minimum, you’ll need to include your name, postal address, phone number and email address. If available, it’s also a good idea to add the URL to your LinkedIn profile, personal website or portfolio, as well as details of your driving licence if relevant to the job.
Personal statement or profile
Your personal profile is a brief 4-6 sentence paragraph where you introduce yourself and highlight your key skills and accomplishments. As this paragraph often determines whether recruiters read the rest of your CV, it’s important that you don’t skip this section.
Here, you’ll need to focus on your most recent work experience and include details such as the name of your employer, the title of the position, the dates you worked (month and year) in each role and 2-3 bullet points that outline your responsibilities and achievements.
Again, it’s a good idea to start with your most recent qualification and include details, such as the title of your course, degree or study programme, the name of the academic institution and the dates of study (month and year)
If you’re older and have extensive work experience, you don’t need to go into details about your course unless it’s particularly relevant to the job description. You also don’t need to refer to your secondary school education.
If you’re a recent graduate, you may want to place more focus on your education and list the modules you’ve taken.
Perhaps, one of the most important sections of your CV, the ‘Skills’ section is an opportunity to highlight specialist knowledge and skills, not mentioned elsewhere in your CV. This can include hard skills, such as languages or IT or soft skills, such as leadership, communication or adaptability, for example.
With businesses increasingly looking to make their mark in the global marketplace, being fluent in a second language or two could help you get ahead in your career. Not only do you demonstrate communication skills but also cultural awareness and an openness to learning new things.
Courses and Qualifications
In this section, you can highlight all further education that has been completed outside of regular school/university or vocational training. This can be particularly useful if you are changing careers or lack the required experience for a particular role.
Whether you’ve pursued several degrees or studied for vocational courses, certifications and qualifications, it’s a good idea to provide proof of your expertise and skills.
Optional sections you may want to include:
If you’ve been fortunate enough to do an internship, including this on your CV is a great way to impress recruiters and employers as internships prove that you have practical work experience. Internship experience also demonstrates dedication and a willingness to learn.
Volunteer Work Experience
If you have volunteer work experience, including this on your CV could give your application a boost as many employers prefer candidates who spend their spare time contributing to the wider community.
Extra-curricular activities are particularly relevant if you have just left or are still in education. Including these in your CV shows employers that you have/had other interests outside of your studies.
Hobbies or interests
Listing hobbies and interests on your CV can give employers a glimpse of your personality, but mostly if you have limited work experience or skills related to your field. If you have plenty of work experience in your field, you may find that space on your CV is limited and that you want to prioritise other sections.
Prioritise the most important information first
With recruiters receiving hundreds of CVs for a single job application, there’s not much time to make a good impression. This means that you need to place the most important and most relevant information at the top of your CV to increase your chances of it being read.
Here are a few pointers for the perfect CV format, according to your career stage:
You’re a recent graduate or student
As a newcomer to the job market, you’ll usually have little work experience. Therefore, it makes sense to prioritise your education which should come after your personal statement or profile.
So, using a chronological CV format where your most recent qualification is listed first, the order would be something like this: Contact details, Personal Statement or Profile, Education, Work Experience, Internships, Extra-Curricular Activities, Volunteer Work Experience.
You have an extensive career history
If you have an extensive career history, you’ll want to focus on the last 10-15 years of your work experience.
In this case, you can structure your CV as follows: Contact details, Personal Statement or Profile, Work Experience, Education, Skills, Professional Certifications, Professional Development, Training or Courses (if applicable)
As the focus will be on your skills and accomplishments, a combination/hybrid CV format is best where you list your experience in reverse chronological order and at the same time highlight the skills acquired in each position as well as the outcomes you achieved.
You’re changing careers
If you’re changing industries or careers, you can either opt for a combination/hybrid CV or a skills-based CV, depending on the level of experience you have.
If you don’t have much relevant experience for your new role or industry, it’s best to go for a skills-based CV format. On the other hand, you could stick with the traditional combination/hybrid CV and draw attention to your skills: Contact details, Personal Statement or Profile, Skills Summary, Work Experience, Education, Professional Certifications, Professional Development, Training or Courses.
While you may have had valid reasons for changing jobs frequently, job-hopping can throw some recruiters off. The best way to handle this is to opt for a skills-based or functional CV that places the focus on your skills.
For skills-based CVs, you can order the sections as follows: Contact details, Personal Statement or Profile, Skills Summary, Work Experience, Education and any additional sections that you think may help your application.
In the ‘Skills Summary’ section, list your core skill as a bullet point and then add sub-points detailing how you acquired that skill, e.g.
- Chaired work social committee
- Managed staff rotas
In the ‘Work Experience’ section for skills-based CVs, it’s fine to only mention essential details such as the name of the employer, the position held and the years of employment.
You have gaps in your CV
If you have gaps in your CV for whatever reason (sabbatical, parental leave, unemployment, etc.), again, a skills-based or functional CV can help smooth out the gaps and draw attention to the skills that you have to offer rather than your lack of experience.
How to select the best CV format and structure
Which CV format you choose will depend on the stage of your career and the level of your work experience, as described above.
As each job is different, you’ll need to consider whether you place more focus on your work experience, education or skills. Therefore, it’s a good idea to create a general CV that you can draw on and tailor for each application.
This is where an online CV builder like Jobseeker can help. Our CV builder allows you to easily switch up the order of your CV, no matter which template you use, without affecting the formatting. That way, you can focus on making your CV shine through your skills and accomplishments.