If you want to make a good impression on employers, you have to work for it. Creating a generic CV is no longer enough. The competition in the job market is getting tougher by the minute, and there are hundreds of skilled candidates hoping to get every job. You need to make sure you stand out from the pack, and the best way to do this is to come up with a CV that beats all the others.
But, first you need to make sure to learn current job hunting trends and CV writing practices. If your CV fails to ‘speak’ to recruiters in an effective way it means that it is outdated and can’t respond to your needs or the employers’. The key to getting it right is choosing the best CV format that can present your strengths in the best way possible.
How to Choose the Best Format
Writing a CV can seem difficult, but once you start it gets a lot easier. The challenging part is deciding which format to use. While this is something that you get to learn with experience – and lots of research into what employers look for – there are generally some rules that apply regarding the use of each type.
The following three questions can help you make the right choice:
- Why do you need it?
- What are you hoping to get out of it?
- What do you want it to tell employers?
For example, are you after a career change, applying for your first job, or are you hoping to advance in your career, get a raise or apply for a management role? If you are just starting out, your CV should be relatively straightforward, but for mid-career or late-career professionals it can get a bit more complex.
As you go through the list of CV formats, make sure you take a look into the advantages/disadvantages to decide which one is the best depending on each situation and find out what purpose you need it to serve. Also, take a look at the different samples for each one to give you some useful examples.
1. Chronological CV
The chronological CV is the most common format, and it’s the one employers prefer. The reason why it’s so popular is because it presents information in an organised way and provides an easy read to employers. Information is listed in reverse chronological order which presents your qualifications in a chronological order, beginning from the newest and moving to the oldest. This helps employers to identify your most recent experiences that are most applicable to the position.
Use it when:
- you are a recent graduate with experience in the field through paid jobs or internships
- you are a mid-career professional with a long employment history
- you have a work history that shows progress along a narrow career path
Don’t use it if:
- you have had frequent job changes
- you have gaps in employment history
- you are changing careers
- you are overqualified for the role
- you are a recent graduate with no relevant experience
- Demonstrates consistent employment
- Presents an upward career trajectory
- Allows candidates to talk about key roles and accomplishments
- Focuses on employment history rather than skills
- Gaps in the employment history are easily visible with this format
2. Functional/Skills-Based CV
The functional or skills-based CV focuses on abilities and achievements rather than work experience and shows employers what you have done, rather what you can do. This CV format is fairly dated, though, and today is used only in certain circumstances e.g. when you are changing careers, have gaps in your work history or applying for your first job. In contrast to the chronological CV, the focus goes on skills instead of work experience.
Use it when:
- You have significant gaps in work history
- You need to emphasise skills over job titles or companies you worked for
- You are changing jobs frequently
- You are re-entering the workforce
- It can hide gaps in employment history
- It’s idea for candidates who feel confident with their skills
- Employers don’t like this format because it’s misleading and view it as a way to obscure a candidate’s work history
3. Combined/Hybrid CV
This format is a combination of the chronological and skills-based CVs. Even though the chronological is the most popular, the hybrid is the most marketable CV as it never fails to catch the recruiter’s attention. This is because it can make your skills stand out focusing on your biggest accomplishments and it is often used to highlight your most relevant work experience in a semi-chronological format.
Use it when:
- You have skills that are directly relevant to the position
- You are applying for technical, scientific, or IT positions that require specific skill sets
- You are looking to change industries and need to emphasise transferrable skills
Don’t use it if:
- You are a student or a recent graduate without significant or relevant skills
- Your work experience is limited
- You have several or unexplained employment gaps
- You changed jobs frequently
- It makes employment gaps less apparent without hiding anything
- It’s ideal for technical positions and candidates who have relevant skills
- It can be lengthy
- It can be confusing for employers who are used to seeing the chronological format
4. Mini CV
A mini CV is a brief summary of your qualifications. Since it is supposed to be small, it needs to be brief and straight to the point. It should contain only the necessary information an employer is interested in. This format could take the form of a business card and the best thing is you can use it when you find yourself delivering an impromptu elevator pitch. For this one you need to be careful so that you pick the most impressive details or skills that are essential to the role you are after.
This format provides you with the perfect opportunity to advertise yourself. So you could refer to your job title, key skills and create a career objective specifically for this purpose.
- It provides a quick and easy solution and can be used at networking events
- It allows employers to keep it for future reference
- It may be incomplete in some parts and fail to provide the information employers need
- Because of its size, it can be easily forgotten or lost
The non-traditional format may take the form of an infographic, newsletter, a video and include photos, graphics, images, graphs and other visuals. It could also be an online profile, portfolio, professional blog, infographic, video, physical CV or a unique design that makes it more interesting. This type is ideal when you are applying for a creative job. If you need help, check out these extraordinarily creative CV examples to get some inspiration.
- It can give you an edge and help you stand out from the competition
- It can help you stay memorable to recruiters
- It needs to be used carefully and only at times when the company culture allows it
Example 1 - Newsletter:
Example 2 - Infographic:
Example 3 - Modern:
6. Two-Page CV
The majority of employers prefer the one page CV, but since it can be difficult for applicants to fit all the necessary information on a single page, the two-page CV format has become common. This is an update on the classic one and is used to highlight skills and experience, either voluntary or paid. It can be an excellent choice if you are just starting out in your career.
- It’s short and to the point which makes it easy for employers to scan
- It can be used when your experience doesn’t fit onto one page
- Its structure and length is commonly accepted by industries
- It might look insufficient if it is used for the wrong purpose (e.g. applying for a managerial role or a position in academia)
- It might not be able to give out as much information as employers want
7. Visual CV
The visual CV is different to all the rest and stands out. You can play with it by adding colours, images, music and relevant links to your professional blog, presentations or other supporting documents. It is easy to update when you need to show new skills and accomplishments. This is best for creative roles or if you are requiring excellent web knowledge.
- It has a great visual appeal
- It is updatable with provision to include a range of supporting information
- It is useful as an add-on to other CV formats
- It is difficult to integrate into other systems and databases
It allows you to add extras on a website that you wouldn’t be able to do with a traditional CV. Just like with the previous one, it gives you enough space for experimentation, and you can add more content, images and more colours to it. It can take the form of an online portfolio or a Word format for easy storage or sharing.
- It is suitable for the majority of job roles
- It is visually appealing, easy to update and easier to share with recruiters and hiring managers than other web-type CVs
- It is more likely to be reformatted for storage on company systems
One of the most popular and useful CV formats is the LinkedIn CV. As a networking tool, LinkedIn helps you connect with employers and other professionals. With it, you have the opportunity to get found by employers without registering on job sites. You can also demonstrate your skills and experience through recommendations and endorsements.
- It’s suitable for professional roles
- It provides easy and quick access at any point, any time
- It’s an excellent networking tool with add-ons that help to strengthen a candidate application
- It is geared towards the professional market and often needs to be used alongside other formats
The academic CV (also known as a Ph.D. CV), is based on the chronological format but doesn’t follow the two-page limit. In fact, it can extend to multiple pages – 5 is the average length – and is used when applying for lecturing or research-based positions in post-doctoral research. This format focuses on achievements and relates to information like your Ph.D. and other related research.
- It allows you to present supporting information such as research, publications, teaching experience, grants and fellowships, professional associations and licenses
- It can be tiring to read because of its length
As you can see, there are many CV formats to choose from. However, none of these formats will work effectively unless you tailor each one for the company and role you are applying to. To do that, you should also consider the industry, the job type and company culture.
It helps to think of your CV as a marketing tool that allows you to sell your work history, skills and experience to potential employers. Assuming that the ‘product’ is you, you need to choose a format that manages to promote you in the best light possible. So before you make the decision, take a careful look at each one and what it offers. Choosing the right format effectively can help you increase your chances of landing a job.