Your CV format will dictate which parts of your CV will stand out to an employer.
Successful CV formatting depends on the CV template that you choose and how your CV format showcases your experience, skills and achievements.
Format your curriculum vitae well and both the recruiter and ATS software will find exactly what they are looking for.
But what are the considerations when formatting a CV? While fonts and graphics are visually important, there are also deeper structural considerations.
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In which circumstances might you highlight your skills over your experience? Is there a benefit in following the format norms? How is the job seeking environment of 2022 influencing the structure of CV templates?Here is what we will cover:
- How to format a CV: accepted norms
- Reverse chronological CV format
- Functional CV format
- Combination CV format
- Europass curriculum vitae format
- Three 2022 influences on CV formatting
How you structure your CV format will depend on what aspects of your candidature a future employer wants to see in your application, but it is also very much dictated by the hard realities of your previous career.
Firstly, let’s explore some more universal curriculum vitae formatting questions:
Tailor your format as well as your content. While we will explore how your career circumstances might dictate a particular format choice, your CV should be designed to optimally indicate your fit with each role. If one job description is deeply prescriptive in terms of the skillset they are looking for, a skills-led functional CV might well make more sense than a traditional reverse chronological format.
How to format a CV: accepted norms
There are certain widely accepted norms on how to format a UK CV that no job seeker should ignore. No matter how “innovative” you consider your application, these few simple CV format rules are nearly set in stone:
- Choose a professional-looking font (Calibri, Arial, Times New Roman)
- Opt for a 11-12 font size, depending on the chosen font
- Headings should be 4-6 sizes larger than the text font
- Aim for 1-inch page marginsas standard on all four sides
- Your CV format should be no longer than two pages
- It is not customary to share a photo in the UK CV format
- Always save your curriculum vitae in PDF format to preserve how it looks on different devices (unless the application specifically requests a Word file).
While there are many CV format choices to make, you should never veer too far away from the norm on the above questions. You want the recruiter to be noticing your skills and experience rather than questioning left-field typeface choices.
Choose a font that your future employers are used to reading. Changing a font on a CV format is not difficult, so a sneaky way of seeming to fit in is to choose one that your employers are used to reading. Look at their emails and employer branding materials – what font are they using? You might not think that it matters, but subconsciously it might well start to ring a few bells.
Now we have covered the basics, there are three main types of CV:
- A reverse chronological (or traditional) CV
- A functional (or skills based) CV
- A combination curriculum vitae
This is when they are typically used:
- Reverse chronological focuses on work experience
- Functional brings your skills and education to the fore
- Combination is a fusion with more emphasis on skills than normal.
Let’s explore the three CV format types in more detail:
Reverse Chronological CV Format
Here’s a reverse chronological CV format that places recent experience at the top:
The reverse chronological format (sometimes known as traditional or chronological) is widely accepted as the best way of proving employment suitability.
Your most recent roles and experiences are considered to be most relevant to any new role, your recent employers will be scrutinised with interest and even something as simple as scanning how long you were at your most recent role will lend a degree of credibility to your potential fit.
The “reverse” aspect of the CV format means that your roles are listed in reverse order. While you don’t need to list your very earliest roles, you should be careful to avoid gaps as the chronological curriculum vitae can make them stand out.
Familiarity lets a reader focus on the content. There are many reasons why the reverse chronological CV format is ubiquitous. If you have standard work experience, there is little reason to distract from it with funky formatting choices.
Sections within a traditional reverse chronological CV:
Every reverse chronological CV format should have the following sections:
- CV Header
- Personal Statement (CV Summary or CV Profile)
- Work Experience (or Employment History)
- CV Skills
Let’s look at these in detail below.
1. CV Header
Essential contact information will be expected to be in the headerof any CV format. Make sure that it doesn’t take up too much space and choose colours and designs that don’t distract from your core content.
- Include your name, contact email, mobile and any personal websites.
- Link to your LinkedIn profile (read some tips on how to improve it in this LinkedIn profile guide).
- Don’t include your date of birth, family details or gender pronouns.
2. Personal Statement
The short elevator pitch of the personal statement(or CV summary) is also included prominently in either format. It is a free-flowing block of text that is bespoke for each role and it should grab a recruiter’s attention with its personal format.
- Ensure that your motivations match up with the requirements of the role.
- Highlight accomplishments with action verbs and quantifiable context.
- Consider including a CV objective if changing roles or seeking promotion.
3. Work Experience
The trick with including work experience in a reverse chronological format is to include an equal amount of content for the past 2-3 roles. This will make your experience seem more significant than if you include a lot of info on the most recent role and less on previous ones. Spread out the experience you wish to demonstrate.
- Most recent role goes first – include prominent employer names for all roles.
- Use bullet points – with action verbs in third person and past tense.
- Focus only on those accomplishments that are relevant for the role
If you are a student or recent university graduate, then your education section should be included above the work experience. Education offers an important indication of potential in any early-career CV format. If you don’t have much work experience, then you should consider the merits of a functional CV.
- A-levels should be included as well as a degree if you are early in your career.
- GCSEs should only be included if you are a recent school leaver.
- List the name of your university degree course and any relevant modules.
5. CV skills section
While the skillssection may not come at the bottom of the CV in some CV template formats, it is probably a section that is less visible. Your work experience sections will contain many of the key skills and attributes that an employer is looking for, so in this format skills are an added bonus (and ideally should not repeat what has been said in the employment part).
- Skills can be included in a separate section as well as in your summary and work experience. Give your skills as much quantifiable context as possible.
- Include the hard and soft skillsthat sit behind the role’s job description.
- Skills are still important in a chronological CV, so choose a format that works.
The hiring manager will notice the format before they get into the content, so the format choices that you make will form their first impression. Clean formatting and an absence of grammatical errors is one of the first things that recruiters take in when they scan a CV, according to Mashable.
Functional CV Format
Here’s an example of effective functional CV formatting putting skills first:
There are certain situations when your skills and abilities will be more important to securing your next role than your past employment experiences. A functional CV format can put your skills front and centre in the following situations:
- Skilled tradespeople and freelancers who are “deep” in certain skills.
- Gig workers who want to emphasize skills over their employment portfolio.
- Career changers who want to show that their skills make them a great fit.
- Students and recent university graduates
In situations where your past is not the best indicator of future potential (maybe because you did not have sufficient chance to practice your skills), or when your skills base is simply too varied to outline in the work experience section, a functional CV will do the job nicely.
Top 3 benefits of focusing on skills in a functional CV
1. It is not the norm, so you will stand out.
When you write a functional CV with a large emphasis on your skills, your CV will read differently to 95% of other candidates. If your skill base is sufficiently impressive, then this can only be a positive thing.
2. You can tell the story behind your skills later.
No one gets a job by walking into an interview and reeling off a list of skills. You will still have to tell the story behind your skills, but by highlighting them in a CV you are inviting the recruiter to explore further. Be ready to talk about them.Related articleHow to write a CVWhen you ponder how to write a CV, there are some deep questions to consider.
3. Recruiters won’t like it, but it will make them look again.
This is a counterintuitive one, but when you put your work experience later in the CV, a recruiter or hiring manager cannot help but read your skills first. You want as much of your candidature to be considered, so this backwards approach could work.
- Choose a functional CV format if your skills are the most important aspect of your job and what sets you apart from other candidates.
- Create a functional CV just because you lack work experience in a field that traditionally requires a chronological CV.
Combination CV Format
Here’s an example of a combination CV format with a larger emphasis on skills:
With the format of many CV templates, it is entirely possible to have an incredibly visible skills section while at the same time including a reverse chronological work history.
The combination CV format above makes the most of the space dedicated to skills and emphasizes just what a breadth of skills the candidate possesses.
You would normally include 5-6 key skills in a CV as you would want your work experience to be more prominent, but a combination CV can definitely do both. A combination CV may seem more visually “busy” than the two other CV formats, but if you have that much to say about yourself, then why not make the most of it.
Understand the value of white space. An effective CV format optimises the balance of white space to text. You need to give the reader a mental break before they move on to the next section, so make sure that there is not an unrelenting wall of text. Give a taster – they can find out more at an interview.
Best CV format for the UK (for international applicants)
Choosing the best CV format for the UK can be more difficult if you’re an international applicant and are used to the North American or continental European job markets. Here are only some of the differences between a United States resume and a United Kingdom CV:
- A 2-page CV format is more acceptable in the UK than in the U.S. (in America, 2-page CVs are usually only for candidates with decades of experience). One-pagersdo exist, but it’s also common to have your CV printed on BOTH sides of the sheet.
- Cover letters are often used in the U.S. (and globally) instead of that 2nd page of the UK CV.
- British CVs can have a bit more personal flair, interests or character in certain industries since there is a strong focus on teamwork and workplace culture.
- Custom sections (such as Volunteering or Accomplishments) are slightly more common in UK CV formats.
Keep in mind though that these differences can be seen as subjective/debatable and will vary depending on region, city, company and so on.
Here’s a (subjective) take from the perspective of an American with CV experience in the United Kingdom:
Or a more formal/expert take from the Financial Times (note how the advice differs regarding 1 and 2-page CVs):
At the end of the day, the best CV format for UK jobs is entirely dependent on the situation. Always analyze the employer and job position. In creative industries, you may add more flair and personality. For entry-level jobs a one-page CV may be more than enough. The best CV format in the UK will change with the circumstances… just as in any other country.
Europass Curriculum Vitae Format
The Europass curriculum vitae system is a well-intentioned initiative to standardize the paperwork that people use to look for jobs in Europe. It’s a web-based system for producing a free electronic document that contains your contact info, work experience, education and other credentials that qualify you to obtain employment.
It should be said that not many European job seekers use it, for various reasons:
- The format is unattractive with a wasteful use of space in the design.
- The interface is difficult, with inefficient editing and software bugs.
- Most employers will wonder why you didn’t create a better option.
There will always be organisations that will request a Europass CV (often in the public sector), but unless it is requested, avoid this CV format at all costs.
Don’t be afraid to try different formats. Certain job application processes may require more information on skills, while others will want to dig deeper into your work experience. Don’t feel that you are obligated to stick with the same CV format for every role. When you use a CV builder, the possibilities of playing around with the formats are unlimited. Go with your gut in terms of what feels right.
Three 2022 trends in CV Formatting
2022 has brought some seismic shifts that will have an impact on the medium-term jobs market and although the reverse chronological CV has held sway for so long, the employment market is creating pockets of activity where a functional CV would work just as effectively. Here are the top 3 trends in 2022 CV formatting and formats (based on our experience and research):
- The rise of freelancer CVs
- Increase in the number of highly specialized CVs
- Lots of CVs from fresh graduates (less experience, more potential)
1. 2022: the continued rise of the freelancer
According toCNBC, the freelance market is booming, with more than one-third of Americans turning to freelance work this year and employers looking to hire them, especially in the fields of ecommerce, web and mobile design.
For freelancers looking to build on their current skill set, a functional CV is perfect to explore their skills in depth, especially as they are often pitching their services with little knowledge of what might be required of them.
Freelancers often have multiple clients at any one time, so rather than list them all in a reverse chronological CV, it may be more efficient to list your experiences by skill or area of functional expertise.Related articleHow to improve your CV layoutA good layout and great content is the magic recipe that recruiters won't fail to appreciate. Take your CV layout to a new level with our CV builder.
2. 2022: the dawn of the deep specialist
According toMcKinsey, specialization is the way of the future. Employees who can handle one task well are likely to fare better than generalists in the long run.
When you are deep in a certain specialization, you often require more CV real estate to do justice to your knowledge. If you also have some huge career wins, then a combination CV might be able to paint enough of a picture.
3. 2022: graduates with little experience focus on potential
Most grads might have muddled through 2020-2022 in terms of their studies, but very few will have undertaken the traditional internships and volunteer positions that have traditionally set up graduates for their first roles.
Employers are therefore being more forgiving and not expecting so much employment experience, so more early career professionals are exploring their potential with functional or combined CV formats. According toForbes, more than 70 percent of roles today have less requirements than one year ago.
How do I format my CV for the ATS?
When an ATS algorithmis scanning your curriculum vitae for keywords, you need to select a format where each CV section contains the normal headings and that the keywords are sprinkled throughout the document. The order of the headings doesn’t matter, but in even the most extreme of functional CVs there should still be a work experience section.
Some key considerations to bear in mind when choosing the best CV format:
- The format should be well-organised and easy to scan by a reader and an ATS.
- The CV format should fit your career rather than the other way around.
- Your job application should play to your strengths, so be brave with the CV format.
- Doing something different is fine, as long as you have a good reason for doing so in your CV.
Sometimes a job search can be tough. If you have been rejected a few times and you don’t quite understand why, it may be worth considering a slightly different CV format. You can also avoid confusion and guesswork by using our recruiter-approved CV templates- a great way to save time and achieve top results!