Writing a curriculum vitae (CV) can be a daunting task, particularly if you have never done it before. However, the way in which you present your work experience and history is often just as important as the details themselves, especially when prospective employers have to comb through piles of resumes just to fill one position. If this is the case, having an eye-catching CV layout can mean the difference between getting that second interview and getting lost in the shuffle.
While you don’t want to go too crazy and turn your resume into a flyer for a kid’s birthday party, thoughtful use of font, spacing, color and graphic elements can give your CV that little extra something that sets it apart from the rest of the bunch.
A good CV writing strategy is to decide on the basic CV layout you are going to use before beginning to work on the details of the resume content.
Consider your skills and experience, the country you are in, and the company and position you are applying to, and use this information to choose the best sections to include on your CV, the order you arrange them in, and the right CV template.
There are three CV sections that are absolutely necessary: contact information, work experience, and education. Without these elements, your CV will be incomplete. Your contact information is necessary for any interested party to contact you, such as recruiters or employers. Your Work History section is required to showcase your professional experience and achievements. Your academic CV section is needed to highlight your educational background and scholastic achievements. These three sections together make a complete, if minimal, curriculum vitae.
Even if you're not writing an academic CV, you will still need to have an education section on your curriculum vitae. However, the emphasis you place on it depends on your experience level and industry. If you are applying for jobs that have specific educational requirements, then it is wise to emphasize this section. If not, then it is fine to leave it as relatively sparse, noting only your certifications or degrees earned and the relevant dates. In most circumstances, the education section will be “placed at or near the end of the resume”, according to resume professional Susan Ireland. However, if you are a recent graduate and your educational achievements are more impressive than your work experience, you may want to place this section above your work history when considering your CV layout. Only include your high school if you do not have post-secondary to note.
Some sections, while not absolutely necessary, can be a significant asset for your CV and are highly recommended. These sections add more depth to your CV when packaged together with the mandatory sections, and can be a great way to showcase your experience outside of the regular work experience/education format. These sections include your Summary and Skills sections.
Note that it is important to clearly separate your sections with a bold heading so it can be easily scanned by potential employers.
You are not limited to the above sections, of course - it is your resume, and you can add any section that you know will help you get the job. Get to know the company and position you are applying to and decide how you want to present yourself so that you know which sections will make you look the best and impress the potential employer. Here are some examples of optional CV sections that may be an asset to your CV.
Your work experience constitutes some of the most important information your CV will present to hiring managers and potential employers. With that in mind, there are some things you should consider when organizing this part of your CV layout. Do some research to see what the industry standard is for your profession. However, these are the most common formats that professionals use.
The most common method of displaying your experience is in reverse-chronological order. Begin with your most recent position at the top of the resume, then work your way backward, describing your responsibilities and achievements in each position. This is the clearest way to showcase your career journey, as it allows potential employers to easily navigate your role and experiences in each position.
This format will work well for job seekers who have been in the same industry or field for a number of years and plan to stay there, for professionals whose current or most recent position is related to a desired position. Essentially, if your work history has no irregularities or major gaps in time employed, this is the best CV format for you.
Another option is what is called a functional CV. Instead of ordering your experience in terms of time, order it in terms of skill set - that is, group related positions and experience together rather than listing them in order. This way, the focus will be on the skills and achievements related to the job you are applying to, rather than on career trajectory and the positions you have held. In the words of Don Georgevich at Job Interview Tools, “a functional resume gives you the flexibility to prioritize your accomplishments and achievements in any way you choose.”
The Functional layout method is not recommended for most job-seekers. According to ResumeGenius, the “main purpose of writing a functional resume is to hide the fact that you have imperfect work experience, or because you’re transferring industries.” Essentially, you should only write a functional CV if there are irregularities in your career history such as large gaps, frequent job-hopping, or significant industry changes. Recent graduates may also want to use this format if their work history is lacking substance. Even then, be careful, warns Jörgen Sundberg of Undercover Recruiter - “employers are known to raise their eyebrows when they see a functional resume so only use this format if you absolutely have to.”
As described by Kim Isaacs at Monster, the combination resume “incorporates the best of the chronological and functional formats”. “It leads,” she says, “with a description of functional skills and related qualifications, followed by a reverse-chronological employment history.” By emphasizing related skills, this format allows a job seeker to highlight their capabilities rather than their career path.
Combination CVs may work for a variety of job seekers - essentially, anyone who wants to feature their skills over their work history. This might include recent graduates, specialists with a specific and important skill set, or experienced professionals looking to enter a new industry. According to The Undercover Recruiter, a combination CV is most useful “when someone wants to pack more skills in that the work experience section allows for or would not bring out adequately.” If this sounds like you, a combination CV is worth a try!
Two pages is the standard length for most resumes. There are exceptions, of course - if you “(1) are searching for an internship; (2) just graduated school; or (3) are relatively new to the workforce”, then you should try to keep your resume to one page, according to TopResume. On the other end of the spectrum are job seekers with decades of experience: “executives or senior-level managers” with “a long list of accomplishments and experiences”, or “people in the sciences or in academia who want to include their licenses, patents, or publications” can allow their resumes to grow to three or more pages if necessary, according to Alison Doyle at The Balance.
For most job seekers, however, with five to fifteen years of related experience, two pages should be enough to showcase your major skills and accomplishments. Indeed, there is some value in keeping your resume brief - “Short and concise means that employers are more likely to read the parts you most care about” says Alison Green of Ask a Manager. Keep it short to be sure that recruiters are seeing the best information as fast as possible.
Please note that the above information pertains mainly to North American resumes - to learn more about resume length in countries around the world, visit our international CV guide.
When choosing a CV design, research your chosen industry and the company you are applying to. It is important that the design you select meets the expectations of your field and potential employer.
For example, if you are applying to a large established company in a more conservative industry, a classic, professional CV layout will likely serve you best.
For the best CV examples, take a look at our Standard and Monte CV templates. These two designs feature good examples of simple but effective CV templates:
In a creative or more modern industry, a clean CV layout will likely work best. This is especially true if your job search focuses on companies in the arts or technology sectors. For these types of organizations, opt for CV templates with some colour, the addition of images, and more creative designs. VisualCV’s Onyx template, for example, features a large banner image to catch the eye:
The Modern and Vida templates, meanwhile, allow for a splash of colour and look great with a built-in Portfolio:
It is also important to consider the content and sections of your curriculum vitae - If you have included several shorter sections, a resume with more than one column can help you to save space. If you are sticking with the standard Work History and Education, however, a single column will be sufficient.
Whether you’re crafting your resume from scratch or using a CV template, it is important to put your unique stamp on it. Browse through some CV templates to find ideas you can implement right now, or pick a template that is easily customizable. Your CV should be legible, eye-catching and unique. Even if it’s something as simple as adding a dash of color, your CV should convey who you are as an individual—but try to keep it understated, your qualifications should always be the star of the show.
Remember: your CV is an extension of yourself, and can be the key to making a good first impression.
You wouldn’t show up to a job interview in shorts and a paint-splattered t-shirt, so you shouldn’t settle for a boring or messy resume. You want a CV that represents you in every way, from your qualifications to your professional attitude and appearance, and a carefully designed CV layout will do just that.
Ben is a writer and customer support specialist with 5 years of experience helping job-seekers create their careers. He believes in the importance of a great resume and the power of coffee.
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