CV format & structure: Your complete guide

CV format & structure: Your complete guide

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it’. This is especially true when it comes to writing your CV. You need to sell yourself on paper before you can get through the door for an interview.

Your CV’s layout and structure will help you communicate your skills and experience in the most persuasive and professional way. Long paragraphs, unreadable fonts and irrelevant details are a big turn off.

This is how to format your CV correctly and get the job you really want.

The essential CV structure

Your CV should look like this:

  1. Contact details. Name, address, email and phone number.
  2. Professional profile. A 4-6 line summary of you, your skills, current role, big achievements, seniority and responsibilities.
  3. Core skills. Make sure they’re relevant to the job description.
  4. Current/previous roles. Your chronological job history, including a summary of the role, your responsibilities and main achievements.
  5. Education and qualifications. Your higher education qualifications and any professional certificates.
  6. Publications/research experience (if applicable). Any relevant research, publications, chapters or extracurricular experience.

Focus on the top quarter

No matter how long you spend writing your CV, a recruiter or hiring manager is likely to spend about 20 seconds skim-reading it. Every ‘i’ and ‘t’ should be dotted and crossed, just in case they look deeper, but most of the time you need to impress in the first few lines.

The first thing a hiring manager will look at is the top quarter of the page, so your professional profile and core skills should be relevant and detailed enough to hook them in quickly. It should clearly explain why you’re perfect for the role. Spend time tightening up this section and fitting as much value-adding information in as you can. You can adjust margins and use columns to make the most of the space on the page.

Keep the design simple

Creative professions give candidates a bit of room to design their CV and make it stand out, but hirers in the education sector care far more about readability and content. Your layout should be clean and professional — it doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel.

Break up text with bold headings, bullet points and short sentences. Whoever’s reading your CV will be able to scan it easily, pick out the keywords that matter to them and get to know you as a candidate without the bells and whistles.

Use Microsoft Word

Word is the best tool to use because recruiters and hiring managers use it too (free options include Google Docs and Open Office). Word comes with customisable CV templates, it’s easy to edit and you’re unlikely to run into any technical problems when you send your CV to employers or agencies.

Save your CV as a Word Document instead of a PDF, unless the job ad specifically requests it. Recruiters sometimes edit your CV into their own format or remove your contact details to keep it confidential. A .docx file makes life much easier for them and gets you in front of more employers.

Successful CVs are professional and concise

Clever formatting plays a huge role in writing a successful CV. Your experience could be perfect for the role, but it won’t get you very far if that information is buried in huge paragraphs or the recruiter can’t open the document.

Recruiters are busy, so your CV should make life easy for them and show off your skills and experience. Keep the formatting simple and clear and make it easy for your reader to spot the details they care about. The quicker they can make a decision, the better.

Andrew Fennell is the founder of CV writing advice website StandOut CV – he is a former recruitment consultant and contributes careers advice to websites like Business Insider, The Guardian and FastCompany.

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