Chronological or skills-based: which CV is best for you?

6 Jun 2023, 15:18

Find out about chronological and skills-based CV formats and consider which style will help you write the best graduate CV at this stage in your career.

The picture shows a person writing their CV on a clipboard sitting outside.

There are three main different styles of CV: chronological, skills-based and combination. Read on to find out more about the strengths of each type and to decide which will work best for you.

Style 1: the traditional CV – sells your track record

the traditional CV – sells your track record

Our graduate CV template follows this approach, and our guide to the template explains each section in detail. You can download the graduate CV template as a pdf.

Download CV template

Most CVs used by students and graduates fall into this category – a chronological or, to be strictly accurate, a reverse-chronological account of your life and education. Within this structure there are endless opportunities to customise and target the information.

At this stage of your career, details of your education may be of most interest to potential employers. Unless you have loads of relevant work experience (or if you'd rather not give your grades too much prominence!), list your education at the top of the CV, in reverse-chronological order. Take the same reverse-chronological approach to the other sections in your CV.

Follow this with work experience and employment history, again in reverse-chronological order. Start with your present or most recent position, and work backwards.

Style 2: the skills-based CV – sells your potential

If you want to focus on the skills for your CV that you have to offer right now, this can be a good approach to take.

You could start a skills-based CV with a personal statement or career objective near the beginning, focused on the industry, role and/or employer you are applying to. For example: ‘Motivated and academically gifted chemical engineer seeking to use his industrial experience in a technical sales career’. The rest of the CV must contain evidence to back up the opening statement. If you decide to start your CV this way, use our advice on writing a personal profile to help you.

Skills-based CVs sometimes include a list of key achievements. Our guide to our graduate CV template includes advice on how to write about your skills and key achievements.

The skills-based CV is typically a good choice for more experienced candidates who want to show how a range of life skills are transferable into different roles and industries. It is often an ideal CV format for a mature student or career changer, but is typically less well suited to fresh graduates who have less extensive experience.

For a fully skills-based CV, you could put together a series of sections focusing on individual skills or particular accomplishments, each with a relevant heading. These sections could include further details in bullet point or sentence format.

  • List these sections in order of importance, with the one most related to your career goal at the top.
  • Within each section, emphasise the most relevant accomplishments or results produced.
  • Add a brief section showing your work experience, giving dates, employers and job titles only.
  • Include your education at the end of the CV, again in reverse-chronological order.

Style 3: the combination CV – aka the great British compromise

the combination CV – aka the great British compromise

Our one-page technical CV takes a skills-based approach, though it has elements of the traditional chronological CV too. You can pick up more detailed tips from our advice on technical CVs, and you can download our technical CV template as a pdf to help you.

Download technical CV template

You're perfectly free to create a CV that includes elements of both the traditional and skills-based types. Focus on the major aim of the exercise: to produce a CV that meets your needs. And if this means a wholly original hybrid, fair enough.

If you decide to go down the route of having a prominent section for all your skills on a CV that is otherwise chronological, take care that you don't interrupt the overall flow of the story you're telling about yourself and that you don't then end up repeating the information later in your CV. You will also need to pay particular attention to rewriting the skills section for each job application.

How off the wall can I be with a graduate CV?

Just occasionally you may feel the need to produce a CV that is radically different from everybody else's. This is only recommended if wackiness or 'creativity' is appropriate behaviour in the eyes of the organisation that you are approaching. Chartered accountants, for example, are not in this group but maybe advertising agencies are.

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