CVs: an overview
Choose the right type of CV
How you present your skills, achievements and ambitions in a CV (curriculum vitae) are key so it’s important to choose the right format for the job you're applying for and your circumstances.
There are 2 main types of CV:
- a chronological (or traditional) CV, and
- a skills-based (or functional) CV.
This type of CV lists your details, under appropriate headings, starting with the most recent.
This format of CV can suit best if you…
- have experience and skills that closely relate to the job you're applying for
- want to emphasise career progression
- have had mainly continuous employment with no gaps.
If you want to use this format and have gaps in your work history, give an appropriate reason for them, such as bringing up a family.
If you have gaps in your CV due to serving a criminal sentence, take a look at our CVs for different scenarios guidance.
Example of chronological CV
Skills-based or functional CV
This type of CV emphasises your skills and personal qualities rather than your employment history.
This format can suit best if you…
- are changing career and want to show employers how transferable skills gained in other types of employment will be relevant for the post
- have extensive gaps in your employment history, because they are not as prominent as they would be in a date-listed order in a chronological CV. Be prepared though to explain any gaps at interview
- have had a series of short term paid or voluntary roles; this format enables you to group together related skills and achievements gained from these.
Example of skills-based CV
The CV builder tool helps you to develop a CV from scratch and allows you to choose a template suited to your needs. Go to Creating and reviewing your CV with our interactive CV tools (OU sign in required).
Other types of CV
While a skills-based CV or chronological CV will be appropriate for many jobs and circumstance, there may be some sectors and jobs where you want to use a combination of these formats or has different requirements.
A hybrid CV is a mix of the chronological and the skills-based/functional CVs.
It sticks to the more conventional order of the former but combines an ordered layout with more emphasis on achievements and skills found in the skills-based, rather than on responsibilities.
The hybrid CV can be a good option if you want to draw attention to specific skills or achievements that would help you stand out as a candidate.
Mostly needed for IT roles, the technical CV provides a format for highlighting specific technical skills relevant to the role (eg programming languages, systems, platforms) alongside the all-important ‘softer skills’ that all employers are looking for.
Creative industries CV
With the expansion of digital and creative industries over recent years, CV formats have become more imaginative in these sectors. A highly creative CV format can be suitable for some roles in creative and artistic sectors such as marketing, design or journalism where it could help you stand out from the crowd. In its presentation, it can demonstrate your design skills and creativity in a way that a potential employer can see and feel. Infographics are a popular tool for taking large amounts of information and presenting them in a visually engaging way.
Many employers will be looking to assess your creativity through your portfolio, often at interview stage. However, if practical, you can put elements of your portfolio onto a website and include the web address in your CV. If you do this, make sure your work is structured and indexed, well photographed and highlights the range of your work which is relevant to the role.
However creatively you plan to present your CV, remember that employers will still need to see, at a glance, that you have the criteria they're looking for. Presentation must be balanced with the essential requirement of providing relevant evidence targeted to the role and the employer.
Whilst these are more popular in customer-facing and creative roles, a video CV could get you noticed by employers in any sector. It’s not a test of your Oscar-winning director skills but can be effective in showing employers more of your personality and how you communicate. For advice and examples, take a look at the create a great video CV article on the Prospects website.
If you wish to apply for research posts in academia, you’ll need to produce an academic CV. Even if you intend to apply for research vacancies in other types of organisation you'll require an academic CV that emphasises your research and related skills.
Academic CVs are different from other styles of CV, as they can be longer than 2 sides of A4 and contain detailed information about your research and other relevant experience. The length of an academic CV depends on your research output.
You should include:
- your contact details
- your education and qualifications, starting with your PhD and working backwards from that
- the title of your PhD, a short summary of your research and the names of your supervisors
- a detailed list of publications, presentations, posters, and conferences attended
- any experience you have of teaching, supervision or training
- any funding received, including awards and scholarships
- membership of relevant societies
- areas of research interest
- any specialist or technical skills
- three named referees – usually including at least two academic referees.
You may also wish to append an abstract, briefly summarising your research in an accessible way. It usually covers four key areas:
- The focus of your research (the problem or issue being addressed)
- The method(s) used
- The results or findings
- The main conclusions or recommendations.
For more information and examples of academic CVs use the following links:
When to use a non-academic CV
If you have a PhD but wish to apply for a non-research position outside academia, your CV should be more chronological or skills-based. You need to sell the skills you've developed through your research and highlight the knowledge you've gained in a way that is clearly understandable to non-subject specialist readers.