Most CVs follow two principal styles – either chronological or skills-based. Each will focus the reader’s attention on particular areas of your experience and so they can be useful when you need to highlight or even avoid particular career details. Deciding which one to choose can often be influenced by where you are in your career.
The Chronological CV
Sometimes known as a career-based CV, this version highlights the roles you have undertaken and the companies with whom you have worked. These are the most commonly used CVs and are probably what most people think of when picturing a resume structure.
The format of a chronological CV usually places educational qualifications towards the top followed by a person’s employment history. It lists employment details (dates, titles and company names) with additional information about responsibilities and achievements included afterwards. Well-written chronological CVs will be tailored to a job or a sector and will often emphasise achievements in a role more so than duties.
Chronological CVs work well where a person has had a solid, consistent career history and they are often preferred by employers and recruiters because they follow a logical pattern, making it easy for the reader to follow the candidate’s career path.
However, career-based CVs can work against candidates with less employment experience, those with gaps in their careers or those who have perhaps followed a non-traditional path, such as moving into multiple industries or job roles.
The Skills-based CV
Also known as functional CVs, this style of CV follows a format that places a heavier emphasis on a person’s transferrable skills or competencies rather than the roles they have undertaken.
Positioned towards the start of the resume, often after contact details, the individual’s strongest skills will be listed, drawing on supporting evidence from the whole of their career. Examples of skills might include project management, leadership, IT, languages, analytical thinking, communication or problem solving. The intention is to focus an employer’s mind on the person’s ability, rather than their job history. In contrast to a chronological CV, the candidate’s job history will usually be included only in brief list form near the end of the CV.
Skills-based CVs can help candidates by drawing the reader’s attention to their capabilities and achievements rather than their job history. Often they will benefit individuals who can demonstrate achievements but whose backgrounds are slightly more unusual.
Which one should I choose?
If your career has been reasonably stable and indicates progression then a career-based or chronological CV will almost certainly highlight your skills and experience most effectively.
However, if you have limited job experience because you are at the beginning of your career or have been out of the workforce for a while, then a skills-based CV may be a better choice. This might apply if you are finishing education or are returning to work after illness or taking care of others. Additionally, if you have had gaps in your career or are moving industries or job types, then a skills-based can be much more effective.