CV Formats for Winning CVs: Layout, Content, and Tips

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Discover more about CV formats and layouts, including where to place what information to create a winning CV design.

[Featured image] A hiring manager in a blue shirt reads an applicant's CV while conducting a video interview on a laptop.

Winning CVs are all about making your job hunt easier by instilling confidence in the mind of employers, and that takes a suitable CV format.

The CV format you use when applying for jobs is important because it’ll impact how your CV will look. The right format can help you stand out from the crowd. In this guide, we’ll cover CV design and formats, and what to put on your CV.

What exactly is a CV?

A CV (or curriculum vitae) is a document intended to highlight your education, qualifications, and experience. Its first objective is to help you get a job interview by providing a comprehensive picture of your skills and qualities. CVs are usually about two to three pages long, but this depends on the type of job to which you are applying.

Why is the format of your CV important?

There is no right or wrong way to format a CV but there is a certain structure that most recruiters prefer when they're reviewing CVs. A CV layout reveals a lot about you as an applicant and can distinguish you from other candidates (positively or negatively). The structure of your CV should be in line with your industry and the type of job you are applying for.

Choosing a CV design

It’s no secret that employers are getting inundated with CVs and they don’t have time to look at each one individually. There are generally only a select few that get the privilege of being viewed, so you have to do everything in your power to make sure yours stands out from the rest.

Finding your perfect CV design can be difficult. There are tons of CV design templates online, but many of them are either not visually appealing or way too basic. You need to pick a template that fits your industry and gives you the real estate to put important skills, achievements, and experiences clearly in view for the recruiter. The format should allow you to make your CV easily scannable and simple to digest.

Top-level summary CV format

At the high level, a CV layout is fairly simple. The format may look something like this:

1. Personal details

2. Personal profile statement

3. Achievements

4. Education

5. Employment and work history

6. Qualifications

7. Skills

CV format in more detail

The CV is a way of marketing yourself, which is why you should always consider having someone else check your CV before sending it out. 

Personal details: Include your name, address, telephone number(s), e-mail address, and contact details (if appropriate). 

Personal profile statement: This is a short statement explaining why you are applying for the job. It is your opportunity to sell yourself to your potential employer.

Achievements: Include any qualifications and awards you may have achieved in previous jobs or during your free time. 

Education and qualifications: This section should include all formal education gained (apprenticeships, high school, college/university) as well as any training courses that are relevant to the job. If you do not have any formal qualifications, then list your informal learning (i.e. life experience) that is transferable to the job role. 

Employment and work history: This section is normally chronological with the most recent first. Include all employment held in the past 15 years, including part-time jobs and voluntary work experience that may be relevant to the new position. Include details of responsibilities and achievements from previous roles as well as any additional training received during employment. Ensure this section does not include any personal information about colleagues or clients.

Guidance on formatting and writing your CV

As a professional trying to move up the ladder, your CV is one of the first things people see when checking out your credentials. From the formatting, the wording, and overall look, there are thousands of ways to present your CV—good and bad. Here are some tips to help your CV to shine.

The order of information in your CV design

Whether you're building your first CV or refreshing your existing one, the order of your CV is important. Tailor your CV to the job description and be sure to prioritise key information about skills and experience, as well as any relevant work history.

When formatting and writing your CV try to:

  • Make sure that all the information is relevant and up-to-date.

  • Use a simple layout, with headings and subheadings.

  • Keep paragraphs short.

  • Use bullet points rather than long sentences.

  • Don't use jargon that won't be understood by someone outside your area of work.

  • Write in the passive third person.

Consistency of format on your CV

The format of your CV should be consistent throughout—meaning that if you choose Arial as your font type, you should continue to use Arial throughout. Your layout should also be consistent, with headings in the same alignment and with similar formats for each section.

Typeface on your CV

When choosing a font type and size, it's important to ensure that it's readable and that the text is spaced evenly throughout. Avoid using tiny font sizes as this can make text difficult to read, and limit how much information you try to fit onto one page. In terms of font type, opt for something simple like Times New Roman or Arial; fancier fonts are likely to distract from the content on your CV. Unless you're applying for a creative role, stick to standard sans-serif fonts as these tend to be more legible than serif fonts (e.g., Arial over Bookman).

Tailoring your CV form for job roles

Your CV and cover letter should be tailored to each job application. Look at the job description carefully to find out what the employer wants (this might not be directly stated), such as relevant skills, qualifications, or previous experience. Match your skills and experience to the requirements of each job—if you do this, you'll increase your chances of getting an interview.

Different CV formats

There are different types of CV that will require you to use a slightly different order or format. Explore four formats below.

1. Chronological CV format

Chronological CV format template is the most commonly used CV format, and it is preferred by many recruiters. This type of CV uses a simple description of your employment history, education, and experience. With this format, you will list your employment history from the beginning to the latest position. You can also mention the achievements that you gained at each job.

2. Skills-based CV format

Skills-based CV format (also known as skills-based resume) is a variation of the chronological resume where skills are listed instead of jobs. It is often used by students aiming for internship positions or entry-level jobs, where you have less work experience. Conversely, this type of CV format is often also used for project manager roles and other jobs where there is a lot of experience to condense and organise.

3. Achievement-focused CV format

Achievement-focused CV format will list achievements instead of employment history. It is often used by people who want to make their career stand out. Sales professionals often chose this CV format.

4. Creative CV or portfolio CV format

Creative CV or portfolio CV format is a combination of both chronological resume and skills-based resume. This type of CV is mostly used by creative professionals like designers, photographers, and illustrators, where they include both their work experience and their portfolio in one document. A portfolio may be shared through links, or by including images.

Next steps

Building a high-quality CV can be the difference in getting called to an interview. It is also important to have relevant experience on your CV to convince prospective employers that you have the competencies, knowledge, experience, and attitude to do the job that needs to be done.

Continue to explore your career path strategy with this course on career planning. There are many courses that you can complete online to beef up the certifications on your CV, and you can even do an online degree or master’s degree.

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