CV Structure, Layout & Format: Your Quick Guide

02 April 2020 | Careers Advice | Guest Author

Before you can secure an interview for the job you want, you need to sell yourself on paper. But no matter how amazing your written content is, it won’t impress is you don’t give a thought to how you present it.

Successful candidates communicate their skills and experience in a clear, readable way. Cluttered sections, long paragraphs and wasted space doesn’t look very professional.

This is how you should structure and format your CV for job searching success.

The basic CV structure you need to know

Your CV should be divided into clear, defined sections. The most important part is the top quarter, which is the first thing the recruiter or hiring manager will look at. It could help them decide whether you’re a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ before they’ve even had a chance to look at your career history.

This is the ideal structure to use:

  1. Contact details. Name, address, email and phone number.
  2. Professional profile. A 4-6 line summary of you as a candidate, including your skills, current and previous roles, achievements, seniority, industries you’ve worked in and tools you’ve used.
  3. Core skills. 6-8 bullet points listing your most relevant skills.
  4. Current/previous roles. Your chronological job history, including dates, titles and employers. A summary of the role, your responsibilities and main achievements.
  5. Education and qualifications. Your degree and any professional qualifications.
  6. Interests/other experience. This is optional — only include hobbies and interests if they’re relevant to the role and will help your application.

Keep it brief

The ideal CV covers no more than two A4 pages. Any longer and your reader will be overwhelmed with information, no matter how impressive it is! There’s no time for waffling — you need to summarise your experience in the most economical, value-packed way.

Re-read every sentence, simplify it and make sure every word adds meaning. You’ll save space and make sure your professional experience is impactful.

Use Microsoft Word

Word is the most common software that hiring managers and recruiters use, so you should use it too. Microsoft Word also comes with ‘readymade’ CV templates and it’s easy to edit and format too. If you don’t have Word, free tools like Google Docs and Open Office both work just as well.

When you’ve finished your CV, save it as a Word Document instead of a PDF — unless otherwise stated on the job advertisement. This makes it easier for recruiters to edit your CV to remove contact details or copy your experience into their own CV format.

Top tip: Make sure the file name is clear and professional. You might not damage your application if your CV is called ‘Second_draft_CV.doc’, but it doesn’t help.

Make the most of the space you have

Two sides of A4 can give you plenty of room if you format correctly. Instead of stacking your contact details on top of each other, which takes up a lot of space, keep it compact. Microsoft Word will also give your page pretty big margins by default, but you can adjust them to fit more words into the available space. 

Stick to black and white text and simple layouts. Some creative professions call for a creatively designed CV, but most of the time it’s just a distraction. The unusual formatting can make it difficult to download and read.

Make text clear and readable

Packing text into long paragraphs is a bad idea. Anyone reading your CV will be scanning it for standout words and phrases. If they’re overwhelmed with text, they’ll struggle to pick out the information they need.

Bullet points and bold text will help you break up the content without taking up too much space on the page. Your CV’s core information will be easier to digest and look much more professional.

Professional formatting = professional CV

The way your CV looks is just as important as what it says. We all respond well to clear layouts and easy-to-read content — and recruiters are no different! Make your CV clear, concise and professional and you’ll impress both on screen and on paper. 

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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