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Which type of CV is best for you?

There’s more than one approach to structuring your CV, enabling you to tailor the marketing of your skills and experiences to different employers. Hilary Jones, training and careers officer at the UK’s University of York, gave an overview of three types of CV at the Society of Biology’s Life Science Careers Conference last week in London. “There are traditional ways of writing CVs, and more innovative ways that are becoming more acceptable,” says Jones. So which type of CV should you consider for the next step in your science career?

Chronological CVs

“This is the type most people will write if they just sit down and have a go,” says Jones. “It’s all quite obvious and straightforward.” The bulk of a chronological CV comprises ordered lists of qualifications and work history, along with other standard elements such as personal details, membership of professional associations, training and references.

Advantages: Good if your career path has been linear, such as the traditional academia pipeline, and if it’s easy for the recruiter to understand what your previous roles were. “[Chronological CVs are] good for more traditional employers,” says Jones.

Disadvantages: Highlights career gaps, and can be problematic if you are looking to make a career change. If you’re applying for jobs in a new field or sector, “it’s very hard for a recruiter to work out if you have the relevant skills and experience just by looking at job titles,” says Jones. “There isn’t much space for you to help explain how your skills are transferable.”

Skills-based CVs

At the opposite end of the spectrum to a chronological CV is a skills-based CV. The two defining characteristics are the inclusion of a career objective statement and a prominent, extended skills section at the start of the CV, beneath your personal details. The career objective statement “sets your CV in a context,” explains Jones. An example would be ‘experienced biology researcher now seeking to use their skills in a science communication project’. The skills section should be tailored to the person specification of the job you’re applying for. Details of your education and employment history are relegated to the second page, with only brief descriptions highlighting your achievements.

Advantages: Makes career gaps less obvious, and it’s easy for the recruiter to see why they should invite you to interview. You can also talk about more than one job under each skill subheading.

Disadvantages: This is a modern style, so you’ll need to judge whether the organisation you’re applying to will look favourably upon it. Jones cautions against this approach for traditional academic employers.

Hybrid CVs

To balance the benefits of the two approaches, Jones says the safest approach for early-career scientists is to use a hybrid approach. Leave a chronological list of your education and employment history on the first page, but include a medium-sized skills section on the second page.

Whatever type of CV you choose, remember to adapt the content to match the person specification of the role in question. “For every job you apply for, you have to create a completely new CV,” says Jones.

What do you think? Does your CV fall into one of these categories? Have you had particular success with one approach? Leave your comments below.


  1. Report this comment

    Rebecca Nesbit said:

    Sound advice. When I was a new graduate with little to put on my CV I had a skills CV, and I kept it when I looked for a career change – so that the employer could see from my skills why I was suited for the role even when my job title wouldn’t have made that clear

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    Vinod panchal said:

    When I was in logging phase of my career and wanted to switch over from one specialization to a closely related one; I used a hybrid approach of CV and found it worked.

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    James VanOpdorp said:

    The different approaches are clearly stated but while career change was touched on, there really has been a general shift in emphasis to, “What have you done lately?” I believe it’s important to stress the past five years or so, and to show that you haven’t been sitting on your laurels.

    “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” – Alvin Toffler

    Toffler’s quote suggests to me that new credentials need to be added or you’ll be left behind. Because my BA was in ’82 and my Masters was in ’88 I’m quite certain those credentials were put in a modern context with the addition of two recent credentials that took careful aim at present day skill requirements.

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    Veeranagouda Y said:

    I have been using “Chronological CV” since 2006, and it allowed me to secure two post docs, one from South Korea and another from USA.