CV Design: Choosing a Layout and Mistakes to Avoid

Published on: 28 Jun 2013

“Clean, concise and digestible – it is imperative an applicant’s CV ticks all three boxes. Failure to do so could mean you’re overlooked, reducing the chance of an invitation to interview.”

Andy Powell, Group Brand & Marketing Director, Adecco Group UK & Ireland


Before you can start thinking about ways to make your CV look visually appealing to employers, there are two things you need to consider.

Firstly, you need to order information in a way that’s sensible for the job being applied for. Most candidates include an ‘interests and hobbies’ section to the end of their CV, for example, but this might be better positioned towards the start in certain cases or removed all together for more senior roles. Someone applying for the role of an activities instructor may not have experience in that role, but their love of abseiling, canoeing and rock-wall climbing would be immediately relevant.

Secondly, you need to make sure the reader can navigate their way through your CV and quickly pick out the information they need. Using headings and bolding certain words (such as job titles) can be helpful, but you should not over-utilise such formatting tricks since this will make them less effective. More CV formatting tips from can be found further down this page.

The overall design of your CV will largely be determined by the layout you deem most suitable.


Choosing a CV layout: skills-based, reverse chronological or academic?

Before you consider how to make your CV look aesthetically pleasing, you need to determine which type of CV is most appropriate for your application:

The layout you utilise for your application is dependent on your current career situation, and the nature of the vacancy.


Who should use a skills-based CV?

The skills-based CV layout is the most common and it focuses on the attributes candidates can offer employers, including skills acquired through undertaking relevant positions as well as transferrable life-skills. This layout is ideal if you have a varied career history, since you can highlight how abilities gained in other types of employment are related to the vacancy in question.

This CV format is recommended for school and university-leavers (who often lack an abundance of relevant experience) and those with gaps in their employment history, as these are less immediately evident. You should ensure you’re prepared, however, to answer questions related to any holes in your CV should you be invited for interview.

‘Hobbies and interests’ is often an essential section of any skills-based CV. While you may not have direct experience working in a particular field (digital marketing, for example), your hobbies could indicate that you are passionate about the subject, or could be proficient (relevant hobbies could include blogging regularly and using social media). The information in this section can also indicate what kind of person you are to employers. You might seem driven and organised if you run a weekly sports club in your spare time, for example.

It is vital to remember to tweak your skills-based CV so that it is bespoke for every individual role for which you apply – not all jobs require the same skill set.

Above: Example of a skills-based CV (source:


Who should use a reverse chronological CV?

This CV layout details a candidate’s employment history, with the most recent position discussed first. This CV focuses on the development of an individual over time, in relation to a particular industry and/or skill. This resume layout is designed to show a steady work history and a clear pattern of upward, or lateral, mobility.

While educational history may also be detailed, reverse chronological CVs are often useful for those looking to progress, or move into a slightly different role within an industry in which significant experience has already been acquired (making education less relevant). Those with a ‘patchy’ career history should avoid this format altogether.

If you decide to adopt this CV layout, there is one very crucial thing to remember. It is unlikely every role you have ever undertaken will be completely relevant to the role in question. You may however, feel inclined to include these jobs in order to prevent holes in your employment history appearing on your CV. Such jobs, however, should be included in a supplementary section entitled ‘Other experience’, if relevant. For more senior candidates rather than detailing more junior roles such as graduate placements you may choose to just have the job title, company and period of work.

Sandwiching details of a part time job in a bar between many related to journalism, for example, will interrupt the flow of your CV and likely perplex recruiters.

Above: Example of a chronological CV (source:


Who should use an academic CV?

An academic CV is a comprehensive summary of a candidate’s professional education, employment and related accomplishments to date. A bibliography, honours, high-status memberships, awards, industry citations and patents are just some of the items which may be included in such CVs.

While skills-based and chronological CVs should never exceed two pages in length, an academic CV can be up to 10 pages if necessary (and if the vast majority of included information is relevant to the available role).

This text-heavy CV layout should only be used by those working in PHD-driven industries such as higher education, science and elite R&D – all other job seekers should avoid this layout entirely. Employers outside of such realms are very unlikely to read the entirety of an academic CV, let alone a single page once they spot the CV is far thicker than average.

If you decide to adopt this lengthy CV layout, you might want to consider enclosing an executive summary of its contents to the front – this will help recruiters quickly digest the skills which make you suitable for the job.