Areas covered in this article:

  1. What MUST appear in your CV
  2. All the various design options

I shall concentrate here on bringing common sense and my huge experience of writing over 4000 CVs to cut through all the myths surrounding what a CV should be.

Over the last 10 years people have become confused by whether a CV should be one page, two pages or longer, whether it should be chronological or functional or skills-based, where and how they should summarise what they have to offer and which ideas are valuable amongst all the sources of advice in books and on the Internet.

Take a deep breath: these are the only rules you ever need worry about:

1. What MUST appear in your CV

well structured information about your experience, skills, knowledge and potential that is appropriate to the level and type of role you will be applying for – a CV must position you properly and immediately resonate with recruitment professionals
that is all; there are no other rules; – you can write a CV well, you can write a CV badly or you can stand head and shoulders above all the other candidates by preparing a brilliant CV
Take a look at my article Top Tips on CV Writing to get your brain moving.

2. The design options

The Traditional CV

This is still used by a lot of people to make themselves appear boring by having the kind of layout and headings that people used to use 30 years ago when all documents were prepared by typists with limited possibilities in terms of design. The style was like a list and began with the unnecessary title Curriculum Vitae, usually more prominent than the candidate’s name! Other inclusions might be:

Name: rather an obvious sort of title

Address: trivia that agencies take off the CV in any case
Telephone: why did this ever need a heading?
Date of Birth: good place to shoot yourself in the foot
Marital Status: ditto
Education: some people actually go back to primary school
Career: so many ghastly possibilities here I could never list them all
Memberships: I’m not kidding you
Publications: yipes
Interests: usually profoundly boring

What is wrong with the traditional CV?

  1. rambling, boring, makes you seem like a poor communicator
  2. no good at all if experience and not education is your strong point
  3. fails to position your skills and achievements effectively
  4. becomes boring and repetitive and sounds like a set of job definitions
  5. has the feel of a of list that lacks energy and excitement
  6. does not fit modern patterns of employment and career change
  7. places attention on trivia
  8. no opportunity to match your talents to the jobs you will apply for

When recruiters received such documents they had to work hard to discover who the candidate was, what they could offer and what exactly they had so far achieved in life. Everything was shrouded in mystery, conformity, formality and the fear of being different.

When people first started asking candidates to be more relevant they called the traditional style of CV the chronological CV because it slavishly concentrated on dates. Actually, the chronology of your career will ALWAYS be there in your CV, no matter what type of document you think you are writing.

What people tended to call the newer and more expressive CV that recruiters said they wanted was the functional or skills-based CV. Some people take that so literally that they follow the American habit implied in the templates in their WP programs and scatter virtually all the first page of their CV with embarrassing superlatives.

An example of this approach:

Proactive sales professional; self starter with superb communication, team-working and buzzwording skills; have swallowed the Thesaurus and intend to write a CV full of action words where every bullet point is a mighty epic that never truly connects to the how and why and what I did that recruiters actually need to know about to really believe in my achievements… When you read my CV you will be left reeling and confused.

On the other hand:

One elegantly integrated, usually 2 page, carefully planned and architected CV can easily include all of these things:

  1. a brief skills/achievement/functional summary that positions you and catches attention
  2. a more detailed summary of your knowledge, training, skills, education (which can either come in second place or be demoted to after your career if the career is more impressive)
  3. a convincing account of your career that also includes enough context to show how you work
  4. (see examples in the Top Tips article)

  5. whatever personal information is relevant to your application or might reasonably and legally be required in the sector/country you are applying within

Other types of CV

The Online CV model allows you to post a CV where it can be viewed by recruiters looking for candidates. The whole system is normally database driven and must have specific fields into which you enter particular types of information about yourself.

You can, however, choose brilliant words to place into this kind of online CV, words that summarise your skills effectively and accounts of your employment that show what a powerful candidate you are. Like every other writing task, to achieve results you must take time and prepare what you want to say. It is in your best interests to post a CV that has enough quality and energy about it to make recruiters pause enough to find you interesting.

The one-page resumé is a bit of a myth because when people in the USA send me their resumes most of them are at least two pages long. Some people, usually those who have written half-baked botches between a traditional CV and a functional CV, often those who are following the boxes in a template in their WP application – people in despair because no one responds to their terrible iterations of half-baked CVs… sometimes these people think the one-page, in-your-face, hit-them-hard approach will work and usually they call that a resumé. It is not a resume and is no more likely to work than any other form of CV unless it is brilliantly planned and written. Even young graduates generally need more than one page to position themselves and then justify those claims with evidence.

Multi-media CVs on CD-Rom or published online are a superb idea for lodging a portfolio if you are an actor, a web designer, a radio announcer, a journalist, a model, a TV producer or an interim consultant with impressive presentations to display. Contact Victor at CV-Masterclass if you are interested in having an online CV like this. For other professions there is the risk that they could make you seem grandiose. They would be useful as a portfolio to accompany a good CV or letter of approach.


You do not need to typecast your CV style, which will follow quite logically from your unique personal circumstances. If you do this well you will probably never need alternate versions of your CV for different applications because your main message will be so clear and on target. The best CV style is simply the one that works for you.