CV Format: The Anatomy and Structure of a Winning Curriculam Vitae

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CV Format that Works

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CV format is the key to landing the interview. Why? Because your CV is likely to be read in only two ways and the CV format has to be right to be successful with either method:

  1. By a busy recruiter. Studies have shown that a recruiter may only spend as little as 5-7 seconds reading your CV. That means they scan for evidence. It they cannot see it quickly, then it is a rejection. We need to structure evidence for them to find it and match it against the needs of the role.
  2. Scanned through the
    Studies have shown that a recruiter may only spend as little as 5-7 seconds reading your CV.
    beck-end of a recruitment system. We have provided recruitment systems to organisations, and it is a fairly crude process, but one you must adhere to. It is usually a simple word matching process. The client places certain key words in the system, and the system scans for these key words or phrases. Your CV format has to replicate the word-matching needs. For example, if they place the word ‘coordinator’ as evidence they are looking for, but you used the word ‘administrator’, despite it having similar meanings, your CV has now been rejected.

We need to optimise to cover both eventualities. We need to think in both ways within the CV format.

Before we look at the anatomy of a curriculum vitae, here are a few guiding CV format principles:

  1. A CV is a sales document which has one purpose – to get you to interview.
  2. We can ‘spin’ what is on your CV, but you should never lie. A CV is a sales document. Just like products, you have features (skills and competencies) and benefits (achievements). Whilst it is uncomfortable to think this way, it is also the way of thinking that will make you successful.
  3. Our aim in creating a CV is to enable the human recruiter or the recruitment system to select you. To do this, we need to make it as easy as possible within the CV format. Our aim is to match the advertised needs and then to present evidence against the needs of the role.

The following is a generic style that will put you in the best position to get through to interview. We will begin at the top of the CV or resume, and work our way down. Please note that although different countries have customs for lengths of your CV or resume, this generic style will work with almost any.

Introduction to the Anatomy of a Winning CV Format

CV format is a little like SEO. You have to think in the same structured ways. However, instead of the Google game and guessing what the 200 ranking factors are, your CV will either be scanned through a word recognition package or be scanned by eye by a very busy recruiter.

Put simply, if they do not find what they need in the first few seconds, you do not end up on the ‘yes for interview’ pile!
Put simply, if they do not find what they need in the first few seconds, you do not end up on the ‘yes for interview’ pile! In this how to write a CV guide, we will use a modern CV format from which you can develop a CV template. This is a professional CV format and how top-end CV services re-write your CV.

Recruiters will generally develop 3 piles when sifting CV’s:

  1. To interview. These are obvious candidates that match the role requirements.
  2. To reject. these are candidates that do not match the requirements of the role.
  3. ‘Read later’. These are candidates that the recruiter has questions about or are border-line. They either have incomplete evidence, or are bordering on being seen for interview. Read later can also be when there are too many pages, the font is too small, or the CV just looks like a struggle to find the information required. The candidate has basically got the wrong CV format. Sorry to say this, but recruiters are busy. Guess what generally happens to the read later pile? Yes, if goes into the ‘no’ or reject pile.

The job of a curricula Vitae format is simple. It is to get you on the ‘yes’ for interview pile. That is it, plain and simple. If you think it is for any other reason, then you are mistaken. This is a factual sales document in which you can ‘spin’, but never lie. In this case, to ‘spin’ is to tell the truth against the needs of the vacancy, and place yourself in the best possible light. Just like in selling a product. We use the right CV format to help with this process. Although you will find variations to this CV format, this will work generically as a CV template for you no matter what your field of work is.

8 Golden Rules for your CV Format

  1. Make sure everything in your CV is objective. Things that could be interpreted subjectively probably will be! Sports like hunting, head and shoulder picture of you, personal details that you do not need to provide anyway (like married or single), and even the fonts you choose can have negative implications when screening your CV.
  2. Do not use graphics,
    The best indicator of future performance is past performance.
    boxes or lines on your CV. Recruitment software can have trouble reading these.
  3. Use standard fonts like Arial and Calibri throughout your CV. These are friendly for recruitment software and do not make a subjectively read statement about your personality.
  4. Align both the left and right-hand sides of your Curricula Vitae (fully justify). This is to ensure that your CV can be read as quickly as possible. Full justification helps psychologically to find information quickly. Speed readers prefer it as they can scan down the middle of the document more comfortably.
  5. Unless you are going for a very creative role, stick to black or dark grey fonts. Coloured fonts can be subjectively interpreted.
  6. Make sure your CV looks easy to read. That means lots of white space. We do not want it going into the ‘read later’ pile.
  7. Load it with achievements that have real numbers. This acts as evidence. When the evidence is attached to the skills, competencies or experiences they want (they tell you all this in adverts, person specifications and job descriptions), then it is a quick and easy decision for the recruiter.  The best indicator of future performance is past performance. Remember, most of your competitors will simply list their roles and provide key responsibilities. You, however, are also going to let the person screening know how good you were at them!
  8. Always use their skill, competencies and experience requirements actual words. These are the words the human recruiter is looking for. They are also the words the recruitment system is scanning for.

Contact Details

  • Name in big letters. Recruiters are busy and they may need to find you in a pile of papers.
  • Make it easy for the recruiter to get hold of you – mobile, home or personal email, and home phone number.
  • Make sure your email address is conservative. Research says that 70% of employers reject candidates with controversial email addresses.

Personal Profile Template and CV Format

The personal profile is an essential part of your CV format. It is at the start of your CV format, and is a summary of you (against the vacancy). Make sure the key requirements in the advert crop up in your personal profile in their words. This is to help system-based screening. The following personal profile format will work for the vast majority of people. You can load it with researched words that recruiters view positively.

A [type of profession] professional with [No. of years] experience in operating at a [types of levels/customers/groups] within [types of sectors/ geographic regions] with particular expertise in [brief list of particular expertises].

For example:

“A successful HR generalist with 10 years European experience operating within both strategic and operational levels with particular areas of expertise in reward management, strategic HR, learning & development, and branded service delivery.”

Skills and Achievements: Matching Yourself to the Role Perfectly

This is the best way to play both the recruiter and the system. For your CV format, it operates like this:

  1. Find the essential things the vacancy requires from the advert, recruitment pack or person specification. They will tell you this with lines like, “You will have…”, “It is essential that you can….” These become your key sub-headings. Use the adverts words precisely.
  2. Below each heading now relate two or three achievements as bullets. This is the evidence for that need. For more about achievements, and setting up an achievement bank, go here.

Therefore, you have now made it easy for the recruiter. They can match the needs against your CV, and you have provided evidence for that need.

The following section is critical to your resume or CV or being put forward for the interview or the assessment stage. Think of it like this:

  • In every job advertisement, the potential employer tells you what they are looking for. They use terms like, “You will have…”, “To be successful in this role, you will….” They effectively list the skills, competencies and experiences that are desirable and essential for the role.
  • You need the recruiter or the recruitment software to pick up that you have these skills, competencies and experience, and then evidence it (provide evidence for it).
  • The best way of providing evidence is to show achievements that relate to that skill, competency or experience requirement.
  • The following format makes it easy for the recruiter to find that you match their needs and can provide evidence for that.
  • So we simply list the skills, competencies or experience requirements, and then cut and paste the appropriate achievements from our achievements bank. We now have a totally tailored CV or resume in seconds.
    Achievements mean evidence. We are looking to draw the eye of the recruiter. One method for doing this without them knowing is to consistently raise the font level of all numbers in the achievements by 0.5.

There are 2 tricks here that will help your CV be noticed and get in the ‘yes pile’:

  1. As mentioned earlier, if you have followed the instructions on creating an achievements bank, then tailoring your CV will not take long. A tailored CV is much better than a generic CV. Just replace the achievements and make them relevant to the skill, competence and experience requirements in the advert.
  2. Achievements mean evidence. We are looking to draw the eye of the recruiter. One method for doing this without them knowing is to consistently raise the font level of all numbers in the achievements by 0.5 to 1. So, for example, from Calibri font level 12 to 13.

Two Tricks to make Recruiters put you through to Interview

There are 2 tricks here that will help your CV be noticed and get in the ‘yes pile’:

  1. As mentioned earlier, if you have followed the instructions on creating an achievements bank, then tailoring your CV will not take long. A tailored CV is much better than a generic CV. Just replace the achievements and make them relevant to the skill, competence and experience requirements in the advert.
  2. Achievements mean evidence. We are looking to draw the eye of the recruiter. One method for doing this without them knowing is to consistently raise the font level of all numbers in the achievements by 0.5 to 1. So, for example, from Calibri font level 12 to 13.

CV Format and Your Career History

Whilst the skills and achievements are designed to match you to the advertised role (through software of the recruiters eye), career history enables the recruiter to understand the level of your experience.

We still treat this section in exactly the same way and sell what we have done. There are some tricks to help you get this right, and they are below the picture. However, as some general rules:

  • Keep it brief. We want to load each role with achievements rather than responsibilities.
  • Use bullets as this stops you telling a story. In achievements, we only ever say the ‘what’ and never the ‘how’. It saves space and if the recruiter wants to know how you created the achievement, then they will have to ask you at interview.
  • Use market titles when one of your roles has, for whatever reason, been given a bespoke title.
  • Reverse chronological of course.
  • Reduce the amount of text (responsibilities and achievements) the earlier the career. The exception is where there is a role that is important to that advertised.

Some Tricks to Get Your Career Summary of your CV Format Right

  • Use market titles where you have had an odd job title. Feel free to use the actual title in brackets after.
    Use whole years for each role. Recruiters are always suspicious of gaps in employment. To cover gaps, simply use a whole year format.
  • Use whole years for each role. Recruiters are always suspicious of gaps in employment. To cover gaps, simply use a whole year format.
  • The achievements you use also come from your achievements bank, and you should not have used them already.
  • Responsibilities should be kept short. Long lists can raise more questions than they answer.

Earlier Career

For those of you with a long career history, an earlier career section can help you reduce the amount on your CV and leave more room for the vacancy-relevant information. This also helps you get around the recruiters needs of ensuring there is no gap in you CV. Simply the job role, whole year dates and organisation will do as titles. One sentence description is all you need (if that).

Qualifications and Professional Development in Your CV Format

Academic qualification first. To what level? That depends on what your highest level qualification was, and your length of experience. For example:

If you have a Master, first degree, A’Levels (UK) and GCSE’s (UK) and have worked for 20 years, then you will not need to put your GCSE’s on your CV. It could be argued to leave off your A’Levels too in order to save a little space.

With a growing philosophy of continual learning and continual professional development (CPD), this part of the CV format has more significance than was historically the case. Employers want to know that you are open to learning (they sometimes call this ‘learning agility’), and that you are up-to-date. Put down any related courses, the provider and date. A little trick here is where you have two courses that are roughly on the same topic, only put one down. For example, you might have an internal course and an external course. If this is the case, then use the external course providers name.

Curriculum Vitae Format – Hobbies and Interests

Gone are the days of one intellectual hobby, one team hobby or sport and one individual hobby or sport. However, hobbies and interests has maintained its importance. Despite recessions, many organisations, especially those that are ‘cash-rich’, like to understand that their employees have a good work-life balance.

There are a few rules to abide by here:

Be careful of naming hobbies, interests and sports that some individuals may have a negative bias against.

  • If your hobby or sport can be interpreted subjectively, it  will be. Be careful of naming hobbies, interests and sports that some individuals may have a negative bias against. Obvious examples include fishing and hunting. Others might include card games (related to gambling) and socialising with friends drinking). I get that it may sound crazy, but we want to maximise rather than limit the chances of your success.
  • Stay away from just stating wide categories like reading or keep fit. Be more specific. What sort of books do you like to read (watch out for subjectivity here), and what sort of keep fit are we talking about? Why? It is for two reasons. Firstly, despite CV’s being a mechanical sales process, this is the chance to show your personal side. Secondly, if you get to interview, the interviewer will often look at this section to start the dialogue when they collect you from reception. This helps with rapport enormously.
  • You may get lucky. Ever heard of the ‘old school tie’? People like people that they feel are like themselves. It is just the way it is. With a range of interests and hobbies, there is a realistic chance that the interviewer has similar passion. If so, that’s great and subjectivity will then play to our favour.

Personal Details

They are subjective. Most have been done away with through changes in legislation, but do check for your nationality. Let’s go through some of those that were traditionally required:

  • Marital status. This is so subjective and you do not legally have to put this into your CV – so don’t.  Is it fashionable with employers to be married at present? Wasn’t in the 1980’s (wanted you to be geographically mobile). Was in the 1990’s (showed stability at home). What about the 21st Century? well, the answer is that it simply depends on the employers personal prejudice.
  • Children. This is an extension of marital status and should never be within your CV format. Why? Whilst your kids may be the most valuable thing in your life, the chances are that the recruiter wants someone who has flexibility and will make the assumption that you have none. Or they have not got kids themselves and find it an irrelevance on your CV. The worst thing I see on a CV is someone saying, “Two children, John and Kate aged 5 and 8 respectively”. Yuck! Why are you telling me this? What does this have to do with making profit for my company or that of my client. Assumptions then come about the applicants personality – soft, mushy, overly-warm for the role, and more interested in their family than work. All these assumptions are unfair, but it is human nature to created pictures of people based on the flimsiest of evidence. Don’t do it!
  • Date of Birth. Legislation around ageism has done away with the need to put your date of birth on your CV. Again, an area that is totally subjective. In the 1980’s employers wanted them young. During recession they made older populations redundant and all the experience walked out the door. In the early part of this century some employers realised there was a great and largely untapped market of older employees, and they became favoured by those employers. It is subjective and may limit your chances either way, so don’t put it into your CV format. Let’s be honest, if I really want to know as a recruiter, I will simply go to the dates on your first role and add 16, 18 or 21 years to that date.
  • Mobility. This is another way of asking if you are married and have kids. The rule I would use here is if I am fully mobile, then I might include it. If I am not fully mobile, then I wouldn’t even have it within the CV format.
  • Religion. The toughest of areas. Media tends to associate (falsely) religion with wars. Everyone has an opinion about religion, and all are subjective. Whilst you may be trying to do the right thing by letting an employer know that you may need to pray at certain times by letting them know your religion, for example. Whilst you are trying to do the right thing, you have a potentially subjective human screening your CV. Don’t do it. Legally there is no requirement and no expectation. To be honest, it should not matter for the job.
  • Photographs. Whilst this is not typically part of the ‘personal details’ section, we still see head and shoulder shots of people top-right on their CV. I understand this is the convention in countries like Germany, but it really is subjective.

Let me give you an example of a personal experience. I was recruiting for a Marketing role in Germany, and in come the CV’s. Some electronic, but some also paper-based. I started screening, and after about 15 CV’s I suddenly realised that my ‘yes pile’ had good looking people, whilst the ‘no pile’ had the others. Despite many years of experience, I had fallen into the subjective trap. Of course being a professional I started all over again, but this time placed my hand over the pictures before I started screening. The ‘yes pile’ had some different candidates after the second screening. Don’t do it!

  • Gender. Don’t do it. It is obvious from your name nine times out of ten in any case.
  • Disabilities. The following are my personal opinions, and it is up to the individual. My view is that this is your CV. Whilst we must never lie, we can quite honestly omit things. We really wan them to experience you in interview rather than make some prejudice-based decision that comes from their limited personal experience. So if it is not asked, don’t give. Disabilities will get picked-up later during the recruitment process.
  • Driving License. This is one that you do want to appear on your CV (if you have one). Okay, if you are n a major city like Paris or London, and so is the office-based role, then there is not a reason to own a car. However, if you are going to have a less traditional commute (not on standard rail links for example), have unsocial hours, or the role involves travel, then it is only a plus within the CV format.

Is a personal details section actually needed? No. It causes far more subjectivity than it is worth. Things like driving license and computer skills can simply slide into a section beneath ‘qualification and professional development’. Just call it ‘additional skills’.

Conclusion to CV Format

As stated, how you format your CV is all about selling yourself, pitching your skills, competencies and experiences against the direct needs of the role, and eliminating any reason for the information to be subjectively viewed.

Follow the above formula for the CV format, and you will be more successful. Tailoring your CV to specific vacancies may seem like a tedious and time-consuming task, but it can be dome in 10 minutes. We show you how in the next section which shows you how to tailor a CV in ten minutes.

Related Pages

These pages directly compliment and add further information to this area.


How to write a CV link

How to Write a CV



How to tailor your CV link

How to Tailor your CV or Resume



CV Template Link

CV Template Achievements Focus


If you are following the pathway, move on to the anatomy of a winning CV.

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