Also known as a functional CV, the skills-based CV is a bit of a departure from the usual format used by job seekers. The skills-based CV typically uses a profile along with a prominent and detailed skills section on page one, with a brief, line-itemised career history, education, professional training, and additional information sections on page two.

Rather than using your career history and individual roles within it as a framework, a skills-based CV uses the core competencies required for your target role to provide the main structure of your CV.

The required skills or competencies for each target role (e.g. Project Management, Team Leadership, Process Improvement, Social Media Marketing) are featured as prominent headings on page one, providing the framework to present relevant achievements. These skills headings should reflect the keywords identified in each target job advert, and should be listed in order of importance for each role. The National Careers Service recommends including three to six functional headings.

Under each heading, the skills-based CV will feature a series of bullets outlining examples of those skills in action. Examples can be drawn from the jobseeker’s career, voluntary roles, or interests outside work.

The beauty of this format is that career stories can be drawn up from any area, regardless of when and where they happened. A project or achievement that would have been buried on page two of a reverse-chronological CV can be presented front-and-centre on a skills-based CV.

Who Tends to Use The Skills-Based CV?

Skills-based CVs often attract career changers who feel constrained by a reverse-chronological format, which immediately defines them by their job titles, company names, and duration of service. Individuals seeking to move out of their comfort zone, from a job or sector they know to a completely new role or field, will sometimes select a skills-based CV, believing this format provides more opportunity to showcase their suitability.

Work returners or individuals with career gaps may also flirt with the skills-based CV format, as it offers a chance to move away from a timeline that may unsettle a recruiter.

Graduates, who by their nature present little or no relevant work history for their target role can also be tempted by the functional format, allowing them to present skills and achievements from all areas of their lives.

The skills-based approach can also appeal to jobseekers whose relevant experience was gained in older roles. The skills format allows them to highlight their suitability on page one of their CV.

When an individual has gained significant skills or experience outside of their nine-to-five, they may choose a skills-based format to draw out their core competencies.

Why Not to Use a Skills-Based CV

A skills-based CV can be a red flag to a recruiter or hiring manager. It can signal a chequered career history, or indicate that you don’t have the experience needed for the role in question. After all, there’s a reason you selected that format rather than a reverse-chronological approach. So, what are you hiding?

Another reason to avoid it is that time-poor recruiters find it quicker and easier to digest a reverse-chronological format. They want to see where you have worked and understand what you achieved in each role, and the skills-based CV will require them to do a lot more digging. As Kimberly ‘Sweet Brown’ Wilkins said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that”.

What to Do Instead

Recruiters and hiring managers expect to see your work history, so that’s what you should present. That doesn’t mean you can’t adapt the chronological format and make it work for you.

Those who are tempted by a skills-based CV format can actually overcome their self-perceived limitations using the reverse-chronological CV format. They just need to zhoosh it up a little.

Career changers can draw out the positive matches in their existing work history, voluntary roles, or extracurricular pursuits.

Work returners can present their most pertinent experience in a positive and compelling manner on page one, explaining their career gap concisely and simply. The same approach can be used by jobseekers whose most relevant experience is ‘vintage’.

Graduates can showcase university projects, part-time work, or community roles to convey their skills and suitability. The same goes for more-experienced jobseekers whose relevant skill base emanates from activities outside of the nine-to-five.

Here are some tips to make the most of a reverse-chronological CV format, when a smoke-and-mirrors format seems like a tempting option:

Add a clear headline at the top of your CV, stating your professional identity in light of your career target.

Write a powerful, targeted profile that sums up what you can do for your target employer. This will position you as a strong fit for your desired role and persuade the reader to keep reading your CV.

Feature a key skills table under the profile, and pack it with target role keywords that reflect the transferable business skills you can bring to the table.

Present your roles confidently in reverse-chronological order, but use your bullets to highlight projects and activities that showcase your relevant skills in action. This way you can show you have the experience that’s needed, even if it was gained in a different context.

Consider promoting your most relevant experience first. If necessary, you can present your most relevant experience under an appropriate title on page one (e.g. ‘Project Management Experience’), with ‘Other Experience’ to follow. Detail roles in reverse chronological order within each section.

Reframe everything you have done so far in terms of what you want to do next. Use the job advert, person specification, and job description for your target job role as a starting point, then make sure every line of your new CV speaks to those requirements.

Ask ‘So what?’ about every line before sending it, and if the content falls under the ‘red herring’ category, then leave it out.

Complement your CV with a strong cover letter explaining your motivation, readiness, and fit for your target role.

Don’t let your inner demons talk you into a skills-based CV. This format makes the reader work hard to decipher the ‘when’ and the ‘where’ of your experience, and the deviation from the norm can raise more questions than it answers. Instead, tailor your reverse-chronological CV to within an inch of its life, and use everything you have, everything you are to signal and achieve your desired career move.

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Lis McGuire

Lis McGuire

Lis McGuire is a professional CV writer at Giraffe CVs. She has 15 years of experience gained delivering interview-winning CVs and cover letters for professionals at all levels, helping individuals to stand out from the crowd in a highly competitive job market.
Lis McGuire
Lis McGuire