It may only be read for a few seconds, so your CV needs to make an impact. Charlotte Ashley-Roberts explains how best to show off your skills

Q: I am just beginning to look at non-academic jobs and I am overwhelmed. I haven’t had to apply for anything in a long time. I don’t even know where to begin with my CV – is there a style or template I should use? 

A: Congratulations on taking the first step – looking for a job can be daunting, especially if you haven’t had to apply for anything recently. We don’t offer CV templates at the Royal Society of Chemistry as we like to offer a tailored service, but here are some tips to get started. 

Where have you been?

There are two main types of CV you might want to use, depending on the job. 

If you are applying for a technical role or one which is directly related to what you are doing now, or if you want to show your career progression, then I recommend a traditional reverse chronological CV. The structure should be something like this: 

  •  Personal statement (this is entirely optional, but it needs to be tailored for the position – include keywords here)
  •  Career history
  •  Employment dates, job title and company
  •  Short paragraph of responsibilities
  •  3–4 bullet points of skills
  •  Achievements – preferably in a short paragraph with quantified statements
  •  Training (relevant courses will need to be dated with at least the year)
  •  Voluntary work (if applicable)
  •  Education
  •  Professional memberships
  •  Hobbies and interests

If you are currently in education or a postgraduate role, you can move the ‘Education’ section immediately below the personal statement (if you have one). 

Any training courses you list should be no more than five years old – unless they are courses you only do once. This shows your professional development and can be useful, but is not essential if you haven’t had access to training courses. There are other ways of showing how you have developed yourself. 

Finally, ‘Hobbies and interests’ is entirely optional, but if you do use it then ensure that you give details. For example: funds raised, most miles run, positions of responsibility. I would avoid sentences such as: ‘I like reading, cooking and socialising with friends’ – it doesn’t tell the reader anything and these are things most people like. 

View to a skill

The second type of CV you might use is a skills-based CV. Also known as a functional CV, this focuses on what you can do, rather than what jobs you’ve had. This is useful if you have been out of work for a while or you are moving into an unrelated role. However, it can also be used for technical roles too. 

A skills-based CV is very similar to traditional CVs, but there are two key differences: 

  •  Skills and achievements – this section should appear after your personal statement and should be listed by category, for example: 
  •  Project management
  •  Communication
  •  Leadership
  •  Career history – this should cover employment dates, job title and company only

The first page will be taken up by your skills and achievements. The skills you include will be different depending on the role you are applying for and you should adapt them accordingly. Each skill subsection can showcase skills from different areas of your life. 

It doesn’t matter what the skill is or where you have gained it, or even when, as long as it is relevant to the role. 

For example, communication could be:

  •  Wrote a standard operating procedure on the use of ethanol in HPLC equipment 
  •  Spoke to 200 delegates at an international conference in the US on my research project
  •  Coach a local football team of 20 youngsters aged 6–13, developing their skills and mentoring them
  •  Volunteer for the local PTA group at my child’s primary school 

The final thing to mention is that, as a general rule, a recruiter spends less than 20 seconds on your CV during the initial screening process. So you should look to give specific details, concisely, to give the employer a very clear indication of the value you can add to their organisation. This could be things like responsibility for budgets and people, and any quantitative data you can provide. For example, instead of:

  •  Teaching experience: taught parts of a first year undergraduate course in general chemistry

A better version might be:

  •  Designed a new module on thermodynamics, applying e-learning techniques. Taught 24 first year undergraduates, increased retention rate by 20% and increased pass rate by 15%

If you want more personal advice on your CV, or have any other career issues, don’t hesitate to contact us. And good luck!

If you have more advice you’d like to share about this month’s question – or have your own career conundrum for Charlotte – please write to