Julie Franklin explains how to present yourself when your traditional CV starts to overflow

Q: I have 10 years’ experience in the chemical sector, working for several companies. My CV runs to almost four pages, with experience spread over my previous jobs. How can I keep to two pages, without losing important information?

Viktor Koen / Alamy

A: Curriculum vitae may translate as ‘life story’, but that doesn’t mean prospective employers want every single detail of your life when you apply for a job.

Far from it, in fact. CVs over two pages long are not viewed very positively. Indeed, your CV has around 15 seconds to make a favourable impression on the person reading it, who – to further complicate things – may well not be a scientist.

Employers are looking for a CV that is specifically targeted to their company and their vacancy. In the early stages of your career, a traditional chronological CV may be the best format. However, the further you progress, the more experience and skills you gain. You will need to think about using a CV format that allows you to highlight the most relevant skills for the particular job you’re applying for. A skills-based CV is a good way to do that.

But that doesn’t mean you should get rid of your traditional, chronological CV. We recommend that you keep one with all your job titles, dates, responsibilities and achievements listed to act as a base document (which may well run to several pages as you go through your career). This is for your eyes only, however: it will allow you have all the information about your career to hand in one place. You can then adapt this document for specific opportunities using a skills-based format.

Distil your skill

To construct a targeted skills-based CV, begin by reading the advert and job description very carefully. Highlight the key words and phrases that describe the skills and experience the employer is looking for. Be careful to pay attention to the behavioural skills such as those associated with team working, communication and customer focus. It’s just as important for you to address these requirements in your CV as those in the technical specifications.

If the company has taken the time and money to include a skill in the advert, it must be important to them and they are expecting you to address it.

Page one of your skills-based CV should demonstrate to the employer that you have the skills and experience that are most relevant to them. Use section headings that match the advert and give bullet point examples of times when you have demonstrated these skills. Quantify as much of the information as you can for maximum impact. Page one is your ‘shop window’: you want to entice the reader in to find out more by showing that you are a good match for what they are looking for.

The second page should give a brief, reverse-chronological account of your career to date and your higher education. Just give your job titles, employers and dates of employment.  There is no need to include school-level qualifications, unless you have one in something other than science that is relevant to the job. You can also include professional training and other relevant information that could be useful to your employer but is not page one material.

Getting personal

If you have a lot of experience then you need to be strict about what to include · make your decisions according to their relevance to the employer.

There is no need to include your marital status, anything about your health or whether you have a driving licence (unless the job demands someone who has one, in which case you should think about putting this information on page one).

Similarly, you need not include hobbies and interests. Some people like to demonstrate that they have a life outside work, and this can be used to demonstrate other skills and experience you’ve gained outside of the workplace. However, you should think about whether the space could be better used with more relevant information. If you have gained skills through social activities or voluntary work that are directly relevant to the job, then these should be in the relevant skills section on page one.

Also, don’t bother with your postal address · a telephone number, a mobile number and an email address are all you need, and will take up less space.

The jury is still out on whether to include a profile statement. We would advise using one only if you can say something there that can’t be said elsewhere on your CV.

Of course, if you’re a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry, you can get a CV check and some feedback at any time by emailing the careers team at careers@rsc.org.

Julie Franklin is a careers specialist at the Royal Society of Chemistry

If you have more advice you’d like to share about this month’s question – or have your own career conundrum for Julie – please write to chemistryworldjobs@rsc.org