Use a chronological CV to show your most relevant expertise

Chronological – a word that certainly fills up the mouth, isn't it? So let's break it down. It partly comes from the Ancient Greek “chronos,” meaning “time,” and refers to a record of events following the order in which they occur. As a job seeker, you've probably heard of this  word in relation to CV-writing. In this blog, we explain what a chronological CV is and who it's for, plus share best practices for preparing one.

What is a chronological CV?

Presenting your career in date order, a chronological CV (also known as a reverse-chronological CV) outlines your career summary from your most recent role to the oldest. This means that whoever is reading your CV can immediately see how your career has progressed over the years. 

Chronological CVs are the preferred format in the UK and we share a winning British CV example below to inspire your own CV. 

How do you write a chronological CV?

Writing a reverse-chronological order CV can feel strange. With a biography, the author usually starts at the beginning of the subject's life and builds on their experiences, finally presenting them as the person they are today. It's a life journey which follows a particular path.

With a reverse-chronological order CV, this notion is totally flipped on its head. Recruiters or hiring managers just aren't interested in your internship from 1990 if you're now a fully-fledged area manager. They're keen to know what your skills are now, not what they were when you started out in your career.

So, change your mindset and start your career summary with your current or most recent role. Include the company name, official job title, dates you worked there, responsibilities, and key achievements. This should go under the Career Summary heading on your chronological CV, so it's the first position the recruiter sees.

Once you've compiled that in a succinct but impactful manner, include the position you did before this and work your way back through your career like that.

If you've been promoted within a company, this shows true progression and should be highlighted. It proves that you were thought of highly within that organisation. Make sure all your promotions are listed in reverse-chronological order as well.

Why do you need a chronological CV?

Your current role is most likely to be the one relevant to your next career move, in terms of experience, skill, seniority, and industry. That's why you'd want the reader to see it first. 

As it presents a person's professional experience in a concise and easy-to-understand way, a chronological CV has become the standard format for CVs nowadays. It's by far the most common type of CV. There are other types of CV, and exceptions of course (which we investigate below), but a chronological CV is the one that recruiters prefer. This is because they can easily ascertain what the candidate has done, where they did it, and how recently, in order to check if they're a suitable match for the vacancy.

When should you use a chronological CV?

A chronological CV works on a psychological level. Think about how quick we are to form a first impression. It only takes a single glance. When a reader looks at your CV, how can you make the most of that single glance? An appealing visual presentation will certainly help. But what about when it comes to the wording? 

The higher up the page you can position the skills, experience, and qualifications relevant to their vacancy, the more likely they are to believe, in that first moment, that you could meet their needs. Sure, if you use a non-chronological format they may eventually come to that conclusion, but it's harder to change a first impression than it is to create one. 

For these reasons, the chronological CV typically works if:

You're someone with a relatively linear career path

For example, if you've progressed from sales assistant, to sales manager, then area manager, then sales director, the chronological CV format is perfect for showing this type of career progression. 

You're new to the workforce 

The chronological format is perfect for showcasing your educational attainments, which can help sell your relevant skills to the recruiter if you have no professional experience yet.

The structure of a chronological CV

A chronological CV has a very straightforward structure. You'll need the following sections: 

  • Header: This will contain your name, contact details, and headline.

  • Profile: This is your elevator pitch, so make sure you get this right!

  • Key Skills: All that's needed here is a short list of skills aligned with the requirements of your target role.

  • Professional Experience: Written in chronological order, of course!

  • Education: Again, chronological order will ensure you make the right first impression.

  • Further Details: What other information might sway a recruiter? Languages? Certifications? IT proficiency?

Expert tip: If you're a recent graduate, or otherwise new to the workforce, swap the position of the Professional Experience and Education sections. 

The dos and don'ts of a chronological CV

When you're writing a chronological CV, there are some best-practice guidelines to bear in mind: 

  • DO start your Professional Experience section with your most recent role and work backwards, one job at a time.

  • DO include an overview of the remit of each role and a list of quantifiable achievements relating to that job.

  • DO list your most recent qualification first in your Education section.

  • DON'T add a long, detailed Skills section – a list of 6-12 keywords based primarily on hard skills is standard for a chronological CV.

  • DON'T add too much detail – two pages is usually the right length for a chronological CV.

  • DON'T put your first job at the top and work forwards in time to your current role.

Expert tip: If you've held jobs that overlapped, take a common-sense approach. Aim for consistency, and, if in doubt, list the job that's most relevant to your current career aspirations nearest the top of the CV.

Other types of CVs

There are two other main types of CV in use:

Functional CV

A functional CV lists your experience under different functional headings, as opposed to having a straightforward Professional Experience section. For example, sections could include Customer Service, Administration, Marketing, and so on. This forms the main part of the CV, with the focus on specific skills rather than a full history of work. 

This type of CV can work for those with a chequered career history, those looking to move into a totally different line of work, or where the profession chosen means that they are constantly moving jobs or contracts. If you choose to go ahead with this type of CV, you still need to include a brief Professional Experience section which lists your job titles, company name, and dates – all in reverse-chronological order, of course. We have an example of a functional CV here, if you want to find out more, but employers tend to prefer chronological CVs over functional ones. 

Mixed CV

A mixed or combination CV is a hybrid of a chronological CV and a functional CV. Here, skills are listed under different headings but there's also a detailed career history section listed in reverse-chronological order. This can be seen as offering the best of both worlds and can be useful if you're changing careers, as you can present transferable skills towards the top of the CV.

If you're still unsure, check out the best CV format for you which will guide you in the right direction.

A chronological CV example

We have one of the best CV examples of a chronological CV below. You can see the candidate has a long work history, starting as a graduate Project Manager back in 1989 and working their way up to current Director level. It's plain to see that starting the career section with the first role in 1989 would be counter-productive. The recruiter would have to sift through all of the career section, possibly giving up and picking up the next CV on the pile before even reaching the candidate's current position and experience, which is on the second page! 

Preview image of chronological CV

Remember that this is an example. Use it as inspiration, but never copy or falsify your CV – it should be as unique as you are and always 100% accurate

Get ready to write your CV

Now that you know how to construct the Professional Experience and Education sections of your chronological CV, it's time to put that into practice. Bear in mind that you only have a few seconds to make that vital first impression, so present your CV in a way that gives maximum impact!

Help is always available, so if you need some further input, why not get an expert's view? Request a free CV review today to make sure you're presenting your career in the best possible way.

This article was originally written by Elizabeth Openshaw and has been updated by Jen David.

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