As you know, one of the most important elements in your job search toolkit is your CV. If effective, it’ll play a key role in opening doors and ensuring you’re invited to interview. Of course it might be more accurate to talk of CVs. Your CV isn’t a one-off definitive generic document. It needs to be tailored for each individual application. There is absolutely no doubt your CV will be most successful if you spend time thinking carefully how to best show you have the skills and experience which each specific employer and role requires.

For most LSE students and recent graduates, the traditional chronological structure, where you list your work experience sequentially, highlighting relevant achievements within each of the roles you have held is the most appropriate format. It’s also the approach we cover in detail in our guide on how to write a CV. However in certain circumstances, for example if you’re changing career direction, an alternative approach might prove more powerful and effective in focusing the recruiter’s attention on how your skills and experience directly fit their needs.

Often called ‘functional’ or ‘skills based’ CVs, this format allows you to do two critical things:

  1. It encourages you to focus very carefully and directly on understanding the employer’s requirements in relation to the role.
  2. It helps you respond directly to these requirements and present your experience by organising it around your most relevant and marketable skills. Attention is focused on what you can do, rather than on where or when you last did it.

There are a number of situations when this approach might be particularly relevant:

  • you want to change career and emphasise your transferable skills rather than where they have been acquired
  • you’ve held a small number of positions and want to highlight the breadth of skills and experience developed within them
  • your work experience has been spread over a number of different sectors or careers
  • you’ve worked for a large number of employers in similar roles and wish to avoid being too repetitive
  • you’re returning to work after a career break, a period of unemployment, or have a number of prior gaps in your experience
  • a significant part of the experience you want to draw on has been gained in freelance work, unpaid jobs or volunteering.
  • you have the skills needed for the role, but have not used them in a recent position.

Essentially, within the functional CV you’ll replace your chronological employment history with two sections. In the first, divide your work experience into categories which reflect your skills base (and the needs of the role you’re applying for). Highlight up to six individual skills, competencies or functional areas and draw on all areas of your past experience to provide examples of key achievements in each category. As ever, use a concise bullet point structure, starting each phrase with relevant action words. The next section should list the positions you have held with employer name, role and dates.

Here’s what that format might look like in practice:

Example of a skills based CV

Other sections including educational background, personal summary and extra-curricular activities will remain the same.

If you think a functional CV might work better for you, before you start make sure you research all information available (job description, person specification, company website etc.) to get a clear picture of the key competencies needed. Reflect on what constitutes your own most relevant skills and how you can show you match. What have you done which proves you have these skills; what are your most significant and relevant achievements?

As mentioned before, this type of CV will not be right in all situations, but can certainly help you tailor a convincing application when your circumstances mirror those outlined above. Also, the work involved in putting it together will prove very useful groundwork for any upcoming interview!

Remember you can book a careers appointment if you’d like some further help developing your CV as well!