How to Write a Skills Based CV

You may need to use a more Skills Based CV in certain professions, where a more traditional Chronological CV format isn't enough to get your suitability for the vacancy noticed by the employer. This is particularly the case when employers are looking for a very specific set of skills and they need to see whether a candidate possesses them at a glance.

This particularly applies to positions in the technical industries, including IT and telecoms, as well as consulting roles. Proficiency in current and emerging technologies is prioritised in technical positions, above and beyond previous jobs. This is particularly relevant for recent IT graduates. With consulting roles, previous contracts may be diverse and short-term, so the employer needs to quickly identify areas of expertise.

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When Should You Use a Skills Based CV?

If you fall into the categories listed above, you may need a Skills Based CV where you make your skills more visible, by placing them on the first page of your CV. This happens with the Functional CV format (also, confusingly, referred to as a skills-based format in some quarters).

However, the disadvantage with the Functional CV is that it downgrades the work history section to the second page and makes it very brief. Many employers dislike the format as it's often used to disguise gaps in the candidates' work history, a background of job-hopping or other absences. It's impossible to see the candidate's work history at a glance.

A useful solution is to use a hybrid, skills based CV format, that combines the strengths of the Chronological and the Functional formats, without the weaknesses. The result enables employers and recruiters of technical and consulting positions to see exactly what they need to within the critical first 30 seconds of reading your CV.

The Sections in Your Skills Based CV

The section headings in a Skills Based CV can vary slightly, depending on your professional and individual experience. However, these sections are the norm:

Should You Prioritise an Achievements or Skills Section?

If you're a consultant with technical skills, working in a technical sector, then you face a decision when it comes to your professional CV. If you've been responsible for creating change or developments through your contribution, then it's possible that a regular Performance CV will suit you.

It's a matter of balance - if you can produce five or six excellent achievement statements, which effectively sell you to a prospective employer, then you should use a format that includes an Achievements section (a Performance CV is a Chronological CV with an Achievements section). You can include the key skills areas within your Achievements.

It's still possible to include a Skills section, but this can be shorter. If your Work History amounts to a string of short contracts, then it's probably worth including the Skills section between your Achievements and Work History. If your Work History includes lengthier positions, then it's worth retaining its position higher on your CV, while including a Skills section after it, on the second page of your CV.

Writing Your Personal Statement for a Skills Based CV

With the more technical Skills Based CV, it's harder to provide a sense of your personality as an employee. It's easy to rely on your lists of skills and expect these to sell you. However, many candidates can put forward identical lists, so it's important to try to stand out as an individual the employer ought to meet. A Personal Statement enables you to do this.

The statement is three or four sentences that summarise what you're able to offer the employer. Rather than going into details about your skills, you need to state your job title, how many years experience you have in the key professional areas, your real strengths and genuine personal attributes.

To ensure you create a strong impression, every area of experience, skill and personal quality you mention should match the employer's priorities for the vacancy.

Listing Your Skills

Using a table format on a Skills Based CV, you need to include three to five categories of skills. The categories all depend on your individual skills base. Try to include the most relevant and most recent - there's little point in including outdated or outmoded technologies that have since been superseded. Here are some suggested categories for IT, telecoms and consulting professionals.

Skills categories:

If you're using this format and work in another sector, try looking at a jobs' listings site for ideas on categories in your profession. Alternatively, you can look at functional CVs that are published online to see how people with similar backgrounds to you approach the task.

Listing Your Work History on Your Skills Based CV

Here, you once again have a choice. You can list your Work History as you would in a Functional CV - your job titles, the employers and the inclusive dates of employment.

This may be appropriate if your work history comprises a long list of many short contracts. Going into detail about your role in each of them would lead to an impossibly long CV and would involve a lot of repetition.

If your Work History comprises mostly permanent positions, each held for two years or more, then your best option is to include a Work History in the style of the Chronological or Performance CV. This will be more familiar to you, as it's the most traditional style - your job title, inclusive dates of employment, plus five to six bullet points covering your duties and responsibilities. Begin with your most recent employer and work backwards for the past 10 years.

It is always best to write these up like achievements or accomplishments, focusing on what you did and how you made a difference, rather than the role as it was listed on your official job description. Admittedly, it can be hard to do this with technical positions, but try to avoid simply listing your technical skills under the jobs. Start the sentences with action words (verbs) as these will be more interesting and convey a sense of your input.

Listing Your Training, Education and/or Qualifications on a Skills Based CV

You have a choice on the headings you use for your qualifications sections on a Skills Based CV. It depends on how many entries you have for each section - you can use three sections or combine them into two or just the one.

With training, don't include every course that led to the development of the skills you have listed under the Skills section of your CV. There is no point in duplicating the content - the space you have available on your CV is valuable and should be used optimally. Either group courses according to the different training providers, or include only the most important (e.g. led to certification).

Nor is there any need to list your entire education. If you gained a degree, list only this. If it was recently gained, you can mention any work placement or project that supports your application. Otherwise, list only the degree title, the academic institution, your result and the date. If school level qualifications were your most recent, then list these.

Listing Other Information

With your Skills listed on the front page of your Skills Based CV, it's unlikely you'll have much space left at the bottom of the second page. However, if you have, it's possible to include a section for information that doesn't fit anywhere else. Examples might be language skills, association memberships, impressive sporting achievements, unpaid roles in which you demonstrated other abilities, etc.

Making Your Skills Based CV Look Attractive

Presentation makes all the difference as to whether your Skills Based CV will be read or not. This is especially important when you have tables in the document, as it can look dull and uninspiring, or so haphazard that it's hard for the reader to focus on the content. Don't use lines or borders on tables, but instead make use of them to organise your skills lists. You can still use bullet points for the individual entries, which will make them far easier to read.

Use generous margins on your Skills Based CV, with adequate white line spacing between paragraphs and sections. Use a simple font, such as Aerial, Helvetica or Times New Roman, in no more than 11 point size, with a larger size for headings. Don't use any graphics or colours as these will add visual complexity, which reduces legibility.

Making Use of Language

Technical language tends not to lend itself to flowing sentences, so making your Skills Based CV easy to read is going to be a challenge.

As you describe your work history, avoid relying on technical lists. You need to keep the sense of a person in there - use active language, as it'll make you sound proactive to the reader.

Keep each point relatively short and therefore readable. Can you read the sentences aloud? Doing so will help you to identify whether they are disjointed or fluid. If you stumble while reading aloud, so will the employer when reading to themselves. With less than 30 seconds to make the initial impression, you can't afford to interrupt their reading through clumsy writing.

Your Skills Based CV should sound professional. Write in the 'third person', as if you're talking about someone else, but never use the pronouns 'he' or 'she'. That's why it's best to start each bullet point with an active word - simply drop the 'he' or 'she' from the start of the sentence.

Your writing style can be conversational, but always professional and respectful. Be emphatic but don't risk sounding boastful. Never include negative points or draw attention to something you're missing in your experience. Never complain about an employer in any way. There's no need to state your reasons for leaving a post. Finally, run the spelling and grammar checker on your document, and edit/replace double spaces with singles.

If you're unsure about whether your Skills Based CV is effective or not, ask a trusted friend or colleague to read it for you. Try not to ask someone who would themselves have difficulty producing a readable CV, as they won't provide good feedback. It's best to find someone in a very different profession, who can say how it comes across, as well as someone who understands your profession.

Don't struggle on or use a CV that's substandard - it won't get you the interviews you're looking for. It's hard to write about yourself in a way that sells you as a candidate, as most of us are too modest to do this effectively. For this reason, it's sometimes worth making the modest investment of paying a CV writing service to produce your new CV.

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