Guided Draft: Design your CV layout
Now your info is organised, you can start thinking about how to present it on the page. Bear in mind that there is more than one way to skin a CV - this is not the only way, but it is a successful way!
The layout suggested here is based on a very simple principle – when it comes to a CV (or, in fact, any document) the reader is more important than you, the writer.
Anticipate the reader’s response and behaviour
To put an effective CV together, you need to anticipate what the reader will want and how they will behave. We know that prospective employers look at a lot of CVs, and they don’t enjoy it, so they’ll take any excuse not to have to look at one. As a result, they make assumptions about applicants based on very little information, and don’t always read a CV properly.
So, we need them to pick up all the reasons why they shouldn’t put your CV in the bin, and no reasons why they should.
Use your layout design to make the most of the first skim read
Layout is our first weapon here – we need to make sure everything that goes in your favour is in the right place so that they pick it up in a skim read – a super-quick, probably fairly lazy lance.
We can do this using simple psychology to predict their behaviour:
- English readers read from left to right, and down the page, so when we skim read, we skim the left hand side of the page
- Left to right and down is how we also read priority, so we can position items of information across the page accordingly (most important on the left, medium importance in the middle and low importance on the right), and down the page in order of importance
- When we skim read a block of text, we generally read the first word and a word somewhere in the middle and not much else, so blocks of text should be avoided - bullet points work much better on a skim read, and they're much easier to arrange so that the most important info is on the left-hand side of the page
Skim reading prime position: Make the most of the left-hand side of the page
- Important information like your name, qualifications and skills should all appear on the left
- Less important information, like contact details and the dates associated with your education and work history, should appear further to the right, leaving the left-hand side as a position of emphasis
Your layout design should also employ some strategic formatting to help the reader to 'pick up' the important information when they skim read:
- Titles, subtitles qualifications, and positions in bold
- Make sure the page isn’t not cluttered, and has plenty of white space
- Staggering margins away from the left hand edge creates and reinforces a hierarchy of importance
- Present information in bite-sized bullet points, which are placed away from the left-hand margin so they don't disrupt the skim-reading process
So, your reader will skim read your CV when they first receive it, and will pick up stuff on the left-hand side of the page, so you need to put the info that will convince them your CV is worth reading properly on the left.
Take advantage of automatic top-bottom hierarchy
Your reader will read importance down the page as well as from left to right - info placed at the top of a section or page at the lefthand side will be read as more important than info placed at the end of a section or on the right.
Avoid big blocks of text
Potential employers are in a hurry – they’re unlikely to read anything that looks like a block of text properly, so split blocks of text up in to smaller bullet points instead.
Take a look at this example - what information do you pick up when you skim read it? Note how it uses the left-hand side to emphasise the important information, and manipulates how we read hierarchy...