5 Essential Elements of a
Skills-Focused CV

When it comes to CVs that focus on an individual’s skills rather than a chronological list of their work experience, some people are categorical: Recruiters don’t like skills-focused CVs – they should be avoided at all costs.

Broadly speaking, skills-focused CVs put an emphasis on your areas of competence rather than the jobs you’ve held in the past. In my opinion, skills-focused CVs can be very useful for job seekers; I often recommend using this format of CV.

For example, if you’ve recently changed career paths and want to highlight certain skills you possess that aren’t clearly demonstrated by the latest positions you’ve held, this is an ideal situation to use a skills-based CV.

The skills-focused CV is also a lifesaver if you’ve worked in several different sectors; if jobs you’ve held recently don’t support the direction you want to take (for example, if jobs you held long ago are more pertinent to your current objectives than more-recent positions you’ve held) or if you want to emphasize your non-professional achievements (for example, if you do renovation work in your spare time).

The skills-focused CV is much more adaptable to different contexts than the chronological CV.

I believe that a skills-focused CV can be well-appreciated by recruiters – if it is well organized – since it allows a recruiter to easily find the information they’re looking for on the page.

Today, this model of CV is no longer as popular as it once was, possibly because many skills-focused CVs haven’t been well put together. With this in mind, I’d like to review five elements of the skills-focused CV you should always pay close attention to.

I’ll present these elements in the same order in which I develop a CV with my clients.

1- A well-defined career objective (at the start of the CV)

Before they start reading, a recruiter will want to know what it is you’re trying to tell them with your CV. For example, if you want to show that you have leadership skills but you’ve never occupied a management position, state clearly in your career objective that you’re looking for management responsibilities.

Or perhaps most of your experience has been in administrative positions, but you’d like to start doing creative work. Whatever your objective is, you need to make it clear to the recruiter at the very beginning of your CV. That way, they can read the rest of your CV in the context of your objective.

2- A easy-to-consult list of your work experience (at the end)

Even though this is a skills-focused CV, a recruiter will still want to have a chronology of your work experience, along with titles and dates. This information is indispensible to them, even if it’s not at the beginning of your CV.

Don’t bother listing all of the tasks you did in your previous positions. This information should already have been covered in the descriptions of your skills.

That being said, when it is especially pertinent, you can include a sentence or two to describe responsibilities you held, or other elements to give context.

For example, if you previously managed a department, indicate how many employees you were responsible for as well as your budget.

In this context, your work history should seem a bit like a bibliography at the end of a thesis. Don’t try to convince a recruiter at this stage; rather, try to help them understand the facts of your experience.

3- Appropriate areas of skill

Choose three to six areas of skill that encompass the main aspects of your candidature.

Make sure they represent a good balance of your skills: avoid having three sections that talk about your interpersonal skills but make no mention of your capacity to manage operations or analyze.

Also, come up with interesting (but accurate) titles for the skill areas you want to describe. For example, Mobilizing a team in a high-performance culture is catchier than Managing personnel.

As always, avoid trying to be too original in your descriptions, as this may compromise the clarity of your proposal.

4- Include several strong achievements related to each area of skill

A task is an activity that you undertake in the regular exercising of your duties:

Supervising a team of four people and ensuring we meet productivity objectives.

An achievement is a specific success that highlights your strengths:

Aligning a team of four people that was previously dysfunctional to work together collaboratively which led to a 15 percent increase in productivity in the first year.

An achievement always encompasses greater scope than a simple task. What’s more, a recruiter should be able to easily deduce the tasks you undertook by understanding the nature of your achievement.

The achievement described above could be titled: Mobilizing a team in a high-performance culture.

For each area of skill, detail three to six achievements. Organize the achievements so that they are varied (not always occurring at the same workplace) and demonstrate different aspects of your skill.

5- Achievements related to your work history

When it comes to skills-focused CVs, one of the biggest challenges facing recruiters is linking each achievement to the applicant’s work history.

That’s great to know that he managed a team of four people, but when did he do that? And where?

In a traditional CV, this question wouldn’t come up, since achievements are related directly to each job in the applicant’s employment history.

To solve this problem you can add a bit of context to each one of your achievements, as shown below:

Aligning a team of four people that was previously dysfunctional at ABC Company when I arrived in 2009 to work together collaboratively which led to a 15 percent increase in productivity in the first year.

In conclusion

The skills-focused CV isn’t suited for everyone and it is demanding in terms of the rigor that must be applied. Knowing this, if you decide to go ahead and use this formula, make sure to respect each one of the elements I’ve described above. Otherwise, you may want to stick to a conventional chronological CV.

By: Mathieu Guénette, Guidance Counsellor at Les Chercheurs de sens

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Mathieu Guénette

Mathieu Guénette is a self-employed Guidance Counsellor with over 20 years of experience, as well as an author and a lecturer. He has worked with a diverse clientele (teenagers, adults, managers, job hunters). In 2017, he has simultaneously obtained the Ordre des conseillers et conseillères d'orientation du Québec’s Professional Award and the Ordre des conseillers en ressources humaines agréés’ HR Book of the Year Award for his work Le candidat visceral. He provides services in Montreal, Lanaudière and remotely. His website is full of handy resources for you: Les chercheurs de sens.

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