The order in your CV


“Do I actually write my application documents chronologically or counter-chronologically?” Valeria asked in an application workshop. “As little as possible,” I reply, which obviously does not satisfy the desire for a simple answer. I add: “For the parts where it has to be, i.e., professional experience and education: counter-chronologically, meaning from the current parts to the older ones.” It seems logical to structure the entire CV in counter-chronological order. However, this demand for temporal order has disadvantages.

Boring lists like poster presentations or workshops attended can be condensed into descriptions of skills.

In the cover letter, applicants often retell the highlights of their CV in the form of an essay, an exhausting exercise for the readership. The cover letter is the text that can be formulated most freely. Therefore, you can concentrate on what connects you with the employer: “From Dr. Sanchez, I learned three years ago at Analytica that your company…” This sentence fragment shows a long-term, proven interest in an employer, a personal connection, and good documentation skills. The cover letter can also address weaknesses: “Although I do not yet have the required fluent knowledge of German, I have already learned two foreign languages autodidactically at B2 level: …” This will prevent you from being prematurely screened out because of a missing criterion.

In your CV, too, you can partially detach yourself from the chronology. Suppose that five years ago, you acquired an additional qualification that fits the employer like a glove. This highlight is easily lost in chronological parts. You can make these strong points visible at the beginning of the CV by making a list of three to five bullet points.

In the body of the CV, you can do yourself and your readers another favour: Summarise your skills in one section. As a result, the descriptions in the chronological section are shorter, and redundancies are eliminated. Boring lists like poster presentations or workshops attended can be condensed into descriptions of skills. Advantage: You can arrange the skills in any way you like, emphasising the most interesting aspects for the applicants. They will thank you – hopefully with an invitation.


This article was first published in Nachrichten aus der Chemie (issue 10-2022). See here the German original.

If you want to learn more about career options, you can look through our career workshops and talks. Our workshop Job application and interview strategies for scientists shows you how to apply for jobs, all the way from your application documents to the salary negotiation. 

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