Your Career, Your Choices

A weekly column for job-seekers By Liam Horan, Sli Nua Careers

How far back do I go in my CV...and should that CV be colourful and creative?

Q: How far back should I go when outlining my work experience on my CV? I have been working for 35 years and often wonder if what I did back at the start is really of any interest to anyone now. (JT, email )

A: I would argue that relevance is more important than chronology in your CV. If, for example, you worked as a waiter 35 years ago, that work is relevant if you are now looking for a waiter role again – particularly if you haven’t done much waiter work in the interim. It could be the best available evidence to support your case, so it would be counter-productive to leave it out of your CV.

When you look at our CV through the filter of relevance, rather than chronology, you see the value of the work you have done in terms of helping you to get the job for which you are now applying. The fact that it is a long way back in your career need not be a bad thing.

One way of bringing relevant work experience to the eye of the potential employer is to create two sections under your work experience.

Call the first section Relevant Work Experience. Here, in chronological order, starting with the most recent first, you can put in all the experience that relates, perhaps even only in a minor way, to the job you are seeking. A job may be relevant because you used certain skills in it, and those skills are now transferrable to the job you are seeking, even if you are moving to a different sector.

Elaborate on all jobs held under Relevant Work Experience, particularly emphasising responsibilities and achievements that will help to convince the potential employer for the suitability of their role.

Call the second section Other Work Experience. In here, list all the other jobs you’ve held, without elaboration. The purpose here is to close off gaps.

Q: Would you favour having a creative CV – using colour, design quirks, etc? I think it might help me stand out from the crowd when the employer is wading through a mountain of CVs. (TR, email )

A: I take your general point: yes, you do need to stand out. Yes, employers are getting huge numbers of CVs to read.

But I would weigh up a number of factors before settling on a creative CV. A key issue here, I believe, is the sector in which you are working. Graphic designers, for example, often do this, as it is an opportunity for them to showcase their creativity.

But I am not so sure a teacher should go down the creative road. It is a gamble, and we all know that some gambles work, while others do not.

I would try to stand out by the neatness of my CV, the quality of the personal information I give, particularly early on in the CV. Aim for early impact. Most CVs that companies receive are not particularly professional, so having one that is ordered and properly written, while hitting all the right notes in terms of meeting the employer’s needs, will go a long way.

Be aware too that a creative, non-standard CV may cause a recruitment company some problems. Recruitment companies are often asked by employers to produce standardised CVs of the shortlisted candidates. In that instance, the recruiter will spend some time knocking those CVs into shape, and a creative CV might force them into more work than they’d like.

So, overall, I wouldn’t rule it out. But you should be very sure it is for the right sector, and you should also be certain it is consistent with your personality style – you don’t want to create an expectation you can’t fulfil.

Sli Nua Careers ( ) have an online service that allows you to create a superb CV from the comfort of your own desk or home.

For more details, visit


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