Yes, appearance matters – especially when it comes to your CV

What should a CV look like in 2024? Whilst there's no single answer for every individual or role, there are some universal recommendations for laying out a CV suitable for any job you're applying for. In this article, we'll cover how to make a great first impression with your CV, suggest some layout tips and highlight some formatting red flags. If you're looking for answers about your curriculum vitae format, you're in the right place. 

Why your CV layout is important

Before you can wow a recruiter with your skills, experience, and achievements, you need to catch their eye. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who sees your CV for the first time. What will they notice? Enormous blocks of text, poor spacing, and distracting images? Or well-laid-out and easy-to read-sections, logically organised under clear headings?

Making a first impression

The presentation of your CV is the first impression a recruiter will form of you. Before someone even reads your name, they will start to form an opinion based on the appearance of your CV. If they see an unorganised, messy, inconsistent layout, they'll assume you have those qualities too. Similarly, if they see a smart, professional, and neat document, that's an immediate point in your favour. As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression – so make it count!

What should a CV look like in the UK?

So what should a CV look like to win the hearts of its readers? We've written the following guidelines to help you produce a professional-looking CV that helps you to land the job, whilst still leaving some scope for your individuality to shine through.

1. Use clear headings

It may seem obvious, but the first thing on your CV should be your name. Don't use the header "CV" or "curriculum vitae" ‒ there are no points for stating the obvious. You should also include your current or target job title, but that's all. This header can be larger than the others on your CV (or stand out in some other way, such as a different font), but really there's no alternative to this beginning.

Throughout the CV, use clear section headings, to keep the content of your CV in order and make it easy to navigate and pick out key information. Clearly identify each section of your CV: contact details, professional profile, key skills, career history, education, and maybe a further details section. Even before a recruiter starts reading the CV in depth, they should know where to go to find what they're looking for. You can find more information about what to include in each section in this article: What is a CV and how do you write one?

2. Use colour carefully and keep fonts simple 

You may want your CV to stand out from the rest, but this doesn't mean that it should be over the top. Avoid a busy CV with excessive bright colours and non-standard fonts. A recruiter or HR Manager is likely to just skip over it if it's too overwhelming, because stylistic formatting can easily appear unprofessional if not done tastefully.

Expert tip: Stick to the classic sans-serif fonts, like Arial or Calibri, which are both easy to read on-screen and look smart when printed.

The same applies to your use of colour. You should be restrained and professional. As with fonts, it can be tempting to use loud colours to create an eye-catching CV ‒ but that can just end up being distracting. At the most, use one colour for emphasis, plus black for the main text if you want the best CV layout.

3. Stay consistent and organised

Content may be king in CVs, but organisation is queen. When done well, the layout of your CV can make your content more accessible and give it a well-ordered, structured appearance. Knowing what to write in your CV is one thing, but without a solid CV layout, you risk your valuable content being overlooked.

When adding your headings and formatting text within your CV, take care to maintain consistency. If one header is in capitals, they should all be. If one paragraph is left-justified, they should all be. Doing otherwise shows a lack of attention to detail and makes you come across as sloppy. It can also be distracting for the reader, if the CV is jumping about all over the place. You don't want anyone to miss critical information because of poor presentation.

4. Maximise use of white space

Leaving proportionate empty white space in margins and between sections can make your CV easier to read and navigate. Don't shy away from this space, especially when the alternative is a cluttered CV with text crammed from edge to edge.

5. Avoid walls of text

A wall of text is a barrier. Just knowing a big paragraph lies ahead can wear down a reader before they even reach it. Employers are only human, after all, and like anyone, if they see huge walls of text, their eyes may glaze over. The bigger the wall, the harder it will be for a person to wade through it. Instead, use short paragraphs and bullet points to lead your reader from one section to the next. Don't forget that, when reading on a screen, it's even harder to read long paragraphs without losing your place. Therefore, three to four sentences should be the maximum in any one place.

6. Choose words with care

The same applies to the words you use. At first, this might not seem like visual advice, but remember ‒ the first person to see your CV may be from the HR team, rather than the team you'll be working in. The language must be accessible to both experts in your field and lay people. Seeing too many long, complex, and specialist words or acronyms can be overwhelming, so you need to balance the need to show your industry expertise with the need to not alienate your readers.

7. Don't split sections across pages

For a polished CV layout, aim to have sections end at the bottom of the page, rather than carry over onto the next page. It's usually not hard to achieve this if you make the most of the CV formatting options on Word – try changing the margins, font size, header layout, spacing, and so on.

8. Keep to an appropriate length

While we're on the subject of pages, what's the ideal length for a CV? Imagine you're a hiring manager with a stack of applications to wade through for one vacancy. Would you be more attracted to a highly-detailed 10-page CV, or a concise two-pager? Most people would say the two-pager. You can read more about the perfect CV length in this article: How long should a good CV be?

Expert tip: Remember that your CV is your shop window - you don't need to spill your entire life story. You can fill in the details during an interview - at the moment, your job is just to provide enough information to pique the reader's interest to invite you to an interview in the first place. 

Red flags of a bad CV layout

Now that we've answered “what should a CV look like?”, it's time to look at what shouldn't be on a CV? There are some CV visuals that scream "unprofessional," so make sure that you're not making these mistakes:


Your CV should not contain graphics. With everyone now able to produce graphics with a few clicks, it's tempting to try increasing the visual appeal of your CV using devices such as skills bars to visually represent your level of expertise or logos to show which companies you've worked for.

Try to resist this temptation! The logos move the attention away from you and onto your employers, and the skills bars are essentially meaningless without a standard reference across all CVs. Most importantly, an ATS can't process images, so your CV should contain text only.

A headshot

What should a CV photo look like? Many of the CV templates that you'll find online include space for a photo. Not only does this say nothing about your ability to do the job, but a headshot should technically be ignored due to the anti-discrimination legislation that governs the hiring process. Recruiters can gain potentially discriminatory details from your photo, including your gender, age, and race. Use the space instead to convince them why they should hire you.

Large blocks of text

Tightly packed blocks of text can be very off-putting and are difficult to read on-screen. As stated earlier, eliminate large blocks of text on your CV by keeping paragraphs short and using bullet points to highlight key details. This also helps you to keep your writing concise and to the point, thereby minimising the amount of fluff the recruiter has to wade through. 

Hard-to-read fonts

Everyone has their preferred font. That said, don't go off-piste with a wild font that will have recruiters screwing up their eyes as they try to decipher it. Typefaces such as Comic Sans, Brush Script and Algerian are to be avoided if you expect your CV to be taken seriously.

There are many professional-looking, easily-readable sans serif fonts to choose from, so there's plenty of scope to show your individuality.

Similarly, don't try to cram in more information by using a font so tiny that the recruiter is reaching for a magnifying glass, or so large that it looks like you don't have enough to say. A 10- to 12-point font, depending on the typeface, is acceptable.

A full LinkedIn URL

Every recruiter worth their salt will do some due diligence before making a hire – and that includes checking out your online presence. Direct them to the information you want them to see by including a link to your LinkedIn profile on your CV. However, a full LinkedIn URL looks messy and often takes up a disproportionate amount of space in your contact details. Avoid this issue by simply typing "LinkedIn" and hyperlinking the text to your profile.

An inappropriate file type

Unless otherwise directed in the application instructions, always send your CV as a Word document. A solid second choice is a PDF. Meanwhile, HTML, plain text and Google Docs CVs are uncommon and will likely raise eyebrows for the wrong reasons. 

The number one rule for designing the best CV layout

Your main formatting objective is to make your CV as appealing and as easy to read as you can. Don't make the recruiter's job difficult. The quicker and easier it is to scan your CV for your main selling points, the easier it is for them to gain a solid overview of your skills and achievements and progress your application to the next stage. 


To help you put together a visually impressive CV, we've collected some of the most frequently asked questions about CV presentation and format. 

What do employers look for in a CV?

Employers look for CVs that are presented professionally, structured logically, and are easy to skim read. Paying attention to consistency, headings, fonts, and spacing will help you to achieve this, as will using bullet points. 

How do I make my CV look good visually? 

Use a structure that enables recruiters to pick out the information they need at a glance. That means using standard headings for sections, such as Professional Experience, Skills and Education, and writing concisely rather than waffling. Take inspiration from examples you find online, but create your CV from scratch so that it's unique to you and you're sure that it is ATS-friendly. 

What should not be on a CV?

The most common mistake when it comes to CV presentation is adding graphics. That includes photos, logos, icons, and skills bars. While they may look good initially, they do more harm than good in the long run.

What is the right format for a CV?

Most people will find the reverse-chronological format to be ideal for their needs. But there are other CV formats, such as a skills-based or functional CV, that you can explore too. Once you've determined the right format, it's time to craft a proper CV – use our ultimate guide to writing one, especially if you're not familiar with the parts of a CV, to get started.

Make your CV look good: key takeaways

There's a lot to bear in mind when asking what should a CV look like, so to summarise: 

  • Keep it simple, consistent and organised 

  • Use bullets, not long paragraphs

  • Choose an easy-to-read, 10-12 point font

  • Maximise white space

  • Don't add graphics or photos

  • Use colour discreetly 

  • Aim for two pages

How's your CV looking? To ensure that it catches the recruiter's attention, having an extra pair of eyes won't hurt. Submit your CV here for a free CV review.

This article was originally written by Joshua Coller and was updated in 2021 and 2024 by Jen David. 

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