Do I Emphasise Experience or Education On My CV?


When I wrote my first CV, I wasn’t sure whether to emphasise my experience or education. So I followed the standard formatting I saw on other people’s CVs. This always meant putting a section with my education first, then my experience, followed by skills and other interests.

Since then, I realised how much you need to tailor each CV to the job you’re applying for. As I have applied for a range of jobs, I’ve realised they can look quite different to each other. Not only will the content look different, but often the structure too. It can be tricky to know what to emphasise and when, but there are some places that will value your experience over your education and vice versa. So how do you know how to structure your CV? And when do you emphasise experience or education?

Here are some things to think about:

  1. Work out how much educational qualifications are relevant to the role

If you are applying for a job outside of academia, you may not be using your science degree directly. However, you could still be applying to a science-based company or working in a science context. In this case, you probably want to put your Education section first on your CV. This will mean it’s the first thing the employer sees and they will be satisfied that you have a grounding in a relevant subject.

However if you are applying to a non-scientific industry or position, and you have relevant work experience, you should probably put that at the top. You still need to include your academic qualifications, but they don’t have to go first. The order is important because an employer only spends a few seconds looking at your CV. Whatever they see first will catch their attention. If you want your education to make them sit up and pay attention, put it first. If your experience is directly relevant to the role, put that first. There is no perfect formula, but it’s wise to consider what the most relevant information is for the employer and structure your CV strategically.

  1. Check what the employer asks for on the person specification

Different companies will have different requirements, even for the same position. Some may require you to have a degree or even a masters. Others might just talk about the experience they want. Have a look at the person specification section on the job description and see what they emphasise. If they put a lot of importance on education, you will see this reflected in their job description. They might mention what qualifications they need first. Or, they might state that they are flexible in this area. Try to mirror what they emphasise on your CV.

  1. Decide whether specific parts of your education need to be drawn out

I’ve seen a lot of people list out all the modules they did as part of their degree on their CVs. Although the modules you studied may be impressive, not all employers are interested in this level of detail. This is especially true if you are applying for roles outside of academia, unless you are going to use this knowledge directly in your job. So if its not relevant, you don’t need to take up space on your CV listing all the detail. What you could do instead is list other accomplishments during your education, like achievements or awards. Again, think about what is relevant and what will show you in the best light.  

You will soon find out that your CV will look slightly different for various roles you apply for. Think about how recently you graduated and whether you have built up enough relevant experience to put that first. Then consider what is most relevant to the job you are applying for, and what the employer emphasises on their job description.

If you are ready to take your career outside the lab and want to know how to start, book a Beyond the Lab Breakthrough Session here.


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