Lesson 58: Chronological or skills-based CVs for translators?

Lesson 58: Chronological or skills-based CVs for translators?

My recent new ebook on CVs for translators and interpreters resulted in a number of very important questions and discussions which I want to tackle in the next few blog posts. Thank you for being so responsive and productive, providing me with so much food for thought in your comments.

This post will concentrate on discussing the format of our CVs. In my ebook (and in fact on my own CVs), I use the chronological format. I’ve always found it very useful and it certainly reflects my structured and analytical way of processing information. When I look at a chronological CV, I can quickly assess the candidate because I know where to look for specific qualities. If you read my ebook, however, you will note that I’m also underlining the importance of mentioning our skills and then supporting them in the chronological experience.

There is another approach and I know many colleagues using it successfully. Skills-based CVs for translators emphasise the range of skills acquired and mastered by a translator or interpreter, manifested in supporting, contextualized pieces of experience and past projects. And some of you will say this is the right format. Let’s look at both options in detail.

Different formats, different approaches

First of all, a chronological CV (or better said: reverse-chronological) shows certain continuity and development. If you’d like to emphasise how you grew your career in the profession, or how you slowly were entrusted with more important translation assignments, it’s likely that this format is best for you. Normally, you’d include a profile statement summarising your profile (including key skills!), then talk about career highlights or achievements, move on to talking about your experience, then education, etc. Within these sections, you’d always use the chronological order.

The benefits of this format include:

  • Chronological order is easier to process by your readers
  • Chronological CV helps you to emphasise your development and progression
  • The majority of people are used to seeing this format
  • You can draw upon your past experience

On a skills-based CV you’d come up with a few main skill sets (what about: translation, editing, project management) and under these headlines, you’d include bullet points explaining specific skills that you have and how you’ve developed them. Quite clearly, within this format you’d include both bits of experience and education under specific skills. You should still include a section on education and employment (if any), but you may move it almost to the end of your CV. This approach will help you to highlight the extensiveness of your skills.

The benefits of this format include:

  • Skills-based CVs emphasise your skills
  • Skills-based CVs allow you to support your skills not only with experience, but also education, interests, and courses
  • This format gives you more flexibility


Who should go for a chronological CV?

It seems that this format is more suitable for “linguists for life”, i.e. those colleagues who’ve been working with languages forever and their education is linked to this field of work, too. If this is your case, you’d agree that it actually makes sense to show your career pathway in an ordered manner. Your past experience will act in your favour and strengthen your profile.

Who should go for a skills-based CV?

I appreciate the fact that translation is a very multidisciplinary profession and we all come from different backgrounds. And in these cases, skills-based CVs may come handy. You can consider it if you have a number of short-term positions or internships completed, which all may be quite similar. It’s also a good format to avoid mentioning any career breaks (for example due to family commitments). You may also want to use this format if you’re changing careers and coming to translation with a comprehensive background in another industry. In this format, you can also draw from your interests and hobbies to support your skills. And a shout-out for students: this format will be extremely useful for you if you don’t have much experience.

How to draft a skills-based CV?

I’m actually convinced to give it a try and I started doing some more research on drafting a skills-based CV. Let’s have a look at what we need to do, in case you’re convinced to work on your skills-based CV, too.

First, we need to pick our skills carefully. It’s advisable to pick three to four broad skill sets directly relevant to translation or interpreting.

Then, we need to write up bullet points to support our skills. They should take the form of statements that describe our experience with each skill. It’s not important to mention specific companies, agencies, or projects. It’s essential to concentrate on what we’ve learned and accomplished.

Below, we should include a short summary of our work history, giving just the company name, job title, dates and places.

I started playing around with it, and here’s what I’m planning to include on my skills-based CV:

Polish English Legal translation

  • Translated over 1,000,000 words of legal texts, including contracts, agreements, articles of association, witness statements and cautions.
  • Worked on criminal and civil law cases with top UK-based lawyers.
  • Currently working towards an MSc degree in Forensic Linguistics which focuses in particular on spoken and written legal language.

Polish English Marketing translation

  • Recently completed a large transcreation project for a multinational brand which included localisation of a product website, translation of print advertisement, copywriting for the TV ad (aired nationwide), supervising voice-over production and SEO keyword research.
  • Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and active participant of professional workshops and events on the use of language in marketing (including copywriting, creative writing and persuasion)

That’s my first draft. What do you think? Are you planning to work on your skills-based CV? If you’re not convinced yet, come back next week when I’m going to discuss whether we should be using CVs at all and what are the alternatives.

If you’d like to discuss your CV further, don’t forget about my individual CV and cover letter reviews. Only 2 slots left for September!


  1. val , on Aug 7, 2013 at 15:45 Reply

    Mine is currently using both approaches and it helps finding what you need in time AND by category 🙂

  2. Carola F Berger , on Aug 7, 2013 at 19:43 Reply

    I’m using a hybrid of both — i.e. I list my skillset and then back it up with my positions in inverse chronological order. It seems to be working for my somewhat non-traditional career path. This is also the approach that social media outfits like LinkedIn seem to use with new their profiles.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 4, 2015 at 01:20 Reply

      It is, and I believe it’s not a bad approach to use 🙂

  3. Silvia Baldi , on Aug 9, 2013 at 07:40 Reply

    I also use a combination of both — skills on top, followed by chronological experience, as I find it easier to highlight achievements that way. But it depends who I’m sending it to, as I’m aware that some clients prefer a more traditional approach.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 4, 2015 at 01:25 Reply

      I agree, in the end it is about generating interest and getting the client.

  4. Lukasz Gos , on Oct 11, 2013 at 13:30 Reply

    I’d say make a you-based CV. Don’t fit into an existing form for its own sake, pick something that suits you well or blend two or more types or create something new. Mine shows practice areas first, followed by community involvement, followed by some sort of employment history, then education, then some unique personal highlights, then publications. There’s also non-translation non-profit involvement somewhere, around the middle, but I don’t remember where exactly.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 4, 2015 at 01:30 Reply

      I think you’re right, but it’s still worth to know the approaches to know what you want to deviate from and how 🙂

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