How to Expertly Write a CV

A curriculum vitae, commonly referred to as a CV, is an employment document that outlines your work experience, academic experience, skills and technical know-how in far greater detail than a standard resume. Although this document is commonly used in international job markets, submitting a CV is rare in the United States.

Although rarely used in the U.S., there are a number of jobs where a CV is encouraged or mandatory. Applying to a job in academics, research or the federal government benefits from the format because the expansion of information, rather than a resume’s brief summary of your talent, gives hiring managers a greater understanding of your advanced skills and abilities. Here, you’ll learn how to write a CV for the rare jobs that require one, along with additional styling tips and tools to help you finalize your document.

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CV versus Resume

  • Curriculum Vitae (CV)
    Normally used for
    Generally used in specific career fields, including college academics, research, entertainment and government work.
    Average length
    Significantly longer and more detailed than a resume, but length varies depending on experience and number of sections.
    Best for
    Applicants for the above industries, Ph.D. degrees, or those interested in working abroad.
    Avoid if
    You have less than ten years of experience or are seeking work outside of academia.
  • Normally used for
    Normally used for
    Highly recognized and favored by most hiring managers in the U.S. job market.
    Average length
    Generally one page for every 10 years of work experience.
    Best for
    Entry-level job seekers, career changers, and people with 10+ years of experience.
    Avoid if
    The job requires teaching, lecturing or controlled research experience.

Construction of a CV

construction cv

A well-written professional CV is a comprehensive overview of your work history and abilities, along with your academic and published achievements. It follows a strict structure and is composed of many sections.

We crafted an at-a-glance CV breakdown that quickly shows you what combination of sections to add to your document. We marked each section with these special keys to help you determine if you should include the section on your CV:

  • Mandatory: This information is crucially required by most hiring managers.
  • Recommended: The information for this section can exist under a mandatory section. However, if you have extensive knowledge or experience in these specialized fields, you can craft a more substantial, detailed CV by creating this standalone section.
  • Optional: Adding these sections depends on the requirements of an open job.
  • What Should a CV Look Like:

    • Contact Information –– Mandatory
    • Objective or Summary Statement –– Mandatory
    • Work Experience –– Mandatory
    • Research Experience –– Optional
    • Teaching Experience –– Optional
    • Education –– Mandatory
    • Skills –– Mandatory
    • Language Skills –– Recommended
    • Digital Skills –– Recommended
    • Conference Presentations –– Optional
    • Conference Attendance –– Optional
    • Honors and Awards –– Optional
    • Grants or Funding –– Optional
    • Publications –– Optional
    • Professional Affiliations and Memberships –– Optional
    • Community Outreach –– Optional
    • References –– Optional

    Below, you’ll find our in-depth writing guide that leads you through each step of writing these sections, along with additional tips and tools that will help you craft a curriculum vitae sure to help you land the interviews you want.

How to Write a CV’s Key Sections

Let’s break up our writing guide into two sections –– the mandatory sections and everything else. Here you’ll find in-depth information on how to write your CV’s contact information, summary or objective statement, work and academic experience, and general skills section.

Contact Information

Contact Information

First up, your name! Write your full name as it shows up on your legal ID documents. We also recommend that you add a special font treatment to your name to make it really stand out. You can double the font size (size 24 to the rest of your documents’ size 12), or make it really bold. Don’t shorten your name or share affectionate nicknames –– there’ll be time to share this info after you’ve earned the job or post-graduate admission.

Follow up with your full professional mailing address and phone number on your CV, a key difference from a standard resume, which omits your specific location, Your email address should consist of some version of your first and last name and not be from an outdated email system such as AOL. The recommended email address is first-name-last-name@email.com or first-name-last-name@school-name.edu (e.g., Felicity.McClure@email.com or F.McClure@cambridge.edu).

Students may submit the email address of their current university. Professionals may list their current company address along with the department phone number; however, you can provide your private address and phone number if including your current employment contact information would jeopardize your job.

Objective or Summary Statement

Objective or Summary Statement

Although this section was once considered optional, including a professional summary or objective statement on your CV is now standard in the U.S. and international job markets. This section should sit immediately below your contact information and include a description of what you hope to accomplish.

Work Experience

Work Experience

This section is formatted similarly to a traditional chronological resume:

  • Start by listing the job title and company.
  • List the dates of employment.
  • Write a bulleted list of your core responsibilities. Include quantifiable metrics to highlight your accomplishments, if possible.

The primary difference that a CV holds against a resume is the amount of information included. A traditional resume only includes formal work experience, prefers long-term and steady employment, and tends to cut off work history after 10 years.

The CV allows you to showcase traditional employment, research projects and teaching engagements, regardless of the length of time you worked on each. The CV format also allows you to showcase information past 10 years, especially if it’s relevant to the open job requirements.

Education

Education

This section follows the same reverse-chronological format as the work experience section.

List your current degrees in progress or the most recently completed degree first, followed by your completed degrees and relevant professional certifications. For example, applicants can include a National Board Certification under the Education section if you’re applying for a professorship.

General Skills

General Skills

Depending on the amount of education and professional experience you have, your skills can live under one general skills section, or into multiple skills sections. We’ll give you instructions on how to write those additional language, digital, and research skills sections below –– for now, we’ll dive into how to write a general skills section.

These skills are the abilities and knowledge needed to perform specific tasks and are defined by two categories; your soft skills and hard skills.

Soft skills are interpersonal skills that allow you to be a collaborative member or leader of a team. These can include communication, multitasking, organization and task-delegation.

Hard skills are learned, practical qualifications such as understanding computer software like Microsoft Office or Adobe, language fluency for bilingual or polylingual employees, or typing speed. These types of skills can live in two places: this general skills section, or if this section gets too long, in your optional Language and Digital Skills sections. We’ll have advice on how to make those secondary sections further down the page.

Before we can break into those secondary skills sections, though, we advise that you list your job-relevant skills, including your research, language and digital skills, into this first General Skills section. If you have more than six- to eight-skills listed, you can break your sections into those optional, dedicated skills sections that offer a more detailed and well-rounded summary of your abilities. We pulled together a list of the most-requested skills in the job market to help you get started!

How to Add Sections to Your CV

Add section to CV

After writing and perfecting your mandatory CV sections, it’s time to look at how you can strengthen the rest of your document with these supplemental sections. We say supplemental because, although they’re considered optional, these CV additions can help create a fuller idea of your strengths and abilities because they focus on your extracurricular activities.

Attending and participating in conferences can demonstrate how you actively pursue and participate in spreading updated ideologies related to your field of study or work. Hobbies demonstrate your interests and capabilities outside the workplace or classroom. Grants and awards show recognition for your abilities. These topics can help strengthen your argument as the best candidate, especially if they relate to the job.

Read on to learn how to write each of these sections. Remember, these are optional. You do not, and should not, add all of them to your CV.

Research Experience

Earlier, we showed you how to write a Work Experience section and mentioned that you could include your research, academic and extracurricular experiences in addition to your formal work experience. If you noticed that the section grew too long, you can easily break it up and create dedicated Research and Teaching Experience sections. We highly recommend that approach, especially if you’re pursuing an academic teaching role, a research position or applying to a Ph.D. program.

This section will follow the same format as your Work Experience section.

  • Write the position title and place of research employment.
  • Specify the dates of employment or active research.
  • Write a bulleted list of your responsibilities and accomplishments.

As with your previous Work Experience section, you’ll want to start with your most recent research roles and work your way back. Remember to only include projects with relevant or similar duties to the new position requirements for which you’re applying.

For example, writing that you helped maintain astronomical equipment during a pre-grad internship when you’re going for a Ph.D. in mathematics won’t look as impressive as it would for a physics or astronomy degree. Although the experience is impressive and valuable, it does not involve any of the same requirements needed in the mathematical program. You’re better off focusing on memberships to math associations or competitions.

Teaching Experience

Your teaching history must include the following:

  • Job title and company location.
  • Start and end dates.
  • A brief description of your accomplishments or responsibilities. Avoid including a laundry list of duties and focus on your critical successes.

Tailor your teaching history to the open job posting. If you are applying to an academic institution, focus on teaching experience (including editing or providing feedback to others), management and administration experience as these are valued skills in academia. In this section, you can also discuss your laboratory and field experiences.

Describe any volunteer work or leadership positions, as these skills indicate initiative and responsibility.

Language Skills

Create a section dedicated to your polylingual skills, especially if you’re pursuing a job or academic program where your ability to speak multiple languages serves as an advantage. You’ll want to dedicate bullet points for each language and specify how fluent you are in said language. For example, you could have strong speaking, reading and writing skills in English and Mandarin but only speak conversational French, or only understand German without being able to speak it. So, list the language spoken and level of frequency.

Digital Skills

Employers look for practical and relevant skills in the mechanical, IT, mathematical or scientific fields. If you have learned how to use a complex piece of laboratory equipment, know the ins-and-outs of a particular software, or have mastered a new programming language, add these to this section.

Create a bulleted list of these technical skills, especially if you are pursuing a tech-field career, or pursuing an academic program in robotics, engineering or tech development.

Conference Presentations

If you only have 1-3 professional presentations under your belt, these can live under either your Teaching Experience, Research Experience or Publication sections. However, if you hosted more than 3 presentations at conferences, universities, or association lectures, consider creating a separate section for this valuable experience.

Whether you decide to create this dedicated Conference Presentation section or list this experience under the other three sections, be sure to include the following information:

  • Identify your role and name of the conference.
  • Specify the date and location.
  • Write a bulleted list of your role and topics addressed.

Conference Attendance

This section can live under the Education section if you’ve only attended a few conferences, as this still relates to a learning experience that helped you develop your knowledge of specific topics and industries.

However, suppose you regularly attend conferences to expand your technical knowledge and stay updated on recent industry trends and developments. In that case, you’ll want to create this dedicated section.

It should include the following information:

  • Name of conference
  • Dates attended
  • Bulleted list of seminars or panels attended along with a brief description of said panels

Honors and Awards

Although we list this as an optional section, you should really include this information on your CV if you received any honors, awards or accolades. These forms of recognition indicate to hiring managers or admissions counselors that your knowledge or performance of a subject is noticeably high. This level of recognition makes you a stronger candidate, so it's important to scrub through your employment history, scheduling documents, journals and meeting notes to find these awards.

Add these honors and awards to your CV, and keep track of additional recognition in a dedicated file to add to your document as you acquire them. Be sure to include the following information:

  • Name of the honor or award
  • Date awarded and name of the award committee

Grants or Funding

If you have two or more academic honors or grants, create this section. Otherwise, fold these accomplishments into your Education section — a feeble section with only one or two entries is off-putting to potential employers, mainly if you apply for a high-level position or have worked in your field at length.

If you’ve never written an academic CV before, give yourself plenty of time to populate this section. Chances are that you’ve been recognized multiple times over your collegiate and professional career.

List your honors or grants like this:

  • Name of the grant or fund
  • Date awarded and name of committee
  • A brief description that summarizes the honor or grant proposal, goal and end result

Publications

Your Publications sections should list all of your scholarly articles from most recent to oldest and follow formal citation rules, although the style varies according to your field of interest. For example, if you’re applying for a psychology position, use the APA citation style. If you’re pursuing a degree in literary criticism, use the MLA citation style.

Professional Affiliations and Memberships

Here’s another section where you may want to give yourself a while to consider what to include. Many people join professional associations while in academia and use those resources to meet potential employers or participate in group discussions before moving on to another area of intellectual interest.

For example, if you’re a medical researcher studying a particular illness, you may join an epidemiological society to gather information; but, if your interest next turns to the immunological aspects of the disease, you may not participate as much in the forums and professional societies you joined previously.

Going through your publication and presentation history may help you recall professional societies to which you belonged or forums in which you’ve been active. Consider placing this information in your employment section if you held office or some other position in a scholarly or professional organization. Just as in the different optional sections, if what is here does not add anything significant to your CV, consider excluding it.

Community Outreach

Your community outreach efforts, or volunteer work, can live under your Work Experience section unless you happen to do an extraordinary amount of this work. Suppose you have quite a bit of community service under your belt. In that case, it can be beneficial to write this standalone section, especially if you’re pursuing work in nonprofits or social work.

This dedicated work can demonstrate your interest in contributing to your community’s welfare. You’ll write this section in the same structural format as your work experience, and include:

  • Name of the volunteer role and community organization
  • Dates of service
  • A bulleted list detailing the work and responsibilities you handled

References

Here, you’ll list, people who’ll support and testify to your work ethic. You should have three default references, although HR and recruitment offices may request more or less.

Suppose you’re applying for a collegiate position or a doctoral candidacy. In that case, it’s standard to obtain two academic references to attest to your professional and intellectual capacities, and one personal or professional reference to avouch to your character.

Your References section should include the following information:

  • Name of individual
  • Current job title of individual
  • Institution or company where the individual works
  • Address of the institution
  • Email and telephone number of individual

CV Writing Guide FAQ

What is a good CV format?

Now that you’re familiar with CV sections and can write your document, you may want to know which additional steps you can take to perfect your CV.

  • Add borders: With so many sections carrying a lifetime of professional accomplishments, it can be difficult for a hiring manager to spot where new sections start visually. Adding a horizontal line or dotted border can help create visual breaks and define your CV sections.
  • Use font treatments: Each of your CV sections should include a header that specifies the topic, e.g., Work Experience, Language Skills or Publications. You can add unique font treatments like bolded fonts and slightly larger font sizes to indicate the start of a new section
  • Consistent margins: Your CV can seem densely packed. It’s essential to include one-inch margins on your document to provide eyes with much-needed whitespace.

How can I make my CV attractive?

The amount of information found on your CV can be intimidating to the reader. There are a few design and formatting tips that you can use to make your CV attractive:

1.

Short phrases: Write incomplete sentences (i.e., fragments) to increase impact and omit extraneous words. See how differently the same information reads on these examples.

Do use short phrases:

“Primary Instructor, Organic Chemistry (2001–2008). Taught more than 300 students. Planned curriculum. Graded papers daily. Created engaging online tutorials.”

Don’t use formal phrases:

“I taught a full lecture hall of approximately 300 students at the University of Colorado twice weekly. I also graded papers, planned curriculum with a team and engaged in tutorial sessions online.”

2.

Consistent tense: Keep the tense (present or past) consistent. Use parallelism, or similar phrasing, so that the reader can quickly understand your meaning.

Do this:

  • Supervised two undergraduate projects in econometric models for conservation.
  • Planned and delivered seminars in “Conservation Theory” and “Environment Modeling” to groups of 10-20 undergraduate students.
  • Mentored two Ph.D. students in the department.
  • Led three field trips with enthusiasm.

Don’t do this:

  • Supervision support for two undergraduate projects in econometric models for conservation.
  • Deliver seminars in “Conservation Theory” and “Environment Modeling” to groups of 10-20 undergraduate students — planning teaching methods.
  • Mentor to two new Ph.D. students in the department.
  • Group leader on three field trips — requiring leadership, problem-solving under pressure and enthusiasm.

The example on the left is much easier to read because parallelism makes each line grammatically and stylistically similar. This section is now far stronger by streamlining the verbiage and creating similarities among bullet points.

The example on the right features leading verbs with different endings (superviSION, delivER, mentOR). This lack of parallelism takes longer for the brain to process.

3.

Bullet points: Using bullet points in CVs is becoming popular — bullet points make short and declarative statements that take up less than a line each, lending to your CV a parallel structure. Shorter verb-noun pairs belong on the same line.

Do this:

Postgraduate Demonstrator, University of Leicester (2004–present)

  • Led several seminars for undergraduates
  • Supervised five undergraduates on their dissertations
  • Demonstrated experiments and supervised practicals for undergraduate students

Don’t do this:

Postgraduate Demonstrator, University of Leicester (2004–present)

I led several seminars for undergraduates. I have experience supervising five undergraduates on their dissertations. Demonstrated experiments and supervised practicals for undergraduate students.

What should I avoid in a CV?

  • Your photograph: A photo of you on your curriculum vitae may make you appear more personable and engaging, but it could invoke bias from the reader. Research the acceptable norm by country and position.

    For example, a photograph is considered standard in Japan, China and some parts of Europe. This is not the case in the U.S., U.K., Ireland, Sweden or the Netherlands.

  • Unprofessional email address: Your email address should include some version of your first and last name, and not be from an outdated email system such as AOL. The recommended email address is first-name-last-name@gmail.com or first-name-last-name@school name.edu (e.g., F.McClure@cambridge.edu).

Which software is used for making CV?

We understand that writing a CV can seem daunting. There’s quite a bit of information to track down and structure. Thankfully, there are a number of software programs that offer easy formatting solutions, templates and additional tools to help you make your CV.

  • Microsoft Word: You can write a simple but elegant CV from scratch using this powerful word processor. The program includes a few resumes and CV templates and access to a larger library of free CV templates on the Microsoft site.
  • Hloom Resume Builder: Our online tool includes free writing tips and customization options that help you create a personalized CV. Our subscription upgrade also gives you access to exclusive templates and multiple download formats.
  • Europass: An online tool that aims to standardize the CV-writing process across all international markets, especially in Europe. This document marries the best aspects of CV and resume formats to create a detailed document.

Additional Resources

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