A curriculum vitae (CV) is very similar to a resume and submitted alongside applications for job or educational opportunities, among other things. A CV is generally more comprehensive than a resume–typically longer in length and more in-depth.
A CV also tends to contain more personal details, particularly in Europe, where CVs often include photos of the applicant and information about his or her hobbies and interests. Previously we’ve discussed how to write a cover letter for a job application and how to write a professional resume, but now it’s time to discover how to write a curriculum vitae.
What makes a good CV?
At some point in time, you will probably need to know how to write a CV for job applications. Learning the relevant skills to write a great CV is vastly important and can be key to career success.
Though the job market is increasingly tough these days, the right CV can give you just the competitive edge you need. So let’s dive into how to write a CV to help you to stand out amongst other candidates and gain the attention of the hiring manager.
What does a great CV look like?
First and foremost, your CV should be legible, clean, and have a simple, yet attractive layout and design. A template can be really handy when creating a CV from scratch. Your CV should exude professionalism, even from first glance. Pay careful attention to avoid spelling and grammar mistakes.
Though opinions differ on the proper length of a CV, it is important to be thorough yet prudent. No one wants to read a CV that is ten pages long. Similarly, a one-page CV is okay, but not when all of the information is crammed onto one page in a tiny font. Your CV should reflect your professionalism.
What is the correct format of a CV?
There are three different formats of a CV which makes it challenging to correctly write a CV especially if you’ve never written one before. When you decide you need to start writing a CV, be sure to know the advantages and disadvantages of each format so that you can show you’re the perfect candidate for the position at large.
Let’s take a closer look at the commonly used formats of CVs.
This is the most familiar and common format of a CV. It presents information in the reverse order, from your most recent job to the older positions you’ve held. Most HR managers prefer this format because it is structured and organized in a visually appealing way.
Advantages of the chronological format:
- It lists the most recent experience first
- It shows career history
Disadvantages of the chronological format:
- It can show gaps in employment history
- It focuses on job positions, not on skills
Unlike the chronological format of CV writing, the functional format emphasizes skills and achievements and your previous history with jobs. The functional format is also called the skills-based format.
Advantages of the functional format:
- It puts emphasis on specific skills, not on job history
- It helps to hide gaps in employment history and frequent job changes
- It is a good choice when you change a career path or want to get your first job
Disadvantages of the functional format:
- It requires more time to write
- It can be misleading for HR managers
This is a combination of the two previously mentioned formats.
Advantages of the combined format:
- It emphasizes both work experience and skills making your CV a powerful combination
- It’s the best option for technical and scientific jobs
Disadvantages of the combined format:
- It can many pages to be as detailed as you need
Also, there are some other formats that we didn’t mention that can be helpful when writing your CV:
You can also choose from dozens of CV templates that offer ready-made solutions for a variety of industries.
What’s included in a great CV?
Your previous work experience should be listed, especially the positions you held that are most relevant to the job at hand. Following a standard format for work experience is advisable, as that makes this section easier for potential employers to skim. Be certain to include the years at each position and details of the duties performed.
It’s great if you can present these past positions in a way that shows what the extraordinary contributions you made at each employer. This is the time you can really highlight your skills and attributes.
Education is a definitely an element you’ll want to include on your CV, particularly if you are a recent graduate with limited work experience. College and university degrees should be listed, and many professionals suggest including test scores if particularly impressive, and mentioning whether or not you graduated with merit. Feel free to include other relevant training, too even if it was not a part of a university course.
Many human resource professionals believe that you should have a section containing information on your abilities and skills. This is more useful for those who have limited job experience, but it may be helpful either way. Language knowledge should definitely be included here, as speaking a foreign language can be a huge asset to an employer.
Abilities and skills are best listed when paired with identifiable examples of how these abilities have been demonstrated. A section on skills can list any certifications or special training. This is one section where you should provide as much information as possible, as you may never know what unique skill an employee may be looking for.
References are commonly listed on a CV. Typically, no more than 3 individual references are necessary. These references should be people who have worked with you in an employment or educational capacity. If you’re a recent graduate, these references might be professors or management from an internship.
The important elements of a CV
When writing a CV, resume, or other application materials for a job, keywords will be very important. Keywords can be deciphered by checking out the job post you’re applying for, as well as other advertisements for similar positions. Often, an initial scan of documents for keywords weeds out applicants who aren’t as great of a match for the hiring company. Therefore, keywords should not be ignored.
Other important elements that you should try your best to include on a CV are leadership skills. Not only are job-specific attributes helpful to list on your CV, but people skills and social abilities can be extremely effective in helping you land that job. Demonstrate the ways in which you’ve worked as a team, lead a group of people, or supported the overall goals and mission of your past employers.
When applying for a job, you should carefully go through your CV and tweak and polish it so that its geared specifically toward the particular job for which you are applying. This, like with discovering keywords, may require a bit of research on your part. You want to be sure you’re aiming to match your CV to the qualifications and job description the potential employer has laid out.
It never hurts to know as much as possible about the company you are hoping to work for. Check out the company’s website to familiarize yourself with their goals, history, and mission statement. In the event that you land an interview, this information could be extremely helpful, but in the interim, this knowledge will help you better design your CV.
How to write a CV for jobs in the UK
A CV is more well-known in Europe than the USA. Here in the US, it is often called a resume. Let’s review the key differences between a CV and a resume and what you should include.
These tips are particularly important for those who are wanting to write a CV for a job in the UK.
- Size. Don’t be afraid to make your CV more than one page. You can write as much as you’d like but you’ll also want to ensure your CV is no longer than two pages.
- Include contact details such as your full name, home address, phone number, and email. Usually, other info like marital status, date of birth, etc. are not required. No need for a photo of yourself either.
- Highlight your specific achievements or skills that fit the position.
- List your education experience including courses, qualifications, etc.
- Make sure your work experience is in reverse chronological order. Don’t limit yourself to a certain time period as a CV for UK jobs can be up to two pages. You’ll want to include details about the company, the position you held, how long you were in that position, your, responsibilities, and achievements.
- Include any remaining achievements and skills you didn’t mention previously. For example, knowledge/expertise of foreign languages, specific software, etc.
- Interest and hobbies relevant to the position you are applying for.
How to write a CV for a job in the USA
In the beginning of this post, we mentioned that a CV for UK and European jobs is not the same as a CV for jobs in the USA. What is called a CV in Europe is actually a resume in the United States.
What are the key features of a CV for US jobs?
- It is often a lengthy document.
- The main focus of the CV is on an applicants’ (educator, researcher, etc.) educational background, achievements in the field, teaching and research experience, awards, honors, and licenses, written papers, publications, presentations or carried out experiments.
At the same time, be sure to also include:
- Contact details like your name, address, phone number, and email. In a US CV, you don’t have to include your gender, race, marital status or religion. This info is protected by the legal obligations in the States.
- The objective the hiring manager should take away by reading your CV and why you are applying for the position. This is an optional item and not completely necessary.
- Your professional experience in an appropriate order.
- Your education. If you’ve graduated from college, mention the school name and what field your degree is in. You might want to mention coursework too in case it is relevant to the position you are applying for. If you have a high Grade Point Average or achieved any academic accolades include those too.
- Certificates. Consider also including relevant seminars, courses or conferences you’ve attended or are a member of.
- Your foreign language knowledge if any and your computer or software expertise.
- Any other personal information like hobbies or activities that interest you most. This allows the hiring manager to get to know you outside of a workplace setting.
The bottom line
Though hundreds of websites claim to know the “right” and “wrong” of CV writing, it’s good to trust your instincts, and always aim towards being professional. If something unique works for you time and time again, don’t be afraid to continue to use it.
No matter what design your CV takes or how the various sections are presented, as long as you provide honest, correct information and work hard at making your CV attractive, easy-to-read, and polished, you are sure to get that offer letter and land your dream job.
Originally published May 20, 2014, updated May 26, 2018