Like a resume, a CV is often an employer’s first impression of your professional and academic credentials, so it’s important to structure it in a way that best showcases your accomplishments and experience. Certain jobs in academia or medicine might require a CV instead of a resume, and it can also open doors for grant applications, fellowships and jobs outside the U.S.
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In this article, we offer a complete guide to writing a powerful CV that will help you stand out to employers, along with easy-to-follow examples.
What is a CV?
A CV—short for the Latin phrase “curriculum vitae” meaning “course of life”—is a detailed document highlighting your professional and academic history. CVs typically include information like work experience, achievements and awards, scholarships or grants you’ve earned, coursework, research projects and publications of your work. A CV is typically two or three pages long, but it’s not unusual for it to be much longer for mid-level or senior job applicants as it serves as a full outline of one’s career accomplishments.
Related: What To Include in Your CV
CV vs. resume
A CV and resume are similar in that they’re both documents that summarize your professional history, education, skills and achievements. They’re also both documents you might provide an employer for consideration for an open position.
It is important to note that in the United States and most of Europe, resumes and CVs are not interchangeable. A resume is typically a one-page document that provides a concise overview of your previous roles, skills and details about your education. The French word résumé translates to “abstract” or “summary.” A CV, on the other hand, is typically a longer, more detailed document focused largely on academic coursework and research. CVs are commonly required in industries such as education and academia as well as science and research.
There are a few exceptions, however. In India, South Africa and Australia, the terms CV and resume are interchangeable.
If you’re practiced in writing resumes, you may be tempted to shorten your CV to keep it to one page. However, because CVs require so much information, they’re typically multiple pages in length. In other words, don’t cut crucial details to save space.
Related: What’s the Difference Between a Resume and a CV?
While your CV should be specific to your background and tailor to the job for which you're applying, there are several steps you can take to ensure you write an effective CV.
Most CVs include the following sections:
Qualifications and skills
Awards and honors
Grants and fellowships
Licenses and certificates
Personal information (optional)
Hobbies and interests (optional)
Read more: CV Format Guide: Examples and Tips
How to write a CV
Follow these steps when writing a CV:
Include your contact information
Detail your academic history in reverse-chronological order
Record your professional experience
Include relevant skills and qualifications
List honors and awards
Include relevant publications and presentations
List your professional associations and affiliations
Check your CV for errors
1. Include your contact information
This includes your full name, phone number and email address. Including your address is optional. If you do include it, only list city, state and ZIP.
Related: Should You Put Your Address on Your Resume?
2. Detail your academic history in reverse-chronological order
This can include your post-doctoral programs, graduate school, undergraduate school and high school. Only include your most recent two educational experiences. Dates attended is only recommended if you’ve graduated in the past five years. Employers are more interested in your professional experience, so it's best to ensure the reader’s focus is on that information.
3. Record your professional experience
List the company or organization, job title and dates employed starting with your most recent job. List your job duties, experience gained and achievements. Start each bullet point with an action verb to demonstrate your responsibilities.
It's also best to use numbers to measure your impact when possible. This shows employers the exact results you’ve gained for other organizations. To do so, consider the following:
Dollar amounts ($): How much more revenue did you help bring in annually? How much money did you save the company and over how many years?
Percentages (%): By what % did you increase the efficiency of a process? By what % did you help reduce errors? By what % did you exceed your sales goals?
Numbers (#): How many employees did you manage? How many calls per day did you answer? How many offices/locations did you coordinate with on a project?
For example, instead of writing “Responsible for drafting proposals on muscle cell motility studies,” you might say, “Developed research proposal on structure studies of muscle cell motility in collaboration with a 6-person research team that secured a $20K federal grant.”
4. Include relevant skills and qualifications
This can be in a separate skills section. Reread the job description to highlight the most important skills employers are looking for. These can include both hard and soft skills that make you the best candidate for the job.
Related: 10 Best Skills To Include on a Resume
5. List honors and awards
Use this section to outline your achievements in the field related to your application. Start with the award name followed by the year it was awarded, the organization that gave you the award and details about the award such as how often the award is given, how many people receive it, etc.
Honors and Awards
UT Teaching Awards, 2018, 2019, 2020Brazil Study Abroad Grant, Summer 2017Dissertation Fellowship, 2016
6. Include relevant publications and presentations
Include relevant citations of presentations, papers, studies, books or other publications important to your professional history. For publications, include authors, date published, summary, volume, page and DOI number. For presentations, include the title, date and location of presentation.
Gonzaga, Joseph. “The Business of Affordable Housing." Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press (forthcoming)
Gonzaga, Joseph. “The Case for Building a Life on Mars.” International Journal of Astrobiology, vol. 36, no. 2, 2018, pp. 101-108.
Gonzaga, Joseph. “How affordable is affordable housing?” European Journal of Housing Policy and Debate, 2017.
2020. Gonzaga, Joseph. “Building in the Valley.” Hispanic History Association Annual Conference, Los Angeles, CA
2019. Gonzaga, Joseph. “The Future of the Projects: Building a Home, Not Just a Project.” Housing and Urban Development Annual Conference, Chicago, IL.
7. List your professional associations and affiliations
This should include the name of the organization, geographic location or chapter and dates of active membership.
Memberships and Affiliations
National Society of Black Engineers (2015–Present)German Association of Women Engineers (2016–Present)National Association of Multicultural Engineering Program Advocates (2019–Present)
8. Proofread your CV for errors
Before submitting your job application, be sure to thoroughly review your CV for any errors or inconsistencies. Consider asking a trusted colleague or professional mentor to review it as well—especially if they are experienced in the industry you’re applying to. A second opinion can be useful in helping you craft a well-polished CV.
Some employers, especially post-secondary institutions, may offer their own CV template and CV examples to help make sure you include all required information in the format they prefer. Before you submit your application, look for any special CV guidelines the employer has outlined. For example, some institutions may require you to list only relevant coursework, fieldwork, dissertations and professional references.
Related: How to Write a CV: Tips, Template and Example
While most CVs share the same basic structure, the organization and content of a CV depends on the type of position you apply for. When organizing your CV, list the most relevant sections first to catch an employer's attention, whether that is your work history or an impressive list of publications. Here is a CV template to reference when creating your own:
“Title,” Publication name, date: page numbers.
Use the same citation style for each publication to be consistent
“Presentation Title,” Conference Name, Month Year
Brief description of job duties
Use short phrases to be as succinct as possible
Skills and certifications
Use bullets to list your skills
List the specific name of your certifications and the organization that provided the certification
Awards and honors
Related: Curriculum Vitae (CV) Templates for a Successful Application
Joe Smith 1234 Main Street, Atlanta, GA 30308 770-555-1234 joe.t.smith
EducationDoctor of Veterinary Medicine Degree, 2018 University of Texas College of Science, Austin, TX
Professional experienceUniversity of Southern California Professor, Herman Ostrow School of Veterinary Sciences | 2012–2018
Taught multiple undergraduate and graduate courses in veterinary sciences.
Fostered student commitment to lifelong learning and excellence in veterinary sciences.
Acted as a student advisor to first-year veterinary school students.
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Skills and qualifications
Fluent in English and Spanish
Specialization in livestock science research and development
Awards and honors
AVMA Advocacy Award, 2018
AVMA Animal Welfare Award, 2016
Publications and presentations
Yang, J., Sanchez, C., Patel, A., Johnson, L., (2017) “Study of cocoa product component theobromine and danger to canines.” Journal of Modern Veterinary Medicine. 272: 1234-56789.