If the phrase “curriculum vitae” makes you scratch your head, you’re not alone. A CV may not be requested as often as a resume or cover letter when applying for a job, which makes writing one a confusing and stressful task for many job seekers. It can be especially difficult to craft an effective CV if you aren’t aware of what it’s actually supposed to convey to an employer.
When done well, a CV comprehensively covers your academic and professional abilities, providing hiring managers with an in-depth look into your achievements. As you’ll find out, writing one isn’t as scary as you think — and once you master it, it will make a strong argument for you as an applicant. This guide will explain the unique abilities of a CV to demonstrate your accomplishments and skills as well as help you address the ins and outs of formatting, content and common mistakes to avoid.
What Is a CV?
In the way that a resume is a reflection of professional prowess, a CV focuses on your “scholarly identity.” Latin for “the course of one’s life,” a curriculum vitae needs to reflect very specifically your abilities as a teacher, curator, researcher and publishing scholar within a discipline. A CV will contain extensive information about your academic background as well as professional experiences that contribute to the role you are applying for.
Who Needs a CV?
A CV is commonly requested in education and research fields, and rarely in other contexts. If you’re interested in academia, you should have a CV ready before filling out applications. For other job seekers, having a CV may prove helpful during your job search, but you shouldn’t feel pressured to have one on hand.
Several jobs that often require a CV:
How Is a CV Different From a Resume?
While a resume is a sprint through your background, a CV is a leisurely stroll, allowing time to go over many different relevant achievements. A CV covers all aspects of your education, work and experience without the restriction of length. In terms of formatting, a resume is typically under two pages and contains the most important information a hiring manager should know. A CV will be considerably longer and include a broader range of activities like awards, conferences and publications. Because a CV is more encompassing, it won’t need to be significantly altered depending on the job position you’re applying for, whereas you may have many different versions of your resume tailored to different fields.
How Is a CV Formatted?
A CV does not require an introduction or objective, but one can be included. A personal statement is tempting, but it’s unlikely a hiring manager will read it and any personal sentiments will already be addressed in your cover letter. Outline career ambitions and interest in the specific role you are applying for instead.
Following the intro, a CV will list education in reverse chronological order. After that, you should describe achievements according to importance. As the Purdue Owl Writing Lab says, “Remember that the earlier in your document a particular block of information comes, the more emphasis you will be placing on that block of information.”
Most CVs include the following elements:
What Should I Include in a CV?
Beyond educational background, what experiences fit on a CV? An excellent place to start is with an initial draft of your resume. All of the things you may cut on a resume in order to save space are happily at home on a CV. Accomplishments such as awards, research opportunities, conferences attended and club involvements can all be assets on a CV.
Everything you include on a CV, however, should in some way contribute to you as an exceptional candidate. So in addition to listing all the things you’ve done, you should highlight how these experiences exposed you to certain conditions or gave you valuable skills that will benefit you in your particular role. Thoroughly reading the job description and researching an employer ahead of time will give you an idea of what the ideal candidate will look like.
When it comes to academic qualifications, be sure to include not only the topics you studied but also the skills you gained as a result of your schooling. Remember, there’s more to a degree than the classes you attended and grades you received. Qualities such as time management, work ethic and collaboration that you gained in academic settings always translate to your career.
This mindset applies as well to jobs you’ve done outside of the field you’re applying to. Even a job in fast food service could demonstrate useful abilities in project management or sales. “If the only evidence you’ve got is flipping burgers, you’ve got to think what you took away from that,” says expert Nic Patton. Did you take on any responsibility for, say, dealing with suppliers or the public, managing money, maintaining quality standards and so on?” Also consider bundling short time positions that had similar demands together and listing the key takeaways.
Common CV Pitfalls
1. Writing Too Much
Just because you have more leeway when crafting a CV doesn’t mean you have to include everything you’ve ever accomplished — at some point, you’ll get off topic and a hiring manager will stop reading.
Not sure what makes the cut? Paton reminds us, “The key is to back each assertion with evidence.” If you can’t give a reason for why an experience should be included, it probably shouldn’t be a part of your CV.
2. Losing Readability
Since CVs are longer than resumes, it’s easy to type away while missing grammar or spelling mistakes. Submitting a CV with basic errors, especially in an academic context, is a huge red flag. Make sure you’ve thoroughly edited your writing — don’t depend solely on SpellCheck!
After you’ve reviewed your CV, ask a colleague or advisor to read it over. A pair of fresh eyes will catch any basic errors, suggest accomplishments to include that you may have forgotten and (most importantly) let you know if your CV is comprehensible to another person.
As with all applications, double check you have spelled the name of the organization and the person who you are addressing correctly before submitting.
Before you start crafting your own impeccable CV, you can now say it with us: CVs aren’t actually scary. Keep up your CV confidence with more tips and tricks below, as well as resources for the rest of your job search!