How to Write a CV

So, you're exiting grad school and you want to jump out in the workforce. If you are applying for an academic, medical, or research job, chances are you'll be asked for a curriculum vitae, or CV. A CV outlines important facts about your past employment and research experience, education level and any special skills that the employer may be looking for. If you've applied for jobs before, you may have been asked to provide a resume, so getting asked for a CV may confuse you. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but they are two different documents. Read on to find out what a CV is, what information needs to be on it, and the differences between a CV and a resume.

International Terminology Note: In the UK, the term curriculum vitae is used to describe what people in the United States would call a resume: a shorter document that highlights employment experience. This article focuses on the terminology used in the US.


What is a CV?

A CV is a document outlining your academic, research, and professional achievements. Many Americans have never heard of a CV, but some employers–particularly universities–require them over resumes. These employers ask for CVs because they are more detailed and highlight your educational background more than a traditional resume.  

How Does a CV Differ from a Resume?

There are several significant differences between a CV and a resume. Firstly, a CV is longer than a resume. Resumes are usually one page in length (for entry-level applicants) or 2 pages at the most (anything longer than this is frowned upon); however it is better for a CV to be longer than just a simple one page tell-all. You may think "the longer your CV is the better," and while more experience is better, the information should be concise and not dragged out to make the document appear longer. Remember, this isn't an essay, your essay days are over! Next, as mentioned above, a CV focuses more on academic achievements than a resume does, including publications, research experience, and teaching experience. Finally, a resume is sort of a "summary" of what you've accomplished and learned over the last 5 to 10 years, focusing on the experiences that are specifically relevant to the job you're applying to. A CV, on the other hand, should present a more detailed view of your accomplishments and experience. Think about the resume as a outline and the CV as the final draft. This is why the CV is naturally longer than a resume.  

What Your CV Should Include

Now we've come to the part you've been waiting for; what should be on your CV. To make this easy, do some brainstorming first. Jot down your:

  • Academic degrees, including the granting institution, year attained or expected, and your areas of focus
  • Thesis or dissertation information, including the title and the names of your committee members
  • Fellowships, grants, and awards
  • Academic publications, conference talks, and conference posters. Be sure to consider all kinds of academic writing, including books, book chapers, journal articles, book reviews, and works in progress. 
  • Research experience & areas of interest
  • Teaching experience & areas of interest
  • Other experience related to your field. For example, if your field is English Literature, you might include experience working in publishing. If you're an artist, you could list exhibitions that have shown your work.
  • Related skills, such as languages you know or software you're familiar with
  • Service positions and professional associations you're a member of, for example if you are a member of Sigma Xi or served as your grad student association's treasurer

Remember, if it's relevant, list it! If it's interesting, list it! After all, this document is a marketing tool to showcase who you are; entice the hiring committee to select you with relevant and exciting information.  

Formatting a CV

Now that you've gathered the information you'll need, let's talk formatting. First things first, make sure that your name and contact information are front and center. Organize the rest of the content with clear headings–such as "Administrative Positions" or "Chronology of Education"–and put the most important information first. The order in which you present information on your CV will differ depending on your field and the types of jobs you're looking for, so look at the CVs of some professionals in your field when determining what goes where. Many professors include their CV on their personal website. For most academics, publications will be one of the most important elements in a CV, but formatting your publications in a way that's readable can be tricky. For each publication, you'll need to include a title, date, and the authorship information (including any co-authors) as it appeared on the publication. Some people use tables to organize this information. It's a good idea to organize your publications first by type (use headers such as "Books" or  "Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles") and then by date within each type, with recent publications first. The most important role of a CV is to communicate what an awesome, qualified professional you are, so your CV should be as clear and readable as possible. So avoid using lots of different fonts, leave whitespace between sections, and format your headers to be easily findable, for example by bolding them. Make sure that each entry in a given section is presented in the same format. For example, if you have a section outlining the classes you've taught, make sure that you present the date, course number, and course title in the same order for each class. Finally, remember that a good CV is the gateway to the career you want and oftentimes what stands between you and getting an interview in the first place. It's worth spending some time on, and you should always have a trusted professional read through your CV before you send it out or post it online. When you feel confident about your CV, looking for a job feels that much less daunting. Happy writing!