How To Write A CV

In the job hunting market, there are lots of ways an employer can learn about potential hires; from business cards, to personal websites, to job applications.

Of course, no little piece of paper is better known than the resume.

But what if an employer asks you for a CV?

What is a CV?

To really figure out what a CV is, we first have to talk about what CV means. The letters CV stand for curriculum vitae which is Latin for “course of life.”

When used in a job seeking context, a CV (also sometimes referred to as just a vita) is a detailed accounting of not only a person’s pastwhat-is-a-cv(1) history of education, experiences and qualifications but also related accomplishments and is generally used when an individual is looking for a job.

So basically a resume, right?

Basically…yes…but really it’s so much more than just that.


Let’s go back to what a resume is…or actually, what it isn’t.

A resume isn’t very long.

Ideally a good solid resume is about one page in length and can be submitted for almost any type of job on the market. When you type up a resume, you’re usually just covering your work and educational history.

You might include certain professional affiliations and possibly highlight specific major awards that relate to the job you’re applying for, but it’s usually a concise document. Short and sweet.

A Curriculum Vitae on the other hand, is much longer and covers much, much more information.

A CV is a thorough and comprehensive document, detailing not only your education and work history, but also your achievements, awards, any honors you’ve been conferred and any and all of your publications.

Depending on how much you’ve accomplished, the full document can range in length from two to three to ten pages, or more!

When Do I Use a Curriculum Vitae?

But why would someone use a CV…and more importantly, who would need to use a CV?

Individuals who use a CV format when applying for a job are generally applicants who need to convey a large amount of information which will not only help to tell an employer who they are but help define them and their work within a specific discipline.

To put it simply, CVs are traditionally used for individuals who are looking for employment in academic, research, or scholarly positions. Many PhDs, educators and teachers working at the university level (and above) will use a Curriculum Vitae rather than a resume to outline not only their work history, but their published academic papers and professional accomplishments as well.

Let’s break it down even further:

Resumes are used by individuals looking to define themselves in professional terms, showcasing the specific skills they have.

A CV is used by an individual looking to define themselves in scholarly termsand showcases their education and areas of expertise.

Okay, I’m a grad-student and I’m getting ready to move into the world of academics…so a CV is something I should have. Are there other people who use CVs?


While people in academics and education are the most likely to be asked to produce a CV for a job, there are other job seekers who need to have a solid CV as well, including individuals who are in medical and/or scientific fields as well as people in research or looking to work abroad.

Both United States and Canadian citizens who are interested in traveling overseas (most often to the U.K.) should be prepared to have potential employers ask them for a thorough CV.

In fact, in certain countries, like mainland Europe, Ireland and New Zealand, as well as the Middle East, Africa or Asia, a CV is a standard request for any job!

A Curriculum Vitae can also be requested when an individual is applying for grants, scholarships, and in some cases, internships as well.

You should start by downloading our “CV Cheat Sheet”, which will show you how to build your CV with a handy crib sheet. Click here to download the cheat sheet now.

resume-vs-cv(1)CV vs Resume

How are resumes and CVs alike?

As we said above, both are used to obtain an employment position and both are an ever evolving ‘living document’ (by living document we mean it’s a document you constantly update and keep current based on your own work history and experiences…not that you have to feed it and take it for walks daily. That would just be weird.)

How are resumes and CVs different?

Well, for starters…and certainly most obviously, the length.

Again, just to reiterate, a resume is generally one page long, whereas a CV is as long as you need it to be to thoroughly cover all the information you will be including.

Another way it’s different is how it’s written.

A good resume is specifically targeted (or as we like to say, “tailored”) to the job you’re applying to.

You make sure to highlight the relevant skills and experiences you’ve had that align to the position you’re seeking and try not to include any information that doesn’t relate.

With a CV however, you’re giving the reader a solid overview of all the accomplishments you’ve had in your life.

The quick difference?

A resume is a brief summary. A CV is a more thorough synopsis.

Let’s say you’re applying for a job as a scientist. If you were writing your resume you would include only the work information that relates specifically to the job you’re applying for, but for a Curriculum Vitae, you would also include all your teaching experience, lab and field work.

Here’s another way to look at it:

Pretend you’re a grad-student and you’re just getting out into the world. Your CV might be just a page or two long as you’re still new to the world of academia and your accomplishments are just starting to roll in.

Now, let’s flash forward ten years into the future. You’ve been working for a prestigious university and have had a number of papers published in high profile journals. Your CV, which was once just a few pages long, might now be closer to seven or eight. You’ve not removed any information…rather, you’ve added to it.

Every time you accomplish something, you add that to your CV. Did you contribute your findings to a scientific journal? You add that to your CV. Were you awarded an honor at the university you’re currently working at for teaching excellence? You add that to your CV.

Make sense?

Sort of, but I’m still a bit confused. How do I know which one an employer is looking for?

How Do I Know When To Use One?

An employer is usually pretty specific about what they need from a job applicant. If they want a resume, they’ll ask for a resume. If they want a CV, they’ll ask for a CV.

And if you’re applying for a job in the States and the position is anything other than academic, you can pretty much guarantee you’ll be safe turning in a resume instead of a CV (especially if the job is one where the hiring manager or recruiter is going to be expected to review thousands of potential hires).

If you’re still not sure, or you’re applying to a job or position abroad, it never hurts to ask which format they would like.

What To Include In a CV & CV Format

So, I need to give a potential employer my CV…how do I write one? Is there a special format?

Unfortunately there isn’t one specific format for a CV and you will have to determine exactly what CV is right for the position you are applying to.

Wait, isn’t that technically tailoring!? I thought you said a CV didn’t use tailoring. Would you please make up your mind?!?

All right, you’re right…sort of. While it’s true that you don’t tailor your CV content to the individual jobs you’re applying to in quite the same way you tailor your resume, you do make sure that the CV you are creating is right for the area of work you are doing overall…and there are lots of different types of CVs, just as there are lots of different areas of work.

So how do I make sure I’m creating the CV that is right for what area of work I’m going into?

One type of job might want you to emphasize a specific area whereas another might ask you to elaborate on a totally different area and knowing which is which is critical to making sure your CV is perfect for your discipline.

The best way to know what CV is right for your industry is to look at examples others have done. You can do this by either researching them online or by reaching out and talking to either your mentor or peers who are already employed where you are applying.

Of course, as we tell you with every other example we give you here at, these examples are only examples and you should make sure your CV is specific to you and not just a copy of what someone else has done.

Remember, you’re an individual and your CV should reflect that.

With that being said, however, there are some common CV features you should keep in mind when writing yours.

Common Features of a CV

Start by first listing everything you can about your background information and then building out from there.

To help you get started, we’ve pulled together a few of the most often seen sections of CVs that you might expect to include when writing your own.

1) Who are you?

A CV should always include your basic information starting with your name, address, telephone number and email. For United States and Canadian job seekers, that’s generally all you need to include. If you search for example CVs online, you are likely to come across ones that include a small passport-sized photo of the applicant in the upper right-hand corner. While this practice is standard in France, Belgium and Germany, it is NOT considered appropriate for CVs in the United States and Canada. Just a heads up.

2) No, really…who are you?

In some instances, it’s also appropriate to include a brief bio of yourself. Depending on the industry you are going into, a short blurb about who you are might be all you need to catch an employer’s eye and get called in for an interview. If you do decide to include a brief bio, make sure it’s well written and original.

3) What have you done?

As a CV is a thorough detailing of your history, that includes your educational history as well as your work experience and any training you might have received.

When detailing your educational history, you want to do it in reverse chronological order. Be sure to include the full list of your degrees, including those you’ve already earned and any you might be currently pursuing as well as where you received your education.

Be sure to list the years of your graduation. If you are the author of a dissertation or thesis, you would include that information here as well as the name of your advisor.

For your work history, you want to include not only where you’ve worked, but also any applicable experiences related to that work.

If you’re an educator and you’re not only teaching, but also working in a research lab or facility, you would want to include that here. Field experience, leadership experience, related volunteer work and any and all other experience that relates to your employment goes in this section.

4) What do you like?

Unlike a resume, a CV often includes a section that covers your areas of interest. While this might seem unusual, it can actually provide a potential employer with a lot of insight into who you are, which is why it’s so important to make sure you handle this section carefully.

While it might be tempting to just list your hobbies here and hope for the best, it’s actually a good idea to expand on what you do in your free time as well as why you do it. Are you a history buff who loves to go to reenactments? Rather than just listing “Re-enactor” on your CV, flesh it out a bit.

“As a historically accurate civil war reenactor, I enjoy spending my weekends immersed in a world where I gain first hand insight into our country’s rich past.”

Do you have leadership skills outside of your work that you enjoy participating in? List those here as well.

“On the weekends I’m not participating in civil war reenactments, I am the coach of a local junior league soccer team for third graders. I find that as a leader, I’m not only helping to refine their soccer skills, but I’m providing them with a positive role model as I insist on good sportsmanship and fair play at all times.”

This section is also a great place to list any interests that you have that relate directly to the job you’re applying to. Are you working on obtaining employment as a culinary specialist? List your interest in food blogs and magazines.

No matter what you list here, try to include a range of interests that demonstrate who you are when you’re not working at your job. Of course, try not to include information that would make it appear that you’re just stuffing things into your CV in order to give it length. It’s perfectly fine to list your interests, but keep it within reason. List the things that are the most relevant to what you are looking for work wise.

It’s not necessary to list every extracurricular activity you’ve ever participated in.

5) Mad skills, bro!

How many languages do you speak? Are you fluent in multiple tongues? What about computer programs? Are you an accomplished graphic designer who has an extensive knowledge of specific software? List that too!

6) You’re the best!

Have others recognized you for the work you’ve done? Do you have any awards or honors that you’ve received for teaching? How about for service or work? Have you applied for and received any grants or scholarships? Those go here! This is also where you want to include things like fellowships or patents.

7) Texts and Talks

Are you an author of any papers, articles or books? Are you an expert in your field and thus find yourself speaking at conferences, panels or symposiums? Make sure you list those and give a brief description of each so your reader knows what you’ve done and where.

8) I’m in the club!

Are you a member of any professional organizations, guilds or clubs? Make sure to include if you’ve held any offices or positions within those organizations and how long you’ve been with them.

9) Who will vouch for you?

A reference section is also something you might consider including in your CV. While it’s not always required, it’s not a bad idea to put down references if you know the person recommending you is going to be enthusiastically in your corner. (Of course it should go without saying you should only have enthusiastic references…)

If you feel your CV is running long for your level of experience, or you’d like more time to prep your references, it’s also perfectly acceptable to say “References available upon request.”

10) And the Rest…

Other sections you might include in your CV (depending entirely on the job you’re applying for) include:

  • Study Abroad
  • Exhibitions
  • Professional Licenses and/or memberships
  • Consulting Work
  • Professional Development
  • Research Experience