How to Write a CV — Curriculum Vitae Writing Guide [Examples for 2020]
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How to Write a CV — Curriculum Vitae Writing Guide [Examples for 2020]

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Joanna Ryś

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Joanna Ryś

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So you’re looking for a new job, how exciting! With science advancing faster than it ever has and collective human knowledge doubling (!) every single year, there are so many interesting possibilities out there!

There are great things in your future, that’s for sure. You didn’t spend so many years pouring over books for nothing! But first, you have to get that job. And that’s where having a good CV comes in.

In this guide, you will find out everything you need to know about CVs

  • how and when they are used,
  • how to write one,
  • and what common pitfalls to avoid.

Ready? Let’s get started!

What is a CV?

CV stands for the Latin words Curriculum Vitae, meaning course of life. Even that sounds kinda fancy, doesn’t it?

As you may have already gathered from what you’ve read so far, a CV is something for a particular group of employees — specifically academics, including:

  • teachers,
  • professors
  • and other scholars and researchers.

Every academic knows that achievements are everything, and your CV is all about showcasing yours to prove you are the perfect choice for that prestigious position you dream of.

CV , Curriculum Vitae - How to Write a CV
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And that’s not all — you will also send your CV to apply for fellowships and grants, to accompany submissions for publications or conference papers, when being considered for consulting projects, and more. You can see why having a good CV is so crucial.

Your CV is supposed to be something of a diary detailing your academic career. It is a comprehensive overview of all you have accomplished, what you have worked on.

Don’t be shy — humility may be a virtue, but I doubt it has ever gotten anyone a job, much less a grant 😃 Not to mention you will be up against many other candidates who will not be leaving anything out.

In the words of Rihanna, you’ve got to:

shine bright like a diamond

And before some physics buff corrects me — yes, I know diamonds don’t actually shine, just reflect light. Let’s not bicker over details, okay? You know what I mean!

How to Write a CV: CV vs Resume - difference
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How does a CV differ from a resume?

CVs and resumes might seem similar at first glance, but they are actually quite different. There are two main differences, in fact.

The #1 difference

is about the type of job being applied for. Most people use resumes, while CVs, as I have already mentioned, are reserved strictly for the select handful of people working in academia.

As such, CVs tend to be much longer and more detailed, whereas resumes are often 1-page summaries of the skills and work experience that are relevant to the specific position being applied for.

The #2 difference

is more of a geographical and cultural curiosity  — in Great Britain, as well as many other European countries, every resume is called a CV, academic or not. Why the difference? I don’t know, why do Brits call shopping carts “trolleys”, or car trunks “boots”? See? Nobody knows.

Long story short, if you are an academic living in North America, you will be sending out CVs. If you’re not an academic, and you’re feeling a little out of place right about now, no worries — everyone takes a wrong turn every now and then 😃 Check out my guide on how to write a resume here.

If you want to read more about the differences between CV and Resume, then I refer you to my other text “CV vs. Resume – Difference”.

How to Write a CV: The elements of a CV with examples
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The elements of a CV with examples

Now, let’s get into the specifics of how to construct a good CV. First, there are a few sections that absolutely need to be included.

The header

Every CV needs to have one so the person reading it knows who they are dealing with. A good header reads Curriculum Vitae at the top of the page, and then your:

  • full name,
  • professional title and affiliation, as well as contact details
  • your phone number(s),
  • e-mail address,
  • LinkedIn profile.

Your home address is optional.

Professional profile/research objective

As you can see, there are two ways to go about this section, and both can be right for you, depending on what position you are aiming for and what kind of background you have.

This is the first, and perhaps ONLY section a recruiter could read through, so you need to bring your A game.

So, what is the difference between a professional profile and a research objective?

A professional profile is often used by those seeking a permanent, or tenured position. As the name itself suggests, a professional profile is a brief synopsis of your career thus far. About a paragraph long, it should go something like this:
Example:

A decade-long accomplished career demonstrating consistent success as an educator and administrator in postsecondary education. Proven excellence in the development of a strong rapport with students I have mentored, as well as colleagues and other faculty members. Extensive experience in developing and implementing new curriculum for racially and ethnically diverse students. Effective communicator with exceptional planning and organizational skills.

A research objective, on the other hand, tells the recruiter precisely what you would like to achieve and tends to grab their attention more than a professional profile. So if you know what it is that you’d like to study, describe it in a similarly concise paragraph here.
Example:

Marine biologist with over 15 years of hands-on research experience in the Great Barrier Reef, impactful writer and speaker and dynamic leader seeks challenging opportunities in the developing field of coral reef conservation research. 

Professional experience

If you are just getting started on your academic career and have no professional experience, feel free to skip this section. If not, keep reading.

When you are listing your previous jobs, remember to use reverse chronological order, meaning you start with your most recent jobs and then go on to list the ones you had before.

You could actually divide this section into 2 subcategories: teaching experience and administrative experience.

Teaching experience can include anything from college classroom lectures to supervision, mentoring, and curriculum development. If you have worked managing an organization or other body, put that under administrative experience
Example:

Head Teaching Fellow, Harvard University
First Nights: Five Musical Premiers, Fall 2018
Teaching Fellow, Harvard University
Ecology as Urbanism; Urbanism as Ecology, Spring 2018 

Education

Your education is the foundation of your entire academic career, so information about it is absolutely crucial. List all of your postsecondary degrees in reverse chronological order like you did your professional experience.

The title of your dissertation should be included, as should the members of the grading committee. If you achieved honors, mention that as well. 
Example:

Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

PhD, Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Urban Planning, expected May 2019.

Dissertation: “A City Within a City: Community Development and the Struggle Over Harlem, 1961-2001.” Committee: Profs. Priya Kapoor, Alexi Kovalev, Sunan Demir, and LeVaughn King.

Harvard College, Cambridge, MA

BA, summa cum laude, Visual and Environmental Studies, Phi Beta Kappa, June 2010.

Thesis: “Learning from Laurel Homes: The Social Role of Architectural Meaning in American Public Housing.” Advisor: Professor Ericka Popescu.
How to Write a CV: 4 main sections of every CV
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These 4 sections should come first on your CV. What comes next, however, is up to you and greatly dependent on your specific experience and accomplishments. The categories you can list here include but are not limited to:

Publications

Anything you have written or contributed to the writing of should be listed here. This includes books or book chapters, journal articles, case studies, review articles and more.

As for the bibliography style, choose one and stick with it. If you want to score extra points with the institution you are applying to, check their website and check what citation style they use.
Example:

“Governing at the Tipping Point: Economic Development” (with Michael O’Neil), John Lindsay’s New York, ed. Carla Bianchi (Johns Hopkins University Press), under contract.

“Learning to Decipher Archival Documents, One Letter (or Number) at a Time,” Amusicology, August 7, 2016 (http://amusicology.wordpress.com/)

Research/lab/field experience

If you have been a part of any research teams either in the laboratory or outside it, this is the place to mention them. Nothing beats experience!
Example:

Research Assistant, May 2018 to November 2019  – Performed archival research on public official Edward J. Logue for forthcoming book.

Ph.D. fieldwork in Uganda (14 months; August 2014 through February 2018)

Awards and honors

Remember, humility is not going to get you that job! If you’ve received any awards or honors, you be sure to mention them in this section. In fact, I want you to think of it as your trophy case. Go!
Example:

Oscar S. Schafer Prize for excellence in teaching, Music Dept., Harvard University, 2018

Department of Neuroscience, Emerging Faculty Award, University of California, Los Angeles, 2017

Grants and other funding

Grants and funding are a reward of sorts — your ideas were deemed worth pursuing, and your work worth investing in! So if you have received any, make sure you bring them up. You don’t have to say how much money you got, though.
Example:

National Security Education Program (NSEP) undergraduate grant for study in South Africa, 2017

Summer Research Grant, Graduate Student Council, Harvard University, 2016

Attendance at conferences and seminars

Have you been invited to speak or present at any conferences or seminars? This only adds to your prestige, so let the recruiter know!
Example:

Invited lecturer for Yale undergraduate Civil Wars course, Yale University, Oct. 2017

“Copland, Mahler, and the American Sound,” Society for American Music, Little Rock, AR, March 6-10, 2019 

Memberships

Any societies or professional bodies you may belong to tell the recruiter a lot of useful information about your priorities, so make sure you let them know.
Example:

Member, Harvard Common Spaces Lead Consultant Selection Subcommittee, August to December 2018

Member, Harvard Society of Fellows, August 2014 to present

Foreign languages

If you speak any foreign languages, you should definitely mention them and perhaps also how or when they have been useful to you during the course of your professional career.

Obviously, you shouldn’t bother bringing up the few dozen words of Greek you learned while on vacation. But if you can read an academic texts in Greek with the help of a dictionary, that can totally count.
Example:

Chinese (native) French (Proficient); German, Italian, Latin (reading knowledge). Familiarity with other Chinese dialects: Henghua, Southern Min (Hokkien) dialect, Cantonese.

Other skills or certifications

Are you proficient in Adobe Photoshop, or perhaps you possess project management certifications? You could also use this section to bring up extracurricular activities you have participated in or, better yet, led.
Example:

Proficient in statistical analysis and software (R and Stata)

Proficient in Adobe Photoshop

Contact to references

Last but not least, references. The people you list can include mentors, colleagues you have worked on projects with, etc. Anyone in academia who can vouch for your passion and worth ethic is an invaluable asset. Typically, 3 references are provided. And yes, it is customary to add the traditional mailing address as well. Academia is old-fashioned that way.
Example:

Young X. Shen, Ph.D.
Kim Professor of Neuroethology 
Department of Neuroscience 
University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095 
(813) 555-5555
shenyx@ucla.edu

Final polish

Are you ready to start writing your own CV now? Take a look at this short list of final tips before you do.

How to Write a CV - Final polish
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Make sure to:

  • Stick with a common font
    Keep your CV looking crisp by using a common font such as Times New Roman, Arial, Tahoma or Helvetica in a font size of 10 or 12 and equal margins of ¾” or 1”. For your name and sections titles, a bold 14 or 16 will do just fine. Avoid underlining too many things or going overboard with the italics – there is enough to take in here as is, no need to muddle the message.  
  • Be consistent with how you write titles
    This may seem like a detail, but consistency really goes a long way when it comes to aesthetics. Writing “Master of Arts” one time and “M.A.” another looks messy. In fact, I suggest you just stick with the abbreviations altogether. 
  • Save your CV in PDF format
    A doc-style document can look completely different depending on the program and device used to open it. Don’t let all the work you put into making your CV look crisp and tidy go to waste! Save your CV in PDF format and rest assured anyone reading it will see it just as you intended it.
  • Use active verbs and sentence fragments
    There is a time and place for long, run-on sentences, but it is not your CV. Keep things concise! This also means avoiding pronouns like “I” and “me” and minimizing the number of articles. Steer clear of highly specific jargon as well.
  • Be strategic with how you order your categories
    As you already know, CVs can be quite long, but that doesn’t mean order is irrelevant. The more prestigious the achievement, the closer it should be to the beginning of your CV. Grab your reader’s attention as quickly as you can!
  • Proofread
    I can’t stress this one enough. Nothing is more unbecoming of an allegedly educated person than typos or obvious grammatical errors that could have easily been avoided by just using a spellcheck. Sloppy is the last thing you want to be seen as.
A cover letter — the perfect addition to a CV
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A cover letter — the perfect addition to a CV

Because there is no such thing as
too much reading in academia!

You must be very satisfied with your CV by now — and rightfully so, after all the work we’ve put into it, I’m sure it looks great.

But getting a job is not just about your achievements, it’s about who you are. And there’s no better way to show the recruiter who you are than attaching a well-written cover letter that will allow you to introduce yourself a little more personally.

I can hear you groan from here, but don’t worry! A cover letter doesn’t have to be long to be effective — in fact, 1 to 2 pages should cover it.

Not sure how to do this? No problem. Check out my detailed guide on how to write a cover letter and we can get through it together, step by step 😃

And that’s it  — all you need to know to write a great CV that no recruiter could pass up. You are ready to start writing, so get on it!

Academia awaits!

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Joanna Ryś
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Joanna Ryś

Sourcing Specialist

linkedintwitter
Joanna Ryś

Sourcing Specialist

Joanna has 8 years of experience in the recruitment industry, and currently works as the Chief Strategist for Sourcing in the EMEA area at HAYS. Microsoft, Rolls Royce Aerospace, Abbott, AB Inbev are several companies from the...portfolio of clients with whom it has cooperated, and its tasks include defining strategies for obtaining candidates in Europe, independent management of recruitment tools, monitoring the rate of return on investment, implementing initiatives from the area of Employer Branding into processes recruitment and data analysis. Sharing knowledge and discussions about working with candidates is her passion, which is why she eagerly creates new training programs, conducts postgraduate classes, organizes workshops with students of Krakow universities, employees of her company and free students from various social organizations. Passionate about computer games and socioeconomic issues.