What is a CV? And How to Improve Yours!
A CV is sometimes called a vita. If you prefer the more formal name, it is curriculum vitae. Translated, curriculum vitae means, “your life story.” As this phrase suggests, a CV contains a summary of professional and/or scholarly facts about yourself – your experience, your qualifications, your skills, etc. – meant for an entity to consider you for their organization.
When organizations are looking to employ for a vacancy, they list the experience and skills that they want from an ideal candidate. They then create a job advertisement, which includes a call for CVs. How close your CV mirrors the experience and skills needed in the job advertisement is a big factor for employers.
Hence, when you are searching for new employment, it is important that you have a quality CV on hand. Nevertheless, keep in mind that organizations do not need to open a vacancy for them to receive your CV. Sending them your CV could be a way for you to approach organizations that you love. As a whole, view your CV as a tool for marketing yourself to potential employers.
Note that whether you are just starting your CV writing or are thinking of updating your CV, this is a document that must be updated frequently. Whenever you gain new expertise or change jobs, always remember to update it.
In this article, we further discuss CVs by highlighting the difference between a CV and a resume. Next, we discuss the typical contents and structure of a CV. Lastly, we give you some tips on how to improve your CV.
THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN A CV AND A RESUME
People oftentimes mix-up a CV with a resume. Definitely, they are both professional documents meant to introduce you to an organization, usually for job applications. However, there are a couple of main differences between the two. By knowing the difference between a CV and a resume, you would know better when to use which document.
The first main difference between a CV and a resume is length. Typically, CVs are two to three (or even more) pages. However, resumes at the entry level are typically just one page long. Persons with extensive experience, of course, can have up to two to three pages. Note that CVs are longer because you are highlighting your academic background. This consists of your degrees, teaching experience, research, publications, awards, presentations, and other accomplishments. Nonetheless, there are large organizations that may request for a CV that is only a one pager if they expect to receive many applicants.
The objectives of a CV and a resume are different. A CV’s objective is to establish a scholarly identity. On the other hand, a resume is meant to establish a professional identity. The CV reflects your ability as an academician – whether you may be looking to be a researcher, a professor, or a publishing scholar in your discipline of choice. A resume indicates your ability as a professional in a business setting, for example.
Another difference between a CV and a resume is the layout. A CV is in chronological order that lists your entire career. The resume, however, can be moved around as it best suits you.
Look at this beautiful resume templates and be inspired.
When to Use a CV or a Resume
So when do you use a CV or a resume? First, if you are applying for a particular position, see what their requirement is – is it a CV or a resume? If the organization does not indicate their preference, choosing between a CV and a resume is pretty simple and straightforward.
If you are searching for grants, fellowships, research or teaching positions, or postdoctoral positions in an industry, use a CV. Moreover, applications to graduate school typically ask for CVs.
Resumes are ideally used to apply to professional vacancies in business. This is due to the format of resumes. Generally, it consists of three sections – your name and contact information, your education, and your professional experience. Each of these parts is fleshed out, with more focus on your job background and responsibilities performed for every position. This format makes it ideal for applying to business-centric positions.
Interestingly enough, whether you use a CV or a resume depends on your country. For example, a resume is the typical application document in Canada and the U.S.A. Canadians and Americans would traditionally use a CV when they apply to jobs abroad or when they search for a position that is oriented towards research or academia. In Ireland, New Zealand, and the U.K., CVs are always used in all kinds of contexts, with resumes not being used at all. In mainland Europe, CVs dominate, with even a European Union CV that is available to be downloaded. For Germany, the CV, known as Lebenslauf, is just one of many documents that German job applicants need to get an interview. In India, Australia, and South Africa, CVs and resumes are interchangeable. However, a resume is typically used for private sector jobs and a CV is usually submitted for public sector vacancies.
CONTENT OF A CV
The sections in a CV could be quite lengthy, but the parts described in this part of the article are the main ones. Particularly these are your name and contact information; your areas of interest; your education; your grants, honors, and awards; your publications and presentations; your employment and experience; your scholarly or professional memberships; and your references.
Name and Contact Information
It is necessary to have your name and contact information in your CV. For your contact information, you can include the contact details of your current organization or employment. However, if you do not want your boss or your colleagues to know that you are looking for other jobs, it is best to put in your personal contact information. Your contact information are typically your name, your address, your birthday (however, based on age discrimination laws, this is not important), your phone number, and your email. In addition, make sure that your contact information is up-to-date. If you have an outdated email or phone number, how would you expect your would-be employers to contact you?
Some people still struggle with the issue of including a photo in their CVs. British CVs usually do not need a photo – that is, unless you are an actor. For European countries like Belgium, France, and Germany, it is typical to include a photo that is passport-sized on the upper right hand corner of the CV. However, in the U.S.A., photos are discouraged because it might go against equal opportunity laws. This is because a photograph can make it easier for someone to reject a candidate based on his or her age, sex, or ethnicity. If the prospective employer asks for a photograph, make sure you provide a head and shoulders picture. You must be smiling and dressed appropriately.
One really awesome tip from Ramit Sethi: “Write your CV like a narrative“.
Areas of Interest
We are not talking about your interests in tennis, swimming, and reading. We are talking about your academic interests. Hence, list down your different areas of academic interests. What research fascinates you? What kind of intellectual activities do you want to pursue or have pursued?
A tip for making your areas of interests shine is to figure out more about the organization or department you are applying to. What kind of research papers do they publish? What are their research interests? This would help target your areas of interest. You may even underscore any research accomplishments and findings you have uncovered through your work and/or education. This demonstrates that your expertise complements their organization. The organization can also judge whether you are familiar with their technical jargon.
List your degrees, whether they may be in progress or earned. Remember to include also the educational institutions and graduation years. List this in order of the most current and of course, most significant, first. If you have a PhD, put in the full title, even the names of your supervisors. You may even choose to include the title of your thesis or dissertation. If you like, you can include your grades – if they are exceptional.
Remember, do not go overboard with your education. Do not incorporate qualifications that are not significant for the job position. So which parts of your education should you include on your CV? If you just left school, put an emphasis on what you achieved while you were in school. If you are a recent school leaver, the positions you are applying for probably will not need a lot of direct work experience. Hence, use the CV to market yourself. Make sure to include your English and Math subjects (if you did well in them), since they are usually important to almost all jobs.
If you just left university, focus on your university and degree. Keep in mind that if you have many subjects, simply list your average grade. This can save space in your CV, not to mention make it easier to read and neater. Indicating individual subjects are not completely essential, but they can raise your chances of getting the interview, if the subjects are connected to the job vacancy.
If you are in the process of studying, data on your present area of study is important. Include grades that you predict you might receive, especially for relevant subjects. In this manner, recruiters can confirm if you have particular knowledge of their industry.
If you have professional qualifications and have not been in school for a while, detail your most current educational qualification, while leave the others brief (do not go as far back as your preschool days!).
Grants, Honors, and Awards
Indicate all of your grants, honors, and awards due to your work, whether it may be for research or for teaching. Demonstrate that you not only do your job, but you do it well enough to receive these accolades.
In indicating your grants, honors, and awards, list scholarships that are both need-based and merit based, whether they may be regional or national in scope. Also, include awards from your school or from your department and awards for service or academic accomplishment. For every honor, include the award name and a brief description of its objective if it does not seem evident from the context. In addition, include the date that you received the honor.
Publications and Presentations
Enumerate your publications – books and journal articles. Give the title, co-authors (if applicable), date, and location of the publication. You may also include electronic publications and journals that were peer-reviewed. Make sure to indicate whether the publication is an electronic version.
Also, include the presentations you have given for conferences and forums. This may be academic presentations or public presentations. For every presentation, put in the title, sponsoring organization or event, format (poster, lecture, panel presentation, seminar), and date. Do not go into too much detail by including all of your class presentations. Instead, include presentations you made that are independent research.
If you have numerous publications and numerous presentations as well, consider having one section for publications and another section for presentations. In this manner, you get to establish that your work has netted public notice.
Employment and Experience
As a CV leans towards your academic background, your employment and experience section should indicate your experiences in a teaching setting, a laboratory, on the field, during volunteer work, leadership, or other significant experiences.
Make sure that your employment and experience is in reverse chronological order and includes the name of your employers, the positions you held, and the length of service in the organization. To go into detail, include your achievements and duties, however, choose only the significant information. In other words, be concise.
Notice that we highlight that you put in your achievements. While it is tempting to list only your duties and responsibilities, your achievements are the ones that set you apart from the others. So when you are writing your employment background, assess your career and successes. Ask yourself—did you execute any changes for the better? Were you able to solve a huge challenge? Make sure that this is incorporated in your employment background. Moreover, if you are describing your achievements, make use of action words like “planned,” “developed,” or “organized.” Also, try to connect your skills to the position. In addition, as you list your accomplishments, always make them connected to the job vacancy.
Some more tips on writing a great resume.
Scholarly or Professional Memberships
List the scholarly or professional organizations wherein you are a member. Accomplish this by writing out the full name of the organization. In addition, include your level of membership. This is important because recruiting managers are always searching actively for that extra “oomph” from would-be employees. What this indicates is that the candidate may be dedicated to the industry enough to join these organizations.
Consider that the value of a scholarly or professional membership depends on the recruiter—whether or not he or she recognizes it. If you have memberships that you think are obscure, make sure you know the organization well enough when you are called in for an interview. Avoid indicating memberships in social clubs such as the Rotary Club or a golf club.
If you hold a position or office in the organization, indicate it in this section or move it to the experience section. This is upon your own discretion.
In this section, indicate the persons who can write recommendation letters for you. This must include their contact details. Customarily, two references are suitable – an employer and an academic. Nevertheless, many employers do not check references at the application stage. Hence, unless the job advertisements particularly requests for your references, you can remove this section from your CV entirely. In addition, if you are running out of space, you can just state, “References are available upon request.” On a related note, if you have a dossier with confidential references, mention it in this section as well.
STRUCTURE OF A CV
In structuring your CV, you must consider the type of CV you use, the order in which you place your information in your CV, and the format that your CV takes. We will discuss all of these in this section.
There are different types of CV, such as the traditional CV, the skills-based CV, the combination CV, the academic CV, the teaching CV, and the technical CV. Choose the one that best suits you and the job you are applying for.
#1 Traditional CV
Also known as a chronological CV, the traditional CV matches your work experience and qualifications with the job position. This kind of CV is listed in reverse chronological order, wherein your most current experience and qualifications are indicated first.
This kind of template for a CV makes it simple for employers to identify promising candidates for their vacancies. It also gives you the opportunity to offer them clear information about your work background, qualifications, and responsibilities that parallel the job posting.
For a traditional CV, you must include the following:
- dates – make sure to cover gaps in your work history;
- work experience and qualifications – match these two to the position that you are applying for; and
- additional knowledge and skills – address important knowledge and skills that the role is looking for.
#2 Skills-Based CV
Also called the functional CV, you can use a skills-based CV if you have employment gaps. This CV is also helpful if you have little experience and/or are applying for a position that is not connected to your degree. Note that employability skills can be transferred to different employers and roles. This kind of CV gives you the opportunity to concentrate on your skills and other areas of your life.
In a skills-based CV, you must strategically position your skills profile; match your skills to the job profile and even make use of similar headings; and show evidence of how you have made use of your skills on the ground.
#3 Combination CV
This is called a combination CV because it takes the form of both traditional and skills-based formats. Due to this, this kind of CV is a bit longer than the usual.
People who use this CV are probably those who want to shift careers, yet still have usable skills for the new field they are venturing into. Choose to use a combination CV if you have had a strong progression in your career as well as achievements; you would like to demonstrate your strengths and experience; and you are an applicant at the senior level with many achievements and much working experience.
#4 Academic CV
Academic CVs stresses your academic accomplishments. These are important when you are applying for research-based roles or for lecturing. This includes research during the post-doctorate phase. Even though there is no page limit to the academic CV, it is critical to make your CV targeted and concise towards the job requirements.
In this case, position your academic and research achievements, specialist skills, and research interest at the top of your CV. Make sure that your writing sounds scholarly, yet can be understood clearly by people who are outside of your field of interest. Every section should be in reverse chronological order.
You should include the following in an academic CV: (1) outcomes of your research and potential developments; (2) detailed specialist skills; and (3) awarded grants, funding, attended conferences, publications, and professional memberships.
#5 Teaching CV
A teaching CV focuses on landing that teaching job.
In order to make your CV stand out, ensure that you target your CV towards the position. Include the following in your teaching CV: (1) qualifications, especially information on your teacher training; (2) important courses during your degree; (3) details on school experience, highlighting the age range of individuals you would like to reach; other related teaching experience in summer camps, sports coaching, and the like; (4) significant volunteer experience; (5) interests connected to teaching like sporting activities and musical abilities; (6) skills useful for the role like languages, information technology, etc.; and (7) two references, one from teaching practice and one from teacher training.
#6 Technical CV
The technical CV is meant for jobs involving information technology. This kind of CV can be used for application to positions such as IT consultant, web developer, applications developer, or software tester.
In this CV, include a paragraph in the introduction that highlights your technical experience and expertise. Then integrate a part showing your key skills, wherein you can discuss your technical competencies in more detail. Although it is tempting to feature all of your technical abilities in one go, make sure that you have highlighted your most important skills first. You have to keep in mind that your CV needs to be understood by people who are not technical – case in point, the recruiting managers.
Make use of this type of CV if you want to highlight that you can maintain current software applications and create new ones; experience the application of technical theories, standards, and techniques; have problem-solving skills; and can communicate well.
If you are an engineer or tech enthusiast, watch this video and learn how you need to adjust your CV.
How you will structure your CV depends on the job you are applying for and your background. Usually, the very first thing on a CV for a job vacancy from someone out of graduate school begins with their education listed in chronological order, starting with the most recent. You can include details of your dissertation like its title with even a brief description.
Next, know what jobs you are interested in, as well as your strengths. Put this in your CV. As you figure out what comes after your education, keep in mind that the earlier it is in your CV, the more emphasis you are putting on that information. The most important data comes first.
If you would like to apply to a university that focuses on research, it is important to highlight conference presentations, research projects, particularly publications. If you are applying to a community college or liberal arts college that concentrates more on teaching, display your teaching prowess. In any case, make sure that the information is helpful in establishing your job qualifications.
No matter what the CV format, make sure that your CV has sections that are clearly headed so employers can find the details that they are looking for. What this means is that your CV has clarity and blocks of information that make sense.
Moreover, use common strategies in formatting CVs like parallelism and gapping. Parallelism focuses on the structure of your phrases or sentences that is made consistently throughout your CV. For example, if you use verb phrases in one part of your CV, do the same in the other parts of your CV. Gapping uses incomplete sentences so you can show your information in a manner that is concise and clear.
If you are thinking of using bullets, do so depending on how your CV will look as a whole. For example, if you have descriptive sentences that run two to three lines in your CV, use bullets to separate them. However, if you have short phrases in your CV, having bullets can leave much white space on your CV that can be used more effectively in other instances. Check the Print Preview on your word processing application to make sure that your CV does not look too crowded or misaligned. Just remember that your CV has to be concise yet exude readability. Always use this rule of thumb when putting your CV together.
For font sizes, use typically used fonts like Arial or Times New Roman. Other unconventional fonts might be good for other projects, but not for your CV. This can distract your reader from the content you want them to focus on. With the exception of your name, try to use a uniform font size throughout the CV to keep your reader concentrated on your accomplishments.
Remember, there is no one format for a CV. This is your document and this can be structured however you like. You have to keep in mind what you should focus on, depending on your discipline. Know what the most important factor in your discipline is and conform to their standard conventions. Nevertheless, how do you know what are the conventions of your industry? A good place to begin is to check out examples of CVs of people within your discipline who have been on the job market recently.
You may even look for examples of CVs on the internet. A lot of professionals and professors post their CVs online on bulletin boards, faculty web pages, employee pages, etc. These documents are great templates for creating your CV. There is a caveat, however. Do not follow these examples to the smallest detail. They should, instead, be used as strategy sources.
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR CV
If you want to improve your CV, here are a couple of helpful tips:
- Plan Ahead. Always prepare your CV ahead of time, even before you spot any new job opportunities. Make sure to submit your application earlier than the closing date, so you will not be in a rush. By being prepared, you already have a good base to work on. You can simply customize your CV to a particular job opportunity without pouring in too much work on your CV.
- Double-Check and Edit. It may seem so repetitive, but there are many individuals who ignore this advice: make sure that you completely check and edit your CV. Even better, get someone to check the entire document for spelling and grammar errors, as well as clarity. Mistakes in your CV can lead it right to the recycle bin.
- Customize. Since a CV needs to be customized per job opportunity, make sure you are sending the right CV version to the right organization. It would seem quite bad, for example, if you focused your CV on your ability to follow leadership, but the company is actually looking for someone who is more of a self-starter.
- Make it Interesting But Clear. Always guarantee that your CV is interesting and easy to read. Remember that employers and recruiting managers go through many CVs. So, do not make it challenging for them. Make it a pleasure for them to go through your CV. Think of what font would be good for your CV, as well as the size and the density of the text. Do not go beyond the color black.
- Make it Easy to Read. Use short blocks of text and bullets. Nevertheless, make sure that you do not use them for long lists. Always check if your document looks good by doing a Print Preview.
- Use Tables Sparingly. You can use tables for texts that are only of small amounts. Do not go overboard.
- Show Life Experience. Keep in mind that your life experience is almost as significant as your job experience. You can demonstrate that you know about budgeting, project management, and communication skills through your day-to-day life. Just frame it in a professional manner in your CV.
- Ask for Help. Do not hesitate at asking your colleagues and friends for your strengths and if they have any advice or comments on your CV.