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How to Write Your First CV

Curriculum Vitae document on a clipboard.
Minerva Studio/Shutterstock

CV is short for curriculum vitae, which means “course of life” in Latin. As the name implies, these documents cover everything you’ve ever done professionally, as opposed to a resume, which just gives the highlights.

The vast majority of job searchers will only ever need a resume (and we’ve got a guide to writing one of those, too. But if you plan to work in academia or continue your education with a graduate degree, chances are good you’ll need a CV.

Because of the breadth of information required, sitting down to write your first CV can feel more daunting than writing your first resume. We’re here to help! Follow these steps for a CV that opens up new academic opportunities.

Make a List

Just like when you wrote your first resume, writing your CV should start with a list. However, this list will be a lot longer.

Instead of just listing your school, GPA, graduation date, and major accomplishments, you’ll need to list everything relevant you’ve ever done in your academic career. You should also add your work history and other achievements, activities, any awards to the list.

If you already have a resume, or a similar list you’re building your resume from, you’ve got a great starting point. Just take what you already have and add to it, focusing on your academic experience.

Some things to consider include:

  • Research
  • Publications
  • Grants, scholarships, and fellowships
  • Teaching positions
  • Affiliations
  • Awards and achievements
  • Projects

In addition to these academic sections, jot down notes about your:

  • Work experience
  • Other experience, such as volunteering and extracurriculars
  • Non-school-related awards and achievements
  • Interests and hobbies

The sooner you start making this list, the easier it is to build your CV. You can even start on it while you’re still in school. However, nothing before undergrad needs to go on your CV, so you can leave off your high school experience.

Pick a Template

CVs don’t have as much variation in the format as resumes do. And while resumes can have a chronological, functional, or hybrid format, your CV almost always needs to be in reverse chronological order.

This means that, unlike with resume templates, most CV templates are more or less the same. However, it’s always easier to fill in a template rather than formatting something from scratch, so we recommend finding one you like and starting there.

Just like with your resume, you might find it helpful to read over a few sample CVs before choosing the best template for your experience.

Add Your Information

Now, you can add your relevant information to the template using your experience list.

Since CVs can be multiple pages, it might be tempting to include excess information. However, be selective about what you add: stick to what’s relevant and essential for the job or degree you want. If you only held a position for a short time, consider leaving it off. Keep things logically organized, too. The person reading your CV might give up on it if it’s too long, wordy, or random.

No matter which template you use, your CV should always include these sections:

  • Contact information
  • Education (school name, degree, and dissertation/thesis title)
  • Publications
  • Work experience (only what’s relevant to the position you want)
  • Awards and achievements (including scholarships)
  • Interests
  • Other experience (volunteer, extracurricular, and so on)

Your contact information should always be at the top, followed by the Education section. Beyond that, you have some flexibility as to how you arrange your sections. Put the most relevant or important information first and don’t forget to put everything in reverse chronological order.

Unlike a resume, you don’t need to describe your work or volunteer experience on a CV. Just state the company, the position you held, and the dates you held it.

In addition to the necessary sections, you might want to add these sections if they’re relevant to you:

  • Objective
  • Research (include brief descriptions)
  • Certifications and qualifications
  • Current affiliations
  • Activities (school-related and relevant to the position you seek)

You might need to adjust your template and add, remove, or rearrange sections so that the design better fits your experience. You might also need to change what you include or how it’s arranged when you apply for different positions.

Check the Details

Certain details make your CV look more professional and polished. Stick to a professional-looking font, like Times New Roman, and don’t include multiple fonts on your CV. To make section headers stand out, you can change the font size, use all caps, or make it bold but never underline. Use 12-point font for the main text: there’s no reason to use anything smaller, as a CV can be as many pages as necessary.

Each page should include a page number and have your full name on it. Because CVs often span many pages, this helps the person reading it stay organized. Don’t add photos, logos, or other images—keep it strictly text-based. All pages should be single-sided.

Just like with your resume, print out your CV and look it over carefully for errors before you submit it. Get a few friends or family members to read it over, too. You don’t want your application rejected because of an error that easily could have been corrected.

Writing a CV can seem tedious, but once you’ve made your first one, keeping it updated is easier. If you get stuck, this guide from UCLA has some great tips broken down by section. And when your CV lands you an interview, make sure to read this guide first so you can dress to impress!

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a Seattle-based writer and editor with a Master's in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph's University. Her work has appeared in publications like Racked, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Rum Punch Press. She was awarded a 2017 Writing Between the Vines residency.  Read Full Bio »

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