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This is the most effective CV structure: the top of the document should contain important contact information, the summary is a great way to introduce yourself, and show your experience and achievements, while the rest of the curriculum vitae is there to provide as many relevant details as necessary to convince the reader that you're the perfect fit for the position.
We'll explain how to successfuly go through each of the above mentioned steps in the following chapters of our guide.
CV, Curriculum Vitae and Resume... What are the differences?
What is a CV?
In its full form, CV stands for Curriculum Vitae (latin for: course of life). In the US, Canada, and Australia, a CV is a document you use for academic purposes. The US academic CV outlines every detail of your scholarly career. In other countries, CV is an equivalent of an American resume and is used to apply for a job.
A CV is therefore a curriculum vitae, and other than its length and purpose in a few English-speaking countries, a CV is a synonym for a resume. Confused? Read our full guide on what a CV is.
What are the differences between a CV and a resume?
Let’s get this straight, once and for all:
In the hiring industry, nowadays there’s almost no formal difference between a CV and a resume. It’s the same thing that Brits call a CV and Americans—a resume.
Just like they do with chips and french fries, football and soccer, or Queen Elizabeth and Queen Bey.
And no, a CV is not a cover letter. A curriculum vitae contains your work history, education and skills, while a cover letter is a full-blown marketing campaign. These documents are completely different, and you can learn more about those differences in this guide on Curriculum Vitae VS Cover Letter.
If you're confident now that you need a curriculum vitae, let's get this writing guide started.
Pick the Best CV Format
Here’s a disturbing thought:
Every time you’re looking for a job, you compete against 250 other candidates on average.
Yes, you read that right.
Imagine you are the recruiter and you have to review 250 job applications. Do you thoroughly read all of them? Nah, of course you don’t.
Recruiters spend only 6 seconds scanning each CV. So the very first impression is key. If you submit a neat, properly organised document, you’ll convince the recruiters to spend more time on your CV.
A poorly formatted CV, on the other hand, will get you discarded in the first-round review.
Here’s how to format a CV the right way.
Start with creating a CV outline divided into the following sections:
Pro Tip: If you’re fresh out of uni and need to write a student CV with no experience, or if you've graduated from a very prestigious institution within the last 5 years, put your education section above your work experience.
When filling in the sections, always keep in mind the gold CV formatting rules:
Choose clear, legible fonts
Go for one of the standard CV typefaces: Arial, Tahoma, or Helvetica if you prefer sans-serif fonts, and Times New Roman or Bookman Old Style if serif fonts are your usual pick.
Use 11 to 12 pt font size and single spacing. For your name and section titles, pick 14 to 16 pt font size.
Be consistent with your CV layout
Set one-inch margins for all four sides.
Make sure your CV headings are uniform—make them larger and in bold but go easy on italics and underlining.
Stick to a single dates format on your CV: for example 11-2017, or November 2017.
Don’t cram your CV with gimmicky graphics
Less is more.
White space is your friend—recruiters need some breathing room!
Plus, most of the time, after you send out your CV, it’s going to be printed in black ink on white paper. Too many graphics might make it illegible.
If so—make sure to use a professional looking picture, but not as stiff as an ID photo.
Make your CV brief and relevant
Don’t be one of those candidates stuck in the nineties who think they have to include every single detail about their lives on their CVs.
Hiring, nowadays, is one hell of a hectic business. Nobody’s got the time to care for what high school you’ve attended or to read 10+ bullet point descriptions of past jobs. We’ll get to that later on.
Pro Tip: Once you’ve finished writing, save your CV in PDF to make sure your CV layout stays intact. But pay close attention to the job description. Some employers won’t accept a PDF CV. If such is the case, send your CV in Word.
The contact information section seems fairly straightforward, but here’s the one reason it might be tricky:
Recruiters will use it to research you online. If your social media profiles are unprofessional, or if your LinkedIn profile information doesn’t match that on your CV, you’re immediately out of the race.
After listing their contact information on a CV, most candidates jump right into their work experience or education.
But you’ll do better than that. You will actually get remembered by the employer.
So, how to make a CV pop?
All it takes is a CV personal profile statement—a short, snappy paragraph of 100 words tops that tells the recruiters why you are just the candidate they’ve been looking for.
Your personal profile will either be a CV objective or a CV summary.
What’s the difference?
A CV objective shows what skills you’ve mastered and how you’d fit in. It’s a good choice if you’ve got little work experience relevant to the job you’re trying to land, for example, if you’re writing a student CV.
A CV summary, in turn, highlights your career progress and achievements. Use it if you’re a seasoned professional and have a lot of experience in your field.
Now, have a look at some examples. Let’s say there’s a posting for a nursing job. Here are sample nursing CV objectives and summaries.
Example of a CV Objective
Newly licensed Nurse looking for a challenging nursing role in a medical facility where I can put my skills to the test.
Not awful, right? The problem is, in this CV objective, the bottom line is basically “I want a job because I learnt for the job.”
Have a look at another CV objective sample.
Objective for a CV—Example
Dependable licensed NMC Registered Nurse trained to work in high-stress environments and stay calm under pressure. Seeking to leverage meticulous record-keeping and analytical skills to help St Francis Hospital with your upcoming challenges.
See the difference? The latter candidate focused solely on what she can offer her future employer. She also mentioned the name of the specific hospital to which she’s applying.
And yes, name-dropping is something you, too, should definitely do in your CV objective.
True, it means you won’t be able to spam your CV out to every company that’s currently hiring but, then again, when was the last time you replied to a “Dear User” email?
As we said before, if you’ve got some relevant job experience under your belt, begin your CV with a CV summary instead of an objective.
Check out these sample CV summaries.
Sample CV Summary
Bilingual (English and Dutch) Pediatric Nurse with 15+ years of experience in the intensive and neonatal care units of a community hospital. Seeking to leverage management experience as Chief Pediatric Nurse at General Hospital, helping to implement new staff training programmes.
The General Hospital Director just picked up the phone to call this candidate.
What’s so great about this CV summary?
Above all, it’s super-specific. It gives a complete outline of the candidate’s background and shows how her experience will help her tackle particular problems the hospital is facing.
Here’s another example of a CV summary.
Pediatric Nurse with years of experience supervising the medication and health records of newborns.
This one, on the other hand, says little more than “I am a nurse.” It presents nothing but generic responsibilities all nurses have.
In your CV summary, don’t ever go for meaningless buzzwords.
List Your Relevant Work Experience & Key Achievements
More often than not, your work experience section is the most important part of your whole CV—the one that gets the most eyetime.
If you’re thinking “Easy, I just need to list my previous positions, the dates worked, and my responsibilities,” think again.
All of the above are must-haves in a basic CV. But “basic” won’t get you that dream job.
The thing is: recruiters know what you did. They want to know how well you did it and what you can offer your prospective employer.
Here’s how to make your work experience section illustrate that:
Focus on your measurable, relevant achievements, not just your duties.
Use action verbs: “created,” “analysed,” “implemented,” not “responsible for creating, analysis and implementation.”
Tailor your CV to the job posting—read the job description carefully and check what tasks will be expected of you. If you’ve done them before—put them on your CV, even if those weren’t your primary responsibilities.
Let’s see a real-life CV example.
Here’s a sample job description for a position of a junior product marketing specialist.
Filling product placement requests from the media
Creating and maintaining media lists as needed(1)
Writing product pitches(2)
Researching new media opportunities(3)
Support creating media materials and press kits(4)
Lead a small project(5) from start to finish
Help in the organization of events(6)
Respond to media inquiries(7)
Now, have a look at this example of a CV work experience entry.
CV Example—Work Experience Section
Created and maintained lists of media contacts(1)
Researched opportunities(3) across online media channels
Produced product pitches(2) and press kits(4)
Supported event organization(6)
Responded to media inquiries(7)
Key achievement:Lead a project team(5) in designing and implementing a comprehensive social media relations strategy for a new line of lifestyle products, grew Facebook fan base from 0 to 12,000 in 4 months[LINK to the Facebook fanpage], gained 35,000 Instagram followers[LINK to the Instagram account] in 3 months.
“Wow, we need this one to work with us!”
This entry is sure to bring that sort of response from the hiring manager.
What makes it so great?
First, it’s perfectly tailored to the job ad (have another look at the numbered phrases in bold). The candidate showed she’ll be able to manage her most important future tasks because she’s done them before.
Secondly, it’s action-verbs-packed. “Created and maintained” instead of “responsible for creating and maintaining,” “produced product pitches,” not “product pitches production.”
Last but not least, its central focus is the candidate’s achievements. Like the candidate above, if you want your CV to impress, add a “key achievement” sub-section. Then, include hard numbers. Don’t say you “significantly increased sales.” Say how much exactly. Numbers pop!
To make sure your achievements on a CV shine as they’re supposed to, follow the PAR (Problem Action Result) formula to describe them.
Like in the CV example discussed:
Key achievement: Lead a project team in designing and implementing a comprehensive social media relations strategy for a new line of lifestyle products, grew Facebook fanbase from 0 to 12,000 in 4 months, gained 35,000 Instagram followers in 3 months.
Problem: Lack of sufficient social media promotion for a new line of lifestyle products
Action: New social media strategy
Result: 12,000 Facebook fans in 4 months, and 35,000 Instagram followers in 3 months.
Pro Tip: Including your honours is optional. If you don’t want them to do you more harm than good, add them only if they’re 2:1 or higher for the undergrad degrees, and “merit” or “distinction” for postgrads.
CV Example—Education Section
2014 B.A. in French
University of Southampton
But what if you’re writing a CV with little or no work experience? What if you’ve just graduated and are looking for your first full-blown job?
If such is the case, you should do two things:
First of all, place your education section above your work experience.
Secondly, elaborate a bit more on your academic experience. Include, for instance:
Now, for your skills. You’ve probably got plenty of these. But would a list of a dozen and a half skills look good on a CV?
When it comes to skills for a CV, one issue is more important than any other: relevance. The skills you decide to include on your CV have to be relevant to the job you’re trying to land.
Remember when I mentioned tailoring your CV to the job description? Here it comes again.
How to do it?
Start with a spreadsheet. In it, list all your professional skills (that’s right, it means “eyebrow dancing” doesn’t count). Then check the job description for the skills desired by your prospective employer.
Do they match some of the skills from your spreadsheet? Presto! These are the ones to put in your CV skills section. Include an appropriate mix of hard skills, soft skills, and anything in between.
Pro Tip: When you list your skills, add a short description of each to indicate your level of proficiency. For example “Excellent,” “Advanced,” or “Basic.”
A well crafted additional section can be the decisive factor in choosing you over another candidate with a seemingly similar background. Don’t ignore this chance to stand out from the crowd. Learn more from our handy guide: How to List Certifications on a CV: Guide (20+ Examples)
Don’t worry if you’re still studying and can yet showcase none of the above.
A good student CV will still benefit from an additional section. Here are some ideas:
Because as many as 45 out of 100 recruiters won’t even get around to reviewing your CV if there’s no cover letter attached, according to our HR statistics report. True, the other 55 might think a cover letter for a CV is redundant. But here’s who does read cover letters:
Hiring managers. And, at the end of the day, it’s their decision whether or not you’re getting the job.
Most people hate writing cover letters for CVs because they are clueless about how to write them properly. And writing great cover letters is much easier than it seems.
Hiring has changed drastically. It’s fast and furious. To get your foot in the door, you’ll need to go an extra mile with your CV. Here's how to make a CV:
Begin your CV with a personal profile—either a summary or a CV objective. Write a short and sweet paragraph telling why you’re just the candidate the employer’s been looking for.
When describing your work experience, focus on your achievements and accomplishments. No recruiter wants to read a dull list of bullet points describing past duties.
Validate your worth as a candidate by adding a section with your top wins: certifications, awards, publications, or even extracurricular training or attended conferences.
Finally, attach a cover letter to your job application and double your chances of getting hired.
All check? Get ready for all those interview call-ins!
Do you have any more questions on how to write a job-winning CV? Give us a shout in the comments and we’ll answer your queries!
Frequently Asked Questions about How to Write a CV
What is a CV?
A Curriculum Vitae (CV) is a job application document that summarizes your professional experience, skillset, and qualifications. In some circumstances, such as when applying for research placements, graduate school, or academia in general, a CV is a comprehensive description of both your professional and academic career.
The terms resume and CV are used interchangeably in Canada and Australia. So, a resume and CV are standard documents you apply for jobs with. However, in Europe and New Zealand, the term resume does not exist. To be considered for a position, you have to send through a Curriculum Vitae.
Attach a cover letter to your application, and you’re all set.
With Zety CV builder, you won’t have to remember all those points. It’ll remember it for you. Just pick a CV template you like the most from over 20+ designs, and let’s get you a job.
How should a perfect CV look in 2023?
A perfect CV draws attention with a modern template design and clear sections allowing for enough whitespace. An eye-catching CV design combined with highly tailored content will create an invincible duo in 2023. You'll need to strike a balance between breaking the design standards and building your CV with the Applicant Tracking Software in mind if you hope to impress your recruiters.
See the CV templates Zety’s hiring pros have designed for you to get a head start. Pick one and go to the CV maker to complete it within minutes. Or, create a perfect CV all by yourself but with the help of one of our CV examples.
How to start writing a simple Curriculum Vitae?
Give yourself some time to get your head around writing a CV. You may read and learn about things you never heard about before, which are crucial in making a job-worthy application.
Design an eye-catching CV templatewith proper formatting: 1-inch margins, 1–1.15 line spacing, and a sans-serif font, such as Verdana or Arial.
Have a job posting right there open forever when you’re working on your CV. You’ll need it to make sure you covered all the correct CV keywords and responded to the needs of your potential employer.
Make a list of your relevant experience and skills. Things you did and learned in the past but aren’t in line with the job profile should never make it on the list. And—
Match them with the qualities and qualifications you found in the job ad.
How to write a CV for my first job if I have no experience?
Whether you’re writing a graduate CV or executive resume, there are universal rules to follow. So, don’t worry about having little or no experience. There’s a smart way to get you a job.
Mark resume keywords in the job description. The keywords are words and phrases that repeat and describe a particular quality or qualification.
Find such a quality or qualification in your arsenal. That can be anything from taking part-time jobs to doing an internship or taking up volunteer work. Or even from your academic years, such as running a student’s club, tutoring, or relevant hobbies and interests you picked up.
List soft and hard skills that speak to your employability. In other words, think of any transferable skill you’ve gained throughout various stages of your life.
Add additional sections that’ll give you the chance to score bonus points for engagement, curiosity, and communication.
Write an objective statement to give your employer a sense of dedication and show your thought over the application.
What is the best CV format?
The reverse-chronological format is the best out of the three CV format musketeers. It’s simple to read by the Applicant Tracking Software, which makes it highly unlikely for your CV not to reach the recruiter. Ultimately, recruiters can make informed decisions about hiring in seconds by only skimming such a CV. What’s not to love?
Michael is a career writer, Certified Professional Resume Writer, and the newsletter coordinator at Zety. Apart from sharing his own resume-writing expertise, Michael reaches out to recruitment and hiring gurus to help you learn the most effective strategies for managing your career.
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