A curriculum vitae or résumé* presents the achievements of your professional and academic life in such a way that anyone who reads it will quickly and easily be able to find the information they want. Think of your CV as an advertising brochure that sells a product, and the product is you. We presume that you are a good product that employers would want to buy you if they realised how good you are; unfortunately, employers, like the rest of us, often buy the best marketed product, not the best product. Your CV is the one chance you have to persuade that employer or PhD program that you are the right person for them.This page provides guidelines and suggestions to help you use that chance effectively. At the end you will also find a practice activity where you can identify the errors of a bad CV, and two examples of 'good' CVs. For more examples of CVs and further useful tips and suggestions, take a look at the Student Services 'Career and Study Abroad' manual.
*In the US, a curriculum vitae is usually a document for academic purposes. A similar document which focuses on getting a job is called a résumé. In Britain, the term résumé is not usually used, and if it is, it is a synonym for CV. Ultimately, what matters is less what you call your document and more whether it has the appropriate content and presentation. On this page, much of the time, except where indicated, the terms are used as synonyms.
You may be writing a CV either to get a study place, or a job. Whichever it is, certain things will be the same, but there will be important differences. For this reason, it is better to avoid the 'one-size-fits-all' approach to CV writing. Either keep two versions available, for example one for study and one for jobs, or better still, revise and reorganize your CV for each job or study place you apply for.
When you send in your CV, be it for a job or a study place, it will be just one of hundreds. The person reading these CVs will not give more than one or two minutes to each one, and will expect you to present the information in a way that is easy for them to access - they will want to see the stuff that matters most to them first, not have to wade through information that is important to you but not to them. Throughout the process of writing your CV/résumé keep this person in mind and try to imagine what you would want to see if you were in their position.
The Study CV
When applying for a study place, it will be important to emphasize your academic abilities. Your education will take pride of place, and summer schools, conferences (especially if you have presented), publications and awards or scholarships should be listed. Employment should also appear, especially any work which is connected in any way with your field of research interest, though small, irrelevant jobs like working evenings in a restaurant are of no interest and should be left out.
The Work CV (Résumé)
When you apply for a job, your prospective employer is going to be most interested in your previous work experience and what you have learnt from it, so it will probably want to come first, before your education. Education will also be important, but details will not. What courses you took or what you wrote your thesis about are unlikely to interest an employer unless they are directly related to the work. Education should be a short section and the main space will be devoted to your employment. Scholarships, conferences and so on can usually be left out, and unless they are directly relevant to the job, as can publications. In a résumé it is particularly important to emphasise the skills that you gained from a particular job. This is done in a list of bullet points usually set in under the job title & employer (see below).
Decisions about what to put in and in how much detail are to an extent determined by audience and purpose, but there are two further principles that can guide you in writing a good CV: selective truth and less is more.
The first thing to be said is that you should never lie on a CV. Having said that, an employer, unlike a court of law, does not require you to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We all have failures in our lives, whether they are failed exams or jobs where we didn't get on. There is no need to mention your failures in your CV. If at school you took three exams and failed one, don't say you failed one, just mention the two you passed. If you started a job, really hated it, argued with your boss and left after 2 months, don't put it on the CV. If someone asks, of course, you will have to tell the truth, but you are under no obligation to present yourself in a bad light from the outset. There is of course a limit to how much you can sweep under the carpet. If you failed a whole 3 year degree, you may have a hard time leaving it out altogether, but you can perhaps mention it as 'other studies'. It doesn't look particularly good, but you should have thought of that when you were out drinking instead of revising for your final exams.
Less is more
The length of a CV is partly determined by cultural factors - a good Australian CV will be at least 5 pages, a British CV maximum 2- and partly by how long your life has been, but as a rule, it is worth remembering that in whatever situation you send a CV, yours will be just one amongst many. Employers and selectors may have to read a large number of CVs, and if a document does not give them the information they need within 1-2 minutes, they are likely to reject it without looking any further. If you can keep to one page without selling yourself short, do.
What to include
a) Personal Details
Your name should be instantly visible, which means it should be bigger and clearer than the rest of the personal details text. Either you can put it on the same line as the words 'Curriculum Vitae', or on a separate line beneath but in the same size type. It is also fine to put only your name at the top and omit the words 'curriculum vitae'.
Other usual details are your nationality (and citizenship if it is different, and important for the employer to know for technical reasons). Whether to include date of birth or marital status is a cultural issue. The Americans don't put them in, the British usually do. If you have a recognizable European given name like Mariana or Stefan, you don't need to indicate your sex, but if you have a name like Priit or Marzhan which is unlikely to enable people outside your own country to guess, it is helpful to say. No information about your parents should be included.
b) Contact Address
Traditionally comes near the top, though there is actually no reason why it should, other than it's where people expect it. Only include a current address and a permanent address if there is a chance the person you are writing to will need to contact you again after you have left CEU. Addresses are necessary but they are boring and take up valuable space.
Your objective is something that only appears on US job résumés. An objective, like a cover letter, should always be exactly tailored to the employer that the résumé is going to. In order to formulate your objective clearly, ask yourself why you are applying to this particular company. If your answer is because you want to get an entry level position (first job) and the company is in the business of international marketing, then your objective is:
An entry level position in an international marketing company
Easy, huh? It may seem obvious to you that if you are applying to a marketing company, you want to work for a marketing company, but it never hurts to make the obvious explicit.
The first question is the order in which to put your different studies - chronological or reverse (most recent first). The argument in favor of chronological order is that people can see how your career develops. Proponents of reverse order argue that your most recent achievements will be your most impressive and most relevant and therefore need to catch the reader's eye first. This argument is particularly strong the older and more experienced you are, and when you are applying for jobs where your recent experience is relevant. If you only have 2 or 3 items it probably doesn't matter much, but be consistent: do both Education and Employment in the same order.
The second question is the order in which to put the infomation within each entry. Here opinions differ as to whether dates, degree title or instituion should come first, but whichever order you choose, make sure you are consistent, and that you use the same order for your employment section.
Whichever order you use, do give dates. In the case of a degree, this usually means the date of graduation. If you give a graduation date for your studies at CEU, it will obviously be in the future. It is therefore not really necessary to embellish it with explanations that this will be your expected graduation date if all goes well and you manage to pass your exams. You can give dates to the nearest month, but for a degree, just the year is probably enough. People know that most universities run from October to June.
Limit your degree name to the title (e.g. MA) and the subject. You may well have done your thesis on changes in family structures in late eighteenth century rural Lithuania, but "History" is enough. You will only need to provide details of courses or your thesis title if you are writing an academic CV. Even here, if your past studies are not relevant to your future plans (e.g. you want to switch from Economics to Medieval History) there is probably little point in mentioning too many details. Only an overall final grade is needed. A detailed breakdown of grades is unnecessary.
Name of Institution
Again, keep it simple if possible. The name of your alma mater may be 'The Basil Tlostanov University of Vladivostok, School of Social and Cultural Anthropology of European Races' but 'Vladivostok University' is all anyone needs to know.
In British style, dates come on the left, and the headings and the text are both flush (level) with the left margin.
2007 - 2011 BA Honours, Economics, University of Leeds
2011 - 2012 MA Economics, University of Edinburgh
In the US, it is often the case that where you studied matters more than what you studies, so the name of the university comes first, then degree inset underneath, and date on the right.
University of Wisconsin Superior 2004 - 2008
BA Honours, Economics
Brattlebro University, Vermont 2008 - 2010
Master of Business Administration
Much of what is said above goes for Employment as well. Dates should always be included, accurate to the month, not the day. Job title and employer's name should also be there, though opinions differ over which should come first. It is generally no longer considered necessary to give the employer's address, but it is good to mention the city or the country to give an idea where it happened. Also be aware of the level of knowledge of your reader. If you worked in Moscow, most people know Moscow is in Russia and you don't need to say so. If you worked in Pisek, on the hand, beautiful as it is, few people will know where is, and you may want to tell them.
Particularly in a job CV, your prospective employer will want to know what you have learnt from your work experience. It is therefore a important to list as bullet points under each job the principal duties you were involved in and the things you achieved. Commercial CV companies particularly emphasise the importance of stressing your achievements. For example, instead of "helped organise conference" you might say "successfully organised major conference".
e) Awards and Scholarships
These are only necessary in a study CV, and should be kept brief. The date, the funding body and the name of the sources of study is enough.
f) Conferences attended
Unless you are desperate for something to fill up space, it is probably only worth to mentioning conferences where you have presented. Include the date, title of conference, location, and the title of your presentation. Only needed in academic CVs.
Again, these are principally for academic CVs, unless it is relevant to your professional job. Date, title of paper and of the journal (including volume number) is enough, or date, title and publisher in the case of a book.
At the end of your CV come the smaller categories of minor but useful skills such as languages, computing skills, driving license etc. For language, stick to simple scale of ability such as fluent/good/fair/basic. Languages you only have a very limited command of and which are not relevant to the job are probably not worth including.
Hobbies and interests are not necessary on a study CV. There are some experts who say that if you include your hobbies on a work résumé it will give the employer the impression you are a balanced person. On the other hand, the same people point out all the prejudices employers may have against certain hobbies (stamp-collecting = boring; protecting the environment or wildlife = politically dangerous, and so on). Decide for yourself, but remember it is the least important part of the CV.
Few documents require such care in their design and such skill with word processing software as a curriculum vitae. Even the best CV can be ruined by cramped, fussy or untidy presentation. In laying out your CV, there are three basic principles that should be born in mind: consistency, clarity and simplicity.
When you choose the font, style (bold, italic etc.) or point size for a given type of information, such as job dates, stick to it. Make sure if one section heading is Arial 12 pt bold, all section headings are Arial 12 pt bold and that none of them is underlined or italic. If the dates under Education are 11 pt, make sure that under Employment they are not 10 pt. If one entry has a bullet point, put bullet points on all. If you use paragraph spacing, make sure that you have the same space after or before each paragraph of the same type.
The information on your CV should stand out. This means that it should not be too small nor too cramped. White space is very powerful in design because it gives power to the little that is there. Packing your page as full as possible makes it visually unattractive and hard to read. Below are some guidelines:
- Ensure your margins are 2.5 cm minimum all round (NB: send Page Setup to A4 - the MS Word default is US Letter, which will give you uneven margins on European A4 paper.)
- Spread out the information. If what you have to say doesn't fill the page, don't leave all the white space at the bottom; put empty lines between sections to separate them more clearly. If you have to have two pages, don't just put the last five lines on page two, spread the sections out a bit - and make sure a section is not split over two pages.
- Use the width of the page. Few lines of a CV will take the width of the page. If all lines are short, the text will all sit on the left and the result will be unbalanced. If this is the case, allow bigger margins.
- Do, whenever possible, however, make sure that title lines (such as date, job title, employer) do not wrap (i.e. go onto a second line). This can be achieved either by setting your margins to your longest line or reducing the number of words in that line. Descriptions of duties and skills can wrap if necessary, but make sure that you do not end up with an isolated word or two on a new line. Use (shift+enter) to split the sentence in the place you want without starting a new paragraph.
A CV is a professional document; its appearance should be serious and businesslike, without clutter. The following guidelines can help make sure your CV looks neat and serious:
- Do not use more than a maximum of two different fonts, and these should be standard fonts like Garamond (serif) or Century Gothic (sans serif).
- Unless you are applying to be a hairdresser or a beautician, avoid decorative fonts.
- There is a convention that where two fonts are used, headings should be sans serif (e.g. Century Gothic) and text should be serif (e.g. Times or Garamond). However, some CV agencies now suggest you use one sans serif font only, especially if you may be faxing your CV, as serif fonts are harder to read on a poorly printed fax.
- Avoid mixing too many different styles such as bold, italics or underlining.
- Bold or small caps (small letters replaced by small capitals) can be used for headings, but All Caps (all capital letters), popular in the days of typewriters when all letters were the same size, is now rather clumsy looking.
- Avoid too wide a variety of point sizes. A good range to use might be 11 pt for basic text, and 12 pt for headings, or if you have a lot to fit in, 11 pt and 10 pt. Don't go below 10 pt.
- Avoid boxes and lines around text areas as these make the page look cluttered.
The Technical Stuff
All the above assumes that you are going to write your CV in MS Word or another similar word-processing program. Some peole would like to make better use of multimedia possibilities, using html code or other file types. Bear in mind, however, that not all employers may have the software to read some multimedia files, and even if they do, they may find such an approach pretentious and unnecessary. A traditional text document is a safer bet.
It has been suggested that some employers may be afraid of Word attachments, believing that these contain viruses. This can of course be true. The sure way to avoid this risk is by sending your CV as an .rtf or .pdf file (both types are safe against viruses) but the technology-shy employer may not know this. Some agencies now suggest you paste your CV into the body of an e-mail. If you do this, bear in mind that you will need to sacrifice a lot of detail and keep things very clear and simple as you will not have any of the advantages of style, format or font at your disposal.
Below are some brief guidelines for using MS Word to write your CV. You can always convert the file into .pdf later and maintain the format and layout.
Spaces, tabs and tables
The thing that marks you out as a real computer illiterate is positioning text with the space bar. OK, so you don't do that. The next really amateur thing is positioning with tab stops. Professionals use styles and tables to lay out information neatly.
MS Word has a sophisticated style facility that you may have used for headings in written assignments. The 'Style…' command in the Tool menu allows you to create and edit styles so that, for example, all your headings look the same, all your title lines look the same, and you can change the appearance of all of them at once. You can even arrange styles so that when you press return at the end of a section heading, you automatically get the style you need for the first line under that heading. Use MS Word Help to get more information on using Styles.
Particularly if you have two columns on the page, a table can be a big help in lining things up. It can also mean that you don't have to go tabbing across the page when you have text on the right and none on the left. Never use visible lines in a table though, as they clutter the page and make it look full.
Peer Evaluation & Revision
Before you send off your CV, make sure you get a friend to look at it and see what they think. Better still, bring it to the Center for Academic Writing for a consultation. It is often said that a single spelling mistake can lead to a CV being rejected. It is hard to say if this is true, but it is a theory that you will probably not want to test.