How to Write a Curriculum Vitae (CV) for a Job Application
So you’re looking for a new job.
Seems thrilling, innit? Such plenty of exciting opportunities to grasp and all it takes to seize one is to send a good CV.
You’ve found this dream job. You know you’d be a perfect fit. You send your CV and you breathlessly wait for the call-back. But it never happens.
Sound familiar? Yeah, it does for most of us. But how’s that possible?
Why, I happen to know the answer to that:
Your CV has never been read. It wasn’t good enough.
Take heart, this nightmare scenario isn’t unfolding ever again. That’s cause you’re about to learn a surefire way to transform your run-of-the-mill CV into a fab one.
Read this guide and you’ll see:
- A CV sample better than 9 out of 10 other CVs.
- How to write a curriculum vitae even if you have no experience.
- Tips and examples of how to put skills and achievements on a perfect CV.
- How to describe your experience on a CV to get any job you want.
Here’s how to write a CV:
- Make sure you know when to use a CV
- Pick the best CV format
- Add your contact information the right way
- Start with a CV personal profile (CV summary or CV objective)
- List your relevant work experience & key achievements
- Build your CV education section correctly
- Put relevant skills that fit the job opening
- Include additional CV sections to impress the recruiter
- Organize this all on a professional CV template
- Complement your CV with a cover letter
Table of Contents
Make Sure that You Know When to Use a CV
Let’s start with the basics to make CV writing easy:
What is a CV?
In its full form, CV stands for curriculum vitae (latin for: course of life). In the US, UAE ,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. You use it when you apply for jobs.
Because this document is named differently across different countries, a lot of folks keep asking:
What is the difference 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.
So, if you’re applying to a European company, you should create a CV. But if you’re applying to a US-based employer, you should make a resume.
And no, a CV is not a cover letter. A curriculum vitae is a detailed list of specifications, while a cover letter is a full-blown marketing campaign.
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:
CV: Proper Order of Sections
- CV Header with Contact Information
- Personal Profile: CV Objective or CV Summary
- Work Experience
- Additional 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.
Get photos off of your CV
Unless you’re explicitly asked to include your photograph in the job ad.
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.
Learn more about CV formatting from this quick dedicated guide I’ve written recently: CV Formatting—The Ideal Structure for a CV
Alright, so you’ve got the best CV template ready for ya and you know the basic CV writing rules. Time to dive in!
You want the recruiters to get back to you, so you need to let them know how they can reach you.
In the contact information section, enter your:
- Full name
- Professional title
- Email address
- Telephone number
- LinkedIn profile
- Home address
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.
When making a CV in our builder, drag & drop bullet points, skills, and auto-fill the boring stuff. Spell check? Check.
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 eye time.
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,” “analyzed,” “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.
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.
If you learn how to list your achievements on a CV the right way, you’ll outperform 9 out of 10 other candidates.
Build Your CV Education Section Correctly
Good news is, putting your education on a CV is usually simple.
If you’ve got any post-secondary education, include only it on your CV. Don’t mention your high school, unless it’s your highest degree of education. List:
- Graduation year (if you’re still studying, enter your expected graduation date)
- Your degree
- Institution name
- Hon (if applicable)
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:
- Your dissertation title
- Favorite fields of study
- Relevant coursework
- Your best achievements
- Extracurricular academic activities.
Put Relevant Skills that Fit the Job Opening
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.”
Include Additional CV Sections to Impress the Recruiter
Let us all confess to something.
We constantly lie about ourselves. We just can’t help it—those little white lies that help put us in a slightly better light.
Care to venture a guess what group of people excels in lying?
They all lie on their CVs in frail hopes that recruiters won’t be bothered to verify, say, “full bilingual proficiency in French.”
Here’s the thing: recruiters are trained to spot liars, so don’t even entertain the thought of embellishing your past achievements or skills.
But what if you could help the recruiters avoid interviewing CV fabulists altogether? There’s a surefire way to do it:
On your CV, include an additional section in which you show off your unquestionable triumphs: things that prove your value as a candidate.
Sample CV Additional Sections
- Industry awards
- Professional certifications
- Professional affiliations
- Conferences attended
- Additional training
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.
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:
Sample Student CV Additional Sections
- Volunteer experience
- Hobbies and interests
- Freelance work
- Academic achievements
- Personal blog
Right, if you apply all the strategies we discussed, you’ll make a perfect CV. But hey—
Want to do it the easy way?
Organize this All on a Professional CV Template
Let’s face it—
No one likes to mess around with formatting a CV in MS Word.
Luckily, there are hundreds of ready, fill-in-the-blanks CV templates available online. And we happen to offer some truly cracking ones.
Complement Your CV with a Cover Letter
“Stalk your prospective boss to show commitment.”
Sound like the worst career advice one can get?
Well… And probably is so. But guess what—
“You don’t need to write a cover letter” comes in a close second.
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.
Want to learn how to do it? Here’s the only guide you’ll need.
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!