What Is A CV? Examples And Definition Of Curriculum Vitae

By Kristin Kizer and Experts - Nov. 1, 2021

Diving into the workforce for the first time, searching for a new job after being laid off, looking for a little extra income — all of these situations can send you running to the computer to try to figure out how to get hired.

For most job opportunities in the United States, a resume is the preferred document that hiring managers and recruiters expect to see. But if you’re working in academia or scientific research, or applying for a job overseas, then you might need a curriculum vitae (CV).

In this article, we’ll cover what a CV is, who needs one, the standard format for CVs, and provide an example CV to help you to get an idea of what one looks like.

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What Is a CV?

A CV is a curriculum vitae, which is a Latin expression that roughly translates to the “course of my life.” As such, a CV is a comprehensive review of your life’s work, including your:

Many people get confused because they think the term curriculum is related to your education, but a CV is so much more than just an explanation of your education, which we’ll discuss later.

If the idea of something that chronicles the “course of your life” seems a bit exhaustive and probably too extensive for your professional objectives, then you’re most likely from the United States or you don’t need one in your job hunt.

Who Needs a CV?

In the United States, Americans prefer things short, succinct, and to the point — usually. Most American resumes reflect this attitude and that’s what employers want and are looking for. You’ve probably heard that your resume should only be one page long.

That wisdom is changing a little bit as people tend to have more job experience, related coursework, and certifications now. It’s not uncommon to see even Americans crafting resumes that are two pages long, but they rarely go longer.

That’s a lot of information about resumes, but what about CVs? If you’re not living in the United States or looking for a job in the United States, you may discover that employers don’t even ask for a resume; they go right to the CV. That means that if your dream is to work in Europe, New Zealand, Australia, etc. hiring managers are going to expect you to present a CV.

That doesn’t mean you’re free and clear of the CV if you’re in the United States though. Higher-level technical, scientific, and academic careers in the United States also may require a CV.

Once you learn a little more about them, you might find that a CV fits your career situation better than a resume and make the switch. Let’s talk about the differences so you can decide if a resume or a CV is best for you.

To summarize, people who need a CV rather than a resume are applying for:

  • A job overseas

  • A role in academia

  • A fellowship grant

  • A research role

  • A job in medicine

  • Some legal positions (usually those that involve research and publication)

  • Any job that asks for a CV

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How Is a CV Different From a Resume?

The key difference between a CV and a resume is that a resume is brief, while a CV is extensive (nearly to the point of being exhaustive). That’s where the main difference lies. A curriculum vitae is designed to be much more thorough.

It’s not so much an appetizer for your prospective new employer so much as a seven-course meal, complete with dessert, that’s meant to give potential employers a deep look into everything you’ve done and then some.

If we break it down by the common elements, a resume and a CV both include the following:

  1. Your contact information

  2. Work experience

  3. Education

  4. Skills/Certification/Additional training

At this point, you’d typically wrap up your resume. You might add a few optional sections on things like volunteer work or impressive projects, but a resume only really needs the above sections.

If you’re writing a CV you’ve still got a lot of work to do because you’re going to need to include the following information, too:

  • Awards

  • Publications

  • Certifications/Licenses

  • Membership in professional organizations

  • Continuing education

  • Extracurricular activities (interests, hobbies, travel experience)

  • Presentations

  • Grants/Scholarships

  • Education (with more information than a resume)

Wow — right? The CV is more extensive, but it doesn’t include references and it includes extracurriculars, which people in the United States have left off their resume for a long time now.

You can see now why a curriculum vitae is used in the U.S. for more specialized and higher-level positions. It gives employers that intimate view of who the candidate is as a person, where you don’t need to be that thoroughly investigated to work at your local burger joint or most other jobs for that matter.

There’s probably one big question you have right now – how long is a CV? Well, it certainly isn’t the one or two pages that a resume is, but there’s no set limit or requirements for a CV length.

Typically, they run in the range of three to five pages. You’re not meant to bowl anyone over with the sheer length of your CV, but if you legitimately have enough experience to fill a longer CV, then a longer one you shall write.

How Is a CV Formatted?

If you think a CV is the right approach for you, then you not only need to fill it with wonderful things that highlight you as a professional; you need to make it look sharp and professional. Beyond that, there’s no set format.

CVs are not like resumes where employers expect to be able to glance at them and instantly spot the differences.

Your CV is sort of like a professional autobiography and it needs to have its own highlights, features, and interesting sections that capture the job recruiter’s attention and makes them want to keep reading. While this varies by individual and often by the particular job they are seeking to get, the following tips can help you format a CV.

  1. Easy to read. Font, margins, white space — all of those things are important and should be considered when you create a document you expect someone to be comfortable reading.

  2. Job essentials. If you’re applying for an academic job, then your education will probably be most essential.

    On the other hand, if you’re looking for a job as a research scientist, you’ll slide your education further down and bring your research experience to the top of your CV. This is where you might need a couple of versions of your CV, depending on the position you want.

  3. Parallel construction. If you’re using bullet-points in one area, full sentences in another, and then abbreviated sentences in another you’re going to drive the reader a little nuts. Stick to one type of construction and follow that throughout.

  4. Individualism. The main goal of a CV is to make you stand out and be more impressive than other candidates. Do this by showing off your accomplishments and making a CV that is more amazing than any others. By the way, charts and graphs and sometimes pictures can be a part of an awesome CV.

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What Should I Include in a CV?

Suddenly you’re thinking we threw you for a loop. Wait?! We’re supposed to put pictures and other visual elements in our curriculum-vitae? The answer is — maybe.

It all depends on the position you’re applying for and how relevant this data is to your experience. If you’ve gone to another country and helped establish a new school and boosted enrollment while serving as Principal, then a photo of that school isn’t out of context at all.

You get the idea, if the graphical elements relate to the position and further illustrate your point while also creating visual intrigue, then by all means add them to the CV.

What else do you need in a great CV? Use the following as a checklist to help you get started. You can add and subtract some of the elements or move them around if they don’t reflect your experience adequately:

  • Contact information

  • Work experience

  • Education

  • Skills

  • Professional certifications

  • Additional training or continuing education

  • Awards or significant recognition

  • Publications

  • Membership in professional organizations

  • Extracurricular activities

Common CV Mistakes to Avoid

Resumes and CVs are different, but similar. This means they also share some common mistakes but there are other pitfalls in CVs too. Shared mistakes include:

  • Spelling and grammar errors

  • Not tailoring it to the job

  • Using a generic template that’s not customized

  • Not highlighting your individual skills/talents/accomplishments

  • Writing in passive voice

  • Poor visual layout

Now let’s look at some common CV mistakes. Remember a CV is much longer so it’s going to give you more opportunities to make a mistake.

  • Focusing on duties

  • Using cliches

  • Not addressing employment gaps or career changes

  • Lying or exaggerating so much it’s unbelievable

  • Lack of substantiating evidence

  • Not having an outside proofreader review it

No matter which one you choose to represent you when you’re applying for a job, it’s important to remember that you’re responsible for creating interest in your skills, qualifications, experience, and education.

Example CV

William Bunter

New York, NY | 555-555-5555 | w.bunter@email.com

Education

Ph.D in Literature of the Americas | 2012
University of Connecticut

Dissertation: Poetry of Place: Reading New Englandly: An exploration of the unique cultural perspective of post-WWII New England poets, including Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, and Robert Lowell.

M.Phil in Early American Literature | 2007
Trinity College Dublin
B.A. in English | 2005
University of Connecticut

Publications

Books

  • Bunter, William. Protestantism and Culture: The Birth of a New Language: Big City Press (2008)

  • Else, Julie. Dances With Demons: Stories of Hardship and Perserverance in the New World: Happy Publishing; Chapter 7: “Witchy Women.” (2010)

Peer-reviewed Journals

  • “Puritan Lies and the Fundation of Emerging Literarture,” New Ideas Quarterly 12(3), 27-34.

  • “Unmasking the Literary Heroes of Apocrypha,” New England Press 5(6), 90-112.

  • “Old Stories, New Meanings,” Sarasota Journal 8(9), 11-23.

Professional Experience

University of Connecticut
Adjunct Lecturer | 2007-2009

  • New England Literature, English 2102

  • Intro to Literary Theory 1102

  • Short Stories From Canada 2230

Graduate Teaching Assistant | 2009-2012

  • Intro to Reconstruction Era Literature 1231

  • Intermediate English Literature 2003

Honors and Awards

  • Latin American Literature Study Grant 2018

  • Teaching awards from UCONN: 2009, 2011

  • Emerging Writer Award, E.O.L, 2007

Memberships

  • New England Poetry Society

  • New England Press Contributor

  • Authorly Insights Organization

Skills

  • Writing: technical, persuasive, literary, historical, poetry, research

  • Curriculum development

  • WordPress

  • Microsoft Office and Google Suites

  • Adobe Photoshop

  • Video editing

CV Tips

  • Tailor your CV for the opportunity. While most people know that a resume should certainly be overhauled and reworked for each and every application, there’s a common misconception that your CV always stays the same. In order to strengthen your application, make sure to tailor your CV for what the hiring manager is looking for.

    Read the job description carefully and try to incorporate any words or phrases that are emphasized as essential.

  • Consider applicant tracking systems. Applicant tracking systems (ATS) are computer programs that parse through resumes for relevant information and give each candidate a score based on the keywords, experience levels, and other factors in your application documents.

    Many CVs don’t make it to a human reader because the program weeds them out. In order to avoid that, you should follow the same advice as making your resume ATS-friendly.

    Don’t use fancy formatting gimmicks, incorporate lots of keywords (in a natural way), and be sure to save your file as the employer requests. If they don’t request any specific file format, stick with .doc or .docx — even though PDFs save their formatting across devices and operating systems, doc files are easier for ATS to read.

    Also, don’t put your contact information in the header of your document — some ATS can’t read headers or footers.

  • Keep things chronological. Just like in a resume, your experiences should be listed in chronological order. For each section, begin with the most recent experience and work your way back to the older experiences. That way, you’re leading with fresh and impressive facts about yourself.

  • Contextualize your accomplishments. It’s much better to provide examples of your proudest achievements rather than simply listing your job duties. Hiring managers and recruiters know, more or less, what’s involved with whatever job title you had.

    Your job is to show them how you leveraged your winning skill set to achieve great results.

International CVs

So far, we’ve been treating all CVs the same way, but that’s not exactly the case. In English-speaking countries around the world (Ireland, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, etc.) and most countries in Europe, a CV is basically the equivalent of an American resume.

If you’re applying for a job in one of those countries and they ask for a CV, you’re probably safe to send over your regular American resume with a few modifications. Of course, if you’re applying for an academic and/or scientific role in one of these countries, then the more formal CV we describe above is still your best bet.

Wherever you’re applying, try to find examples of CVs for that specific country. There might be slightly different cultural expectations depending on the country (e.g., headshot photo, birth date, etc.).

No matter where you’re applying for jobs, the rules of job-seeking basically remain the same:

  • Provide accurate and professional contact information at the top of every page.

  • Highlight your most relevant, impressive, and recent accomplishments in the place where they’re most likey to be seen (near the top of the first page).

  • List basic education experience for most applications, or more detailed education experience for first-time jobs out of college and/or scientific/academic jobs

  • Ensure that your skill set is obvious throughout the document, as well as in a dedicated skills section.

  • Include numbers wherever possible to help contextualize your experiences — think scale (“Managed 5 people”), frequency (“20 client emails per day”), change over time (“increased sales by 15% year-over-year”), and money (“saved $3,000 in office supplies budget”).

    These details make a big difference in hiring managers understanding and appreciating the scope of your job and past contributions.

Include a Cover Letter With Your CV

Many people will tell you that you don’t need to send a cover letter. They’re right — about half the time. The trouble is, you don’t know if the hiring manager for this specific job is part of the 50% of hiring managers who don’t use them in their decision-making process.

And the hiring managers do prefer to see a cover letter say that it makes a big impact on how they screen candidates. Plus, you don’t need to stress about writing a cover letter for a job. In the process of tailoring your CV, you’ve already done the mental legwork of figuring out what the company wants from a candidate.

While your CV answers the “who, where, what, when” questions about you, a cover letter fills in the “how” and “why.” It’s your chance to describe why you’re passionate about the field and how you approach your job.

A cover letter only needs to be about a half-page long (about 250-400 words) with three or four paragraphs:

  • Opening paragraph.

    Introduce yourself, indicate your years of experience in the field (if it’s equal or greater to the requirements in the job description), and grab the reader’s attention with your most significant professional accomplishment.

  • Body paragraph(s).

    Get into slightly more detail about why you’re interested in the field and what attracted you to this company/position in particular. Use your company research to show that your values and/or goals are aligned.

  • Closing paragraph.

    Thank the reader for their time and consideration. Finish with a call to action that indicates you’re enthusiastic to speak more in person and looking forward to hearing back.

References

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Author

Kristin Kizer

Kristin Kizer is an award-winning writer, television and documentary producer, and content specialist who has worked on a wide variety of written, broadcast, and electronic publications. A former writer/producer for The Discovery Channel, she is now a freelance writer and delighted to be sharing her talents and time with the wonderful Zippia audience.

Expert

Don Pippin, MHRM, CPRW, CDCS

Don Pippin is an executive and HR leader for Fortune 50 and 500 companies and startups. In 2008, Don launched area|Talent with a focus on helping clients identify their brand. As a Certified Professional Resume Writer, Certified Digital Career Strategist, and Certified Personal Branding Strategist, Don guides clients through career transitions.

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