A curriculum vitae (CV) in most parts of the world is a document used for applying to jobs. However, the specific use and structure of a CV differ depending on which country you live in.
In the United States and Canada, for instance, a CV is used to apply for roles within academia, such as research positions or grad school. It’s typically at least two pages long (but often much longer) and provides a comprehensive overview of your academic positions, publications, and achievements.
In most other countries, however, a CV is simply the document you send to employers to apply for work. In fact, in Europe and the UK the words “CV” and “resume” are synonymous (although “resume” is less commonly used).
Long story short — unless you’re applying for academic positions in the US or Canada, writing your CV is the same process as writing a resume.
What to include in a CV
Now that you know what a CV is, you’re probably wondering how to structure your own CV. At a minimum, your CV needs to include the following five sections:
If you’re applying for work outside of North America, you’ll need a strong curriculum vitae to land an interview.
To help get you started, here’s how to make a CV that stands out from the competition:
1. Clearly list your contact information at the top
First thing’s first: employers need to know who you are and how to contact you if they want to offer you an interview.
Make it easy to find that information by including the following contact details in the header of your CV, at the top of the page:
First and last name (in a large font)
LinkedIn Profile (optional)
Make sure that your email address and LinkedIn profile are up-to-date and professional before adding them to your CV.
CV contact information example
Here’s an example of what a good CV contact information section looks like:
2. Open with a convincing CV objective or summary
Placed right below your CV’s header towards the top of the page, a concise and targeted CV introduction is the best way to immediately grab the attention of employers and convince them that you’re the right person for the job.
There are two types of CV introductions commonly used by job seekers:
The goal of both introduction styles is to quickly highlight your relevant experience and skills to convince employers to keep reading your CV. However, the way they accomplish this goal differs depending on the introduction you use.
CV objective example
A CV objective is a 2-4 sentence introduction that states how many years of work experience you have, what your most valuable qualifications or skills are, and how you can use these qualifications to help the employer.
Here’s an example of a strong CV objective:
CV summary example
A CV summary is a 3-4 sentence introduction that, like an objective, states how many years of relevant work experience you have, and also touches upon your professional skills. However, unlike a career objective, a CV summary highlights one or two of your most notable professional accomplishments (backed up with hard numbers).
This makes it most suitable for candidates with more professional experience, while an objective is ideal for people just starting their careers.
Here’s an example of an effective summary on a CV:
3. List your relevant work experience in chronological order
This is the most important section on your CV if you’ve already begun your career. Your work experience section is where employers evaluate your qualifications, looking for information about your key professional achievements and previous responsibilities.
To write a strong work experience section, start by listing each relevant job you’ve held from the most recent at the top, to the least recent at the bottom. In most cases, you should list a maximum of four unique positions on your CV.
For each position you list, include the following information:
Your start date and end date (month and year)
Then, include 3 to 5 bullet points for every position, outlining your key achievements and responsibilities while at that job.
When writing each bullet point on your CV, be sure to include the following details to make it as convincing as possible:
An action verb that grabs attention and shows employers what you achieved
Hard numbers (like dollar amounts or percentages) that provide context to those achievements
An example of a specific and relevant responsibility
Here’s an example CV bullet point in action:
Work experience on a CV example
A well-written work experience section on a CV should look something like this:
If you have less work experience, your education section should be highly detailed to help showcase all of your academic accomplishments. However, if you’re already years into your career, keep your education section short and to-the-point to keep the focus on your work experience.
If you have work experience, include the following information in your CV’s education section:
The names of your university, community college, or technical school
Location of the schools (city and state)
Date of graduation (month and year)
If you’re a college student or recently graduated, you can also add the following information to your education section:
Education on a CV examples
Here’s an example of a CV education section with minimal detail, written by a jobseeker with a decade of relevant experience already:
Now here’s an example of a detailed education section from a recent graduate:
5. Showcase your skills
Employers are always looking for candidates who have a strong set of professional skills relevant to the jobs they’re hiring for. While listing a bunch of skills in the skills section of your CV doesn’t prove that you’re qualified for the job, highlighting targeted, specific skills does show employers that you at least understand the job requirements.
Hard skills are job-specific abilities learned through experience, education, or training. Typically, hard skills are either the technical skills needed to perform a specific job, or a general set of abilities, like project management.
If you’re applying for a job that requires specific knowledge like software development, adding hard skills to your CV is essential to landing an interview.
Here are some general examples of hard skills to include on your CV:
Soft skills are innate character traits that positively impact how you work or interact with other people (like interpersonal skills or creativity). They’re naturally learned throughout your life and, unlike hard skills, can’t easily be taught in a classroom.
Some examples of soft skills for your CV include:
Skills on a CV example
Here’s an example of how to properly format the skills section of your CV:
6. Add additional information that emphasizes your qualifications
If you’ve read this far, then you’ve already assembled the basics of your CV. Now, it’s time to add the finishing details.
Including an additional section on your CV is optional, but the right information can help emphasize your qualifications or win over hiring managers (if it’s relevant).
Here are additional sections that you can include on your CV:
Candidates who speak multiple languages are valuable in a variety of industries. If you can speak or write in more than two different languages, consider adding a separate section on your CV to show off your skills.
Including interests or hobbies on your CV is a great way to stand apart from other applicants and show employers that you’re a good culture fit for their company.
However, before adding an interests section to your CV, consider whether your hobbies are relevant to the company you’re applying at and are work-appropriate. Also, consider the company’s level of formality.
For example, including your love for hiking is completely appropriate when applying to a casual startup, or an outdoorsy company like Patagonia.
However, highlighting how many hours you’ve put into Call of Duty when applying to a law firm would be perceived as unprofessional.
Adding a section for volunteer work on your CV is a great way to highlight some of your transferable skills and demonstrate that you’re involved in your community. These two reasons alone make volunteer work a great addition to your CV, but it’s especially effective to include if you’re applying for work in the nonprofit sector or in politics.
Additionally, including volunteer work helps fill out your CV if you lack paid work experience.
Additional section on a CV example
Here’s an example of a properly formatted interests section on a CV:
3 good CV examples
To help you get a better idea of what your finished curriculum vitae should look like, here are three CV examples made using some of our CV templates:
1 page CV example (with no work experience)
First, here’s a CV example from someone with no work experience:
1 page CV example (with work experience)
Now, here’s an example of a CV with years of work experience:
2 page CV example (academic)
Finally, here’s an example of two page academic CV (the type you’d use in American universities) from a candidate just starting their academic career: