A Curriculum Vitae (CV) or resume is a written document summarizing your educational and academic background. Yet, it is much more than simply a list of your experiences and achievements – it is a marketing tool that allows you to stand out from the crowd and demonstrate to prospective employers why you are the best candidate for the job.Your CV is very often the first thing the reviewer of your application takes at least a quick look at to learn the key facts about you. Afterwards he or she might read your cover letter and then go back to pay detailed attention to your CV before reading through the additional material you have provided. So as you see, your CV is the reference point of your application! And why is that? Because reviewers know what they would like to see: A clearly structured document, which is easy to read. Typically, your CV should be:
- Clear: well organized, readable, easily understandable)
- Concise: no double entries, brief)
- Complete: all relevant information should be included)
- Consistent: no mix of styles, same order in presenting)
- Current: include dates with all information, update your CV at least once a year)
Even though the way to write CV varies from country to country (for differences between countries refer to our country profiles) the basics are always the same. In general, you should focus on two things when writing a CV: the content (what you will write) and the layout (how you will present the information).
While there is some degree of flexibility in what to present in your CV, you should definitely include the sections listed below to satisfy recruiters. If you have little or no work experience it is important to try to identify and emphasize other skills and qualifications. So, if not all sections apply to you focus on the ones that describe your life best. In general it is better to only include in your CV skills and experiences that will be of relevance for the position you are applying for. You do not want to bore the reviewer with redundant information. Get to the facts and stick with them!
Personal details include your name, address, and contact details. Make sure that you include area codes with your telephone numbers and make sure that your email address is suitable for prospective employers and reflects well upon you. This section should be kept brief (no more than a quarter of a page) and, if necessary, you should include term-time and home addresses with dates for availability at each. It is not necessary to include your date of birth, nationality, marital status, gender, or health status on your CV but this depends on the job, employer, and country you’re applying to – see our country profiles for more information.
In some countries it is also common to include a personal profile. This should be a maximum of four lines long and should describe two or three of your main strengths and include your career achievements and ambitions. Make sure you tailor this to reflect the company’s values and to align yourself with the requirements of the job you are applying to. It is best to avoid generic skills statements such as ‘good communicator and team worker with strong analytical skills'. It is worth remembering that profiles are optional and this information could also be included in your cover letter.
As an (under)graduate student your education is likely to be your strongest selling point and therefore this should come prior to your professional experience. Provide information about all the academic institutions you have attended from high school (or equivalent) onwards. This should include summer programs or semesters you spent abroad on an exchange program. Make sure that you indicate the times you attended the institution (month/year), your major, and your (pursued) degrees. If you are still studying then write down the dates you expect to finish your degree. If you hold or study a degree that cannot easily be understood in English, state the original name and the English equivalent (e.g., M.Sc. (Econ) equivalent). It might also be advisable to state the program that you attended if you were doing an exchange program at that school (e.g., attended MBA classes in finance and accounting).
Moreover, you should state your (expected) grade point average or GPA in a way that even people can understand it that are not familiar with the grading system of your country. For example, if you received a 2 on a grading scale from 1 (excellent) to 6 (failed) then indicate 'GPA: 2 (best: 1; worst: 6)'. Alternatively, you can also convert your grades to the standard system used in Europe, the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) – just refer to our grade conversion table. To make it even easier for the recruiters provide the percentile you are in (95th percentile means only 5% of your class have a better grade; you can also write top 5%) or the rank in your class. Usually the examination office can give you this information or it is automatically included in your transcript.
3) Professional experience
In this section state all work and entrepreneurial experience you have gained since high school. This might be permanent positions, student jobs, internships, apprenticeships, freelance jobs, trainee programs, or companies you have started yourself. Make sure that all entries include the duration (month/year) and the name, city, and country of the organization. Also include your responsibilities, tasks, and achievements and provide examples of where key skills were developed. Rather than saying 'Internship in Marketing' say 'Analyzed consumer behavior on the shop floor and implemented a new shop layout that resulted in revenue growth of 10%'. But do not forget: Don't lie and don't exaggerate! Delivering newspapers in your neighborhood not really is being 'Responsible for the distribution of print publications in the London Metropolitan Area'. Always be prepared that someone who interviews you is an expert in that area and will ask tough questions. And recruiters have a good sense to spot exaggerations and lies. They might even call your reference to verify your statements!
If your country requires you to military or social service you should also state this work as experience as you usually spent about one year working in this kind of professional environment. Also, try to avoid unexplained gaps in your career history as employers will become suspicious.
In this section you can state all skills you have that are of relevance to your application. So do not state for how long you can hold your breath if you do not intend to become a diver. Usually you should mention language and computer and IT skills.
It is important that you describe the level of skills. For example, language skills could be described as native, fluent, advanced, and basic. More detailed description usually leave more questions open than they answer (what is the difference between beginner and basic?). Even stating that you have advanced skills in French will usually be translated into 'has some knowledge but will not be able to use the language in a business environment'. Consequently, the only important language skills are the languages you speak and write fluently.
When it comes to computer and IT skills do not waste space by listing operating systems like Windows 95, 98, 2000, XP, and Vista. If relevant (e.g., in media or advertizing) stating that you know Mac OS may help but everybody expects you to know Windows. In addition, you do not have to list all basic Microsoft Office programs, 'standard office applications' will do. However, if you are a pro using spreadsheet software such as Excel or database software such as Access you should definitely state this. But not by simply listing the software, but by saying, e.g., 'advanced modeling skills in Excel'. In addition, you will not win any prize if you state that you know the 'Internet' or even 'Firefox', not to speak of 'E-Mail'. This is standard! And basic knowledge of HTML will not help anybody, either. Try to focus on software skills that are special: If you can use statistical software such as SPSS or Stata, for example, state it! The same goes for special design and video-editing software, if you know more than opening an image.
5) Extracurricular activities/hobbies
This is what matters! Not really what you do but that you do something at all. List all activities that you are passionate about to demonstrate your initiative and interest to develop your skills: If you are the captain of a football team or if you help older people in their houses: great! If you are active in certain clubs, associations, or parties, tell the reader what you are doing there. Being involved in sports can, e.g., demonstrate team-working ability or international travel can show your adaptability, open-mindedness, and independence. Don't give a long list of interests but concentrate on two or three. Be concise and focus on recent achievements and what your contributions were, what skills you developed, and what the outcomes were.
If you have been awarded any scholarships, grants, or stipends based on merit, it is great to list them and the duration over which you received them. Don't be too humble to state them but rather be proud of what you have received and use them to stand out from the crowd. As they are often very well known locally but not in other countries, provide a translation. To do so ask the awarding organization for an official translation or check the English language section of their Website.
Over the course of your studies you will have written one or more thesis papers. Especially your final Bachelor's or Master's theses are worth to be included in your CV. Make sure you give the exact title and the grade you received for it. If you have written any books and academic articles that were published, list the exact title in addition to when and where they were published. This is always a great reference and shows your ability to work academically. Any unpublished research projects or papers you were involved in should – as a rule of thumb – not be listed in your CV.
Including artistic efforts and public performances, and such in your CV is a delicate issue – at least when applying for a job/internship in the (analytical) business world. Whether or not you decide to mention something in your CV is probably dependent on the following factors:
- Relevance to the position you are applying for
- Overall look of your CV
- How prestigious your artistic effort is
If your job requires public speaking it could be very beneficial to have experience in performing in front of crowds (say as an actor on the stage or a musician). On the other hand, applying for a position in a really conservative environment may make it more prudent not to mention certain efforts if they could be considered too extravagant or bizarre. Should your CV look really thin, including an interesting background or experience in arts may be a legitimate way of giving your CV an edge. Obviously, if your artistic efforts received praise by the public and if you were perhaps even awarded a renowned and well-respected prize, there is no reason to hide this fact. It is an achievement to be proud of!
Bear in mind that a CV should optimally be tailor-made for each and every recipient. Your CV should deliver a message. Whether or not to include artistic achievements in your CV is a question of whether you believe that it will enhance your profile for a specific position. When in doubt discuss it with some friends. A good solution could also be to just briefly mention it in the 'Extracurricular/hobbies' section.
A reference is a written statement by someone you know recommending you for a job. It differs from country to country how, or if at all, you should present references. So if you are in doubt whether or not to include them, you can always write 'Available upon request'. But make sure that you have permission from your references prior to putting them in your CV and the email addresses and telephone numbers you provide are correct. Also, always let your references know whose calls they should expect and send them the most recent version of your CV. As a rule of thumb, do not list more than three references.
Transcripts or overviews of your grades are crucial to support your educational background mentioned in the CV. Usually it is sufficient to provide copies of your diplomas, degrees, etc. But if you do not have official transcripts a simple table listing the courses and the grades will do, too. Try to have it stamped from your school to verify your grades. If the transcripts are not in English or the language spoken by the person that you are sending the CV to, make sure that you provide a translation that also explains the grading system (also refer to our grade conversion table).
In some countries it is mandatory that you provide certificates for almost everything you mention in your CV. Therefore, it is advisable to have copies of your evaluations or certificates from jobs or extracurricular activities at hand. To save time and money it is best if you scan the documents (black and white line art at 300 dpi is sufficient) and store them in a pdf file. By doing this, you can print them or email them whenever needed. Again, if in doubt about whether to include a certificate, do so. If the person does not need it, she can easily ignore it.
Not only presenting the right content, but also presenting the content right is crucial for impressing your prospective employer. It is important that you present your CV in a comprehensive and logical order. There are 3 things to bear in mind – aim, focus, and accessibility.
- Aim: Organizing your CV clearly is vital in showing the prospective employer how well your skills match the job requirements.
- Focus: Your CV layout itself demonstrates motivation and respect for the employer. You should have tailored your CV to the job and so the information should focus on matching your skills to the job requirements. The care you take to target, interpret, and prioritize your experiences also demonstrates effective communication skills.
- Accessibility: The employer will probably scan rather than read the CV, so it’s essential that the layout makes it easy to navigate. This means that your CV should be written in a logical manner with clear headings and consistent use of bolding and italics. Make sure you’re giving the reader strong visual signals about how the CV should be read to guide them through the text.
A key prerequisite for achieving these things is to organize your CV logically. There are 4 main alternatives to structure a CV:
- Chronological: the most widely used, listing work history and education in reverse order
- Functional: this CV has a section near the beginning that describes skills and abilities acquired through many jobs. Often used by those who have had a very varied career
- Targeted: similar to the functional CV and useful for those with inconsistent employment histories
- Alternative: for jobs requiring creative flair
In general, ordering your CV chronologically is the most common way to structure a CV. Most often, entries are ordered anti-chronologically, i.e., starting with the most recent. Therefore, it is even more important to keep your CV up to date so that employers can directly see your recent responsibilities and achievements first.
Typically, your CV should be no more than 2 pages long. Be aware that the dimension of letters varies: whereas in a lot of countries A4-sized paper (210 x 297mm) is standard, it is 'letter' (216 x 279 mm) in the UK, and 'legal' in the US (216 x 356 mm). If you know a place where you get paper in the dimensions you need it, you can use it, of course. However, as more and more applications can be sent by email it is usually ok to leave it in the format you have it. But if you want, you can change the dimensions of the file in Microsoft Word by clicking 'File' -> 'Page Setup' -> 'Paper' -> 'Paper Size'.
To further improve your application, stick to the following dos and don'ts when writing your CV:
- Use only one font style and a size of 11 or 12 – small text will allow you to write more but is much harder to read
- Use bold headings and bullet points to separate each section and break up large amounts of text
- Use a consistent style and format
- Start sentences with competency-based words that emphasize the skill, quality, or attribute you’re presenting
- Keep sentences short, factual, and to the point
- Use positive language and 'power' words such as 'launched', 'managed', and 'improved'
- Keep words such as 'and', 'the', 'I'm' and 'we' to a minimum
- Use good quality paper – first impressions count
- Check your CV carefully for spelling and typographical errors
- Use bold font in the text as this can divert the reader’s attention from what you’re saying
- Use graphics as these can make a CV look cluttered and detract from the information given
- Be too fancy – keep it simple and professional
- Exaggerate – you should feel comfortable with your CV and ensure that its contents are both honest and accurate
- Attach a photo unless requested
- Forget to include a cover letter when sending your CV
- List detailed information about research or teaching. Instead, provide the titles of research projects and course names along with brief summaries of your work
- Call the subject of your email 'Application for the position of…’ with the job reference number included if there is one
- Find out the name of the person you should write to and in the email write Dear 'Mr./Mrs./Ms.' rather than 'To whom it may concern'
- Convert the file to pdf format to ensure the design stays the same on all computers
- Keep an eye on the file size: normally the file size should not exceed 1 MB
- Attach a cover letter