How to Write a CV (Curriculum Vitae): The Deluxe Resume

Updated: September 21, 2020

By Neil O’Donnell
Neil O’Donnell, CPCC is a nationally certified career coach with over 15 years of career counseling experience. By partnering with recent graduates and seasoned professionals around the globe, he helps others to achieve their career dreams.

Have you ever been asked for a copy of your CV, all the while wondering, “What the heck is a CV?” If so, you’re not alone. Let’s run through the basics.

What is a CV? CV is short for “curriculum vitae”—or “course of one’s life” in Latin. This detailed document details someone’s professional history and related accomplishments. Now, you might be thinking that a CV is simply a fancy way of saying resume. Actually, it’s quite different.

What’s the difference between a CV and resume? I often refer to CVs as resumes on steroids to my clients and students—and for good reason. The CV differs from a resume in a couple of key areas. First, while a resume should be just one page, a CV can be as long as you want (but it’s usually three or more pages in length). For more seasoned professionals, a CV can be eight, nine, or ten pages!

Additionally, where a resume typically focuses on the last 10–15 years of employment, a CV documents all of your relevant academic, professional, and research experience. So, for those of us with 25+ years of experience, we still list our initial jobs on our CV—as long as the work is relevant to our current field. In addition to documenting someone’s entire work history, CVs list every single accomplishment, including papers published, classes taught, papers presented, and continuing education completed. A resume may include such details, but they’re usually kept to a minimum.

When do you use a CV over a resume?  Most professionals will only need a resume when applying for a job. The CV is the tool of academics, scientists, and other professionals who are expected to contribute to the development of their field, including:

  • Archaeologists
  • Biologists
  • C-Level business executives
  • Chemists
  • Cultural anthropologists
  • Education industry administrators
  • Historians
  • Medical doctors
  • Physicists
  • Professors in any field
  • Psychologists
  • Sociologists
  • Software developers

How do you know if you should develop a CV? Ask your college professors or seek out advice from seasoned professionals in your field. Personnel in human resources can also give you some solid guidance.

How do you format a CV? All the basic resume formatting rules still apply, with one important difference: academic CVs typically don’t include bullet points! While this is changing, it’s still better to err on the side of safety. Stick to clean formatting, using bold text and white space to emphasize your most striking accomplishments.

What sections should you include on your CV? As with resumes, there’s a range of ideas on what information should be included in your CV. From my time as a career coach and resume writer, in addition to chairing or serving on hiring committees, I can tell you to consider the following categories:

Heading: Like a resume, you need to list your contact information. On a CV, it’s a smart move to include one or two identifiers after your name, which denote expertise or an advanced degree (or two). These identifiers include the following:

  • PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
  • PsyD (Doctor of Psychology)
  • MD (Doctor of Medicine)
  • MA (Master of Arts)
  • MS (Master of Science)
  • MEd (Master of Education)
  • CPCC (Certified Professional Career Coach)
  • CRW (Certified Resume Writer)
  • CSMC (Certified Stress Management Coach)
  • LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor)
  • RN (Registered Nurse)
  • RPA (Registered Professional Archaeologist)

Most of these designations are attained through rigorous training and academic programs, in addition to regular college degrees. For those with more than two such credentials, list the two most relevant to the position to which you’re applying. For those with no graduate degree (master’s or doctorate), skip writing B.A. or B.S. (Bachelor of Arts or Science) after your name.

Education: Listing your education is crucial on a CV, and it always comes first. It shows you have the educational foundation required for the job. Include all advanced degrees (above a bachelor’s), honors, and your dissertation title. While you should only list two credentials after your name in the heading, the education section should include all relevant training.

Summary of qualifications: As with a resume, I recommend job seekers include a professional summary. These sections should be tailored to each job you apply to, focusing on your most-relevant training, field experience, and accomplishments. On a CV, this section can be a bit longer, but keep in mind that you’re still writing a summary; be concise.

Core competencies:  This is an optional, succinct list of your areas of specialty and expertise. Each area is just one or two words, and the section is typically formatted in three to five columns, no more than five lines deep. This is a good place to highlight technological proficiencies, industry buzzwords, and/or key requirements identified in the job description.

Professional experience: The point of a CV is delving into the details, so you’ll want to list all your relevant experience. As with a resume, each item should include the title, organization, location, dates held, and your responsibilities and impact. For those going into academia, you can consider breaking up this section into “Teaching experience” and “Research experience.”

Now that you’ve got those lead sections out of the way, you have more flexibility. The following sections can go in any order; decide what works best and what’s important based on your strengths, where you are in your career, and the position to which you’re applying. Note that some sections are required, while others are optional.

Publications, papers, and presentations: This is a key difference between a CV and a resume. For a CV, you should include full bibliographic citations for all of your (as always, relevant) published articles and papers, as well as all presentations. Publications and papers can include journal articles, books, and reports. For presentations, give the title, name of the conference, location, and date. You can also choose to briefly describe the subject matter.

Affiliations and associations: List any relevant professional organizations to which you belong. Keep in mind that applying for a job that requires a CV is probably not the best place to list your affiliation with the Society for Creative Anachronism (although for fellow anthropologists or even historians, this would likely not be an issue). If you were appointed to a recognizable role within an organization (e.g., secretary or co-chair), mention that as well.

Honors and awards: Another strongly suggested section. List any academic or teaching awards, scholarships, or fellowships, along with the year in which you received them. Alternately, you can include fellowships and scholarships in a separate section, along with grants (see below).

Grants, fellowships, and scholarships: Again, include the name and year at a minimum. Some people list specific dollar amounts, while others do not. If you’ve received a large grant or scholarship, that means it was more competitive and speaks highly of you. In these situations, you can consider just listing larger dollar amounts.

Licenses and certifications: List any useful and/or relevant licenses and certifications, along with the year and license number (if applicable).

Volunteer and extracurricular experience: If you’re still in college or lacking experience, it’s a good idea to include your volunteer and extracurricular experience.

Activities, interests, and hobbies: Another optional section that could be more useful if you’re early in your career.

References: You can consider ending your CV with a list of references.

As you can see, there’s no one right way to do your CV. If you’re in college, or in the early stages of your career, it’s a great idea to start a CV now. Having a detailed record of all of your experience will help you with any future job search.