What Is a CV: Definition, Examples & How to Write It

Job hunting can be confusing. You know you need a CV, but what is it exactly? What makes a good one? Relax. Here’s everything you need to know.

Michael Tomaszewski, CPRW
Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Career Expert
What Is a CV: Definition, Examples & How to Write It

A CV or résumé (both spelling variants correct) is a document you create to outline your work history, educational background, skills, and accomplishments. CVs are mostly used to apply for jobs in the US and Canada. The purpose of a CV is to highlight and summarise qualifications relevant to a particular job opening. A typical CV is one- to two-page long.

 

Notice the sentence in bold? It’s no accident.

 

This is the single most important thing about a CV—it should be targeted at a specific position.

 

Unlike a CV—an extensive document used for academic purposes, containing every single detail about your education and employment history—a US CV should be brief and only focus on what’s relevant to the job you’re applying for. If the difference isn’t clear to you, see our article with a detailed CV vs. Resume comparison.

 

A standard CV contains the following sections:

 

  1. Contact Information
  2. CV Profile (Summary or Objective)
  3. Work Experience
  4. Education
  5. Skills
  6. Additional Activities (Conferences, Certifications, Publications, etc.)

 

Alright, enough theory for now. Here’s an example of what a proper CV should look like.

 

sample CV templates

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CV Sample

 

Carla Casaus

Graphic Designer

Phone: 646-873-6870

Email: carlacasaus@gmail.com

Portfolio: www.carlacasaus.com

linkedin.com/in/carlacasaus

https://twitter.com/carlakcasaus

 

Summary

 

Efficient graphic designer with 4+ years of experience. Seeking to use proven layout, web, and Photoshop skills to provide design excellence for James R. at Netflix. As senior designer at Elenar 5 delivered 280+ client projects, slashing costs 18% and bringing in £100K/yr in new business.

 

Experience

 

Senior Graphic Designer

Elenar 5, New York

2017–2019

  • In charge of daily production for a high-end agency.
  • Led team of five graphic designers to create client products with Photoshop.
  • Produced 280+ graphic design projects (websites & brochures).
  • Cut costs 18% in 20 months through vendor management & lean flow.
  • Brought in £100,000 a year in new sales through social media outreach.

 

Graphic Designer

Fredegar Rising, New York

2016–2017

  • Directed daily design work in fast-paced agency.
  • Mentored 2 assistant designers.
  • Increased firm revenue by 15% through better client relationships.
  • Led team that received 2017 American Inhouse Design Award. 

 

Freelance Graphic Designer

Various

2015–2016

  • Designed 150+ website pages and 15 wireframes for client websites.
  • Used Photoshop and InDesign in daily production.
  • Developed 5 brochures, 11 infographics, and 12 client logos.
  • Commended 3x by clients for web design skills.

 

Education

 

BA Graphic Design, Southern New Hampshire University

2011–2015

GPA 3.7 (Cum Laude)

 

Skills

 

  • Hard Skills: Typography, Layout, Photoshop, HTML/CSS, Illustrator, InDesign
  • Soft Skills: Interpersonal Skills, Communication, Collaboration, Time Management

 

Additional Activities

 

  • Award: D&AD New Blood 2014
  • Certifications in Autodesk and Adobe CS5
  • Spoke on panel about colour theory at Hang Time conference 2018

 

Think a CV isn’t right for you and you need a CV? Go here: Academic CV Writing Guide

 

If you want to see more examples, check out our sample CVs for 50+ professions.

 

How to Write a CV?

 

For detailed instructions, see our article with step-by-step guidelines for writing a job-winning CV.

 

Just need a synopsis? Look no further.

 

Create your CV following these steps:

 

  1. Start by choosing one of the three CV styles: reverse-chronological, functional, or combination. For 9 out of 10 candidates, a reverse-chronological CV is the best pick.
  2. Create an elegant CV header with your contact information.
  3. Write a CV profile—a short paragraph outlining your skills and accomplishments. If you have more than 2 years of experience, your CV profile should be a professional summary. Less experienced candidates should write a career objective.
  4. Outline your work history: list all your positions from the past 10 years in chronologically descending order. In each entry, include your job title, company name, dates worked, and up to 6 bullet points describing your duties and achievements. This part is the most important one. More than 2 out of 3 recruiters say job experience is what matters most on a CV.
  5. Enter your highest degree of education. List your major, minors (if applicable), the name of the educational institution, and graduation date.
  6. List 4 to 10 job-relevant skills.
  7. In a separate section, showcase your additional activities and accomplishments: certifications, publications, additional training, conference participation, volunteer work, etc.

 

So—

 

You’ve learned how to craft the contents of your CV. You’re almost good to go. But—

 

Before you start writing yours, learn the basics of CV formatting and design. You know, impressions matter, don’t they?

 

How to Format a CV?

 

There’s both art and science to CV formatting, so if you want to learn all the ins and outs, this guide will teach you how to format a CV.

 

Here’s a quick rundown:

 

  1. Pick a respectable font and stick to it throughout your whole CV. Keep the font size between 11 and 12 pt.
  2. Set the margins for 1 inch on all four sides.
  3. Make your CV header legible and visually distinct.
  4. Divide your CV into clear sections with large headings—you want the recruiter to see what information is where.
  5. Use plenty of white space. Give your readers some breathing room.

 

One crucial thing: don’t go for fancy graphics and make sure your CV has a scannable text layer so that it passes an Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) scan. A recent report has shown up to 98% of the largest companies use ATS to philtre CVs. 

 

You’ll be fine if you create a CV in Word and save it as PDF. But be super careful if you’re planning to use more advanced graphic design software, such as Photoshop or Illustrator. Always use a ATS-friendly CV template.

 

What about the ideal CV length?

 

The nineties got us all believing a CV should always be one-page.

 

Well… but they also made us think JNCOs and soul patches were cool.

 

The truth? 

Don’t overdo it, though. Two pages is as long as a CV can get. Think you need more? You probably need to cut irrelevant bits. Remember, make every word earn its place on your CV.

 

Key Points

 

Here are the most important things you need to know about CVs:

  • A CV, unlike a CV, should be brief and targeted at a specific job offer.
  • Almost all of the biggest companies use bots to scan CVs: make sure your CV is ATS-scannable.
  • Try to keep your CV one-page, but don’t obsess over it. If your experience warrants a second page, it won’t be a dealbreaker.

 

Got more questions about CVs? Drop me a line in the comments, I’ll straighten out your queries!

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Michael Tomaszewski, CPRW
Michael Tomaszewski is a resume expert and a career advice writer for ResumeLab. He is a certified professional resume writer (CPRW) and a member of the Professional Association of Résumé Writers & Career Coaches. Michael works with candidates across all career stages—from entry-level job seekers to executive coaches. His insights have been featured in CIO and Best Life Online. His mission is to help you tell the story behind your career and reinforce your professional brand by coaching you to create outstanding job application documents. More than one million readers read his career advice every month. For ResumeLab, Michael uses his connections to help you thrive in your career. From fellow career experts and insiders from all industries—LinkedIn strategists, communications consultants, scientists, entrepreneurs, digital nomads, or even FBI agents—to share their unique insights and help you make the most of your career. Michael has a degree in Liberal Arts and specializes in personal and professional storytelling.

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