You don’t need to be a Booker Prize laureate to make your own curriculum vitae. Learn how to write a CV highlighting your qualifications using this guide in a matter of minutes.
In 5 minutes you'll learn what to put on a CV, but first think about this—You have years of skills, goals, work history, and education. Yet, you’ve only got an 8x11” piece of paper in front of you (or maybe 210×297 mm).
How can you squeeze all that into such a limited space? Which CV sections are a must? Which to leave off? Where do you put what? Well, the first thing to put is your mind at ease.
In this CV guide, you’ll learn:
- What should be on a CV, where to add it, and what not to include.
- How to structure a CV by using the best CV components.
- Other things to include in a CV and with your CV.
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Expert Hint: When should you use a CV, and when is it better to use a curriculum vitae? It depends. CV and CV actually have a different meaning across languages. Read about the difference between a CV and a Resume.
1. Contact Information
I know, I know. You learned how to write your name and address back in preschool.
But, before you skip right past this part of a CV, there’re a few important things to know to get your CV contact info right.
Here are which contact details to put in a CV header:
- Name—your first and last name, along with any professional acronyms you have (e.g., PMP, MBA, PhD).
- Professional Title—an optional branding statement, CV title, or job title, either one you’re seeking, your current one, or your previous role.
- Mailing Address—adding your address on a CV is usually not recommended. Add it only if they’re looking for local hires.
- Phone Number—use your mobile phone number, not your house phone. Check your voicemail message to make sure it sounds professional.
- Email Address—use a professional email address (email@example.com) rather than your childhood handle.
- LinkedIn URL—super recommended. As the foremost social network for professionals, it’s really necessary to have a LinkedIn profile. Don’t have one? Start one!
- Social Media URLs—don’t just add Facebook or Twitter profile links. Use relevant ones to your sought-after position, like Dribbble or Behance for designers.
- Website—a link to your website might be helpful, especially if you have an online portfolio—a great way to add more to your CV without filling the page!
Don’t include personal information like your gender, birthday or marital status in your contact section.
Forget about adding a photograph, too, if you are looking for a job in the US or the UK.
Expert Hint: If you’re adding social media profile links, clean them up! Remove unprofessional content from Facebook, and fix up that LinkedIn profile. Knowing how to make a CV work includes a lot of off-CV parts!
2. CV Summary or Objective
Below your contact info comes your heading statement. That prominent placement means the HR manager’s eyes see it first. (Which means it’s one of the most important sections of a CV.)
Here’s what should be included in a CV profile area:
Pick one or the other, as you don’t use both CV headings.
Good CV heading introductions should be around 2-4 sentences in length—a neat, 3- or 4-line paragraph. Use an objective statement when you either have a little or no experience CV related to the job you’re applying for, or when you’re targeting a very specific position. Otherwise, choose the CV professional summary.
Expert Hint: How long should a CV be? Job CVs should be one page for most candidates. Two pages is okay, but just make sure everything on your CV is adding value. Don’t go back more than 10 years in your work history, except when applying for senior positions.
3. Employment History
The employment history area is the centrepiece of a CV. It goes just below the CV introductory statement.
Here’s what to include in a CV work experience section:
- Official Job Title—your professional title goes first on each entry, to make it easiest for managers to see your progress. Make it bold so it stands out against the rest of the entry. Start with your most recent job title, and go back reverse-chronologically from there.
- Company and Location—next, add the company name, city, and state. As this is supporting text, make this italicised.
- Dates of Employment—in the following line, add the span of time worked. Add both month-year to month-year, or you can say “–Present” if you’re still working there.
- Duties & Responsibilities—add key responsibilities you handled at that place of work. Make sure they are relevant to the position to which you are applying.
- CV Achievements—this is where many go wrong. Employers know the basic tasks of a barista, say. But, they don’t know how well you did them. Adding an accomplishments section with numbers helps you to quantify and prove what you state.
That’s what to include on a CV experience entry. And if you're showing more than one previous workplace, repeat it for the following entries. But, don’t go back more than 10-15 years—they’re not looking for a Walter Isaacson-length biography!
Begin each job description entry with powerful words and action verbs.
Also, add any internships you may have had here to your job experience section, but only if they’re relevant or if you lack work experience.
Expert Hint: Use 4 or 5 bullet points to support each work experience entry. Also, keep the job ad handy as you write your employment history section so you can tailor the contents to what they’re looking for.
4. Education Section
The education CV section will usually go just after (below) your work history CV section.
However, if you are a recent graduate, writing an academic CV, or a professional returning to school, bump this section up to just under your CV intro.
Here’s what to include in a CV education section:
- Degree type—such as associate, bachelor’s, master’s, etc.
- Degree major—for example, engineering, computer science, or robotics.
- School name —the name of your school followed by the city and state.
- Extras—you want to stand out? Add relevant items as subsections, such as:
If you’ve completed a degree, don’t add your high school diploma. However, if you haven’t, or if you are still in progress, be sure to mention it.
Also, dates may be left off, especially if your years at the institution were 10 years or more in the past.
Expert Hint: GPA is unnecessary on a successful CV. If you’re thinking of adding GPA on CVs, make sure it’s 4.0 or very close to that, or else this will backfire.
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5. Skills Section
Finally, the skills CV section, the last of the must-include CV areas. Add 5-10 relevant CV skills, along with a level of proficiency for each if you so choose.
Here are the best types of skills to put on CVs:
- Technical skills—these are hard skills related to your job and industry, such as computer skills (don't just write computer skills, find good ones to from our comprehensive list of computer skills for CV), web development, statistical modelling, information technology skills.
- Communication skills—these are soft skills, including verbal, non-verbal, and written communication.
- Professional skills—these are abilities and skills on CVs which show refinement and sophistication, e.g., decision making, problem solving, conflict resolution.
- Management skills—not only your ability to lead others, but also how well you manage yourself (your projects, time, etc.) and your executive competence.
- Critical thinking skills—nowadays, if a company wants a robot, they can get a robot. Most of the time, though, they want people who can think for themselves, and critically.
Use work skills and CV qualifications they’re looking for on the job ad to make your own job skills list. Make them as close to the wording from the job ad as possible for the best CV keywords.
Expert Hint: Your arsenal of job-related abilities and skills to put on a CV is called your skill set. Just make sure to only put relevant skills on your CV rather than just a list of skills you know. Everybody and their goldfish adds they’re “proficient in Microsoft Office.”
6. Extra CV Sections
All those parts of a CV we’ve discussed up until now are the standards.
That means everyone will have them.
If you want to distinguish yourself from the rest, it’s good practise to add some extra CV sections.
Here are the extra CV sections to consider:
- Volunteer Work—you didn’t get paid for this work, and that’s very commendable. But, this free work may also be great experience to add to your CV!
- Languages—always include them on your CV if your level is intermediate and higher.
- Certificates & Licences—any training you’ve received, including licencing or certifications earned as a result, makes HR managers’ pulses quicken.
- Awards & Honours—a chef with a Michelin star would easily find another gig in food preparation. Likewise, add any awards and honours you’ve received to make your case.
- Conferences—lectured at some industry conference? This speaks volumes about how you are an expert in this topic. Employers love experts!
- Hobbies and Interests CV Section—a hobbies and interests section on a CV seems irrelevant, at first. But adding your likes, passions, and pastime activities is a great way to show the human side of yourself, as well as a subtle nod to exhibiting skills you have.
- Memberships—excellent way to show you mean business, as long as it’s relevant and a reputable organisation. Are you a writer? Your membership in the Authors Guild is ideal, in this case.
Expert Hint: Don’t add the CV references section! You can add a reference page along with your CV, but only if you must.
Format Your CV Properly and Write a Cover Letter
Here are some other essential items to consider when writing a CV:
- Section Headings—for each of these CV sections, use distinct formatting on the section heading to separate it from the rest of the text. Make it 2–4pts larger and bold.
- CV Templates—a professional CV shouldn’t look as if it was styled in the 1980s. Choose a modern and professional CV template to be taken seriously for a present-day job.
- CV Format —reverse-chronological, functional, combination, or technical? Formatting a CV right ensures that the most relevant and important information is just where it needs to be for the hiring manager to find it.
- CV Fonts—the legibility of your CV is crucial if you want the HR manager to read it and the ATS to be able to scan it. Read the full guide about CV layout for more on this topic.
- Cover Letter—half of all employers won’t accept a CV without a cover letter. And that other half? Most of them still prefer it. So don’t forget to include a CV cover letter.
- CV Email—you’ve learned how to write a great CV, but sending it correctly makes sure it gets delivered, opened, and read.
- Portfolio—if you have projects, photography, or other work to show requiring a separate entity, by all means, include it! All you have to do is add a link in your contact info for personal projects.
Expert Hint: “Should you submit a cover letter?” Well, a cover letter can seriously boost your chances. Our recent study conducted among recruiters, hiring managers, and HR pros shows that 83% of them say a great cover letter can help you land an interview even if your CV isn’t that good.
Double your impact with a matching CV and cover letter combo. Use our cover letter builder and make your application documents pop out.
Want to try a different look? There’s 18 more. A single click will give your document a total makeover. Pick a cover letter template here.
Ways that you can tailor your CV include:
- Using core components: contact info, work experience, education, and skills sections.
- Choosing either a CV summary or objective in the header area.
- Adding some extra CV sections to make your CV stand out: volunteer work, certificates, languages, memberships.
- Formatting your CV correctly and making it eye-friendly. Need more tips? Read our full guide on writing a CV.
- Reading from outside the US? Check out how to format an American CV.
Got any questions on what to put on a CV? Not sure which of the additional CV sections to add? Let’s have a convo about it in the comments below, and, as always, thanks for reading!