What is a CV? | How to Write and Format CVs in the U.S.

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A CV is a comprehensive document listing your academic and professional qualifications, experience and accomplishments. CV stands for the Latin phrase ‘curriculum vitae’ which means ‘course of life.’ 

A CV provides a detailed description of your education, work history, administrative experience, industry affiliations and more. You may need a CV to apply for roles in academic, science and medical disciplines. Here are tips to help you write and format your CV when applying for U.S. roles.

What is a CV?

CVs provide hiring managers with detailed information on your work experience, academic credentials, scholarships, grants, research projects, publications, research projects and administrative knowledge. In the United States, you need a CV to apply for a position at a university, college or other institution that requires post-graduate qualifications. 

A CV and a resume are synonymous in Europe and other parts of the world, but in the United States, a CV is different from a resume. Unlike a resume that highlights competencies, a U.S. curriculum vitae is longer and emphasizes professional and academic credentials over job-specific skills and experiences.

A well-written CV shows employers the course of your professional education and career, allowing them to gauge your level of preparedness for the role. 

How to write a CV

Here are some steps to follow when writing your curriculum vitae:

1. First, research the CV guidelines of the employer or discipline

Read the guidelines of the institution you are applying to before writing your curriculum vitae. Different institutions and disciplines have various CV standards. Knowing what is acceptable can help reduce error and improve your chances of getting the post. 

Tips for using employer/discipline CV guidelines:

  • When applying to a university that prioritizes classroom experience over research, list your teaching experience at the top. If the institution emphasizes publications over teaching, start with your research achievements.

2. Second, plan what to include in your CV

Read and understand the job description thoroughly prior to writing your CV. Writing a CV requires breaking it down into segments. Start with your academic credentials to show the hiring manager the exceptional qualifications you have to offer.

3. Third, gather and prepare specific information for your CV

You can research the employer or shadow a current employee to get firsthand information about their expectations. Understanding the job requirements allows you to list the relevant skills gained through your education and work experience and how they apply to the position.

Besides listing academic and professional achievements, a CV should also convey the skills and insights you gained from your experiences. It’s not enough to have multiple doctorate degrees in different fields. Your curriculum vitae should demonstrate the capabilities your scholarly background will add to the college or research agency.

Your CV should include:

  • Personal information including name, address, telephone number and email address
  • Educational qualifications including degrees, institutions and dates
  • Titles of dissertations or theses and the names of the supervisors and committee members
  • Teaching experience
  • Qualifications and skills
  • Research interests and experience
  • Publications and presentations
  • Grants, awards and fellowships
  • Administrative positions
  • Conferences attended
  • Awards and honors
  • Volunteer work
  • Membership of professional bodies, clubs and any other information that highlights your qualifications for the role  

Tips for including skills in your CV:

  • Mention how the demands of your doctorate program helped you become an adept time manager, or how regular conference attendance improved your presentation skills.
  • Highlight skills outside of your field if they apply to the position. Cite responsibilities and achievements, especially if the results are measurable.

4. Fourth, leave out personal information

Do not include your date of birth, marital status, religion or race in a CV. However, note that some sensitive positions may require you to provide more personal information.

5. Fifth, include information that is relevant to the specific role you are applying for

The content of your CV should be relevant to the position you are applying to. You don’t have to list every academic accomplishment, professional experience and award. 

Edit the curriculum vitae so you have only accomplishments that support your candidacy for the role. Use short, achievement-oriented sentences that start with a powerful action verb.

6. Sixth, choose the appropriate CV length 

The length of a CV depends on the content. It can be two pages for a young researcher or extend over 10 pages for an experienced professor. Use all the space you need to show the employer you are the perfect match for the role. 

How to format a standard CV

The key to creating a winning CV is to work on it long before the submission date.

Here are some tips to help you format a standard CV:

1. First, organize your achievements and credentials using clear and concise language

Revise your CV carefully to make sure it is free of grammar and punctuation errors. It should be concise, easy to read and understand.

2. Second, list all of the required information that demonstrates your expertise

A standard CV follows this format:

  • Contact information
  • Academic history (in reverse-chronological order)
  • Professional experience
  • Qualifications and skills
  • Awards and honors
  • Publications and presentations
  • Professional associations and fellowships

3. Third, follow a consistent format for the overall look of your CV

Research the format used in the field or institution you are applying to and use that as a guide for your own. Be sure to use the correct font size, font style, spacing, margins and typeface the employer accepts. Maintain plenty of white space and bold type but be consistent in your formatting. 

4. Last, edit and proofread

Revise the text until the content delivers your best self. Writing an attention-grabbing CV requires consistent practice and revision. You will need plenty of time to perfect the document. After writing, you can show your peers, faculty or career counselor and use their feedback to improve your content.