How to Write a Stellar CV (& My Top CV Tips from Experience)

Everything you need to know to create your perfect curriculum vitae.

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This article will show you how to write a CV, plus some helpful CV tips to help you stand out from the crowd.

How to write a CV

If you’re like most college students, you probably already have a resume ready to go, but have you ever written a CV?

Just a heads up: If you’re going to be applying for any academic positions either post-grad or while you’re still in school, you will need a CV instead of a resume.

According to the University of Wisconsin, a CV, short for “curriculum vitae,” is “a document that presents who you are as a scholar. CVs are used in academic spheres to organize your education, experiences, and accomplishments in a clear and predictable way that allows readers to skim and find information efficiently.”

When it comes to writing a good CV, a CV that will make you stand out from the crowd, a CV that will make the recruiters want to give you an interview, there are loads of tips out there, either on the internet or in your college’s career office. But today I’m distilling them down into one simple guide.

If you are just starting out with CV writing, or you already have a sketch of a CV but need help bringing it to the next level, then keep on reading. Today, I have tons of CV tips to share.

Below, I’ve narrowed down some of the most important things that I have learned about CV writing. Note that this list is not exhaustive but has things to be aware of before you even think about hitting that “upload CV” button.

Here’s what you need to know when writing a CV:

1. Start with a Template

CV on a desk

To get started writing a CV, it helps to use a template. You can find templates online, but I recommend you start by getting in touch with your college’s careers office, because they work with CVs all the time and can give you an exact template file to work from.

If you do want to use an online template, here are a few I recommend:

  • Novorésumé has lots of templates for CVs, resumes and cover letters.
  • LinkedIn has a service for premium users where you can type in a job title, upload your CV, and then LinkedIn will highlight the skills or experiences you have that are relevant to the position. They’ll then offer suggestions of others to add. Even better, you can get a free trial of premium for 30 days.
  • My university uses this platform called CareerSet which uses AI technology to review your CV, give you a score, and suggest improvements. It also has a feature to target your CV to a specific role.

Now that we have the basic starting point down, let’s get into the details on writing a perfect CV.

2. Make Sure It’s Well Structured

A woman holding a CV on on board.
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Structure is everything. After your personal details such as your name, address and other contact details, make sure that the most important things (such as your skills and qualifications) are at the very top. Then afterwards, you can list your educational history and work experience.

It probably goes without saying if you’ve ever written a resume, but make sure that your most recent and most relevant experience is at the top of the list.

A tip that I’ve heard regularly is to use bullet points when listing what your roles were, rather than writing a paragraph. Bullet points are easier to scan through and give you the opportunity to highlight the most important parts of your experience that are relevant to the job.

Also, be sure to use action words, the way you would in a resume.

Following on from that, here’s a list of things that should never go in a CV:

  • A title such as Curriculum Vitae
  • Funny fonts such as Comic Sans
  • Jargon
  • Abbreviations
  • Weaknesses
  • Generic hobbies such as “socializing”
  • Mentions of age, race, religion or gender
  • Health or physical descriptions
  • Too many experiences from high school (if you include any at all)
  • Absolutely nothing from middle school or earlier

3. Tailor It to the Job

A woman looking through two sheets of paper.
Photo by Alexander Suhorucov from Pexels

It can be easy to just have one CV that you send everywhere, but that’s not a good idea at all. As with a resume when you apply for regular jobs, academic jobs emphasize different skillsets and qualifications, so the CV that you send out to each opportunity should be tailored to the position.

When you’re writing your CV, make sure that it ties in with the position description. If they ask for candidates with good communication skills, make sure that you mention instances where you have displayed strong communication skills.

Be sure that when the recruiter is looking at your CV, they can cross-check it against the job description or attributes needed for the position and see why you’re the perfect fit.

4. Make It Evidenced Based

A laptop with  a CV and a chart.
Photo by Lukas from Pexels

One tip that I’ve heard from the careers officer in my college, is to make sure that that you include numerical evidence in your CV. At first this seemed like a weird one but when I thought about it, it made sense. Take these two scenarios.

“I wrote weekly blog posts on College Fashion” versus “I wrote weekly blog posts on College Fashion that increased website traffic by X percent”.

The second one has more detail and offers an actual demonstration of your skill. So as much as you can, include numbers to quantify your achievements. Even rough estimates are good.

For every experience you list, make sure that there is a necessary skill that you can emphasize.

5. Make Sure It’s the Right Length

A blank A4 sheet of paper on a desk with a plant.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

The ideal length for a CV for you to show off your experience and capabilities is two pages. To be honest, most recruiters don’t read each CV in depth. They receive hundreds of CVs on a regular basis and most of what they do is just scan each CV for the main points.

That’s why it’s so important to make sure that your CV includes the buzzwords required for the position. Recruiters want to see right away that you’re a fit, or they may pass you by.

Most recruiters won’t read a CV that is over two pages long, so try to keep everything that you want to get out to them in two pages. On the other hand, be sure not to make it too short — if you have to embellish a little to get to a reasonable length, then do so.

6. Proofread, Proofread, Proofread

A woman typing on a keyboard.
Photo by William Fortunato from Pexels

It’s up there three times because it is so important. There is absolutely no excuse for not doing this step.

Imagine if you say in your CV that you have great attention to detail and then you have a typo in your CV — you’ve automatically undermined yourself. It sounds harsh, I know, but this is a thing that recruiters use to quickly eliminate candidates.

So make sure that you check through your CV multiple times. Going one step further, try to have someone else review your CV for you. Even better if you can have someone in your college’s career office do it! They’ll also have tips for what you should add or remove, and will be able to help with the overall structure of your CV.

These are our tips on what to look out for when you’re writing a CV.

What would you add to this list? How comfortable are you with CV writing? Let us know below in the comments.

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