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How to Write a Short CV

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As you sit down to draft your CV, your instincts may be to include more rather than less. But remember that employers are busy, and they prefer a concise document rather than a rambling one. While you need to convey the depth and range of your experience and accomplishments in a CV, it's better to keep it focused. Here are some tips on how to draft a brief CV that still paints a full picture of your life.

What Is a CV?

Many people use the terms "resume" and "CV" interchangeably. Although both are documents you prepare when you are seeking a job, there are significant differences between them. If you want to apply for a job and you aren't sure which is required, here's the way to figure it out.

In the United States, a resume is a document that showcases your skills, education and experience for a particular position. It is competency-based and intended as a personal marketing document specifically targeted to the job opportunity at hand.

On the other hand, a curriculum vitae, or CV, is intended to provide an overview of your professional life and scholarly specialization when you are applying for an academic, medical or scientific position in the United States.

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In Europe and much of Asia and Africa, CVs are the required document for any job. They are credential-based, rather than skills-based, offering a comprehensive recitation of all of your educational achievements, awards, certifications, honors, research and teaching experience, publishing history, and memberships in professional groups.

How Are CVs Different From Resumes?

CVs are almost always longer than resumes. While a typical resume is one page, a CV is at least several pages and, for someone at mid-career, sometimes up to 10 pages or more. It offers a very detailed synopsis of your professional experience that's up to date with current employment and full educational information. Nothing is ever dropped off a CV as time passes; you simply add new positions, publications and honors as you go.

As an example, imagine you are applying for a job in archaeology. If you are writing a resume, you'd list the work experience and skills you have acquired that relate directly to the job. If you prepare a CV for the same position, you'd include a synopsis of all your teaching experience, lab work and fieldwork, as well as education, honors, and publications.

What Do You Include in a CV?

Writing a CV will take some time, so settle in to compose the first draft. Remember that "curriculum vitae" is Latin for "course of life," which gives you a good idea of the detail required. Start by making a list of all relevant background information; then organize and flesh it out afterwards. Here are some topics to include:

  • Personal identification
    Start your CV with your basic contact information. That includes your name, address, phone number and email information. In the U.S., it's not appropriate to include a photograph, although this is standard in Western Europe. You might also consider including a brief biography.

  • Your Education
    Your education is an important part of your story, especially when applying for an academic position. You'll need to detail your education in reverse chronological order, including all the degrees you have earned, beginning with the most recent or any you are currently working toward. Include the schools where you received your education, the years you graduated, and the topic of any dissertation or thesis you authored.

  • Work History
    Work experience is a central part of your CV. In this section, describe teaching and research experience, field experience, leadership roles and any volunteer work relevant to your profession. Dates and locations should also be included, but leave out salary history and any information about why you moved on.

  • Awards and Honors
    If you have received honors, awards, grants or scholarships based on your work, include a separate section to highlight them. Include any fellowships or scholarships you received in this section as well. If you hold any patents, put that in too.

    If you are just starting out in your career, you may not have many awards or honors. You can also include in this section any invitations you have received to speak at conferences or participate on panels as an expert. Membership in professional organizations can be included here too, including how long you have been a member. 

How Do You Write a Concise CV?

Given all the parts of your life you must detail, writing a brief CV might not be possible. However, it's always best to keep your CV as concise as possible. The way to do that is to leave out discretionary sections. You will need to use your own instincts about this. You want to include the information that will show that you are an excellent candidate, so don't take out sections you feel will truly enhance your CV. Items you can condense or even omit include:

  • Hobbies and Volunteer Activities
    Many people have sections in their CVs discussing their hobbies, sports, and volunteer activities that aren't work related, in short, what they like to do in their free time and why. This can be titled "areas of interest" and might give a potential employer a better sense of who you are when you are not working at your job. However, this is discretionary information you can leave out to streamline your CV. It's always appropriate to mention these interests in a personal interview.

  • Languages and Interests
    Unless you are applying for a position as a linguist, you might leave out a list of the languages you speak and your levels of fluency. Similarly, your skills and knowledge that do not relate to your professional life are not essential in a CV. Of course, you'll want to include skills and training relating to your professional life in earlier sections of the CV.

  • References
    Some candidates for academic or scientific positions include a list of impressive people who will speak enthusiastically about their skills as well as contact information for those people. However, if you want to keep the CV reasonably short, this is a section you can eliminate. Simply state "references available upon request." This also gives you more time to prepare the people who will speak in your favor. 

What Is the Format of a CV?

Unlike a resume, you want to format your CV in the classic style, with your name, address and contact information on top, then the other sections laid out logically below, using topical headings. The topics that appear first will receive the most attention, so arrange your sections to focus on your strengths.

It's critical that you proofread your CV carefully. It must not contain any grammatical or spelling errors, and the formatting should be consistent. The text should look professional and read well. Use a font that's easy to read.

A CV is more formal than a resume, and you must use full sentences to describe your background. Many resumes use formatting such as bullet points to communicate information in the fewest possible words. Don't do this on a CV.

What about a CV template? Templates may be available online, but they don't really work well for these very personalized documents. Your CV will contain many different kinds of information arranged in a way to best describe your life experiences. This is not the kind of format that works well with a plug-in template. However, you can find great CV examples online that will show you how other people have handled the task.

About the Author

Teo Spengler has worked as a trial lawyer, a teacher and a writer at various times in her life, which is one of the reasons she likes to write about career paths. Spengler has published thousands of articles in the past decade including articles providing tips for starting a job or changing careers. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, and Working Mother websites. She holds a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley, an M.A. in English and an M.F.A. in fiction.

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