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How to Write an Academic CV

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What Is a CV?

CV stands for "curriculum vitae," a Latin phrase meaning "course of life." It's a detailed document that provides information on your professional and academic history. Typically, in the United States, a CV is used by candidates with masters or doctoral degrees, who are applying for teaching or research positions.

Resume vs. Curriculum Vitae

A CV and a resume are similar documents. Both are used to provide information to potential employers when you're looking for a job. CVs and resumes summarize your work history, education, skills and achievements. They're not interchangeable documents, however. In French, the word "resume" means summary. A resume is typically shorter, sometimes a single page, and focuses on previous roles while providing an overview of your education and abilities. It's used when applying for most jobs, in almost every industry. A CV is a more detailed document that focuses on academic achievement and research.

Geography plays a part if you're trying to decide whether it's appropriate to submit a resume or CV when applying for a job. In the U.S. and most of Europe, employers will specify which is required in support of a job application. In India, South Africa and Australia, the two terms are used interchangeably. In the U.K., New Zealand and some parts of Europe, the word "resume" is seldom used at all; employers will ask for a CV even if the position you're applying for has nothing to do with academia or research.

High school students may be asked to provide an academic resume as part of the college admissions process. It's generally a one page document that summarizes your high school career, including grade point average, honors, awards and activities.

Resumes typically include the following:

  • Name and contact information: Use your residential address, not your work address (especially important if you don't want your current employer to know you're looking for another job). Include one phone number (home or cell); more than one phone number can make your resume look cluttered. You can also include an email address. Be sure to use one, or create one, that is professional.
  • Objective: a statement about the position you're applying for
  • Education: A list of your degrees, relevant certifications, and educational institutions
  • Work experience: names and addresses of the organizations where you've worked, dates of employment (year only is sufficient), job title and responsibilities. Work experience can be organized chronologically, or in a functional format, which focuses less on job titles and dates of employment and more on skill sets and professional achievements

CVs typically include the following:

  • Name and contact information.
  • Areas of interest: A list of academic interests.
  • Education: A list of degrees earned or in progress, names of institutions and dates of graduation. You can also include titles of your thesis or dissertation.
  • Grants, honors and awards: As relevant to your professional work.
  • Publications and presentations: A list of published articles and books and presentations given at conferences. These can be included under one heading or, if your body of work is extensive, under two separate headings.
  • Employment and Experience: One section or several, depending on the extent of your professional work, volunteer work, leadership or other relevant entries
  • Scholarly or professional memberships: If you've held a leadership position, you can include that here or in the employment and experience section
  • References: a list of individuals who can attest to your professional and scholarly activities, with their contact information

Other Differences Between Resumes and CVs

Resumes may include some of the same information, but there are important differences between the two kinds of documents:

  • Length: Resumes are meant to be concise, with relevant information summarized on a single page. CVs can have page numbers running into the double digits because of the level of detail required.
  • Career Type: CVs are often used by people with advanced degrees who are seeking positions as professors or researchers at academic institutions.
  • Customization: A CV can be thought of as a living document. The content does not change, although additions are made throughout a professional career to include new experiences, publications, presentations, awards and the like. A resume is usually tailored for a specific position or industry, highlighting only the relevant experience and skills.

How to Format a CV

If you're still in school, you can consult with your faculty advisor or the campus career center. You'll find plenty of examples of CVs online. Look for a curriculum vitae example by someone whose professional interests are close to your own. Many educational institutions post CVs on faculty websites. Research facilities and businesses may also post CVs of key personnel on their websites. Use the examples as a guide to writing your own CV, but never copy a CV sample exactly. That's considered plagiarism, and it's a serious offense that could cost you consideration for the job.

Choose a universal font such as Arial or Times New Roman. Except for your name, which you may want to appear a little larger, use the same size font for the entire document. You can bold section headings, but otherwise refrain from use of bold, italicized or colored fonts. Block style, left-justified text is easiest to read. After typing your document in a word processing program, click on Print Preview to check that there is a pleasing balance between type and white space.

The order of topics on a CV is flexible. Divide your CV into sections, arranging the sections to highlight your strengths relevant to the position for which you're applying. List items in each section in reverse chronological order, meaning the most recent items first.

Some employers prefer to accept electronic submissions. If you are sending an email, save your document as a PDF file - formatted as .pdf - which can be read by any word processing software, without experiencing formatting changes. If you cut and paste your CV directly into the body of an email, make sure your objectives and career interests appear at the top of the message, where they will be seen easily. In a PDF, use all CAPS, rather than bold, italics or underlining to emphasize, since different email clients handle these in different ways.

Some employers ask candidates to apply through a website. Electronic submission forms can vary from one employer to another, but most will share some common elements. If you're applying for several positions, it is helpful to keep a master document on your computer so you can copy and paste sections of it as necessary. A bulleted list of work experience is a good example. You'll save time from having to re-key information and if you've carefully proofread your master document, as you should, you'll greatly reduce the chance of making a typographical error or entering the wrong information.

Allow yourself plenty of time to prepare your curriculum vitae. It can be difficult to remember all the relevant information if you trying to put together an academic curriculum vitae at the last moment before applying for a position. Keep your CV up to date and you'll always be ready to submit it.


Denise Dayton is a a freelance writer who specializes in business, education and technology. She has written for, Library Journal, The Searcher, Bureau of Education and Research, and corporate clients.

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