How to Write a Compelling CV

As Seen In

logo of wsj
logo of wsj
logo of business-insider
logo of business-insider
logo of cnn
logo of cnn
logo of fatherly
logo of fatherly
logo of nbc
logo of nbc

Table Of Contents

Most jobs ask you to submit a resume, which should be short and targeted. On the other hand, if you’re applying to a job at an academic or research institution, you may have to submit a Curriculum Vitae (CV) instead of a resume.

Unfortunately, you can’t use your resume when a job requests a CV. Although there’s some overlap in the contents of a resume and a CV, the format is very different. A CV also contains far more detail about your experience than a resume can. That’s why you should understand the key differences before you write your CV, and get help where you need it.

What’s the Difference Between a CV and a Resume?

In the United States, the vast majority of job postings ask for a resume. A resume is a brief, targeted overview of your experience and education. On the other hand, certain specialized jobs require you to submit a CV

What exactly is a CV and how is it different from your resume? Curriculum Vitae (CV) is Latin for “course of life.” It’s meant to be a comprehensive look at your education, experience, and accomplishments. There are a few key differences between a resume and a CV, and it’s important to understand those before you start writing your CV.

Job Type

CVs are usually requested in specialized jobs. If you’re applying to a position in higher education or research, you’ll need to submit a CV. Because of the type of job you’re looking for, a CV will give your potential employers much more information about your academic and research experience than a resume would.

An academic or research institution wants to see a proven track record of original, published research. Potential employers will also want to know what your teaching experience is, in detail, if you’ll be an instructor.

Tenure Track Professor

If you’re applying for a tenure track faculty position, your CV should emphasize both your teaching and research experience during graduate school and in the professional world. To earn tenure, you need to engage in research as well as teach courses. Your CV should show that you have the experience to do both.

Adjunct/Non-Tenure Track Professor

If you’re applying to an adjunct professor job, you won’t be on the tenure track and your primary role will be teaching. Your CV for an adjunct role might emphasize your teaching skills and experience, instead of focusing on research.


If you would like to work in a non-teaching research lab, your CV should emphasize your experience doing creative and independent research in your field. You don’t need to focus on your formal teaching experience since you won’t be doing much teaching as a researcher. However, you can highlight mentoring and informal teaching you’ve done, since that may be an important part of working in a lab.

Grants, Fellowships & Conferences

Some grant, fellowship and conference applications require you to submit a CV. Pay close attention to the requirements of each application. Some only want you to submit selected publications for example.


The most obvious difference between a resume and a CV is that CVs are much longer. Resumes should be two pages at most. On the other hand, a CV can be as long as it needs to be. An experienced professor could have a six-page or longer CV.


Most experts recommend targeting your resume to the specific job you’re applying to. Since a resume is a short document, you’ll do best if you focus only on your most relevant experience. A CV, however, is a full record of your experience and skills. You don’t necessarily have to tailor the content to a specific job. You might want to consider emphasizing different types of experience for different applications via formatting, but you usually won’t change the fundamental details in your CV.

Because a resume is more targeted and shorter, you’ll probably update a resume frequently. On the other hand, you can add teaching and research experience to your CV as you obtain it. Maintain a master CV with all of your research, experience, and accomplishments. Then you can edit it for each job, grant, or conference application.

CV Formats

Before you start filling out your CV, choose a format. You want your CV to be easy to read and consistent with the standards in your field.

Know Your Field

Some academic fields have a standard CV format. For example, many Economics PhDs write their CVs in LaTeX, a mathematical formatting program. Check the CVs of professors and fellow students in your department to see if they have consistent formats. Ask your advisor if there is a template you should be following. You don’t want to stand out with a unique format.

Use a Legible Font

Whatever layout you choose, make sure to use a font that’s easy to read. Arial or Times New Roman are standard fonts that are familiar and easy on the eyes.

Leave Out Photos

In the United States, you shouldn’t include a photo on your CV unless it’s specifically requested (and this would be a very surprising request).

What Is the Required Info on a CV?

Every CV should contain your contact information as well as the most important details about your education and experience. You should definitely include these critical sections on your CV.

CVs don’t have a standard format, but there are general guidelines that you should follow. Your contact information should appear first so it’s easy for prospective employers to find. Since your educational credentials are important to research and academic jobs, your education section should be on the first page.

From there, you should seek advice from your advisor or colleagues in your field to determine the best section order. Most academic fields have a standard format, and it can vary by discipline. STEM subjects might emphasize research more strongly, so the publications section should appear after resume. In some fields, your previous roles and teaching experience might matter more. You should conform to the standard CV format in your area of study.

Contact Information

Make sure that your contact information is clearly listed on your CV. List the best phone number and email address for prospective employers to get in touch with you. If you’re a graduate student, keep in mind that you may not have access to your school email after you graduate. If you’re concerned about this, a personal email might be safer.

You can also include your LinkedIn profile, if it’s up to date. If you have a website that showcases your work, feel free to include that too. Put your contact information at the top of the CV so it’s easy for prospective employers to find.


Since CVs are usually used for academic and research jobs, your education section is important. List all of your degrees (Bachelors and more advanced). You should include these key details for each degree:

  • Degree conferred (Bachelor of Science, Doctor of Philosophy, etc.)
  • Major/Minor/Focus Area (Math, English, Computer Science)
  • Date conferred
  • Institution
  • Institution location
  • Prestigious awards
  • Thesis/Dissertation research if applicable

Join The Break Community

List your degrees in order from more to less advanced, so people see the most advanced degrees first. The order should be:

  • Doctoral (PhD, JD, MD)
  • Masters (MS, MA, MBA)
  • Bachelors (BS, BA)

Since a specific degree is often a firm requirement for an academic or research role, this section should appear on the first page of your CV.

Work Experience

The experience section describes your work experience. This could include teaching, research, assistantships and corporate jobs. Work experience it typically listed in reverse chronological order, with your current or most recent position shown first.

For each job you’ve held, you should list the following information:

  • Job title
  • Dates of employment
  • Employer
  • Employer location (if relevant)
  • Key accomplishments

Use active verbs when you’re describing your accomplishments, and include numbers when possible. For example, “In charge of team generating revenue reports each month”, you could say “Applied automated processes to generate monthly reports, making that process 50% faster.”


Academic institutions and research labs will be extremely interested in your past research. You need to show a track record of conducting and publishing independent, original research in your field. List all publications that are relevant to your area of expertise, including journal articles, research briefs, articles, book chapters, or anything else you’ve authored or co-authored.

Most career experts recommend formatting your publication citations in APA style. The APA provides guidance for citing books, journal articles, online articles, and other types of publications.

You can divide your publications section into subsections for books, journal articles, web-based articles, and other types of publications. If you’re in a STEM field, articles in peer-reviewed journals should appear first. Consider putting your name in bold so it’s clear when you’re the first author.

The order and formatting of publications on your CV can be very field-specific. To make sure you follow the norms for your field, be sure to talk with your advisor and look at your colleagues’ CVs. Check the citation format and the order of different publication types.


Show that you’re connecting with your colleagues and sharing your research by listing your professional talks, presentations, or conference posters. Include the relevant information:

  • Title of talk
  • Name of Conference
  • Date
  • Location
  • Brief description if appropriate

If you’re just starting out in an academic or research role, include any conference presentation in this section. As you gain experience, you can eliminate smaller local or regional conference presentations and focus on high profile, national events.


List competitive awards that you’ve received. This will help you stand out and show that your research or teaching abilities have been recognized. You can also include any prestigious fellowships or assistantships awarded to you.

Focus on awards from your graduate school and professional career. You don’t need to list any awards from your undergraduate studies, unless you received a prestigious, nationally recognized honor. If you become a member of Phi Beta Kappa, earn a Rhodes scholarship or a Fulbright, you should include that on your CV. Other undergraduate awards don’t need to be included.


Most CVs include three to five professional references. If you’re a grad student, you can include your research advisors and professors you’ve worked with on teaching or research. As an experienced professional, you might need to use references from past jobs or grad school if you don’t want your current department to know you’re looking.

Make sure to ask your references if they’re willing to speak on your behalf. Choose people who can speak about you in detail, and will communicate clearly. Provide each person’s name, title, and institutions. Include their relevant contact details, like phone number and email address. You can also briefly describe how you know each reference.

List your references at the end of your CV since they won’t be used until you’ve moved further in the interview process. You don’t want a potential employer to miss relevant details about your work.

What Other Information Can Make My CV Competitive?

Since a CV doesn’t have space constraints, you can include additional information that might be relevant to your career. Although these sections aren’t required, they can definitely provide prospective employers with a broader view of your interests.

Recent/Current Research

If you have any non-published research that you think is relevant, you can include a brief description of the research. This can be especially important if you’re involved in a major, long-term research project but haven’t yet reached a conclusion.

Working Papers & Manuscripts Under Review

Many academics and researchers include papers that are in progress, but not yet published. A working paper exists in draft form and could be under review by a co-author. If you’re still deciding where to submit the paper, it’s a working paper. You can also list manuscripts under review, which are papers you have submitted to a journal and are still in the review process.

Grants and Fellowships

Academic and research institutions usually rely heavily on grants to fund their research. If you’re experienced at securing grants, list the grants and fellowships you’ve received on your CV. Include:

  • Name of grant
  • Name of granting agency
  • Date
  • Title of Research Project
  • Amount of grant if public

This section will show that you’re familiar with the grant process and can hit the ground running in your new job.

Professional Memberships & Service

Convey that you’re involved in your profession by listing any professional memberships. List local, state, regional, and national groups. If you’ve held a leadership position, make sure to include that information.

Most fields have a nationally-recognized professional organization. Job postings and other industry information often flow through that organization. If you’re not familiar with the major professional membership organizations in your area of study, ask your advisor or a colleague.

Hard and Soft Skills

Some people include a section to list their skills. Hard skills might include software packages or coding languages you know. You could also list specific algorithms or techniques you are familiar with. A hard skills section makes it easy for prospective employers to quickly and easily see your relevant technical skills.

You can also list your top soft skills. Soft skills include communication ability, leadership, and teamwork. You can also include foreign language proficiency in this section.


List relevant professional certifications, the year you received them, and the granting institution (if applicable). Certifications are more important in some fields and less so in others, so you should find out what the custom is in your focus area.

Certifications are useful if they’re supplemental to your area of study. For example, if you have a PhD in computer engineering and have received an advanced certification in Java programming, that is relevant to your CV. On the other hand, if you have a certification in project management as a computer engineering PhD, that might not be important. Consider the type of job you’re applying to when you decide whether to list your certifications.

Also make sure to keep your certifications current. Some expire after a few years without continuing education. Don’t list a certification on your resume if it has expired.

Institutional Service

If you’ve served your institution in any way, list that on your CV. This could include institutional committees or departmental positions, like the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Also share any special institutional projects you’ve assisted with. If you have worked with the admissions office, participated in research to benefit the school, or worked with a scholarship program, that should go on your CV.

Note whether you’ve advised graduate or undergraduate students in their research. For the students you’ve advised, list their name, degree, research topic, and first placement out of school.

Community Service

You can share your community involvement as well. If you volunteer significant time at a community organization, you can choose to include that on your CV. Some institutions want to hire people who will be involved in the local community, while others focus on professional qualifications. Research the institution to gauge whether your community service might be appealing to them.

Academic Travel

If you’ve traveled to research or collaborate, you can include that on your resume. List research trips, university visits, guest instructor posts, and anything else that you’ve done outside of your home institution. This will show that you’re committed to collaborating with colleagues and going the extra mile to complete your research.

Editorial Work

Include editor positions you’ve held at professional journals or publications. Include the publication and dates served. You can also include a brief description of your responsibilities.

The Tools to Write a Great CV

Writing a CV can feel daunting. It contains so much information that it might seem overwhelming at first. You can make CV writing easier by keeping a few things in mind. First, you should definitely seek guidance from others in your specific area. Just like resume writing services, there are services that specialize in CV writing. Take their advice on CV formatting and contents. Second, keep in mind that your CV is a living document that you will add to over time. Unless you change fields, you don’t have to write a CV from scratch more than once. If you spend the time to do it right this time, you can keep using your CV for years to come.