How do you write a CV?

By Chelsi Arellano

Let me tell you a very long-winded story. Circa 2017 Stephen looked at Frank’s resume as an example to format his CV, as told by Frank. According to Stephen he stole the format from his sister. Around 2018, I asked Stephen about his CV and he sent me a copy. I liked his formatting, so I copied it. He did the same with Dragana and Kiri, and while we were applying to our respective PhD programs, we all shared and sent around our CVs. Clayton liked the formatting too and changed his CV to fit it. In 2019, when Frank decided to apply to a PhD program, he asked for Stephen’s CV. He was surprised to see the same formatting he had used in 2017, which he had taken from a friend back in 2015 when they were searching for jobs. Frank still liked the formatting a lot and decided to use it again. The true origin and end of this format will never truly be known.

This is not a confession to our egregious plagiarism, but a reminder of something that everyone should keep in the back of their minds at all times: no one knows what they are doing. Writing a CV falls into that category perhaps the hardest. You can google how to do it and get a hundred really good examples. Whatever school you’re at or planning on attending probably has a writing workshop and a pdf file of a great example too. They’re all pretty good and going to serve you well, and there’s going to be at least one professor that won’t like the way it’s formatted at all and tell you to redo it. I’m still going to give you some hints and tips about things that should be in a CV, and what a CV is, but at the end of the day, it’s not something that has one perfect form, it’s just about knowing how to fake it till you make it. 

First up: What is the difference between a CV and a resume? I googled it and basically a CV is your whole line up of experience and a resume is a short (1-2 page) example of your experience. An academic CV as opposed to a regular CV is focused on only academic experiences, which cuts out my first five jobs in various minimum wage work but would include things like a pedagogical course I took and some projects I completed for class. It’s a confusing distinction between all these different types, and honestly, I’ve been asked for all three in different capacities as a grad student. Stephen keeps a master CV of everything he’s ever done and plans on doing and just copies and pastes from it when asked, which is probably the best practice to go by. Write a CV as early as possible, because it’s going to change, either as you add more things you do or as someone tells you to change it.

Some things that everyone asks for are as follows:

  • Education (What schools have you studied at, specifically colleges/universities?)
  • Professional Experience (What jobs have you had?)
  • Leadership Roles (When were you in charge of something?)

Some other categories include:

  • Languages (Do you know any language besides your native language?)
  • Skills (Do you know how to work that complicated program?)
  • Professional Affiliations (What cool clubs are you part of?)
  • Awards (Has anyone given you something for all the work you do?)

And finally, some general formatting:

  • Use reverse chronological order (newest things go first)
  • It should be single spaced
  • Put your name in big letters at the top
  • Write the dates of when everything happened (by month/semester and year)
  • Use black for your font color and a neutral font

This is not a comprehensive list, and I am no expert. Like I said above, no one knows what they’re doing and someone’s going to come in and tell you to reformat it more like theirs. Writing your CV as soon as possible will save you some stress, particularly the stress of remembering the specific title of the internship you had five years ago. Any hard and fast rule that someone tells you, someone else broke and got a fabulous job. A CV is not an easy task that comes naturally for anyone because there are so many ways to do it. Which also means that it’s really hard to get completely wrong. These tips can be found on a million websites that probably look much more official than this blog, but be assured that no matter where you steal your formatting from, it’ll probably be pretty okay.

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