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How to write a CV

When you apply for a job, you want your application to rise above the competition. An up-to-date CV, or curriculum vitae, can help make that happen and show employers that you are serious about the position. Check out five tips for writing a CV from edX.

What is a CV? 

A CV is a document that summarizes your professional and academic history. It includes information such as your education, employment, and awards. 

What does CV stand for? CV is an acronym for curriculum vitae, which is Latin for "course of life." In some places, a CV is referred to as a résumé and vice versa. A résumé typically focuses on your professional experience and can be more concise than a traditional CV. The longer CV is more commonly used in academic or research settings and can be up to three or more pages with extensive information about education, awards, and publications.

There is no hard and fast rule about what employers expect from candidates. In some instances, people use the terms CV and résumé interchangeably. When in doubt, review the job description and confirm the application requirements. 

Tips for writing an effective CV

A CV format can vary depending on your field and the specific job you are applying for. Sarah Han, career coach at edX, discusses five steps to help you write a CV and reach your goals.

1. Make an impression within 30 seconds

Your CV is often the first thing a potential employer will see, so it's important that the initial impression is good, or you may not even get a chance to interview. “Start by making your CV easy on the eyes,” Han explains. Here’s how: 

  • Keep the text concise. Get to the point quickly and clearly.

  • Break up text with headings and subheadings.

  • Use bullet points to list your skills and experience.

  • Avoid jargon and acronyms that the employer may not understand.

For some roles, having multiple versions of your CV can make sense, and there are many CV examples you can model. For example, if you are applying to be a UX designer, you could create a CV that demonstrates your layout skills as an industry standard. You could create another CV in a text format that can be read by an automated applicant tracking system (ATS), a software that manages job applications and other administrative aspects of the hiring process. 

2. Present yourself as a problem solver

Problem solving is a core component of nearly every job. If you want to emphasize that you are solutions oriented, some CV tips include: 

  • Highlight the types of problems you are good at solving. Provide specific examples rather than talking at a high level to give employers the sense that you have experience. 

  • Quantify your results. Where possible, put figures to show the outcomes of projects you’ve worked on, such as the number of customers served, the amount of money saved, or the number of employees trained. This will show potential employers your effectiveness in doing the work.

  • Use data storytelling to show your impact. Through data you can make your CV more credible and persuasive. Explain how customer satisfaction increased, costs decreased, or employee productivity improved. 

“We live in a digital and data-driven world, so you want to include data where it’s possible and applicable,” Han says. “You want to demonstrate how you contributed to business growth through numbers.” Some examples of how to discuss your problem-solving abilities on your CV include: 

  • "Increased customer satisfaction by 10% by identifying and resolving customer pain points."

  • "Reduced costs by 15% by implementing a new inventory management system."

  • "Led a team of 10 people to successfully complete a project ahead of schedule and under budget."

  • "Solved a complex technical problem that saved the company $100,000."

  • "Improved employee morale by 12% by organizing monthly awards and team-building activities."

Study the job posting to understand what types of problems a new hire would be required to solve and position yourself as being capable of providing relevant solutions. You can learn problem-solving skills in courses delivered by edX.

3. Highlight key information

Identify the skills and experience required for the position you want and tailor the format when writing a CV. “You can increase your chances of getting noticed by hiring managers when your CV has keywords that appear in the job description and when you quantify your experience,” Han says. “For example, instead of saying ‘I have experience with Microsoft Office,’ you could say, ‘I have five years of experience using Microsoft Office, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook.’"

Exactly what skills should you highlight in your CV? That may vary according to the job description. Han advises: Choose three to five that apply to the role and make sure they include technical skills and transferable skills, also known as employability skills. If you’re applying for a data scientist role, you can highlight your expertise using the Python programming language as well as your ability to communicate and collaborate well.

4. Research the company

To demonstrate that you understand the organization's culture, values, and goals, you need to do some homework. Write a CV that shows how your skills and experience can contribute to their success. The company culture will also help you determine if you need to use a formal approach or a more conversational tone in your job application. 

Start your research by visiting their website and reading their about page, mission statement, and product pages. Look for news articles about the company and follow them on social media. If the company sells a product or service, learn as much as possible about what it produces and try out the products if possible.

“Find people who work at the company on LinkedIn, or reach out to your network of contacts to find out more,” Han says. “By taking the time to research the company, you can confirm that you want to work there and you can position yourself as a strong candidate for the job.”

5. Prepare a new CV for each job

When it comes to your CV, quality trumps quantity. 

“Spend time crafting a well-written CV that’s tailored to the specific job you are applying for,” Han suggests. “It makes more impact than just sending a generic CV to many hiring managers.” 

Repeat keywords from the job description and reference relevant skills. 

“Employers are more likely to take your application seriously when you match or mimic the words in the job description,” she adds. “It indicates that you are familiar with the position and have the skills to meet the role’s criteria.”

To help job seekers, edX provides resources with links to templates for universal and industry-specific applications. When you tailor your CV to each job, you can improve your chances of getting an interview and landing your dream career.


CV vs résumé: What is the difference?

Some people use the terms “CV” and “résumé” interchangeably. A traditional CV, typically associated with academic and research environments, can be a more comprehensive document that includes your education, work experience, publications, and other achievements. A résumé can be a shorter document that highlights your skills and experience. In many parts of the world, such as Europe, a succinct CV is the standard document used to apply for jobs. In the United States, a résumé is typically one or two pages long, while a CV can be longer. 

What to include in a CV?

A CV should contain your name, contact information, work history, technical skills, transferable skills, and any other information that can be helpful for an employer to know, especially as it applies to the role you are seeking. 

Are there any additional tips for writing a CV?

In addition to being brief and concise, it’s important to proofread your CV or résumé carefully. If possible, get it read by someone in the industry. You can also use scanning tools like JobScan to see how well your CV or résumé matches up with the job description. 

What does CV stand for?

CV is short for curriculum vitae, or “course of life” in Latin. It is a document that summarizes your educational, professional, and research experience. It is typically used by academics and researchers to apply for jobs or grants. CVs are often longer than résumés, which are documents that generally focus on your professional experience. CVs can be up to three or more pages long and may include more information about education, awards, and publications.

Last updated: July 2023