Writing an Impressive Curriculum Vita(e) (CV)

Writing an Impressive Curriculum Vita(e) (CV)

Curriculum vita or vitae (CV) literally means “course of your life.” A CV is a comprehensive, formal, professional summary of your educational and academic background, employment, accomplishments, and activities. In addition, it serves as an important job-hunting tool. A CV should capture and stress your strengths; market you, the product; be honest; make a good first impression; and be convincing that you deserve a job interview.

All information included in a CV must be defensible and may be a topic of conversation in an interview.

CV versus Résumé

Both CVs and résumés introduce you to the reader. Whereas a CV is comprehensive, a résumé is brief. Both promotional documents include information about skills, experience, accomplishments, and education. Both CVs and résumés detail your credentials for obtaining funding or a job interview. A CV can be compared with a videotape that you produced over the years, while a résumé can be likened to a snapshot.

In general, a person who has obtained a master’s degree or a doctorate and has published papers uses a CV, especially if applying for a position in a research and development (R&D) organization or for an academic position.


Your CV should be concise, accurate, and informative. Update it on a regular basis, at least annually or more frequently if you have education, training, accomplishments, or publications to add.

Be sure that there is ample white space by allowing 1 inch margins on all sides. Use a serif font such as Times Roman, Bookman Old Style, or Palatino. Many serif font options are available. Do not make the reader struggle to see the text. A font size of 10 in some fonts can be difficult to read, as it is quite small. The bottom line is to be certain that the text is large enough to be very readable. Choose both the size and the font wisely.

Use a consistent style and format with both headings and sub-headings. When describing your accomplishments, using the past tense of active verbs is quite powerful, for example, “invented,” “formulated,” “collaborated,” “interacted,” or “synthesized.”

The length of a CV can range from 2 to 10 pages. In general, CVs of young professionals are 2 to 5 pages long. A more experienced person will have a CV ranging from 4 to 7 pages. The maximum length is 10 pages. If your publications list is lengthy, you might consider using an attachment to your CV to detail your publications.

It is optional to include the date at the top of the first page. However, if you do so, be certain that you have used the INSERT + DATE function on your computer and checked the box that indicates that the computer will automatically update the date each time you open the document. Otherwise, what is the most recent version of your CV can appear to be outdated.

Be aware that it is important to know in what format your CV should be submitted, either as an .rtf document (plain text often required for electronic submission) or a reader friendly document that can be submitted as an email attachment or as a hard copy. If you are applying using an on-line application form, it may require that you submit very plain text with no bold, bullets, underlines, italics, centering, tabs, vertical or horizontal lines, hanging indents, and other formatting options. Check with the organization to which you are applying to determine the preferred format.

If you are using a reader friendly format, avoid using underlines, all capital letters, or italics (italics are considered to be weak, but fine for book and journal titles in publications lists). Use bold for emphasis and bullets for lists.

Do not staple or fold your CV because doing so will slow down the reader, wasting valuable time that the reader could spend reading your CV.

Use page numbers except for page 1 and repeat your name on each page. By using a header or footer, you can easily include your name and the page number. After creating a header or a footer on a PC document, choose FILE + PAGE SETUP + LAYOUT and then check to “Different first page” box so that the header or footer will not appear on page 1. On the Macintosh computer, choose FORMAT + DOCUMENT + LAYOUT and then check “Different first page.”


List your professional references (three to five, or even as many as six) on a separate page of your CV as either the last page or a standalone document that reflects the same style as your CV. Thus, you can carry your reference document with you to an interview.

Ask permission of people who know you professionally to be certain they are willing to serve as references. Contact your references at least once a year to confirm their personal contact information and to update them on your professional activities. In addition, it is a nice touch to send an updated CV to your references annually or at least periodically.

When listing information about your references, include the following: name, their title, professional relationship to you (for example, supervisor, group leader, co-worker, customer), e-mail address, telephone number with area code, and complete mailing address, including zip code. Be sure to include a variety of references¾at least one immediate supervisor, a peer, a customer, and your academic advisor or professor.

Some Helpful Tips

Be certain to define all the acronyms used. Do not submit material beyond what is requested on the job ad. You can certainly take with you to the interview a reprint of two or three recent publications or examples of your work. Recent graduates might consider taking a copy of academic transcripts with them to their interviews. Also, keep copies for you of all the paperwork submitted in case there is any question or lack of information readily available concerning your application materials.

If applying for a position in an area somewhat different from your current work, indicate your current research as well as future research interests or long-term goals.

If you apply for an academic position, you may be directed to submit a 2 to 4 page statement of past, current, and future research interests as well as information concerning professional involvement with undergraduates, graduate and doctoral students, and postdoctoral researchers. In addition, you may be tasked to provide a statement of teaching interests what you are competent to teach including what is stated in the job ad and course lists without course numbers, especially if you are just finishing a degree. Brief course descriptions are optional. For academic positions, it is advantageous to indicate your potential for service because universities usually expect you to be involved in research, teaching, and service.

Possible Sections of a CV

Because there is no definitive protocol for organizing a CV other than including your educational background on the first page, there are many options for possible sections of your CV and for arranging them. Therefore, you have a great deal of flexibility regarding emphasis and detail. Your CV is your document. You can pick and choose what to include.

Keep in mind that you probably will have 30 seconds with the reader. Therefore, you must be powerful quickly!

The maxim regarding CVs says, “More is more.” For résumés, “More is less.”

Ask yourself, “What do I want the reader to know?” Be comprehensive, yet concise.

Below is a list of possible CV sections along with a suggested order.

  • CURRICULUM VITAE (written at the top of the first page–optional)
  • Applicant Information or Personal Contact Information
  • Objective (optional) but important if changing fields
  • Background (optional)
  • Summary of Qualificaions Education
  • Certifications or Licenses
  • Awards and Honors
  • Patents and Inventions
  • Grants and Fellowships
  • Employment Experience
    • Research Experience
    • Laboratory Experience
    • Teaching Experience
    • Supervisory Experience
    • Mentoring Experience
    • Instrumentation Experience
  • Academic and Professional Interests
  • Publications
  • Presentations
  • Professional Affiliations
  • Computer Proficiency
  • Scientific Instrumentation
  • Languages
  • Creative Activities
  • Volunteer or Service Activities
  • Special Skills
  • Credit and Non-Credit Continuing Education
  • Travel
  • Civic or Political Activities
  • Interests
  • Citizenship (optional)
  • References (if requested)

Do not include marital status, children, health, spouse’s work, birth date, birthplace, ethnicity, or religious affiliation.

Descriptions of Specific Sections

You may write Curriculum Vitae (or Curriculum Vita) at the top of the first page if you wish.

Applicant Information or Personal Contact Information

At the beginning of the CV, include your name followed by your Z#, if applying within the Laboratory, your home mailing address only, not your work address (interested staff within the Laboratory can find you using your Z#), your telephone number, and your e-mail address. If you have both temporary and permanent addresses, include them both.

Objective (optional)

An objective is optional. However, it is very important to include an objective if you are changing fields. The objective can be as short as a sentence or as long as a brief paragraph indicating the type of position you are targeting.

State your objective logically and clearly. Be certain that your objective matches the position or the program to which you are applying.

  • Objective: A research position in applied mathematics
  • Objective: A teaching position in educational psychology
  • Objective: A managerial position in a research environment

Background (optional)

A background statement offers an opportunity to provide additional information not requested or appropriate elsewhere. If you would like to clarify your citizenship, an extended residence outside the United States, or unique work or education, a background statement is quite appropriate. In the statement, do not address your age, marital status, gender, religion, political affiliation, race, or ethnicity.

Summary of Qualifications (optional)

A summary at the beginning of your CV can serve as a “teaser” to entice the reader to continue reviewing your CV. If you choose to include a summary, state (1) the amount or number of years of experience you have as numerals, (2) a significant accomplishment that provides evidence that you are qualified for the job, and (3) information concerning your values and/or abilities.

Educational Background

This section, which ideally should appear on the first page of your CV, should start with the most recent degree first. In other words, the entries in this section should appear in reverse chronological order starting after high school. Include any significant academic achievements. If your degree is in progress, you may express it as follows:

Ph.D. in biochemistry, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM, expected date of graduation: 2005

Ph.D., Molecular Biology, Biology Department, Green University, Grassville, KY, GPA – 3.85
Advisor: Dr. David T. Smith
Thesis Title: The Effects of . . . . . . .

M.S., Cellular Biology, Biology Department, Green University, Grassville, KY, GPA – 3.9
Advisor: Dr. C. L. Thorn
Thesis Title: Amplification of . . . . . .

B.S., Biology, minor in Chemistry, Department of Earth Science and Biology, Blue College, Bluegrass, KY, GPA – 3.75

Certificates or Licenses

Include the license title, the licensing entity, the date issued, the date of expiration, and the license number (if relevant).

Awards and Honors (both academic and professional)

In this section, consider including the following possible types of awards and honors: departmental, athletic, dean’s awards, scholarships, fellowships, community, and professional. List them in reverse chronological order. Include the name of the honor as well as the following information: name of the granting institution or organization, significance or reason, and date.

Patents and Inventions

List information about patents and inventions in reverse chronological order and include the following information:name of the patent or invention (if pending, so indicate) patent number, date, and significance.

Grants and Fellowships

Again, list information about grants and fellowships in reverse chronological order and include the following information: name of the institution or organization purpose, date, and dollar value (optional).

Employment Experience

When writing about your employment experience, include dates (year only, not month and day) and job titles in reverse chronological order, including beginning and terminating dates, job title, name of company or organization, and location.

Make each entry important by including your skills and accomplishments. Be sure to include work relating to the targeted job or career path. You can choose to emphasize some entries more than others. Detail significant experiences; summarize less important ones.

Write out the Laboratory’s organizations’ names if applying externally. In general, the Laboratory’s acronyms are meaningless outside the Laboratory.

Use the past tense of action verbs to tell of your accomplishments (for example, “designed,” “developed,” “initiated,” “implemented,” “documented,” etc.). If you submit a reader friendly CV, bullets can be quite effective when describing your accomplishments. Do not fall into the “trap” of describing your duties. Include abilities and skills as well as knowledge gained.

Quantify when possible and appropriate using dollar signs ($), abbreviations for dollar amounts (K, M, and B), and percentage signs (%).

Feel free to include internships, volunteer work, summer or seasonal jobs, and part-time jobs. Include consulting activities here. In other words, include any employment that is relevant to your work goals. Significance is the key. Ask yourself if the experience is significant to your goal.

Graduate Research Assistant
National Park Service, Rocky Mountain National Park
Estes Park, CO

Research Experience. Include both substance and techniques as well as the title of each project, activities, publications generated, names and titles of professors or supervisors, and dates.

Teaching Experience. Address assistantships, field placements, and administration. Include your job title(s), class size(s), undergraduate or graduate level(s), course preparation involvement, grading, name(s) and location(s) of the institution(s), and your title(s), and date(s).

Laboratory Experience. You could include equipment used, outcomes, and dates.

Supervision Experience. Write about your independent supervision of students. You may wish to include level of students, dissertation topics, supervision committees on which you served, and relevant dates.

Mentoring Experience. Include the subject matter you mentored, the number of mentees, the setting (university, high school, or corporate), and the dates.

Instrumentation Experience. Address the state-of-the art instruments, computer hardware, photographic equipment, and audiovisual equipment you used. The names of the instruments used can be listed in columns, a tabbed format, or a table. Include descriptions of state-of-the-art instrumentation.

Academic and Professional Interests

In this section, include a summary of interests and areas of expertise, both within and outside of your institution. If creating a reader friendly CV, you may wish to bullet items and relate them to your target organization.


Include all, both individual and collaborative (multi-author) works. Use reverse chronological order. Use correct bibliographic format. Be consistent within like publications.

Create separate sections, if appropriate, for various kinds of publications, such as authored books, co-authored books, book chapters, monographs, peer-reviewed articles, conference proceedings, invited papers, work in press, work in progress, creative writing outside your field, etc.

List unpublished materials only if they are being considered for publication!

The order and format of your publications will, no doubt, be governed by your professional organization. Generally, publication lists include the following information: author(s), title, publisher, place of publication, name of periodical, volume, issue number, date, and page(s). Other possible strategies for listing your publications would be Partial Publication Listing, Selected Listing, or Recent Publications with a note indicating that a complete listing is available upon request.


For listing presentations, create separate sections for oral, invited, and poster presentations, and include the following information: title, name of the organization (academic society or professional association), meeting or conference title, location, and date.

Professional Affilitations

A listing of your current professional affiliations can be alphabetized or listed in the order of importance. Usually, past memberships (those organizations in which you are no longer a dues-paying member) are not included unless you had a leadership role within the organization, such as president, board of directors, treasurer, in which case you would include the dates of active membership and your title.

When listing professional affiliations, include the name of the organization, offices held if relevant, committee participation, appointed positions, and relevant dates. If your participation produced results, indicate your achievements.

Computer Proficiency

Here is an opportunity to indicate your proficiency with Macintosh and IBM computers as well as larger systems, such as a Sun Microsystem. You can list your hardware and software expertise in two or three columns, a table, or tabbed elements.


In this section, include information about your fluency in languages and indicate whether you speak, read, and/or write the language and at what level—native, fluent, proficient, or working knowledge.

Creative Activities

This section provides an opportunity for you to relate some of your artistic endeavors. Include information about exhibitions (for example, photography, or water colors), poetry, music, paintings, play writing, acting, and similar areas.

Volunteer or Service Activities

When noting your volunteer or service activities, include university (department, faculty, leadership, and committee responsibilities), Laboratory committees and/or task forces, professional journal responsibilities (referee, editor, or reviewer), and community outreach (significant volunteer activities that show leadership or important service). Include offices held and dates.

Special Skills

Feel free to talk about any of your special skills that you would like to highlight, including interpersonal communication, leadership, organizational ability, analytical aptitude, artistic aptitude, public speaking talent, sales ability, and proposal writing expertise.

Credit and Non-Credit Continuing Education

Including information about your credit or non-credit continuing education highlights your interest in lifelong learning that may compliment your professional credentials.


Include in this section information about international travel relevant to your professional or academic work, not travel to conferences. You may include your destination, length of visit, and the reason for travel.

Civic or Political Activities

It is certainly acceptable to speak about your involvement in community activities. However, beware of three delicate areas: politics, religion, and fraternal organizations. Consider saying less and being very vague and tactful in these areas that could be controversial.


In this section, you may want to speak about your hobbies, sports involvement, types of literature you enjoy, or your pastimes. If nothing else, such information gives the impression of your being a well-rounded person as well as provides an opportunity to talk about something light and fun at the beginning of an interview.

Citizenship (optional)

If you have attended college outside of the United States, have worked abroad for an extended period of time, or have a very unusual name that might suggest that you are not a U.S. citizen, you might like to indicate your citizenship here.

Also, if you are a foreign national studying and/or working in the United States, you might want to share some information about your green card, visa, or citizenship status.


How to deal with references was detailed earlier in this document. However, if you are incorporating a reference section in your CV, it will probably be at the end of your CV.

Some folks have placement credentials available through their university and could direct the reader to a specific address to obtain such information.

The statement “References available upon request” seems rather unnecessary at this point because anyone who is serious about securing a job should have references ready to be shared.

Cover Letter

Limit cover letters to one page unless you are detailing matching requirements or required, desired, and education elements as you would do when responding to a Laboratory job ad, for example. In such cases, do not be concerned about the length of your cover letter. However, be certain that your responses to the job ad elements are concise and interesting. Each response should be limited to a line or two and start with the past tense of an active verb as suggested in the Employment Experience section of your CV. Do not ramble. Summarize!



  • The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Perfect Resume, by Susan Ireland, Chapter 15
  • Developing a Professional VITA or RESUME, by Carl McDaniels
  • Prepare Your Curriculum Vitae, by Acy L. Jackson