What if you saw a graduate program or job posting of your dreams?
Sweet! Now you have to make a good first impression.
It’s not so easy though. Plenty of other people will apply for it too. So how can you stand out from the crowd?
Before you get an interview or give a confident handshake, potential employers will see if you’re a good fit by looking at your CV.
In this article, we’ll explain the difference between a resume and CV and teach you how to write a quality CV to get that dream job.
What Is a CV?
CV stands for Curriculum Vitae, which is Latin for “the course of one’s life.” It’s a comprehensive document listing everything you’ve done academically to qualify you for a position: your education, honors, academic achievements, research experience, etc.
A student CV is much longer and more comprehensive than a typical resumé.
CVs also have an academic focus to them. When you apply for academic jobs like fellowships or research or teaching positions, they want you to send a CV.
Difference Between a Resume and CV
Sometimes you will see people asking for your CV, other times, a resumé. So what’s the difference, and how do you know which one to send?
Here are some of the main differences between them:
When choosing between a CV or a resume, keep in mind:
CVs are academic. They always lead with the education section and academic accomplishments. This can include thesis or dissertation summaries. A resume usually leads with work experience.
CVs are usually longer than resumés. They list everything in detail you have done relevant to the position or program you are applying to. A resumé is more succinct, normally limited to one page.
CVs are formatted in order by each category, while a resumé has much more flexibility with formatting.
It’s a must to have a student CV because, at some point, you may need one. You will need a CV when applying for teaching or research positions, or any postdoctoral work. This is especially true if you’re applying outside the U.S.
What To Include in Your Undergraduate CV
A typical CV has several key sections. Make sure you also check for extra requirements in the job description while working on your CV.
Here’s an overview of the main components of an academic CV and the different sections:
The most common sections or headings for an undergraduate student CV are:
Links to Professional Work
Let’s look at each of these sections closer.
A header is the section at the top of your CV. It’s the first line of text an employer will see. Your header should contain your contact information, such as your first and last name, phone number, and email address.
Links to Professional Work
You may also add a link to a professional page, such as your LinkedIn profile or a professional website or portfolio if you have one. Not every student will have a portfolio to include in their CV. But creating an online portfolio is a great way to showcase your talent from the header section of your CV.
If you don’t have much—or any—experience, you’re maybe wondering what to include. Pro tip: highlight your education front and center.
Here’s how to do that:
Don’t be afraid to use bigger fonts for your university or for your degree. But don’t make the font bigger than the one you used for your name. That should be the biggest.
List your education in reverse chronological order—most recent first. If you’re a college graduate—or about to graduate—you should no longer use your high school under your education. If you have not graduated yet, but are about to, note your graduation date as “anticipated.” Each degree should be listed like this:
University of Maryland, Bachelor of Science, Communication Studies (May, 2022)
If you have a high GPA; were an honors student; received any academic awards; or graduated cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude, you should list that. It will help you stand apart from other applicants.
If you’ve taken coursework relevant to the position you’re applying for, put those in your CV as well. This way your relevant experience is apparent to those reading your CV.
In an undergraduate student CV, you don’t need to list research or thesis topics unless they’re relevant to the position you’re applying for. In a graduate student CV, you should summarize your thesis or dissertation in this section.
Work Experience and Internships
Think broadly when you think about your work experience. Even if a past job, such as working at a fast food restaurant, seems irrelevant to your career, list it. This demonstrates a solid work history, a willingness to work hard, and transferable skills such as customer service, communication, and teamwork.
Employers appreciate candidates who have a strong work ethic and can demonstrate that they’re reliable and have experience in a professional environment.
If you had any campus or part-time jobs, you should list those too. Even if you had a volunteer position, list it (but put “volunteer” in the title).
List your work and/or experience, starting with present day and moving backward.
Make sure you’re descriptive in your job title. Don’t just say “Intern” or “Summer Intern.” Say “Finance Intern” or “Animal Rehabilitation Intern.”
Make sure all of your entries have the name of the organization you worked for, where the company is located, and how long you were there.
Bullet point your responsibilities. Not just your daily duties, but what you were actually responsible for. This shows the soft skills like time management and collaboration that you learned in that position.
If you don’t have any specific work or internship experience, get creative! Think broadly about projects you’ve done, organizations you’ve spent time with, programs you’ve volunteered with, and extracurricular activities or hobbies where you invested your time.
For example, the Boy Scout Eagle project is a well-known leadership and community service project that requires planning, organization, and execution. It involves identifying a need in the community, developing a plan to address that need, and then carrying out the plan with the help of a team of volunteers.
Completing an Eagle project demonstrates initiative, leadership, and the ability to manage a project from start to finish. This type of experience can be very valuable to include on a resume, particularly if you are applying for a position that requires similar skills.
Are you a marketing major who put together a marketing project for a mock company? Did you do a senior capstone project that’s at least a little related to your career path? Are you a fine arts major who did a senior show?
All of these are great ideas to put on your CV. Here’s how:
Only use projects you did in college, unless they were nationally recognized high school projects.
List projects in order of relevance to the job. Put your most relevant projects first.
Put down the name of the project, what kind of project it was (e.g., volunteer experience, class project, etc.), what class/organization you did the project for, and your specific duties/responsibilities.
This section of the CV is especially important if it was a team project.
Example: Senior Marketing Capstone: International Business 405. Created an international marketing strategy, including digital advertising, white papers, and blog content for a mock company with a $3-million marketing budget.
This space is sometimes forgotten on student CVs, but it’s one of the most critical.
Employers need to know the skills you have in order to assess how you will fit both in the position and in the team.
Here’s the best way to incorporate your skills into your CV:
Skills come in two flavors: hard skills and soft skills.
Hard skills are technical skills, like the ability to use software programs or relevant experience in accounting.
Soft skills are how you interact with people and your environment. This includes things like teamwork, communication skills, and leadership experience.
Include a combination of soft skills and hard skills in your CV.
Tailor the skills you use for the position you’re applying for.
When you mention your soft skills, don’t be afraid to put in a bullet point (very short) saying how you used those soft skills. For example:
Leadership (I served as President of my sorority)
Don’t forget those “hidden” skills you learn in the classroom, like academic research skills, teamwork on group projects, and time management!
High-Opportunity Sections To Include in Your CV
CVs can include some other pieces that are really crucial, but may not be applicable to everyone.
Here are 3 areas you might want to include in your CV as a student:
Do you speak multiple languages? Make sure to put that down! You should also discuss your fluency level. Be honest. Don’t oversell—or undersell—your skills!
If you have any certifications or supplementary coursework, this is a great place to put it. You might, for example, have a certificate showing you’re proficient in Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop.
If you’re looking to brush up on your skills, consider a certificate. Outlier.org certificates help you develop career-relevant skills through an engaging and award-winning platform. All students have access to a supportive community as they learn at their own pace from the comfort of their homes.
Volunteer work is a great thing to put on your CV. It shows soft skills—like communication and dedication—and hard skills that you used or learned while volunteering. Make sure you put in a description of what you were doing or did in the past.
4. Research Experience
When most people think of research experience, they think of working in a laboratory. And yes, that is a valuable skill, but don’t ignore the research experience you have for traditional college papers—the long ones over 2-3 pages.
The ability to gather a bunch of information and synthesize it into an understandable and persuasive format is a valuable asset for a number of careers.
5 Extra Tips for a Professional-Looking CV
Even when you have great content, if you don’t have a professional-looking CV, it won’t get you the job. Here are some great tips to make your CV really stand out.
1. Triple Check for Typos and Grammatical Errors
If you say you are “detail-oriented” and there are misspellings or grammatical mistakes (even one), your CV can end up in the trash without a second look.
So use all the tools at your disposal, but also try reading your CV aloud. That will often catch tiny mistakes that a spellchecker may miss.
2. Keep it to 3 Pages or Less
Schools and employers want to be able to see your experience and accomplishments quickly. When you “pad” your CV, it looks as if you’re trying to oversell yourself and it’s much harder to read. Be concise in your wording, but thorough in what you cover.
3. Pay Attention to Order
Make sure your experience and your education sections are in the correct order. Make sure everything is formatted similarly.
If you can, scour the internet and look for other CVs in your field. See how yours stacks up by comparing the format of others.
Protip: DON’T compare your CV content with someone who has been out in the field for a few years. Your CV won’t look the same, and that’s ok.
4. Don’t Use CV Templates
It can be tempting to use one of the ready-made CV builders or templates, and you can—but only if you adjust it a LOT.
Hiring managers and recruiters can spot ready-made templates in an instant, and it sends the message that you’re willing to take shortcuts. Take your time, and create your CV yourself.
5. Use Action Verbs
When you’re describing your experiences and your skills, make sure you use action verbs. That means saying things with more clarity, like “I coordinated schedules” vs. “I was in charge of making sure schedules were accurate.” The first example is more succinct and has an action, versus the second example, which doesn’t.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I put on my CV if I have no experience?
Really think about how you know what you know. Have you taken classes to learn about your field? Do you have a student job or a volunteer position? Extracurricular activities? How about life experiences? E.g., taking care of brothers and sisters if you’re looking for a childcare position.
All of these are great examples of what to put on your CV when you don't have a lot of experience.
Should I develop different CVs for different jobs?
Kind of. The CV should differ slightly to match the job you're applying for. However, most of the content will remain unchanged. To emphasize different aspects of your CV, you'll need to carefully examine the relevant skills needed for the position.
When should I use my college student CV?
Use your CV for a number of things! Jobs certainly, but also use a CV to apply for volunteer work, scholarships, internships, work-study programs, or even applications to graduate school!
Remember, for most of these, you should also have a cover letter to go with the CV. The cover letter expands on your qualifications. Together, they create a complete picture of your potential.
How often should I update my CV?
Review your CV at least once a year. Update classes you’ve taken, internships or jobs you did over the summer, volunteer programs you’ve joined, and any relevant skills or certifications you’ve earned.
By taking the time each year to update your CV, you’re focusing on your growth. Having this growth mindset will serve you well in any future position you apply to.
Keep in mind, a good CV will not only show what you’ve done, but how those things relate to the position you’re applying for. Make it clear to the reader why you deserve the particular position.
The efforts you take toward crafting your CV will directly relate to the quality of opportunities you have. Think of your CV as the key to opening the doors of your dreams.
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