How to Craft a Successful Curriculum Vitae

creative writing expository writing

CVLike a firm handshake or a greeting, a CV can oftentimes serve as a first impression – a way for prospective employer to get a sense of you at a glance. CVs oftentimes are gatekeepers for an interview, and as such, are extremely important. It is worth it to take some time to think critically about your CV’s structure and content. Read the following simple and actionable steps to craft one of your own!

1. Be clear & concise

Most likely, the person who is reviewing your CV is a person who is reviewing many CVs (and other lengthy application materials) to select the strongest candidate for a given position. With this in mind, it is essential to write your CV in a clear, concise way, such that the key aspects of your professional career can be grasped within a few minutes. Your CV is an opportunity to guide potential employers and admissions officers through your professional journey, highlighting the skills and experiences that are unique to you and that distinguish you as the ideal candidate.

Actionable Tips

  • Include headings and subheadings to demarcate distinct sections and create an overall structure
  • Clearly and concisely list your duties within each role using bullet points (I recommend no more than 3 bullet points per role)
  • Do not add extraneous colors, graphics or formatting that make it difficult for your reader to locate key information

2. Highlight the impressive accomplishments that set you apart

This is related to point #1, but it is so important that it deserves its own section! Given that application reviewers will typically only be able to spend a few minutes reading your materials, it is critical that you structure your CV so that your impressive, unique accomplishments stand out.

Actionable Tips

Feature the key professional experiences that you would like to highlight for the position of interest at the top of your CV, preferably on the first page

  • Draw attention to particularly important accomplishments through strategic bolding and/or italicizing
  • For example, if you graduated summa cum laude from your undergraduate institution, it would be advantageous to draw attention to it by bolding and italicizing this distinction next to your degree (e.g., Bachelor of Sciences, Summa Cum Laude in Biology).

3. Harness action-oriented words to describe your duties within each role

You can also underscore your incredible accomplishments by using action-oriented words to describe the duties you managed within each role. By doing this, you can not only show reviewers what you did during your professional roles but also how you completed these tasks. It is particularly effective to select words that exude leadership and independence.

Actionable Tips

  • Tactically select action-oriented words to describe your tasks within each of your roles
  • Emphasize roles in which you served as a leader and / or exhibited independence through words associated with these traits

Example action-oriented words: managed; conducted; coordinated; led; oversaw; collaborated; developed

4. Tailor your CV for each position…and develop a flexible framework so that you can easily edit it for a range of positions

You are more likely to earn a desired position when you are able to show reviewers that your experiences and accomplishments are well-aligned with the requirements of the position and goals of the broader institution. As such, it is advantageous to tailor your CV for each position, emphasizing the elements of your professional career that are most pertinent and that reviewers will most likely seek in prospective candidates. You can do this by strategically applying some of the tips from step #2.

All this being said, it is most efficient to first develop a general CV template that you can flexibly and quickly adapt for various applications.

Actionable Tips

  • Develop a CV template
  • Adapt and tailor your CV template for each position of interest
  • For example, if you are in a clinical research field, and you are applying for a research position, it would be wise to present your research experiences as one of the first sections on your CV; in contrast, if you are applying for a solely clinical position, it might make more sense to present your clinical experiences first.

5. Regularly update your CV & use your CV as a goal-setting tool

Lastly, you will continue to achieve incredible successes throughout your career, and you will need to submit an updated CV to reflect these fresh accomplishments for each new position. Your future self will thank you if you continually update your CV on a semi-regular basis (I recommend every month, but it is most important to select a frequency that is feasible for you)!

You can also use this practice as an opportunity to review your accomplishments thus far and identify goals – ones that might end up as a line on your future CV and ones that might not – that you would like to achieve moving forward.

Actionable Tips

  • Update your CV on a regular basis that is feasible for you
  • Take a moment to feel proud of your previous accomplishments and set new goals that you would like to work toward

Olivia F. originally hails from Ohio and graduated summa cum laude from The Ohio State University, majoring in psychology and public health. Following graduation, Olivia managed a research program and clinic at UCLA serving adolescents at-risk for suicide. Olivia is now a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Harvard University, with her research focusing on exploring strategies for expanding access to mental health services for youths and families. Specifically, Olivia works to elucidate how youth psychotherapies can be improved and redesigned to be more readily disseminated across a range of community-based settings.

Work with Olivia F.!

Throughout her career, Olivia has mentored a range of students in conducting independent research and thriving during professional program admissions processes (e.g., doctorate programs; medical school). Her core strengths include psychology, statistics, and expository writing, as well as preparation for admissions processes. Olivia enjoys collaboratively working with students to identify their academic goals and supporting students in applying their strengths and refining their skills to achieve these goals.

Work with Olivia F.!

Curious to learn more? Check out some of our previous blog post below!

Two common grammatical mistakes to avoid in polished writing

Writing: Knowing Your Audience

Grammar: One to 1