What is a CV and why do I need one?
CV stands for Curriculum Vitae, loosely translated from Latin as ‘the course of my life’. In the United States, Canada, and some other countries it is known instead as a résumé (or resume), French for ‘summary’. Both documents serve the same general purpose; they are your means to tell an employer about yourself, and hopefully land you that dream job! However, there are some slight differences in style, which are covered below.
In summary, a CV/resume is a short document you send to employers to tell them about yourself. It focuses on your education and your (work) experiences. It should be concise, informative and engaging.
What do you include in a CV/resume?
Start with the easy stuff. Your name, your email, telephone, address etc. No need to write your age or date of birth. Photos aren’t necessary except for acting, modelling, and some other performing arts jobs.
Next list your education. It is normal to put your most recent/highest qualifications at the top and work backwards. e.g. if you have a degree, start with that, then A-levels/high school diplomas, GCSEs etc. If you have qualifications specific to the job being applied for, it is good to highlight them. This can be done by putting them in their own section under their own heading.
Finally, the bulk of your CV should describe your past jobs and work experiences. This can often be the hardest part, particularly if you’re just starting out and haven’t got years of working in different jobs behind you. The key thing to remember here is what the reader is interested in: you!
If you can show how you made a difference to a job, a project, a club or society, even if it wasn’t paid job, then you still have work experience and have skills that employers will be interested in. Attributes such as leadership, teamwork, problem solving and public speaking are vital to so many jobs, yet they are all skills that you can develop outside the world of work. For example, if you’re captain of the school football team you will be leading a team of people: something that will be required of you at some stage in almost every job out there.
The key thing to remember is to show the reader that you are a doer, someone who makes a difference. Write about how you personally contributed to a project, how decisions and actions you made led to success.
It is often good practice to include a couple of people who are happy to act as referees for your job application at the end of your CV. These are often people you have worked for in the past who can help give added weight to your application by writing to the employer and supporting what you have written in your CV. Remember to ask their permission before putting their name down.
It is also fine to leave these out, and provide them only when an employer asks for them!
How do I write about myself?
Striking the right tone in a CV can be hard. You want to avoid repeating words like ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘my’ and sounding arrogantly self-interested, yet also sell yourself and convince the employer that they should pick you over the next person. It has to be a balancing act.
Your cover letter is the place to really sell your skills to the organisation – a CV or resume is about letting the employer know what you have done, and highlighting your abilities.
Using action words is a good way to show personal ownership of a situation, without seeming to blow your own trumpet. Action words often end with ‘ed’, like ‘observed’, ‘improved’, ‘coached’, ‘managed’, etc. They show you as a person who is actively making a difference in situations, rather than someone who is sitting on the sidelines. Instead of saying “I was responsible for managing and ordering new stock” you can say “I managed and ordered stock, closely monitoring the company’s supply needs”.
Some employers these days use software to scan a document before a human actually reads it. This makes it doubly important that you use the right sort of words. Reed.co.uk, the UK’s top recruitment website, lists the following 8 keywords for your CV.
But good keywords are no good alone unless you can back them up. Link every skill with an occasion you demonstrated it. For example, write about a time you were particularly innovative in solving a problem and tell the reader about the great results of your innovation.
What’s the difference between a CV and Resume?
As mentioned above, a CV and a resume serve largely the same purpose: to tell an employer about your past skills and experiences. However, their format and tone can be a little different.
A resume is generally shorter than a CV, normally maximum one A4 page rather than the two commonly found on a CV. It is more tailored to individual applications and tends to be more fluidly written with fewer subheadings and bullet points.
You can think of a resume as a sort of hybrid between a CV and cover letter. A resume must state your skills and suitability for a job, yet it must also make you stand out from the crowd and explain why you are the best person for the role.
Resumes are generally used in the USA, Canada, and other American English speaking countries, whilst CVs tend to be used in Europe, the UK, and Commonwealth countries such as Australia and New Zealand, accompanied by a separate cover letter.
You can find some links to handy free CV and Resume templates here:
Next steps for Students with no experience
- Read more about our ultimate guide of summer internships
- Get an edge in your future, learn more about how our Oxford Summer School and Online Internships can help your resume/CV stand out.