What Is a CV? (Plus Elements and Steps to Write One)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 26 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A CV is often an employer's first impression of your academic and professional credentials. That's why it's important to format it in a way that best showcases your achievements and experience. Learning what a CV is and how to write one can help you increase your chances of getting your desired job. In this article, we explain what a CV is, list what to include in it and share the steps to write one.

What is a CV?

Knowing the answer to "What is a CV?" can help you make a good impression on a potential employer before they even meet you. A CV, or curriculum vitae, is a detailed document that highlights your academic and professional history. It often includes information like achievements or awards, experience, scholarships or grants you earned, research projects, coursework and publications of your work.

A CV is often two pages long, but it's not unusual for it to be much longer for senior or mid-level job candidates, as it serves as a full outline of one's career achievements. If you're a recent graduate or an entry-level candidate, though, you may have a shorter CV that highlights your volunteer experience, training and education over limited professional experience. In an academic role, you may have a CV that's more than two pages long, depending on the relevant education, experience, achievements and publications you have in your field.

Related: How to Write a CV Profile

What to include in your CV

There are several required and optional elements you can include in your CV. Here are the main elements to consider including:

Required sections for your CV

To start, make sure your CV includes the following information:

  • Employment history: Provide the name of your previous employer, your job title, employment date and end date for each role, along with a short description of your duties and responsibilities.

  • Contact information: Provide an email address and contact number. You can also include links to your portfolio or professional profiles.

  • Professional qualifications: List any relevant professional qualifications, especially if it's recognised by an official body, such as licences or certifications.

  • Skills and competencies: You can include a separate section for your competencies and skills, especially if you don't have a detailed employment history. Make sure to include evidence to support the competencies and skills you listed.

  • Education history: List your highest level of education, such as a degree or diploma. You can include the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) certification or equivalents if you've left school recently.

Related: How to Create a Compelling CV Using a Retail CV Template

Optional sections for your CV

If you have limited critical information or you have extra space to fill, you may include the following items:

  • Explanation of employment history gaps: If you have employment gaps, consider adding a brief note to explain what you were doing in that time, such as travelling, caring for a relative, child-minding or job hunting.

  • Personal statement: This is a one- or two-line summary of your talents, skills and career goals as they relate to the specific position you're applying for. You can place this statement at the top of your CV.

  • Publications and achievements: Add any relevant industry publications, such as research studies and articles, to establish yourself as a thought leader or expert in your field. You can also highlight any special recognitions or awards, such as industry-specific or employee-of-the-month awards.

  • Interests and hobbies: In this section, talk about what you do outside of work, especially if you're involved in volunteer work, technology or sports. Make sure to include any that are directly relevant to the job you're applying for, your leadership abilities and the skills necessary for the job.

How to write a CV

Here are the steps you can take to write a compelling CV:

1. Include your contact details

This includes your full name, email address and phone number. Including your address is optional. If you want to include it, list only your city and district. Here's an example of a CV's contact details section:

Allan Kwan
Kowloon, Hong Kong
2222 2222
allankwan@email.com

2. List your academic history in reverse-chronological order

This can include your high school, undergraduate school, graduate school and post-doctoral programmes. Make sure to include only your most recent educational experiences. You can specify the dates attended if you've graduated in the past five years. Companies are more interested in your work experience, so it's best to ensure that the reader's focus is on that information.

Related: How to Write Education on a CV (With Tips and Examples)

3. Detail your professional experience

List the company, job title and dates employed, beginning with your most recent position. Specify your job duties, experience gained and accomplishments. Begin each bullet point with an action verb to demonstrate your duties. It's also best to use figures to quantify your impact when possible. This shows potential employers the exact results you've gained from other companies. To do so, consider the following:

  • Numbers: For example, you can specify the number of employees you managed or the number of calls per day you answered. You can also indicate the locations or offices you coordinated with on a project.

  • Dollar amounts: You can specify the revenue you help bring in annually and the money you saved the company.

  • Percentages: For instance, you can indicate by what percent did you increase the efficiency of a process or by what percent did you help reduce errors.

For instance, instead of writing Responsible for drafting proposals on muscle cellular motility studies, you might say, Developed a research proposal on structural studies of muscle cellular motility in collaboration with a six-person research team that secured a $20K government grant.

4. Include relevant skills and qualifications

This can be in a separate skills section. Review the job advertisement to highlight the most important skills companies are looking for. These can include both soft and hard skills that make you the best candidate for the position. Here are some skills you can include in your CV:

  • time management

  • problem-solving

  • management skills

  • leadership

  • interpersonal skills

  • customer service

  • computer skills

  • communication

  • active listening

Related: 50 IT CV Skills (With Definition, Examples and Sample CV)

5. List honours and awards

Use this section to outline your accomplishments or awards in the field related to your application. Begin with the award name followed by the year you gained it, the organisation that gave you the award and details about the award, such as how many people received it and how often the organisation gives the award. Here's an example of the honours and awards section:

Honours and Awards

UT Teaching Awards, 2020, 2021, 2021
Hong Kong Study Abroad Grant, Summer 2021
Dissertation Fellowship, 2021

6. Include relevant presentations and publications

Include relevant citations of presentations, papers, studies, books or other publications important to your professional history. For publications, include the author's name, date published, summary, volume, page and DOI number. For presentations, include the title, date and location of the presentation. Here's an example:

Publications

Book
Kwan, Allan. “The Business of Affordable Housing." Kowloon, HK: HK University Press (forthcoming)

Peer-reviewed journals

Kwan, Allan. “The Case for Building a Life on Mars.” International Journal of Astrobiology, vol. 36, no. 2, 2018, pp. 101-108.
Kwan, Allan. “How affordable is affordable housing?” European Journal of Housing Policy and Debate, 2021.

Conference presentations

2021.Kwan, Allan. “Building in the Valley.” Hispanic History Association Annual Kowloon, Hong Kong

2021.Kwan, Allan. “The Future of the Projects: Building a Home, Not Just a Project.” Housing and Urban Development Annual Conference, Kowloon, Hong Kong.

7. List your professional affiliations and associations

This includes the name of the organisation. It also includes the location of the organisation or chapter and dates of active membership. Here's an example of this section:

Memberships and Affiliations

  • National Association of Multicultural Engineering Programme Advocates (2019–Present)

  • HK Association of Engineers (2016–Present)

  • National Society of Engineers (2015–Present)

8. Proofread your CV for errors

Before submitting your job application, be sure to review your CV thoroughly for any errors or inconsistencies. Consider asking a professional mentor or trusted colleague to review it too, especially if they're experienced in the industry you're applying to. A second opinion can be useful in helping you craft a well-polished CV.

Some employers, especially universities, may provide their own CV template and examples to ensure you include all required information in the format they prefer. Before you submit your application, make sure to look for any special CV guidelines the employer has outlined. For instance, some institutions may require you to list only relevant dissertations, fieldwork, coursework and professional references.

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