Understanding the infamous curriculum vitae

A CV is a crucial component of any job search. It's your personal marketing material to help get your foot in the door with an employer and secure an interview. However, there are several types of CVs, from different formats based on your skills and experience to industry-specific CVs. Not to mention the meaning of “CV” differs worldwide too!

To help you navigate the seemingly overwhelming world of CVs, here's a rundown of what they're all about and how to write one.

What is a CV?

“CV” stands for curriculum vitae, a Latin term that means course of [one's] life. A CV provides a brief account of a person's education, certifications, skills, and work experience and is most often used when applying for work in the UK and other European countries.

That said, professionals who work in academic, research, and scientific fields around the globe use what's known as an “academic CV.” An academic CV or academic curriculum vitae is a comprehensive, credential-driven document that focuses on showcasing your contributions to a particular field of study or practice.

How to write a CV

While the contents of a CV may differ slightly from country to country, all CVs include the following sections: contact information, professional title, personal statement, work history and academic qualifications.

Name and contact information

The details may vary, but most CVs list the applicant's first name and surname, mobile number, email address, and at least a portion of their mailing address, such as the town and post code. Many employers also expect candidates to include the link to their LinkedIn profile.

Often, a CV includes a title at the top of the document that describes the type of role the candidate is pursuing. The title may change slightly with each job application, to mirror the title listed on the job advert.

Personal statement

A personal statement on your CV is also known as a personal profile or professional profile. It's a paragraph at the top of the document, just below your contact information and professional title. It succinctly explains to the reader who you are, what role you're pursuing, and why you're a suitable candidate for such an opportunity. In other words, it serves as the elevator pitch for your CV. 

Employment history

Also known as professional experience or work experience, this CV section outlines a professional's role, responsibilities, contributions, and achievements for each position they've held. It will also list the job title, the name of the employer and sometimes the location of the role. 

The information provided for each job should be curated based on the job seeker's current job goals. When describing their duties, some details will receive extra attention, whilst others will be downplayed or omitted, to frame the candidate's qualifications in the best possible way for their target role. 

Education and qualifications

The amount of detail provided in a CV's Education section will depend upon the country and the type of role pursued. However, all CVs will list the university or college where a candidate graduated, the degree earned, and any notable honours achieved whilst studying. 

Additional credentials, such as postgraduate degrees and certifications, can also be noted in this CV section.

Additional CV sections

There are other optional CV sections, but they could make great additions to a job application. They include:

  • Core competencies and key skills

  • Volunteer work

  • Publications

  • Awards and honours

  • Professional associations and memberships

  • Hobbies and interests

How to format a CV

The formatting and spacing of a CV are just as important as the content. Here are a few rules of thumb to follow:

  • Length: The standard length of a CV in the UK is two A4 pages. If you are working at an executive level, it can be three pages, and if you are entry-level, it can be one page. 
  • Headings: Like in this article, clear headings in your CV content make the document easier to read and digest.
  • Bullet points: Similarly, use bullet points throughout each section to make the content easily scannable.
  • Font size: Typically, body text should be 10 to 12 points and headings should be between 14 and 18 points.

  • Font type: Opt for a standard font that is clean and professional, like Arial or Calibri.

  • Margins: Use standard A4 page margins, but adjust them as needed to neatly fit your CV on two pages while maintaining balanced white space and text.

  • File type: The best CV file type is often stated in the job advert. However, at TopCV, we recommend Word .doc or .docx above all else.

“What is a CV?” FAQs

Do you have a burning question about a CV or how to write one? Here are the most common questions and their answers:

What is a CV used for?

A CV is a standard requirement when applying for a job. It's often submitted with a cover letter or an application form. Prospective employers then review the CV submissions against the job requirements and shortlist the most suitable candidates for a screening call or interview.

Sometimes, CVs reach applicant tracking software (ATS) before they reach a human. An ATS is a digital tool that helps employers to organise and manage job applications based on suitability. They are often used in enterprise organisations when each vacancy receives hundreds of applicants.

How many types of CVs are there in the UK?

There are several types of CVs in the UK. The most common CV formats include:

  • Chronological CV: A CV format that presents your employment history and education chronologically, starting with the most recent details. It is the most common type of CV for UK job hunters.

  • Functional CV: A CV format that emphasises skills and qualifications rather than focusing on a chronological work history. It is often used when changing careers or after a career gap.

  • Hybrid CV: Also known as a combined CV, the hybrid CV is a mixture of the chronological CV and the functional CV. It incorporates a lengthened skills matrix section along with a detailed career summary.

There is also a selection of CV types dedicated to specific industries. They include:

  • Academic CV: Used in academia to highlight a candidate's research, teaching, and publications

  • Medical CV: Focuses on a healthcare professional's clinical experience, certifications, and publications

  • Legal CV: Highlights a lawyer's legal experience, cases, and expertise in specific areas of law

  • Technical CV: Emphasises technical skills, certifications, and projects relevant to IT and engineering roles

  • Creative CV: Showcases a candidate's creativity and design skills, often used in fields like graphic design or advertising

  • Executive CV: Designed for senior-level professionals, it emphasises leadership, strategic accomplishments, and executive-level experience

What does CV mean in the UK and Europe?

A CV in the UK and Europe is a detailed document that provides a two-page overview of a person's employment history, work experience, and skills. 

While UK and European CVs have largely the same content, there are some minor differences. The amount of personal information is one critical difference. In the UK, personal details are limited to a person's general location, mobile number, email address, and LinkedIn profile, due to UK anti-discrimination law. However, in European countries, it's standard to include nationality, civil status, birth date, gender, marital status, and maiden name, too.

In certain countries, it's not appropriate to include a photo on a CV, including the UK. However, most European countries prefer one, as do Latin America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.

What is a CV in America?

In the US, a CV is very different to its UK cousin. In America, a CV is a detailed and comprehensive summary of a person's education, work experience, and professional accomplishments. CVs are very rare in the US and are typically reserved for academic and research fields, as well as other medical and scientific professions. 

By contrast, a resume in America resembles a CV in the UK. It's a concise document that provides an overview of employment, education, and skills and is typically tailored to the job application. It's typically the standard document submitted when applying for a job in America.

For most UK job hunters, the chronological CV will be the perfect addition to any job application. If you're unsure which type of CV will best suit your skill set or experience, the experts at TopCV can advise. Check out our CV writing services.

This article was originally written by Amanda Augustine and has been updated by Laura Slingo.

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