Student Success Centre

Curriculum Vitae (CV)

Curriculum Vitae, from Latin meaning “course of life”, is often referred to simply as a CV or vita. Like a résumé, it is a summary of your skills, experience, and education however, it contains more detail and is often longer than 2 pages. CVs are the required documents to apply for graduate school, scientific research, and academic positions.

Resume or CV - What is the Difference?

Audience Fellow academics in your field of study Employers who hire for a wide variety of positions
Purpose Applying for a job in academic or medical fields Applying for a job in most non-academic sectors
Goal To display your academic credentials and accomplishments in great detail To demonstrate that you have the experience and skills necessary to succeed within the position you are seeking
What employers see A big picture of you as a person and your scholarly potential A compelling introduction of your experiences and skills
Essential Information List of publications, presentations, teaching experiences, grants, etc. Experiences and skills as they relate to the job you are seeking
Length As long as necessary 1 page (2 pages max)
References Include Do not include

What is a CV Used For?

The 4 Essential Elements of a Good CV:

The style of CV you adopt does not have to limit how you organize your experiences, or the information you choose to include. In fact, many students today are exercising their creativity and developing their own CV styles to differentiate themselves.

Regardless of the design or format you choose, there are a few key rules you will definitely want to follow:

1. It must be relevant and targeted

  • Tailor your CV to your audience (a specific position or program); information that you provide on your CV for one position or program may be different than information provided for another. In other words, do not mass produce your CV.
  • To see if you have relevant and targeted document, give it to a friend and have them guess the type of position or program you are going to be applying to – they should have no trouble doing this.
  • Identify and emphasize your relevant skills and experiences, but be selective - choose only those which highlight the qualifications of the position or program for which you are applying.
  • Demonstrate your knowledge of the company, institution or program you are targeting, matching the language appropriately in your CV.

2. Skills and accomplishments matter!

  • Remember – Skills are developed from school, projects, volunteer, extra-curricular and work experiences.
  • Highlight the accomplishments from your experiences, not just the duties or tasks you completed. The bullet points under your experiences should NOT consist of a list of duties (unless some of the specific duties are very relevant to the position or program you’re applying for).
  • Use skill action verbs and accomplishment statements when describing what you did - proof of your actions and the results you achieved.

3. No room for errors

  • be honest and accurate – you will be asked to validate your skills and accomplishments at an interview.
  • bad spelling and grammar in a CV are near the top of the list for recruiters or progran admissions officials to reject  (this might reflect the quality of your work and attention to details).
  • errors in your CV can detract from an otherwise good CV and make you look lazy or careless.
  • carefully read through your CV to check for errors and read it out loud.
  • don’t rely on your computer’s grammar checker because it won’t find every error.
  • proofread your CV later, or the next day to look at it from a fresh perspective.
  • have someone else review your CV - two sets of eyes are better than one.

4. Easy to read

  • Use standard fonts in an easy to read size; keep margins in a normal range.
  • Have a consistent format for headings and subheadings.
  • Identify pages with your name, contact information and page numbers at the top or bottom of the page. 
  • Make points not paragraphs, and use phrases instead of full sentences.
  • Consider what is most important to your auctience and order information accordingly.
  • Present a consistent theme which is communicated throughout the application process (cover letter, resume and interview).

Headings Often Included on a CV

Things to Remember When Writing a CV

Final Considerations

Keep in mind that the 'perfect' CV is a myth; there is no one ‘right’ way to do either a CV or a resume. Make sure your CV represents YOU!

Western Student CV Examples

The CV's included below represent actual documents of real students who have been offered an interview or admission to a graduate program.