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CVs | The Careers Service CVs – Oxford University Careers Service
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Key advice

A curriculum vitae (or résumé in the US) is a concise summary of your skills, achievements and interests inside and outside your academic work.

Employers may initially spend a very short time studying your CV (perhaps as little as 3 seconds), so it must be engaging, conveying the most relevant points about you in a clear, accessible way. The primary challenge is to make it easy for the reader to find exactly what they are looking for. Focus on their core requirements and adjust or adapt your CV for each specific application.

Top tips

Be concise

  • Keep it to one or two full pages (only academic CVs can be longer)
  • Use bullet points to package information succinctly
  • Avoid too much context, excessive detail or unfocused material that will dilute the impact of your most relevant messages

Remember the purpose

Your CV is to get you the interview or meeting, NOT the job itself – highlight three key elements:

  • What you were responsible for
  • What you achieved
  • And how you would be a great team member

so that the reader wants to learn more by meeting you

Target your CV

  • Target your CV to each position applied for – it should not be a list of everything that you have done
  • Download a Management Consulting CV and a Fundraising CV for examples of how to tailor your experience

Be evidence based

  • Provide clear evidence of your contribution and impact
  • Focus on responsibilities, to showcase your skills …
  • … and achievements by using numbers, percentages, and values to quantify your impact and give a sense of scale to your actions

Be clear

  • A well laid out CV is inviting to read and easy to scan quickly; clear font of 10pt or 11pt; some blank spaces; not too narrow a margin
  • Use simple language – avoid jargon, generalisations, ‘management speak’, and acronyms
  • Do not write in prose or paragraphs – space is limited
  • CVs are (mostly) a record of what you have done, so completed tasks and activities are written in the past tense

How to create your focused, relevant CV

  • List for yourself all of your experience, achievements, and key dates, including educational achievement, work experience, prizes, awards, involvement in societies, sports and clubs and your other interests and skills (for example, languages and special/unusual IT skills). Note down the key skills and attributes which led to these achievements.
  • Identify the skills and competencies required for the role. You can do this by reading the job advertisement or job description and by looking at the organisation’s website, publicity material and recruitment literature.  Check the relevant occupation section of our website and see our page on demonstrating you fit the job criteria for more advice.
  • From your list, select your most relevant  examples that demonstrate the skills and competencies required for the role. Remember, valuable transferable skills are developed and demonstrated in a broad range of activities that you may have undertaken.
  • Select the format of CV – for most student applications, the traditional reverse chronological format is recommended.  If you are unsure about which CV type is appropriate, please ask one of our Careers Advisers.

Three sections makes it easy and clear for the reader

  1. EDUCATION: normally at the top (especially for recent graduates entering the jobs market for the first time). Include awards under each relevant education section, for example, grant awards for a DPhil, school prizes, undergraduate prizes or high rankings (‘2nd in year’)
  2. EXPERIENCE (rather than “Employment”): this can include voluntary work, student society roles, internships, paid work etc
  3. INTERESTS or COMMUNITY ACTIVITY AND SKILLS should be included to indicate extra, diverse talents. Within this section, you might use sub-categories such as IT Skills (but only if they are specialist or unusual); Languages; Music; Sports etc

 

What you don’t need to include

Remember that the CV is to get you the meeting or interview only, so don’t feel you have to include every last detail – leave them wanting to learn more about you. Specific things to leave out include:

  • The words ‘Curriculum Vitae’ or ‘CV’
  • Date of birth and / or age
  • Marital status, disability, children, partner, sexual preferences, sex, racial background, religion
  • Home address
  • Nationality – unless you want to show that you do have the Right to Work in the country in question
  • Referees – this takes up space, they’ll assume you have them, there are probably other opportunities to record these details
  • Basic IT skills: these days everyone can use the internet, word processing, spreadsheets etc to a competent level – but do include any super-advanced qualifications in MS Office and of course any specialist software like C++, SPSS etc
  • Areas of potential, personal contention, e.g. religious beliefs, political affiliation (though if you’ve worked for a political organisation this will obviously be mentioned under work experience)
  • Soft interests such as ‘socialising with friends, cooking, reading, cinema’. If you do have deep and specialist interest in one of these, then give more details: ‘French films of 1940-1960’

Using bullet points

Aim to create powerful bullet points, with each bullet focused on a single idea. Consider applying the ‘CAR’ mnemonic

  • Context: the organisation name, your job title and dates is often sufficient.
  • Action Words that demonstrate you took responsibility are useful for starting the bullet point, to highlight skills used – e.g. analysed, created, recommended, managed or led. See our list of action words on our Demonstrate You Fit the Job Criteria page for more.
  • Results can often be linked within an individual bullet point.
Standard CV formats

Traditional CV

Traditional CV

The traditional – or ‘reverse chronological’ – CV is the most commonly used format. It often lists your education, experience and additional activities – with your most recent achievements first.

The sections of the traditional CV will normally be as follows:

  • Personal information – such as contact details – but NOT date of birth, sex, marital status etc. Space may mean you should just list one contact detail, e.g. Oxford email address (not XYZ@fluffybunny.com), and your mobile number
  • Education
  • Experience – the core of your CV
  • Additional skills
  • Interests

This format makes it easy for employers to spot relevant information fast and gives a complete picture of a candidate in a clear and structured way.

Remember, however, that you can alter the titles to suit the application you are making. For example, you could use the heading “Teaching Experience” instead of “Experience” if you are applying for a teaching job. Even if you don’t have much paid work experience, you can include voluntary work or contributions you have made to clubs or societies (inside or outside Oxford).

Skills based CV

Example Skills-based CV

In a skills-based CV, the information is arranged to highlight relevant skills, with details presented under different skills categories. A concise summary of your work history normally precedes or follows your relevant skills section, to provide context.

This type of CV is used to highlight the transferability of your skills, and so is useful if you are applying to a role without direct experience. We generally only recommend using this style if you have great experience, as a considerable amount of evidence is required to make the skills sound meaningful. As such, it is normally used by:

  • people changing career direction
  • people transitioning from academia into industry or other sectors.

However, a similar style may be useful if you are applying to your first ever piece of work experience and have had few positions of responsibility, as it allows you to emphasise transferable skills you have gained from studying at Oxford.

Resumes for North America

Resumes for USA and Canada

If you are heading to north America, then you might need a résumé rather than a CV. They are very similar documents so use our CV guide, and supplement it with the information here to build a great CV into a great résumé.

Format differences

Default page size – A4 (21cm x 29.7cm) is replaced by Letter (21.59cm x 27.94cm)

  • Use ‘Page Layout’ options in Word (or equivalent) to change the size of your document page
  • Cut down a piece of A3 paper to size when checking out how it prints

Spelling – insure / ensure the résumé is oriented / orientated to the readers’ spelling conventions:

  • Set your default language to US or Canadian English to use your spelling and grammar check
  • Watch out for common ‘Britishisms’ such as ‘analysed’ and ‘organised’ (both have a ‘z’ in North America)
  • See Wikipedia’s page on spelling differences.

Application etiquette

  • Include a cover letter with a résumé, unless you are told otherwise
  • Write a considered and thoughtful thank you letter within 48 hours of any interview
  • Convert your résumé and cover letter into PDFs before sending them to an employer
Academic CVs

Example Academic CV

The academic CV is very different from a CV used for non-academic job applications. It focuses purely on your academic achievements and experience, and there is no page limit – although you should always keep it concise and relevant.

Before you start

First, look at the skills and competencies that the hiring department / research group requires. You can identify these from the person specification, the job advert, or your own research. Is this a research or teaching only job? Or will you be doing research, teaching and administration (typical for lectureships)? Do they highlight any particular skill areas, such as organisation or team work?

Look at what you need to do to apply. CVs are usually accompanied by cover letters, but they might also ask you to submit an application form, research and/or teaching statement.

Once you are clear what the employer wants, start to tailor your CV to the post.

Typical sections

The following sections are typical for the academic CV:

  • Personal Information. Start the CV with your name, address, telephone number and email address.
  • Research Interests. Write bullet points or a short paragraph summarising your research.
  • Education. Include degrees, possibly titles of theses, and the names of supervisors.
  • Awards and Funding. Include undergraduate/postgraduate prizes, travel grants, doctoral scholarships, early career fellowships, and grants you have led on or are named on.
  • Research Experience. Include any post docs or fellowships and research assistant jobs. You might include more detail about your doctoral research in this section too.
  • Teaching Experience. Note any lecturing, seminar, tutorial, supervising, demonstrating, mentoring experience, and potentially non-academic teaching. Give details about the role and responsibilities – even if it was informal – such as level of students, class sizes and topics you taught.
  • Admin Experience. Highlight any conferences/seminars/reading groups you’ve organised, committees you have sat upon, and any other relevant administration experience.
  • Relevant Training. Include academic teaching training, research methods training etc.
  • Relevant research/technical/laboratory skills. You may find it useful to list these under one heading if you find yourself repeating throughout various sections.
  • Patents. Give details of the title, inventors, patent number and date granted.
  • Professional memberships. List these – e.g. the Royal Society of Chemistry or the British Association of American Studies. Include dates.
  • Publications. Give full details as you would if citing them, and use a consistent style. You may wish to highlight (e.g. bold/underline) your name.
  • Conference presentations and posters. Highlight whether paper or poster and cite similarly to your publications with full author list, title, date and location.
  • Referees. Ideally these should all be academic referees. They should be people who know you well and who are known in your field.

Top tips

  • Make sure the CV is focused on academia. Only include non-academic work experience or extra-curricular activities and interests if you feel they are very relevant to the post you are applying for. You might include languages and IT skills if they are relevant.
  • You might include your nationality in your personal details if you think it will be an advantage – e.g. so that they know you are a European citizen and have the right to work in the UK.
  • If you have limited or no published work, consider including works in progress. Clearly label publications as ‘forthcoming’, ‘under review’ or ‘submitted’ if they are in process, but not yet in print or accepted. If you are unconcerned about giving your ideas away before they go to a publisher, you could have a separate heading for ‘Working Papers’ that you are preparing for publication but have not submitted yet. Include when and where you plan to submit them.
  • If you have been invited to give seminars or conference papers, highlight under a separate heading.
  • Translate jargon/acronyms that others might not understand, especially if applying abroad.
  • Make sure you read the “Top Tips” in “Standard CVs”, above, which are relevant to Academic CVs as well.
Check your CV

Personal details

  • Does your name stand out? (Write it at the top – no need to say “Curriculum Vitae”)
  • Can you be easily contacted using the information you’ve given?

Education

  • Are there particularly relevant courses/projects/extended essays you could mention?
  • Are A-levels and GCSEs summarised on one or two lines each?
  • Have you given an indication of the equivalence or grading system of any non-UK qualifications?

Work experience

  • Are section headings tailored to the recipient? (e.g. Teaching Experience, Voluntary Work, etc.)
  • Have you included greater detail on more relevant experience?
  • Have you tailored your achievements and skills to the job?
  • Are your sentences punchy and concise?
  • Have you followed the advice in our page on demonstrating you fit the job criteria?

Other Skills

  • Is it clear what level of attainment you have in languages, IT, etc.?

Interests

  • Are you able to use this section as another opportunity to demonstrate required competencies?
  • Have you indicated your level of commitment?

Referees (academic CVs only)

  • Is this section headed “referees” and not “references”?
  • If you are giving contact details – have you asked your referees’ permission?
  • Does the section take up too much space? If so, put their details on a single line – for example:

Dr M. Misra, Keble College, Oxford, OX1 1AB, maria.misra@keble.ox.ac.uk, 01865 377778

General

  • Does it look attractive at first glance? Would you want to read it? Would an employer want to read it?
  • Does it fit on to one or two full pages?
  • Has it been checked for accurate and consistent grammar and spelling? Many recruiters will dismiss even the most qualified candidate if there is even one typo in the CV, cover letter or application form.
  • Are fonts (type and size) consistent and not too small (11pt minimum)?
  • Is the layout well balanced, with effective use of space, using the full width of the page?
  • Broadly speaking, does the most relevant information occupy the most space?
  • Are dates reverse chronological if you are using this type of format?
  • Have you quantified your achievements?
  • Have you checked for gaps in your history? We recommend you explain any significant time gaps in your CV. There is no right or wrong way of presenting your personal circumstances. You may have been travelling, working on an independent project (e.g. writing), been ill, or caring for others. If it helps, speak with a Careers Adviser to identify the most effective way for you to present your circumstances on a CV and/or cover letter as this will differ with each individual.

Finally:

  1. Hold your CV at arms-length – does it look easy to read?
  2. Fold it vertically and scan the left side in 3 seconds
    – Will the reader get the gist of your application?
    – Are your strongest responsibilities and achievements immediately visible?
  3. Check for jargon and acronyms, and over-long bullets – edit vigorously
  4. Is it the right length?
    – Some employers ( e.g. investment banks) expect just one page, so check beforehand
    – Aim for a maximum of two pages, except for an academic CV
  5. Save your CV as a PDF to ensure it keeps its beautiful formatting
  6. Finally, finally, take a break and then proofread – yes, again! Double check for typos and errors. Then send it off!

It can take a number of revisions before you are happy with your CV, and getting independent advice can prove very helpful: it might all make perfect sense to you, but you could be surprised by the things that others may question or not understand. Make an appointment and ask for feedback from a Careers Adviser.

Our resources

Example CVs

Related pages

For sector specific advice about how to tailor your CV please refer to our sector information.

Presentation Slides

Books

Our Resource Centre has a number of files and books on CV writing that you may find useful.

GoinGlobal

The Careers Service subscribes to GoinGlobal on behalf of Oxford students. It features around 40 country guides.

Advice appointments

You can get advice on your CV from any of our Careers Advisers by booking an advice appointment. Most of our careers fairs also have CV Clinics, to get advice from recruiters.

External resources
This information was last updated on 25 July 2017.
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Recent blogs about CVs

EXPERIENCE THE CLASSROOM

Blogged by Julia Hilton on April 20, 2018.

Insight into Teaching provides students with the opportunity to spend three days in a school with a full programme of lesson observation, perhaps a chance to try out some teaching and join in with activities, and a pre-placement seminar to get the most out of the placement.

Placements take place over 3 days in 9th week of Trinity term and are available in a range of subjects in secondary, primary & further education, in state-maintained and independent schools across Oxfordshire and elsewhere in the UK. This year the dates are Tuesday 19 to Thursday 21 June.

Applications open in 1st week of term and close on Sunday 20 May (end of 4th week) at midnight.

If you are thinking about a career in teaching then spending time in school is extremely important, not only to help you to decide whether teaching is for you, but also to enhance your teacher training application – whether you are considering a PGCE, School Direct, Teach First or another route into teaching. A participant on the programme last term said:

‘I really enjoyed interacting with students in the lower school, particularly helping students who came to the math’s clinic one lunch time. It was nice to feel useful. I previously was sure I wanted to teach sixth form but I enjoyed this aspect so much I am rethinking this.’

Literary Agency Work Experience – Carole Blake Open Doors Project

Posted on behalf of Blake Friedmann. Blogged by Polly Metcalfe on April 20, 2018.

The Carole Blake Open Doors Project, is a programme specifically aimed at encouraging candidates from a diverse range of backgrounds to enter the publishing industry.

The Carole Blake Open Doors Project will offer ten days of work shadowing at Blake Friedmann’s book agents to a selected applicant over a two-week period, including funding for travel and up to twelve nights’ accommodation in London. The programme, which will run twice a year, will include close mentorship with Blake Friedmann’s book agents, the opportunity to attend selected meetings with editors and clients, and the chance to be involved in every aspect of day-to-day life as an agent. It is intended that candidates will come away from the project with varied knowledge of working for a leading literary agency, the beginnings of new and essential relationships in the publishing industry, and some excellent experience to include on their CVs.

“Carole offered me my first internship in publishing at Blake Friedman. She was a formidable figure, yet warm and funny. She was deeply encouraging to me as one from a diverse background based on my age, class and race – though it was our mutual love of a great pair of shoes that really sealed the deal!  An unforgettable, truly phenomenal woman.” – Valerie Brandes, Founder & Publisher, Jacaranda Books, and former BFA intern

Carole Blake and the Blake Friedmann team have always placed great value on diversity and openness, in the company’s client list as well as its hiring practices. We aim to build on this foundation and be proactive about drawing from a wider pool of talented applicants who are passionate about books and ambitious about getting a job in publishing.

Read an account of taking part in the project from our first Open Doors intern Ada Igwebu. 

Applications are now open for the Carole Blake Open Doors project and the deadline is 18 May.

Resources and opportunities for early career researchers

Blogged by Rebecca Ehata on April 19, 2018.

The Early Career Blog: Specialist careers advice for PhDs and postdocs

Have you had a look at our blog for early career researchers yet? This joint initiative with Cambridge has over 40 posts dealing with topics such as networking, academic applications and getting funding, making it a great resource whether you’re set on staying in academia or looking for fresh pastures. A new post on the blog looking at Non-academic employers’ perspectives on researchers will be of interest to any ECRs who are toying with the possibility of a move beyond academia.

You can browse the range of posts already available at any time, and don’t forget that you can send suggestions for further topics by tweeting them to @EarlyCareerBlog!

The Researcher Consultancy is back!

Following the successful pilot of the Researcher Consultancy in Michaelmas and Hilary terms, we’re delighted to announce that a new round of the programme has now launched! Whether you’re considering consultancy as a longer-term career move, you want to develop key employability skills such as self-management, team working, business and customer awareness, problem solving and communication, or wish to boost your understanding of the commercial sector and gain hands-on experience of tackling real-world strategic problems, this may be a perfect opportunity for you. Whatever your career plans, including further research and academia, participants can benefit significantly from the programme.

So how does it work?

Participants volunteer some of their own time to work in small teams, over a 4-month period, to address a strategic issue or business opportunity for a client organisation. Our clients list includes start-ups, businesses, local and international charities, community organisations, University departments and Government agencies.

Want to know more?

For more information see CareerConnect or contact Lili Pickett-Palmer. The closing date for applications for the Spring-Summer programme is 30 April 2018.

Careers in the Heritage and Museum Sectors

Posted on behalf of Heritage Pathway. Blogged by Polly Metcalfe on April 18, 2018.

Careers in the Heritage and Museum Sectors hosted by Heritage Pathway

  • When: Thursday 17 May, 15.00-17.00
  • Where: 3rd Floor Seminar Room, Radcliffe Humanities Building, Woodstock Road
  • Book: Booking is essential for this event

The ‘Heritage Pathway’ is one of seven training pathways offered to graduate students and Early Career Researchers in the Humanities Division. A year-long programme of workshops, site visits and networking opportunities provides the skills and knowledge required to engage successfully with partner organisations in the heritage sector, whether through commercial or research-based collaborations.

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Trinity micro-internships have now launched!

Blogged by Rosanna Mills on April 18, 2018.

It’s the time of year to be thinking about work experience, and to help you on your way our Trinity term Micro-Internship Programme has now launched! If you have a busy academic schedule but you are still looking for work experience, or want to gain some professional skills and extra points for your CV, then look no further. This programme is open to both undergraduates and postgraduates, and here are some of the placements on offer in weeks 9 and 10:

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Keep an eye out for our sector lists over the coming days!

In brief… What are micro-internships?

2-5 day work experience placements each term during weeks 9 and 10, exclusive to Oxford students (matriculated students are eligible to apply). Although voluntary, host organisations must reimburse local travel and lunch expenses on production of receipts. Full programme information can be found on our Micro-Internship Programme webpage.

How do I apply?

You can view and apply to all micro-internships on CareerConnect, submitting a one-page CV and 300-word personal statement. The deadline this term is midday, Thursday 3 May (please note that this is earlier than usual due to the bank holiday).

Can I get help with my application?

Absolutely! Please see our Internship Office Application Support Document and Employer Feedback on Student Micro-Internship Applications. Up until the deadline, we will be running Application Support Sessions for CV and personal statement advice – view and book on CareerConnect.

Any questions? Get in touch by emailing micro-internships@careers.ox.ac.uk

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