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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 scanning your CV (perhaps as little as 2 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. You should focus on the reader’s core requirements and adjust or adapt your CV to their (and therefore)  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
  • We’d recommend putting the dates on the right hand side, so the first thing people read is down the left hand side and is the organisation name and your role
  • 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, you will have gained valuable transferable skills 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 or second 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 employability 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 (8.5″ x 11″ or 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?

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?
  • Are the dates on the right hand side, so the first thing people read (down the left hand side) is the organisation name, and your job

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

Video Resources

Other Resources

AI or robot reviewers and other paid for services

There is a new breed of automatic CV review software and websites that will analyse and ‘score’ your CV against their criteria. Some of these are free (or free initially), most will expect you to sign up and may charge. The merits of these reviews remain unclear; mostly the review will remind you about much that is described in this briefing around the language.

A CV is just one aspect of your application; if your fundamental motivation for applying is sound, then the CV, application form, cover letter and other information will all feel consistent and appear more attractive.

There are also numerous organisations offering to write your CV/Resume for a fee; we believe that if you follow the advice above, and come for a (free) CV review at the Careers Service, you will get the best service for you. In Michaelmas, you can book just a 10 minute CV review meeting, or as part of a 20 minute 1:1 any time of the year.

This information was last updated on 25 July 2019.
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