Employers may initially spend a very short time scanning your CV (perhaps as little as a few seconds), so it must be able to convey the most relevant points about your skills and experience 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 for each application.

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Top Tips

Be concise

  • Keep it to one or two full pages (academic CVs may be longer) - check if there is specified page limit in the application guidance
  • Use bullet points to present the information concisely
  • 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.

Try to address these key elements in your descriptions:

  • What you were responsible for
  • What you achieved
  • And how you have worked within a team/with others that the reader wants to learn more by meeting you.

Target your CV

  • Target your CV to each position you are applying to – it should not be just a list of everything that you have done
  • Sometimes organisations will give guidance (on their website/recruitment materials) on what they want you to include in your CV - if they do, follow it.

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/context.

Be clear

  • A well written CV is easy to read and scan quickly; clear font of 10 pt or 11 pt; some blank spaces; not too narrow a margin
  • We would recommend writing your role/position and the name of the organisation on the left-hand side of the page and the dates on the right-hand side
  • Use simple language – avoid jargon, generalisations, ‘management speak’, and acronyms
  • Do not write in prose or paragraphs – as space is limited
  • CVs are usually a record of what you have done in the past, so completed tasks and activities should be written in the past tense. If you are describing an activity/role/job you are currently doing, the present tense is fine.

How to create your focused, relevant CV

  • Make a list (for yourself) of 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 are applying to. 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 the 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.

Dividing your CV into sections/headings makes it easier for the reader, e.g.: 

  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 meant to get you the interview/meeting, so don’t feel you have to include every last detail – leave the reader wanting to learn more about you. You don't need to include the following in a CV:

  • 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 python, C++, SPSS, etc.
  • Interests such as ‘socialising with friends, cooking, reading, cinema’ etc. If you do choose to include them, give more details e.g.: ‘French films of 1940-1960’.

Using bullet points

Aim to create impactful 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.

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, 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 quickly and gives a complete picture of a candidate in a clear and structured way.

Remember, however, that you can alter the headings 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

Key resource

Skills-based CV (PDF)


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.

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 turn a great CV into a great résumé.

Format differences

Default page size – A4 (21 cm x 29.7 cm) is replaced by Letter (8.5″ x 11″ or 21.59 cm x 27.94 cm)

  • 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.

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.


Key resource

Academic CV (PDF)


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 postdoctoral positions 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 such as through schools and tutoring. 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. You may also see this section referred to as 'Academic Responsibilities' or 'Academic Service'.
  • Relevant Training. Include academic teaching training, research methods training, management skills training etc.
  • Relevant research/technical/laboratory skills. You may find it useful to list these under one heading if you find yourself repeating them 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. Subsections can highlight 'invited' contributions.
  • 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, but articulate the transferable skills/knowledge involved. 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 them 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.

What are Narrative CVs?

‘Narrative CVs’ are becoming a common requirement in academic funding and even job applications. They are significantly different from a traditional academic CV that is more based on a list of your experience and achievements, moving towards descriptions of your contributions. Narrative CVs aim to improve research culture and assessment by broadening the outputs, skills, and experiences that are valued by research, beyond publication metrics.

Depending on the funder or organisation, they may have different names, such as the UKRI Résumé for Research and Innovation (R4RI) or the ‘Your research contributions’ section of Wellcome applications.

The trend is likely to continue as more researchers and evaluators recognise the benefits of narrative CVs for capturing the diversity and quality of research outputs and outcomes.

What is the typical format of a Narrative CV?

There is no one standard format for Narrative CVs, but most consist of different sections that ask you to describe your contributions and achievements in various aspects of research and innovation, such as outputs, impact, environment, leadership, funding, awards, teaching, service and engagement. You should refer closely to the instructions, guidance, or template your specific funder or institution provides, as requirements can differ.

Each section should provide a concise summary of the researcher’s activities, achievements and reflections, with evidence and links to relevant sources where possible.

Guidance on writing your Narrative CV

Funders and institutions are beginning to develop guidance on developing Narrative CVs, so check resources and guides they provide. Oxford University Research Services have developed valuable Guides and Resources and have a recorded webinar for supporting your development of Narrative CVs.

The following summarises the key advice provided in the guide for drafting your Narrative CV:

Be Selective: The Narrative CV aims to emphasise quality of contributions, rather than quantity.

  • Attempt to highlight fewer key contributions in good detail, rather than provide long lists with little detail
  • Ensure your selected contributions are strong but also relevant to the funding call or position you are applying for
  • Focus on your past achievements, not your future plans

Provide evidence: For your selected contributions, describe outcomes and your role in enabling them, rather than purely listing outputs. Qualitative and quantitative evidence is suitable.

Consider including collaborative activities. You can use evidence from within and beyond academia if they are relevant to your application.

Provide context: you are allowed to explain how your activities benefited you at your career stage and enhanced your skills. Narrative CVs understand that not all researchers have the same level of opportunities available to them, and explanations of context can demonstrate your ability level within the constraints of your situation.

Some top tips for starting the writing process:

  • Note down what the funding call or position guidance calls for you to provide evidence on
  • Make a list of your activities that meet these, and begin to identify your strongest and most relevant examples
  • Begin expanding on these, explaining their significance, what resulted from them, what you gained, quantitative or qualitative evidence to demonstrate impact
  • Check for overlap between sections, and ensure your examples are placed in the most relevant section
  • Consider including a sentence summarising the key point you want the reviewer to remember

Writing a Narrative CV can feel challenging at first, and therefore practicing and drafting this new format early can be beneficial.

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?


  • 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?


  • 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.?


  • Are you able to use this section as another opportunity to demonstrate the 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,, 01865 377778


  • Does it look attractive at first glance? Would you want to read it? Would an employer want to read it?
  • Does it fit onto 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 that 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 for each individual.


  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.

Example CVs

Related pages

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


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.

Video resource

Top Tips for Creating a Winning CV | with Julia Sadler, Oxford University Careers Adviser

Employers may initially spend a very short time scanning your CV (perhaps as little as a few seconds), so it must be able to convey the most relevant points about you in a clear, accessible way.In this video, Julia Sadler, Oxford University Careers Adviser, shares tips for creating a winning CV.

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 as part of a 20-minute 1:1 appointment, you will get the best service for you. 

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