Having your CV (curriculum vitae) formatted correctly is essential to make your document clear, professional and easy to read. Your CV is the first touchpoint between you and your prospective employers. As such, leaving a positive impression through a well-written CV is vital. In this article, we discuss what a CV is, what the format of a CV is and craft a step-by-step guide to writing a compelling CV.
What is a curriculum vitae?
A curriculum vitae (CV), which translates as "course of life," is a comprehensive professional document that showcases a person's accomplishment, experience and education. Also included in a CV may be professional references, coursework, fieldwork, hobbies and interests related to your profession. You can also include a personal profile to highlight your skills and positive attributes, allowing prospective employers to have a better sense of your personality and capabilities.
What is the format of a CV?
For a CV, all three common formats—chronological, functional and combination—work, but the combination is typically the most effective. The combination format is a hybrid of the chronological and functional formats, with sufficient room for information about your professional and educational background, as well as your personal skills and achievements. The elements you prioritise are determined based on your experience, career goals and what you believe is most relevant to the positions you're applying for.
Consider this order:
- Contact information
- Academic history (if you're not in academia or a recent graduate, this can be moved beneath Professional experience)
- Qualifications and skills
- Professional experience
- Publications and presentations
- Awards and honours
- Grants and scholarships
- Licences and certifications
- Professional associations
You can include a brief skills and accomplishments section before the working experience section to highlight the key skills that are relevant to the role. Then, in your working experience section, use bullet points to build upon these skills and provide examples of their application in your previous jobs. This type of resume allows recruiters to scan a combination CV to see the keywords they are seeking on the first page and the enhanced mention of keywords can rank your CV higher in an applicant tracking system (ATS). It's common for recruiters to screen applications using an ATS before reading and reviewing individual CVs to save time and resources.
How to format a CV
These are the four main points to take note when formatting your CV:
1. Select the appropriate font type and size
Ensure your CV is legible and easy to read. To enhance readability, use a sans-serif font and keep the font size between 10 and 11 points. By making your CV clean and simple with minimal decorations, they can portray a more professional image. However, it depends on the industry or job role you're sending your CV to. You can add more unique elements when applying to more creative positions, such as a designer or illustrator.
Here are some examples of suitable fonts for your CV:
2. Check your margins
As a general rule, maintain your margins between 0.5 to 1 inch. Margins that are too wide can leave out excessive white space, while margins that are too narrow can make the page appear crowded and cluttered. Recruiters and hiring managers can find both distracting which can affect your application.
3. Make effective use of your available space
CVs can become quite lengthy, especially if you've been in your industry for a long time and have accumulated a lot of experience. You can consider implementing the following techniques to ensure that you utilise your space efficiently and your CV is easy to follow:
Use bulleted lists to organise your information: Add small bullet points to lists (such as your licences and certifications) to make them easier to absorb.
Use section headers: Make section headers stand out from the rest of your CV by underlining, bolding or increasing their font size.
Bold keywords: On top of the section headers, consider bolding important phrases, such as your name and job titles, to draw attention and focus on them.
Remove unnecessary information: Make the most of the limited space on your CV by emphasising only the most pertinent and outstanding aspects of your background. If you have five or more years of professional experience, remove experiences that are from 15 years ago and dates from your education section.
Prior to sending your CV to prospective employers, carefully proofread it for grammar, spelling, syntax and typographical errors. A well-written, error-free CV increases readability and demonstrates professionalism. Get the assistance of a trusted friend, family member or colleague to review your resume, highlight errors and suggest potential enhancements without fear of offending you. Getting a third party to look through your CV can often be effective in pointing out the errors that you may have overlooked.
A well-written CV contains all the most important information that employers seek when evaluating you for job prospects. By ensuring that your CV is properly formatted, legible and thorough, you'll be able to showcase your meticulousness and be a step closer to landing your dream job.
Related: How to Write a CV During COVID-19
What to include on a CV
These are some pointers of what you can include in your CV:
Contact information: Include your personal particulars like full name, address, phone number and email address.
Academic history: From secondary school through postdoctoral studies (if applicable), you can include all educational institutions you have graduated from. List the title of your degree, the year of graduation and the name and location of your school.
Professional experience: Outline the organisation where you worked, your job title, your employment period and a brief description of your duties and achievements.
Qualifications and skills: List a variety of hard and soft skills you've acquired over the course of your career.
Awards and honours: Include the name of the award, the year you received the award, the organisation that gave you the award and any relevant information (such as how frequently it's granted).
Publications and presentations: Provide details on your publications, including date, co-authors, summary, volume, page and DOI numbers. For presentations, provide the title, date and venue where you presented.
Professional associations: Include the name of the organisation, its location or chapter and the dates of active membership.
Grants and scholarships: List the name of the grant or scholarship, the date it was granted and the institution that awarded it.
Licences and certifications: Include the name of the license or certificate, the date you received it and the institution that provided the certification.
Here's an example of a CV that you can refer to when formatting your own:
Singapore, 123456 I 8888 9999 | email@example.com
Masters of Communication, 2018*
National University of Singapore
Singapore Management University*
Research Assistant 2014–2017
- Conducted physical and chemical laboratory tests to assist researchers in qualitative and quantitative analyses.
- Piloted experimental processes and assisted in the development of new chemical engineering processes.
- Maintained all laboratory equipment in order to provide a clean and safe work environment for students and faculty.
- Project management
- Academic research
- Fluent in English and Mandarin
Awards and Honours
- The National Book Development Council of Singapore
- Singapore Literature Prize, 2018
- Awarded to up to 12 individuals nationwide, each year, for achievements in literature.
Publications and Presentations
- Understanding Auditory Sensitivity Issues in Children with Autism 2016, World Autism Organisation Conference
- The Law Society of Singapore, (2016–Present)
Grants and Scholarships
- Singapore Government Scholarship, 2014
Licences and Certifications
- Certificate in Sociological Practice, 2004
- Association for Applied and Clinical Sociology
Tips for writing a CV
Listed below are some tips to draft a comprehensive CV:
Customise your CV for each application
It's important that you tailor all sections of your CV to the job opening in order to make it through an ATS and attract recruiters' attention. Identify the key skills needed by the employer by using the job description as a guide. As opposed to abbreviating, define the skills and certifications you mention throughout your CV in the skills, education and professional experience sections.
Make your CV ATS-friendly
ATS is a common tool used by recruiters to quickly scan through and identify qualified candidates. CVs that are designed with both the ATS and role-specific keywords usually rank higher than others. Consider the following techniques to make your CV more ATS-friendly:
Include ATS keywords:ATS keywords are particular words or phrases that employers identify as requirements for a specific position. Examples can include words that identify suitable applicants based on their education, skills and experience.
Avoid complex formatting: While tables, columns, headers and footers may appear to be excellent ways to organise complex information on a CV, not all ATS can process this information accurately. When an ATS parses this type of formatting, the information within can get scattered or forfeited, resulting in the loss of some of your most essential information.
Save your CV in the correct file format: Although PDF appears to be the best format for your CV in terms of standardised formatting, not all systems can translate it correctly. You can choose a .docx format to ensure that an ATS can accurately scan all of the information on your CV.