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The best step-by-step guide on how to write a CV for a job in 2021

The best step-by-step guide on how to write a CV for a job in 2021

If you are in the middle of a job search, having a well-put-together resume and a cover letter is crucial.

But why send a CV when you’ve already got an (insert platform name here) account with 10k followers, you say? 

We may be living in the era where social platforms serve as our ID cards, but – while they are a great addition to who we want to be viewed as – they are just that, an addition.

A professional CV will showcase your skills and work experience, helping recruiters and your potential employer see why you’re the ideal person for the job. If you still don’t have a resume or have an old one that needs updating – you are in the right place. 

In this article, you’ll get all the essential writing tips on how to compose a good CV, whether you are building one for your first job or just brushing up on your old one. 

We explain which formatting to use, the difference between a CV and a resume, and answer some of your most common questions on the topic of CV and resume creation.

How to write a CV for a job

  1. Make sure you know when to use a CV
  2. Pick the best CV format
  3. Add your contact information the right way
  4. Start your CV with a CV summary or CV objective
  5. List relevant work experience and key achievements
  6. Build your CV education section correctly
  7. List relevant skills that fit the job
  8. Include additional sections to your CV
  9. Complement your CV with a cover letter

CV vs. resume: basic differences explained

One of the most common confusions lies in the difference between a CV and a resume, i.e., their purpose, how they are built, and when to send them.

When to use a CV? When to use a resume?

Often, the recruiter/employer will state which of the two documents you should send. 

If they don’t, you will use them in the following way:

CV: If you are applying for international, academic, research, or scientific positions, you’d typically be required to send a CV.

Resume: A resume is a preferred format for most jobs. Whenever applying for a new job position, make sure you’ve got an updated resume. 

What is the purpose of a CV and resume?

CV: Curriculum vitae (lat.) stands for the course of life, fittingly describing its purpose in the job market. A CV is the detailed chronological layout of your educational and professional journey. 

It has a heavy focus on academics, and it tells employers the story of your overall knowledge, experience, and accomplishments. 

Resume: A resume concisely summarizes your relevant work experience gained from previous jobs. Think of a resume as a personal pamphlet whose purpose is to grab the attention of a hiring manager or an HR professional. 

If your resume fits their expectations, you will be considered for an interview. Make your resume easily scannable and concise.

How to compose a CV?

Finally had an alert for your dream job on LinkedIn but lack a dream-y CV to match it? Worry not; we’ve put together a simple yet comprehensive guide teaching you how to write a CV for a job in nine steps. 

The points every resume should cover are as follows:

1. Make sure you know when to use a CV

Before sending a CV for your dream job on autopilot, make sure that the job you are applying for requires a CV, not a resume.

If you are unsure, or the job posting doesn’t specify which of the two are required, you can always reach out to the company’s HR on LinkedIn or via email and ask which of the two they would prefer.

2. Pick the best CV format

A good CV is so much more than randomly collected information about your education, skills, and work experience.

To write your curriculum vitae well, start by selecting from the standard resume formats*: 

  • Reverse-chronological format
  • Combination format
  • Functional format (also known as skills-based)

*To learn more about CV formatting, go to the bottom of the page.

3. Add your contact information the right way

An excellent CV contact information section communicates must-include essential information and cleverly leaves out unnecessary data.

Must-include information:

  • Full name: First name/middle name optional/last name.
  • Phone Number: Personal cell phone number/Home number optional.
  • Email Address: Your personal email address.
  • LinkedIn URL: Your personal LinkedIn profile.

Optional information:

  • Your home address (best excluded, unless required)
  • Personal website
  • Personal social media profile

Information to avoid:

  • Photo/headshot
  • Date of birth
  • Second email/phone number

The new praxis is to avoid putting your photo/headshot and date of birth on a CV to avoid potential bias in any way. As for listing the second email address/phone number, it will just confuse them.

4. Start your CV with a CV summary or CV objective

If you are on Tinder, then you know how little patience goes into browsing through profiles.

Well, the same principle applies to the way employers flips through resumes – with an attention deficit and hope someone will pick their interest in an instant.  

According to a 2018 study released by TheLadders, an online job-matching service, recruiters spend 7.4 seconds reviewing an individual’s resume.

That means you’ve got that much (or that little!) to make an impression – so you better make it count with your CV summary or CV objective! 

CV summary statement

A good CV summary works when you apply for a job you are experienced in. It summarizes your skills and qualifications that are position-related.

Here’s how to write a professional summary and how not to write it:

Good: Creative, inspired, and diligent content writer with 10+ years of expertise in content marketing. Worked successfully in virtually all industries but remained devoted to SaaS. Gained dozens of satisfied, returning clients throughout my career, one of which is Microsoft. Looking to advance by growing with the PandaDoc tea.

Not so good: I have been a content writer for 10+ years. In addition to my knowledge of Word and Google Docs, I also handle some challenging programs, and I work well when the deadlines are tight.

See the difference? The Good one focuses on skills, accomplishments, and experience, while the Not so good one focuses on everyday duties, not accomplishments.

CV objective statement

If you have no work experience related to the position you’re applying for or no work experience at all, go with a strong CV objective statement.

As there is no relevant experience to rely on in the summary, highlight transferable skills from other areas.

Let’s look at a well-written CV objective and one that’s not that good.

Good: Dependable IT help desk specialist with 5+ years of experience at a large computer software company. Acquired the highest grades in build spec knowledge (98%) and quality (98.3%). Pursuing career growth with your company as an entry-level IT technician.

Not so good: I am an IT help desk specialist ready to become a field technician. I don’t have experience in this area, but I am a quick learner. I am very motivated to get this position because I prefer being outside for work to sitting behind a desk in a cubicle.

5. List relevant work experience and key achievements 

This part of a curriculum vitae for job applications includes the most relevant information about you, i.e., key experience elements that will help you leave a good first impression on your potential employer.

We recommend using this CV layout for your employment history:

  1. Job title: Put your current/latest employment position at the very top section of your CV. Make it bold, so it stands out from the rest of the entry.
  2. Company/City/State: Include your previous company name, along with the location you worked at/from.
  3. Employment dates: Employment timeframe details are super relevant as they show the employer for how long you can hold a job. You can add the year and the month, but you don’t need to put exact days.
  4. Key responsibilities: Showcase most relevant skills and responsibilities from your previous jobs. Listing responsibilities could play a role in scoring the new job.
  5. Key achievements: Although usually overlooked, key achievements are significant to include on a CV to let the employers know how well you did on things you were engaged in.

6. Build your CV education section correctly 

Although usually treated as an afterthought, the education section on a CV is an essential part of your resume structure. 

Here’s how to write a good curriculum vitae by including your education information in the right way:

  1. The name of the school
  2. The location of the school
  3. The degree you obtained (high-school diploma, GED, associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, etc.)
  4. Graduation year (if applicable)
  5. Major field of study
  6. Minor field of study
  7. Your GPA* 

Any relevant academic achievements and recognition, academia honors, coursework, activities, or other achievements you’ve obtained during your education

Example:

Harvard University
Faculty of Arts & Sciences
Cambridge, MA 02138
Bachelor of Law, 2006 – 2010
GPA: 3.9/4.0

*Leave out your GPA unless it’s not above 3.4.

The education section is often the shortest section of the CV (it shouldn’t extend 15–30 words).

7. List relevant skills that fit the job 

Your CV should be a perfect blend of hard and soft skills, both relevant for the position you are applying for. While you might be tempted to list as many skills as possible, presumably to show how diverse your knowledge is, resist the temptation and don’t list irrelevant skills.

An IT resume doesn’t need to list your art skills, and a resume for a writer shouldn’t include your veterinary abilities.   

What are hard skills and soft skills? 

  • Hard skills are special skills, abilities, and know-how (e.g., Jira, Photoshop, etc.). 
  • Soft skills are life-learned, self-developed social attributes (e.g., adaptability, mild temper, teamwork, etc.). 

How to include skills in a CV? 

The best way to drag someone’s eye to the key skills you want to list is to create a skills section labeled, well, “SKILLS.” 

Common skills to put on a CV: 

  • Communication skills: Social skills, listening skills, non-verbal communication, and interpersonal skills.
  • Technical skills: Knowledge necessary to execute specific tasks, like computer skills. 
  • Job-specific skills: Unique expertise the company explicitly requires.
  • Leadership and management skills: Capacity and talent to be a great manager, leader, and supervisor.
  • Organizational skills: A talent for planning, organizing, and seeing initiatives through.
  • Critical thinking skills: Ability to make thought-based decisions and take the initiative. Includes decision-making, analytical skills, and problem-solving.
  • Transferable skills: If you are changing careers, these are your skills and abilities learned before but applicable to your new position.

Combined, these make up the best skill set.

8. Include additional sections to your CV 

In 2021, getting a job interview is like being invited to a MetGala – you ought to have that something to walk the carpet. In the world of excellent resumes and CVs, yours must stand out and impress the recruiter.

After including all those sections above, design an additional section to make it unique. These extra sections can showcase just about anything about you, from your proud volunteer work to languages you’re fluent in and more.

So, enhance your CV with a few extra sections, such as:

  • Internship experience
  • Certifications and awards
  • Projects
  • Publications
  • Volunteer work
  • Hobbies and interests
  • Languages/Language skills

Elaborate on your experience/knowledge when listing these different sections, so the employee gets a more personal impression of how you are as a person. 

Example:

Say you’ve got a lot of volunteer work to list, this is how to do it:

  • NGO volunteer: Led a team of 15 community fundraisers that raised $15,000 for charity.
  • Nursing home volunteer. Kept records on 50 patients for three years with 100% HIPAA compliance.
  • Homeless shelter volunteer. Led seven volunteers in cleaning and resupplying rooms.
  • Animal shelter volunteer. Worked with ten out-of-state rescues to save the lives of 3,500+ dogs and cats.

And, this is how not to do it:

  • NGO volunteer
  • Nursing home volunteer
  • Homeless shelter volunteer
  • Animal shelter volunteer

The same applies to listing content for other extra sections.

9. Complement your CV with a cover letter 

A cover letter or job application letter is an additional part of your CV, an opportunity for you to impress your hiring manager and expand upon things that you need to keep brief on your CV. Also, a it allows you to speak easily in normal sentences!

Here’s the basic cover letter structure to follow:

  • Heading: Includes your details and the details of the person you are writing to.
  • Salutation: Addresses the person you are sending the letter to.
  • Opening paragraph: Strong CTA, getting them hooked.
  • Second paragraph: Why you are the perfect candidate for the position.
  • *Third paragraph: Why the company is the perfect fit for you.
  • Closing paragraph: Expressing your openness and readiness to talk to them in person.
  • Formal closing: Cultured goodbye.
  • Postscript: Seals the deal.

*Including this paragraph is optional but desirable as it gives the employer a chance to see that you understand their company and know why you want to work there.

PandaDoc freelance proposal and CV templates will impress your clients, giving you plenty of space for examples of your work history, project execution details, and client testimonials.

With 5 minutes of your time you can create a freelance proposal that sets you apart from other freelancers.

Now, let’s get down to learning more about different formats for curriculum vitae, how to pick the right one, and ways you can use them to your benefit.

CV formatting: What are the three main CV formats?

As mentioned, the three main CV formats are:

  1. Reverse-chronological 
  2. Functional 
  3. Combination (or hybrid)

1. CV format: Reverse-chronological

The reverse-chronological CV format is 2021’s golden star. It is practical, easy to create, and precise, which justifies its current popularity.

Here’s what to include in a reverse-chronological resume:

1. Contact information

  • Name and surname
  • Phone number
  • Location
  • Email address

Sometimes, you can include useful links, such as your LinkedIn profile and similar.

2. Resume summary or objective 

A brief summary (no more than 2-4 sentences) of your work experience and why you are applying for a given position.

3. Professional title 

The exact position you’re applying for.

4. Work experience 

Your previous work experience in reverse-chronological order. If possible, rather reflect on your achievements than responsibilities.

5. Skills section 

Skills you can emphasize as relevant for the position you’re applying for.

6. Education 

Your educational history. Start with your highest degree (i.e., university) and move onto the lowest (i.e., high school). Feel free to skip on listing your high school education if you’ve got a B.A. or a higher degree.

7. Optional sections

Sections like projects, portfolio, publications, volunteering, hobbies, etc. These additional sections of a CV may not be a game-changer, but they sure can help fill up some space on your resume – especially if you are just now learning how to write a CV for a job with no experience.

Strengths: Familiar and traditional CV style, simple to understand.
Weaknesses: Very common, doesn’t make you stand out among others.

2. CV format: Functional

Say hello to the least popular CV format in 2021 – the functional resume! Also known as the skills-based CV, this one focuses on your skills rather than your work experience.

It’s mainly useful for career changers or recent graduates since your work experience is not the resume’s focus. Details to include a functional resume:

  1. Contact information
  2. Resume summary or objective
  3. Professional title
  4. Skills summary
  5. Additional skills
  6. Work experience
  7. Education

The main difference from a reverse-chronological CV is that this one is used to sell your skillset, which doesn’t necessarily tie to work experience. 

Strengths: Inexperienced and/or entry-level job hunters can emphasize skills over lack of experience.
Weaknesses: HR managers aren’t too happy about this format.

3. CV format: Combination (Hybrid)

Its secondary name – hybrid – clearly suggests what type of a CV format this one is.

This CV format is a mixture of functional and reverse-chronological formats. It focuses on both skills and experiences while also including a skill summary section.

Details to include in a combination resume:

  1. Contact information
  2. Skill summary
  3. Additional skills
  4. Work experience
  5. Education

The combination resume is usually used by candidates with extensive work experience who need more space to emphasize their work experience and skill set.

Strengths: A great option for career changers, experienced pros, and everyone highlighting transferable skills.
Weaknesses: Uncommon CV type, not recommended for entry-level job seekers.

How to choose the best CV format?

Now that you know the difference between resume formats let’s explore which one may be the right for you.

Here’s our recommendation: a reverse-chronological CV format.

In 2021, a reverse-chronological resume format appeared to be the most common and valuable format:

  • Everyone in the hiring structure is familiar with this format.
  • Applicant tracking systems read it seamlessly.
  • It’s the most manageable format to work with.

We’d recommend going with a functional or combination resume only if you’re a career changer. Even then, it’s still risky.

Final thoughts

That’s it, folks – you’ve just learned how to make a professional curriculum vitae and hopefully get the interview for your dream job.

With a perfect CV like yours, who wouldn’t want you in their team! Good luck on your job search!

Frequently asked questions

  • The difference between a resume and a CV is covered in-depth at the beginning of our article. Please check it for more information.

  • CV lengths vary depending on the formatting of your CV and your overall work experience. An approximate length of a CV is one to four pages.

    Whether you are looking for a job for the first time or upgrading to a higher position, a well put together CV should help out. Check out our CV formatting section for more information.

  • To write a successful curriculum vitae, we list 9 steps to follow. Refer to our advice at the beginning of the article.

  • Depending on the job position you are applying for, sort through the skills that relate to that job. We talk about skills on a CV in the point #7 of the How to compose a CV? section.

Originally published May 26, 2018, updated October 11, 2021

Yauhen Zaremba

Yauhen Zaremba Director of Demand Generation at PandaDoc

Yauhen is the Director of Demand Generation at PandaDoc. He’s been a marketer for 10+ years, and for the last five years, he’s been entirely focused on the electronic signature, proposal, and document management markets. Yauhen has experience speaking at niche conferences where he enjoys sharing his expertise with other curious marketers. And in his spare time, he is an avid fisherman and takes nearly 20 fishing trips every year.

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