CV Explained

What is a curriculum vitae?

Latin for the course of one’s life or career, a Curriculum Vitae is a document outlining an individual’s educational and professional history. Although similar to a résumé, a Curriculum Vitae (CV or vita for short) is generally longer and provides more detail than a résumé. Depending on where you will be submitting your CV, the sections you include and the location of the various sections may vary. These sections are suggestions; the information and section titles are personal decisions and will be influenced by the experience of the candidate and the requirements of the position.

Tailor CV to each position

The order of inclusion of information will differ for each person’s CV and may differ from one CV to another created by the same person. A CV targeted to a specific job will prioritize information in an order (most relevant to least relevant) that is most useful to the intended audience.

When is a CV necessary?

While a CV is generally submitted for academic and research positions. These positions generally require advanced education and expertise. CVs may be referred to as 'Scientific Résumés' but CVs are requested in other types of fields. A résumé is a shorter document generally used to apply for non-academic, non-research positions.

Research & use professional standards

Also, different professional associations may have recommendations and expectations for how a CV presented, and how certain items - like publications, for instance - are recorded on the document. Check out the standards of your professional association. If everyone in your field acknowledges those standards and uses them, you should use them too.

Review sample CVs

Review CVs of successful professionals in your field. Compare them to the standards you have identified. Look for commonalities in the information that is presented and how it is formatted. If you come across unique formats, special content, or other unusual items that aren't covered in any rules - find out why they are included and how they serve that person. Filter what you are see through the best practices you learn.

International differences

In other countries, you might find that CV is the common, catch-all term, but in the U.S., there is often a distinction made between résumés and CVs, with differing expectations for the two types of documents.

Generally speaking, in the U.S., a request for a CV carries an expectation of a more extensive representation of your experience. This may or may not include, but is not limited to: current academic position, education, honors and awards, certifications and training, previous academic positions, research interests, research experience, publications (subcategorized as open submission or peer review, manuscripts under review, book chapters, manuscripts in preparation), presentations (subcategorized to differentiate proposed and invited), posters, citations in popular media, grants funded, grants under review, grants in preparation, teaching interests, teaching experience (subcategorized as professor, instructor, lecturer, guest lecturer), supervisory experience, role as reviewer or referree or editor, clinical experience, professional development, professional associations, professional service, campus service, community service.

How to pronounce curriculum vitae or vita

The pronunciation for Curriculum Vitae is [kuh-rik-yuh-luhm vahy-tee, vee-tahy] and for Vita is [vahy-tuh, vee-; Lat. wee-tah].

Some Contents of a Curriculum Vitae

Contact Information

The information to include here includes your name, street address, city, state, phone number including area code, e-mail address. It may be appropriate to include your business address as well.


List in reverse chronological order beginning with the most recent degree in progress or awarded. Indicate the degree received, the month and year the degree was conferred, the institution awarding the degree, the city and state where the institution is located. Dissertation Topic, Areas of Specialization and Research Interests can be added, if appropriate.


If there are certifications relevant to the position, include in this section indicating the type and when received.

Honors and Awards

This section includes academic or professional awards, scholarships and fellowships dating back to no further than undergraduate. Indicate the honor, award, scholarship or fellowship title, the

institution or organization issuing honor/award, and the date the award was received.

Professional Experience

Provide information on previous positions held relevant to the one you are seeking. List the organization or institution, the city and state, the job title, and dates employed. Include a brief description of job duties and responsibilities utilizing strong action verbs.

Other Experience

This section outlines volunteer and other experiences that may enhance your vita. Similar experiences can be grouped together into headings such as Teaching, Volunteer, Internship or Community Experiences. Within each sub-heading, list the experience in reverse chronological order.

Grants Received

Identify the name of the grant received, the institution awarding the grant, the date the grant was received and the title of the research or purpose of the grant.

Professional Associations

Specify recent or current membership(s) and dates in local, state, regional and national professional organizations. Identify any significant committee assignments and/or elected offices held. Student membership in these organizations can be included.


Provide a properly formatted listing of bibliographic citations of articles, pamphlets, chapters in books, technical papers, research reports, etc. that you have authored or co-authored. Artists and musicians would include paintings or graphics, exhibitions and concerts, recitals and workshops, etc. Other listing in this section include media presentations such as radio, television and video appearances, films and film presentations, records, tapes, television and online courses developed.


Furnish the titles of professional presentations, the name of the conference or event, dates and location. The proper format for listing these presentations may vary depending on the academic discipline. In some disciplines, it may be appropriate to provide a brief description of the topic presented. Any professional workshops conducted can be included in this section.

Recent/Current Research

Describe recent or research in progress, the type of research, purpose of the research, etc.

Institutional Service

The section documents active service to the institution including membership on institutional committees noting any offices held, student groups supervised, etc.

Courses Taught

Identify the names and dates of courses taught, and the institutions where taught, along with a brief description of the course.

Community Involvement

Provide information on significant volunteer and/or civic engagement work, community service organization membership, church work, etc. List leadership positions held within these organizations.

Educational Travel

Extended international travel of an academic nature can be included here. Indicate the country, dates and purpose of travel.

Foreign Languages

List your foreign -language skills and indicate your level of proficiency.

Computer Skills

Depending on the position, indicate your programming, operating systems, server/network/hardware, database/statistics, engineering software, web page design, simulation tools, optimization tools and other software skills.

Your References

When requested, references should be provided. However, references should be listed on a separate addendum sheet separate from the vita. Include name, job title, place of employment, relationship to you, mailing address, email address and phone number. Always ask a reference BEFORE listing them as a reference.

References for this article

How to Prepare Your Curriculum Vitae, Acy L. Jackson and C.Kathleen Geckeis, McGraw-Hill Companies, 2003, 182 pages

Another good article on this topic, along with links to other resources is, Creating and Maintaining your CV by Natalie Houston.

The Visual & Verbal Rhetoric of the CV

This article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (April 4, 2012) provides insight into crafting a CV:

"The Rhetoric of the CV" by Joshua R. Eyler

Pay attention to those places where Eyler says something like 'it depends.' For example, whether you list your teaching or research experience first. Eyler argues that research should be listed first, but does acknowledge that 'a lot depends on the type of college to which you are applying.'

If the institution to which you are applying values teaching above research, then their priorities will probably be to see your teaching experience first (and to see, by your placement of it, that you know they value it first). Vice versa with research.

'It depends' is the reason there is no one-size-fits-all solution to CV (or résumé) creation. But some items will apply across the spectrum for print versions of your document:

  • make your name and contact information the first item, easily viewable and accessible;
  • balance areas of text with areas of white space, so that discreet sections are obvious at-a-glance (the first impression of the CV or résumé is made in a 20-30 second initial review).
  • organize information under clearly defined headings in order of most relevance to least relevance (but all being relevant);
  • use formatting and organization that is consistent throughout, because, with the structure, you are teaching the reader how to find information on the document (so they spend less time searching for and more time absorbing the content);
  • be consistent and error-free in your presentation so that the reader remains engaged with the content, not the errors, and so that the reader comes to an understanding of you as consistent and highly reliable;

Eyler mentions adding a grant writing section. In fields where grant writing is a valued asset and even a necessity, having material to include in a grant writing section can be an important distinguishing item on your application. If you intend a research-focused career at a college or university, grant writing will be an expected part of your skill set. As a graduate student, when you have the opportunity to partner on a grant writing project, or author your own, take it (but don't take it lightly).

If you want to pursue a career in research or teaching, it will strengthen your candidacy to have multiple presentations and publications cited, and also a steady stream of them.

For teaching positions, you should have and clearly demonstrate teaching experience.

Two important points to underscore about what Eyler says about publications and presentations:

  1. the obvious message is that it is expected that candidates will have publications and presentations
  2. the not-so-obvious message is that by segregating the various types of publications and presentations under multiple subheadings he describes, you demonstrate an understanding of the values system of your intended career field.

Begin the process of your CV design by imagining yourself on the selection committee, serving an institution to which you are strongly committed, sifting through a large stack of documents on a tight timetable, trying to identify the most agreeable potential colleague. What would be your expectations in such a situation? 

Tailor your presentation to the needs and expectations of your targeted audience.  Perceived and subliminal messages can be encoded in a well-written and well-designed CV or résumé to engender positive associations in your reader.