$Id: cv-resume.html,v 1.45 2004/02/19 13:28:29 selander Exp $

Selander, C93 (selander@cs.umu.se)

How to write a CV
or
How to write a résumé

Abstract

The intention and style of the common elements of CVs and résumés are presented and discussed in order to enable the reader to make an informed choice regarding the design of his/her CV/résumé instead of just blindly cut and paste from others.

Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Terminology
  3. Motivation
  4. Persistence
  5. Typical Features
  6. Length
  7. Language
  8. Heading
  9. Sections
    1. Personalia
    2. Career Objective
    3. Qualifications Summary
    4. Positions/Experience
    5. Education
    6. Publications
    7. Awards & Honours
    8. Extracurricular Activities
    9. Language Proficiency
    10. Recreation
    11. References
  10. Acknowledgements
     
  11. Appendix A: Swedish Section Suggestions

Introduction

Many of my friends and fellow Computer Scientists have come to me and asked if they can use my CV or résumé as template when writing their own. Every time, I get equally happy and give them tons of good advice on what to keep in mind and how to avoid my mistakes.

However, very often I stumble upon CVs that clearly are made up with mine as model, and which have kept most of my errors and added several more. (Why do I have errors I know of in my CV and résumé? Well, because I am stubborn and sentimental...)

That is why I am writing this tutorial on how to write a CV or résumé: to save myself the sweet trouble of giving people lots of advice, and to, if possible, help more than just the ones who contact me personally. Of course, if I at the same time happen to satisfy my great ego in some way, so be it!

Terminology

What is the difference between a CV and a résumé?

Well, "curriculum" is Latin for "a running, race, lap around the track, or course" and "vitae" means "life", so "curriculum vitae" thus means "course of life", "life-track", or similar. In other words, a CV is a summary of your main experiences on paper. It is retrospective in the way that in only lists things that have been. It does not consider the future as a résumé does.

"Résumé" is synonymous with "summary", but you should not see it as a summary of your life but rather as a single paper summary of your total job application (what you want from the job and why just you should have it). The emphasis on a résumé is on your career objective. The experience you list on a résumé should be relevant and supportive of your goal.

CVs usually comes with the retrospective sections Personalia, Positions, and Education, while résumés is equipped with both visionary, current, and retrospective sections -- Career Objective, Qualification Summary, and Experience. (Positions and Experience both means jobs you already have had.)

Is that all there is to it? No, unfortunately, there is one other thing. You see, at the universities (within academia) and in industry (in the market), a CV means different things -- when industry and Human Resource people speak about CVs, they actually mean more of a résumé, and when university faculty refer to CVs, they rather think of academic CVs conforming to the requirements of the Swedish Higher Education Ordinance (högskoleförordningen).

What to do then? Simple -- do not label the piece of paper where you listed your strong points as neither a CV nor a résumé. Use your own full name as heading instead. But you should, of course, yourself be aware of whether it is a CV or a résumé you have put together.

In my opinion, you should rather use a résumé than a CV if you are going to apply for an industry job. If you want to became a graduate student, get a Ph.D., and perhaps become a full-fledged professor, then you must nurse a formal academic CV. Otherwise, if you just want to present your career at your homepage, a common CV works fine.

Motivation

What is the rôle of the CV in your job application? Does it differ from that of a résumé?

There are, of course, more than one usage of a CV/résumé. One of the simplest is to just put it on the web and wait for the recruiters and headhunters to start calling (and they do, at least to me). Another common usage is to submit one's CV/résumé as a response to a place ad and let the hiring company decide whether to contact you for more information and an interview or not. This is perhaps more usual in the USA than it is here in Sweden. As far as I know, the customary Swedish way is to submit a complete application at once.

What should your application contain then? Well, aside from a personal letter, introducing yourself and explaining why you are the right one for the job and why you believe the job being right for you, it should include a selection of your collected grade reports, different kind of certificates, letters of recommendation, and such -- preferably with the CV or résumé as the first page and the following papers backing up what is stated in the CV/résumé. In fact, you should try to only list claims you can easily prove in your CV/résumé. Always remember to get written statements testifying each and every one of your achievements!

You did something great in some association? Get the board to certificate it! You were on a board? Get the chairman to certificate it! You were the chairman? Get the board or your successor to certificate it! You went to the university? Get a signed grade report! You quit a job to get a new one? Get your boss to certificate how long you worked there and what your main responsibilities were! In fact, if you have a way with words, or have a friend that is, it can be quite rewarding to make a draft of the certificate you want to present as a proposal to the one who should sign it. Sometimes they prefer their own short and non-expressive standard template, but often they will be happy to just sign yours as it is, or, if you are lucky, use it as a base and extend it to something even better.

To summarise, in Sweden, an application for a job often consists of a personal letter and a CV/résumé followed by certificates of employment from every former employer, one's university grades, and other certificates of achievement.

Persistence

Should you keep a general CV/résumé or write a new one for every new job you apply for? Why not do both?

Even if it is most efficient, it is way too tedious to write a new CV/résumé for every job you apply for. The reason some say you should do that is that if you fill it with details, like the terminology, from the place ad and the company's web-site, it is easier to convince their Human Resource department that you are the right one for the job ("-Hey! This CV is a direct match to our ad -- this must be the person we want!").

It is much easier to make an initial version of one's CV/résumé, and then just keep updating it as your life progress. However, then you might not get a certain job, simply because some Human Resource manager do not understand that many of the buzzwords in their place ad mean the same thing as what you have listed in your CV/résumé, only in different words or acronyms. But if you already have a general CV/résumé made up, it is pretty easy just to target it at a certain position by scrutinising the place ad, reading up on the company, and adjusting your CV/résumé a little after the same fashion.

Take care not to be too obvious though! What if the HR-manager thinks "hey, this kid tries to suck up by reusing all the phrasing of our ad" and throws away your application?

Typical Features

  Résumé/Industrial CV Common CV Academic CV
Length: Only one page! No backside! No more than the front and back of a page As long as it gets
Should at least include: Career Objective
Qualification Summary
Experience
Personalia
Positions
Education
Positions
Education
Publications
Can include: Personalia
Education
Awards & Honours
(Extracurricular Activities)
Language Proficiency
Recreation
References
Awards & Honours
Extracurricular Activities
Language Proficiency
Recreation
References
Personalia
Awards & Honours
Extracurricular Activities
Language Proficiency
Recreation
References

Length

Why should CVs and résumés intended for industrial rather than academic jobs come on one single sheet of paper and preferably only on one side of it? Because recruiters, like everybody else, like it when things are easy to handle. Thus, by keeping your CV and résumé short, you minimise the risk of being sorted out simply because it looked too extensive to easily scan through. Also, if you can summarise yourself on one side of a single sheet of paper, that goes to show that you are an organised and rational person -- very nice qualities in any potential employee.

Language

Should you write your CV/résumé in Swedish or in English? It is up to you. If you are a native Swede, Swedish is always a secure option. Remember that a CV/résumé should be as tidy and correct as possible, so do not embark on any CV/résumé-venture in a language you are not entirely sure that you master. After all, sloppy and faulty CVs/résumés do not get you the job of your dreams.

Why write it in English then? Well, if you want to apply for a job abroad, you do not have much of a choice. Also, at least within the field of Computer Science, good skills in spoken and written English are today often required even in completely Swedish companies. Thus, a nice CV/résumé in English is a subtle way of verifying a claim to be fluent in English. (Not to mention the sheer fun of flaunting a foreign language to a potential employer!)

Heading

Do not use "Curriculum Vitae" as the heading on your CV or "Résumé" on your résumé. Most people will be able to tell what kind of document it is without any help. Your intended receivers of the CV/résumé most certainly will. Use your own full name as heading instead. This way, you are more free to include features of both CVs and résumés if you would like to.

Sections

Personalia

This is the section where you collect all the small bits that do not fit anywhere else, like your age, nationality, marital status, what kind of driver's license you have (if any), star sign, and such. (This is just examples, you do not have to include all of them if you do not want to).

It is also here you put your address and phone number, so that you may be contacted by the company if they want to hire you. However, address and phone numbers are suitable to be placed in the page header instead, whereafter you can leave out the Personalia section completely and thus save precious space for more important information!

Career Objective

What are your goals in life? What do you want to become? Would you rather be an executive officer or a guru? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? You do not know? Well, time to think it over then...

Often you can borrow a title from the place ad and put here, but you should also add a little of your hopes, dreams and intentions. It is a tough section, but an important one. In a résumé, this should be at the top of the page, becoming the first thing the recruiter reads about you. Can you attract the recruiter's attention?

The best Career Objective should only be one or two normal length sentences, so the example below is really too long. It can be discussed what would be best -- to leave the third sentence out, although it best reflects upon ones ambitions and long term goals, or to remove the wanted requirements of the position and just state that "an executive creative position, preferably within Database Management or Brain Surgery" would be appreciated.

A lame or too neutral Career Objective does not help your case. If you simply do not know or cannot phrase a realistic objective that might please the new employer, then it might be better if you leave this section out. But, for your own sake, you should at least try to produce a suitable one.

Example:

An executive creative position where extensive marketing, writing, management, design, and technical skills are required. Preferably within the fields of Database Management or Brain Surgery. Opportunity to seize world leadership considered a plus.

Qualification Summary

Ask yourself what you know, not only what you have learned at the university, but what you have picked up outside classes too. Which of these skills are relevant to the job you are applying for? Which skills do you have that maybe is not of direct importance for the job, but that you are pretty proud of anyway? List these.

Use the same words as in the place ad. Even if your future boss and co-workers knows what the tools, methods and programming languages you list really are, very often the staff at Human Resources that hire new people do not. Instead, they get a qualification description from your future boss, make a place ad out of it, and then waits for someone with a clearly matching CV or résumé to apply. Make sure yours is unmistakably matching.

This is why you should not have a general CV and/or résumé, but should write a special one explicitly for each job you want to apply for. Luckily, most of the CV or résumé is the same, so you can keep a general one and then only update it corresponding to each place ad every time you use it to apply for a new position.

When targeting your CV/résumé, take care not to be too obvious. Make sure to add some skills not required by the job description. Better to come off as broad and generally useful than too narrow and specialised.

Example:

Positions/Experience

This is the most important section in every CV or résumé, except for students who have yet to get any real work experience. Here you list the jobs you have had. In the beginning you list them all, but when you have had a few, you can relax a bit and only list those that are of relevance to the new job you are applying for.

Well, actually, even if you are a student looking for you very first job, let us say it is in Computer Science, how important is it really that you picked strawberries one summer holiday for minimum wage when you were 14 years old? As it has little relevance to the position you are currently applying for, you should skip it, even if you have not worked any summer since. Better to seem to have forgot to list any summer jobs than to seem to only have picked berries some ten years ago...

You should also write a short but expressive description of what responsibilities the positions included. Here you should always use action verbs and remember to sell yourself.

Example:

January 2000 - January 2001
The Coca-Cola Company, Atlanta, USA
Senior Flavour Engineer
Investigated and implemented a new line of extremely popular beverages with untraceable additions of a variety of illegal, addictive substances.

Education

A pretty self-explanatory section. Here you list your university degrees, or, in case you have not actually graduated yet, the educational programme you are/were enrolled in. If you happen to have more than one degree, list them all.

Sometimes, especially if you are applying for your first job, it can be good to list which programme you took in Senior Secondary School (gymnasiet) too, especially if you plan to also include your grades from that level in your application.

When you have been working for several years and have had a few different jobs, your actual education loses its direct importance and can even be left out. Then it is the jobs you have had and what you have done that defines your knowledge and skills, not what education you once took.

Example:

September 1993 - January 2000
Master of Science in Computing Science and Engineering, Umeĺ University.
 
August 1990 - June 1993
Senior Secondary School, Umeĺ, Sweden. Course Program: Natural Sciences, profiling in Computer Orientation.

Publications

This is most common in academic CVs, but it happens that people in industry, especially those within Research and Development, have papers on their findings published. You might even have had a chance to write a book in the area of your special expertise? Naturally, such an achievement looks good on a CV.

Professors often have mighty long Publications sections, as it is their task as professional researchers to spread the result of their research via papers and books.

Example:

See http://www.cs.umu.se/~jubo/references.html for instance. ;-)

Awards & Honours

Have you ever won any award? Or qualified to some impressing contest, even if you did not win? You might perhaps be the subject of some scholarship? Or was elected "Employee of the Year" last winter? Perhaps you do not think it is that big of a deal, but a potential employer might. If you can remember anything relevant, add it under a section of this type.

Example:

April 1999
Crown Princess Victoria's Award for Outstanding Computer Science Studies
 
August 1997 - August 1998
Fulbright Scholarship, for studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Extracurricular Activities

This is only valid in a CV/résumé for job-seeking during your education and the first years after your graduation (in a full, not-for-job-hunting-but-presenting-yourself CV, you can of course keep them forever). After you have had a few real jobs, the extracurricular activities often do not seem as important as before, and you can use the space on the paper better to describe what responsibilities you have had at each work.

Extracurricular activities are the activities you were engaged in at university beside your studies. For instance, you might have been on the board for the students of your educational programme. You might even have held the position as chairman, secretary or cashier. These things are great to list when you do not have any or little real work experience yet, as they indicate that you are dedicated, responsible and trained in things beyond the scope of your education (for instance, having been cashier is a clear sign of basic knowledge of economics, budgets, and such).

Example:

February 2000 - February 2001
Secretary of the board of the co-operative building society (bostadsrättsförening).
 
May 1998 - May 1999
Member of Piraya, the social committee of the educational programme in Computing Science and Engineering.

Language Proficiency

Today, the marketplace is more and more internationalised. Companies has offices, branches, and/or business in other countries. Some large Swedish companies even have English as corporate language. If you know some foreign tongues, you are naturally more valuable to an employer who frequently have business abroad. Thus you should list the languages you know -- and how well you know them -- in your CV/résumé.

Remember to be positive about yourself. Rather than estimating your skills in some language as "poor", list them as "basic". It simply sounds better. I would suggest a scale along the lines of: basic, average, fluent, native. Of course, you can narrow it down further if you, for example, consider yourself better than basic but not really average and can find a suitable word for it.

Also remember that it might be a good idea to write your whole CV/résumé in English, to give some idea of how fluent your "fluent" is (if you have classed yourself as fluent, that is).

Example:

Swedish: native, English: fluent, German: basic

Recreation

Here you list important hobbies and favourite pastimes -- especially if they can be of interest to a potential employer. Do not list anything that might put you in a bad light. Thus you should list associations and sports your are active in, as well as special interests like bird watching or opera, but you should not list membership in the Ku Klux Klan or connections with the Mafia (unless, of course, you have reasons to believe that it might get you the job).

Example:

Maintaining Open Software, singing in a choir, coaching a kid's soccer team, playing chess, and travelling.

References

Can anyone testify to what you state in you CV/résumé? Do they want to do that? Who would you like a potential employer to talk to about you?

I do not include any references in my CV, I include them in the personal letter instead. At first I used to have the section heading "References" followed by a blunt "Available upon request", but that is usually taken for granted, so why not use the space on the paper for something more important?

If you are going to include some references in your CV/résumé, or in the personal letter, remember to first ask the persons you want to use if it is okay with them. If it is, list them with name, title, and contact information (at least email address and/or phone number), so that paranoid new employers can check with them to verify that you really are the right one to hire.

The most commonly used references must be former managers, or favourite lecturers/professors if you still are a student, but it does not have to be. Previous employers can account for your work skills, but not always of your social skills, nor how you are as a person. Today, these kinds of considerations often play an important rôle when looking for a new employee. Thus it can be advantageous to also list one of your best friends (preferably someone who is eloquent) as a personal reference (that is the title you use on your friend, regardless of his/her profession).

Example:

Lennart Edblom, Head of Department
Computing Science, Umeĺ University, SE-901 87 UMEĹ, SWEDEN
Phone: +46 90 786 XX XX, Email: xxxxxx@cs.umu.se
 
Tomas Halvarsson, Personal Reference
Phone: +46 8 XX XX XX, Email: xxx@xx.xxx.xx

Acknowledgements

Appendix A: Swedish Section Suggestions

Section Suggested Swedish name
Personalia Personalia
Career Objective Karriärmĺl, Mĺl
Qualification Summary Färdigheter, Yrkesfärdigheter
Positions, Experience Yrkeslivserfarenhet
Education Utbildning
Publications Publikationer
Awards & Honors Utmärkelser
Extracurricular Activities Övriga meriter (egentligen vid sidan av studierna)
Language Proficiency Sprĺkfärdigheter, Sprĺkkunskaper
Recreation Intressen, Fritidsintressen, Övriga intressen
References Referenser

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