How to Write a Professional CV [The Ultimate Guide]

You hunted so hard till you found your dream job.

And something deep down within tells… you’re the perfect fit for the job.

You attached your CV and cover letter and then hit send.

Now, you look forward to the day, prepping yourself with the most common interview questions and answers. You even imagine yourself in the interview room. 

But then, nothing happened!

Days go by without so much as a phone call or an email. 

And you wonder…

Did the company not see my CV or application? Or, did it end up in the black hole of their emails?

Well, In my experience as a career coach, while there are other reasons why you’re not being called up, the most obvious reason is your CV:

  • How you write your CV
  • The structuring and formatting
  • The information contained in the CV
  • And how you tailor your cover letter to complement the information in your CV.

75% of cv get rejected because of poor cv writing and formatting.

So how do you write a CV that begs the hiring manager to read on?

To start with…how do you tailor a cover letter that begs to be opened?

Is there a professional way of writing a CV that you don’t know?

CV writing is simple only when you understand and follow the best practices.

And this article will guide you on the act of writing a CV, how to tailor your CV and how to make the hiring manager to not wait to have an interview with you.

In the end, you’ll learn that it’s all about being uniquely different, clear and concise and making your cover letter complement your CV/resume.

Let’s get started…

What is a CV?

CV is a short term for curriculum vitae, which means “course of life”.

It’s a document that highlights your professional and academic achievements – the account of your education, experience, skills and often used in job applications and as part of a portfolio for work promotions.

A typical CV often includes information such as:

  • Work experience
  • Achievements and awards
  • Scholarship or earned grants
  • Coursework
  • Research projects and publications

A CV is also used as a document to further education, such as applying for masters or PhD.

This takes us to the types of CVs.

Types of CVs – Choosing the Right CV

The way you present your academic achievements, skills and ambitions in a CV are key to your success. 

This is why it’s so important to choose the right format for the job you’re applying for. And it all starts with understanding the right one that suits your needs.

Basically, there are 2 main types of CV:

  • Chronological (or traditional) CV
  • Skills-based (or functional) CV.

Chronological CV

The chronological or traditional CV is one that highlights your details under appropriate headings, beginning with the most recent.

This can best suit your needs if you have experience and skills that closely relate to the job you’re applying for. Or if you want to emphasise on career progression. Or you’ve had continuous employment with no gaps.

But sometimes, things get in the way of your career such as family issues and you still want to use this type of format. All you need to do is give an appropriate reason for the gaps and anyone will pretty understand you.

Skills-Based or Functional CV

A functional CV emphasises your skills and personal qualities over your employment history.

This format can suit best if you…

1. Are planning to change career and you want to prove to hiring managers how you can easily transfer the skills you gained from your previous work experience and make it relevant for the position.

For instance, how transferable your leadership skill will be relevant to the new position.

2. You have extensive gaps in your employment history. This type of cv often makes the hiring managers be interested in asking why your employment history is not consistent. So be prepared to explain any gaps in the interview.

3. You have had a series of short term paid jobs or taking part in voluntary roles. This format allows you to emphasize more on the skills, some related skills and achievements gained from those experiences.

Other Types of CV

While these two CV types are appropriate for any types of position, there are situations where you might want to consider using any of the below CV types.

Hybrid CV

This is a combination of skills-based and chronological CVs.

It combines a chronological layout but still emphasizes on achievements and skills found in the skills-based CVs.

This can be very useful if you want to draw the attention of your potential employers to specific skills that would stand you out from the crowd.

Technical CV

Mostly needed for IT roles, a technical CV will either use the hybrid format or the skill-based format. Because as an IT specialist, you’ll want to highlight specific technical skills relevant to the role you’re applying for. Skills like: programming languages, systems, platforms, software skills plus other soft skills that employers are looking for.

Creative Industries CV

The recent advancement in technology leading to the development and expansion of digital and creative industries has created a new CV format.

A creative CV format is more suitable for some creative and artistic roles such as graphic designing, photography, web designing, and marketing.

This type of cv can highlight skills and experience and achievements in infographics and are usually visually appealing.

An infographic can use a very small portion of the CV to illustrate thousands of information.

And a QR code can be part of the CV to easily take the potential employers to an online portfolio or projects.

Academic CV

Academic CVs are a different type of CV used in academia. When applying for a research position, admission to masters programs or a PhD program, an academic CV is what you need to emphasize on your research and the related skills.

Academic CVs can sometimes be longer than other types CVs because of the detailed information about the research and the associated skills and experiences.

However, the length of academic CVs depends on the research output.

What to include in an academic CV

  • Your contact details
  • Your education background, qualifications, and achievements starting with the most recent (e.g, from PhD down to B.Sc…).
  • A short summary of your research including the names of your supervisors.
  • A detailed list of papers and other publications, presentations at conferences.
  • Teaching, supervision or training experience. e.g, (WAEC or NECO supervision)
  • Including grants, awards and scholarships.
  • Any professional membership of relevant societies.
  • Your research interest
  • Include any specialist or technical skills
  • Named referees – at least two academic referees.

You may also wish to append an abstract, and in that case, use these four key areas to summarise your research:

  • The focus of your research (the problem or issue being addressed).
  • The methodology used
  • The results or findings
  • The main conclusions or recommendations

CV Vs. Resume

A CV and resume are both documents with similarity. They both summarize your professional history, education, skills and achievements.

But these terms are not interchangeable in the USA and Europe. 

The French word résumé translates to “abstract” or “summary; a shorter-form of a document that provides a concise overview of your previous education, roles, and skills. While a CV is a longer, more detailed document that focuses largely on academic coursework and research.

Reasons Why CV is Important for Job Seekers 

Your CV is basically the first chance you can have to make a good impression on your recruiter before a face to face interview.

Here are the 5 reasons why you need a CV and why you should learn how to write a CV: 

1.A CV helps you market yourself: CVs are a great way to attract the attention of your potential employers – presenting your skills and qualifications, and helping recruiters choose you over other candidates.

2. Your CV is a reminder of what you have done in your career and helps you identify weaknesses in your skills.

3. You can use your CV to refresh your mind before the interview.

4. It can help you determine and measure your current achievements against the targets or goals that you have set previously.

5. Understanding how to write a CV sets you apart.

How to Write a CV – Formatting Guides

Understanding the proper formatting of your CV will help you and the hiring manager to quickly find the relevant information.

Here are factors you need to consider when writing a CV:

1. Choosing the right font

Choosing the right font type and size will ensure that your CV or resume is legible and easy to read. And the readability of your CV is vital if you’re serious about the job.

There are two primary font categories:

1.Serif (Times New Roman, Courier, Georgia). Serif has small, decorative flourishes.

2. Sans-serif(Helvetica, Arial, Geneva).

Sans-serif fonts do not have that decorative flourishes and in most cases, are easier to read.

When it comes to choosing a font size, keep within 10–12 points. You shouldn’t compromise readability for length. This happens especially when you think your CV is too lengthy and you want to make it fit on a page by reducing the font size. This is not a good idea!

2. Check margins

CV margins are an important part of CV format because margins that are too large will leave to much white space on each page. And margins that are too small can make the page looks like it’s over-filled. Choose a margin between 1- 1.5 inches.

3. Use space effectively

Your CV can easily become lengthy if you’ve been working for some years with lots of experience, achievements and awards. To make your CV readable, use white spaces effectively using the following content writing best practices:

Bulleted lists: Outline your skills, awards and achievements in a consumable format by using bullet points.

Section headers: Each section of your CV must have its own headings and should be distinguishable by making it larger, bolder and sometimes underlined.

Bolded words: In addition to section headers, bold other important words that you want anyone reading your CV to see.

Generally, your name and job titles should be in bold.

4. Proofread

After writing your CV, don’t be too sure there are no errors until you’ve proofread every section.

While proofreading, pay attention to the flow, read it aloud (and ensure it sounds meaningful). Also check for spelling, grammar and syntax. This will make your CV error-free, improve readability and show professionalism in your CV.

A well-written CV is one that’s correctly formatted, comprehensive, concise and clear. If your CV is properly formatted, I can assure you that you’re a step closer to landing your dream job.

Having looked at the formatting guidelines, let’s now look at the information that should be included in a professional CV. 

And you can’t afford to miss this part… it could take you – two steps closer to landing the job.

How to Write a Professional CV [including a CV Sample]

Writing a CV can be stressful but when you follow the basic steps, you can be sure of an effective and attention-grabbing CV. Most CVs include:

  • Contact information
  • Academic history
  • Professional experience
  • Qualifications and skills
  • Awards and honours
  • Publications
  • Professional associations
  • Grants and fellowships
  • Licenses and certificates
  • Volunteer work
  • Personal information (optional)
  • Hobbies and interests (optional)

1.Contact information/Personal details

This section should contain only your full name, phone number and email address and your physical address. Ensure that you provide an accurate and active email address and avoid including your age.

Contact Section of Your CV Should Include:

  • First name, Last name.
  • Phone number – make sure to include your country code when applying outside your country.
  • Email address – use a professional email that’s readable, short and memorable. Ideally along the lines of [name][last name]@gmail.com
  • Title – your professional title, either your job title or the one you’re applying for.
  • Location – Your current location. 

Other important contact information but optional

LinkedIn – whether your potential employers ask for your LinkedIn username or not, it makes sense to include it in your CV. If your profile is complete, optimized, and active be confident to include LinkedIn URL in your CV.

Stack Overflow / Github – if you’re a developer, coder, and computer scientist, you should have an active account in one of these two.

Medium – If you write on Medium, you might want to include your profile when applying as a freelance writer, blogger, and so on.

2. Academic history

Detail your academic history in a reverse-chronological order starting with the post-doctoral programs, graduate school, undergraduate school and high school.

What to keep in mind when writing the education section of your CV.

  • Two to three of your academic history can be enough to make your CV stand out.
  • If you have no work experience, make sure your education section comes first.
  • If you have a university degree, and you know your CV is becoming lengthy, exclude your high school from the list.
  • Include your CGPA if you have a strong second class upper or first-class (but be ready to defend that in an interview).

3. Your professional experience

Just as you list your academic history in reverse chronological order, you’ll also list your previous work experience. List out the organisation, the job title, the date you were employed. You’ll also include the job duties and experience gained.

This doesn’t have to be a long story. Remember, the overall length of your CV/resume.

And be aware that it’s the MAIN section of your CV where most HR recruiters jump to.

Here’s the standard format for your experience section:

  • Job title/position.
  • Company name, location, description.
  • Achievements and responsibilities.
  • Date employed.

As straightforward as this sounds, it can be fairly tricky to summarise your work experience in just a few bullet points. 

4. Include relevant skills and qualifications

How you write this section depends on the job description. From the job description, you can tell what skills the employer is looking for. Sometimes it’s the mix of hard and soft skills that’ll make you the best candidate. Always read the job description to figure this out and remember to emphasize those skills in your cover letter.

You should consider both hard and soft skills. 

Hard skills are technical skills and most times directly related to your job or the job you’re applying for.

Soft skills can be your personal attributes (e.g. leadership, communication, teamwork, etc.).

Usually, your job qualifications already tell much about what hiring managers are looking for in terms of skills.

5. List honours, achievements and awards

 This section is where you can show the employer your personality. By including your achievements, awards and honours relevant to the job position, you’re selling yourself as a valuable brand (employee). 

You should start by the award name, year awarded, the organisation that gave you the award including details about the award.

6. Include relevant publications and presentations

A publication doesn’t have to be a research paper or books. It can be an article published on Forbes online magazine/blog or on medium. And if you have published books, present at conferences, if it’s relevant to the job, then include the authors, date, page volume. For presentations, highlights the date, venue and the event.

7. License and Certifications

Include any certifications you have if they’re relevant to the position here.

If you have any relevant certifications, you can include it under this section.

For instance, if you’re a Facebook Blueprint certified marketer or Google Analytics certified- feel free to include it.

8. Volunteer work experience

Again any volunteer experience must directly or indirectly relate to the position you are applying for. You don’t want your CV to be too long.

9. Outline your professional associations and affiliations

Outline the name of the organization or society, the chapter you belong to and dates of active membership.

10. Hobbies and interests

This is where you get to make your employers know about the things that interest you and that makes you unique as an individual?

11. References

Even though CVs are longer than resumes, you should still try to make it as short as possible.

Three references – two from professional/academic persons and one from relatives is a standard. But you’ll find most organisations requesting for two. And because you want your CVs to be short, clear and concise, it makes sense to use “available on request”

CV Sample Template

Joe Doe

1234 Silicon Valley, Lagos Nigeria 234901

07087999999

[email protected]

Education

Doctor of  Degree, 2018

University of Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria

Professional Experience

University of Lagos Lagos

Lecturer, Department of electrical engineering | 2012–2019

  • Taught multiple undergraduate and graduate courses in physics, electronic and electrical engineering.
  • Fostered student commitment to lifelong learning and excellence in electrical engineering
  • Acted as a student advisor to final-year students of the department of physics.

Skills and Qualifications

  • Team leadership
  • Seminar instruction
  • Fluent in English and French
  • Specialization in electrical power transmission and distribution

Awards and Honors

  • XXX Climate Advocacy Award, 2018
  • AVMA Electrical engineering Award, 2016

Publications and Presentations

Tola, J., Mathew, C., John, A., Chukwuka, L., (2017) “Solar energy, transmission and distribution to rural areas and associated dangers.” Journal of Electrical engineering 272: 1234-56789.

Professional Associations and Affiliations

  • Nigeria Society of Electrical Engineers (2013–Present).
  • United Nations Climate Change Association (2015–Present).

Grants and Scholarships

The Smidth-john Grant for climate change advocacy, 2012

Association for applied science in greenhouse technology.

Licenses and Certifications

Certificate in renewable energy resources, 2019.

Things Employers Look Out For

According to the brilliant 2010 Orange County Resume Survey by Eric Hilden, results show that 45% of employers look for previous related work experience. 

While this survey was done a decade ago, the results still hold in 2020 and here’s the breakdown:

45%Previous related work experience
35%Qualifications & skills
25%Easy to read
16%Accomplishments
14%Spelling & grammar
9%Education (these were not just graduate recruiters or this score would be much higher!)
9%Intangibles: individuality/desire to succeed
3%Clear objective
2%Keywords added
1%Contact information
1%Personal experiences
1%Computer skills

How to Make a Cover Letter

A cover letter is a one-page document that goes with your CV as part of your job application. Attaching your cover letter for the job you’re applying for introduces you and summarizes your professional background in just 200- 350 words

Don’t know what to put in your cover letter?

Think of your cover letter as a direct message to the hiring manager. Even when it’s not explicitly stated, you should still take time to outline your skills and why you’re the best fit for the job. 

Note: Your cover letter is a supplement to your resume, not a replacement. 

Write your cover letter such a way that it doesn’t repeat what you already said in the CV but still complement and supplement it.

Here’s what should go into your Cover Letter:

Introduction – provide a brief intro on your job experience, professional achievements and state why you’re interested and like to work in that company. 

Qualifications – take the job description and identify the top 3 requirements and briefly explain how you’d fulfil them.

Recap – appreciate anyone reading your cover letter and ends it with a call-to-action.

For example, “If you would like to know more about the findings in my XYZ research or my project with XYZ organisation, I’d love to chat!”

Cover letter Example

Dear (Hiring Manager)

As someone who has demonstrated a lot of passion for photography, I seek to add my value and contributions to your company.

My ability to use Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe Captivate, and Adobe Photoshop/Photoshop Lightroom will be of added advantage to your organization.

In my portfolio, I have still shots and edited videos in the diverse field and studio environments. This is a requirement highlighted in the internship vacancy.

My video is that which has gone viral on Twitter for capturing the Vice President’s speech in Lagos. 

I have also completed a course in digital photography.

Thank you in anticipation of your reply.

For more cover letter examples…Cover Letter Examples That Will Get You Noticed in 2020

How to ace your interview

If you’ve made it this far – congrats! 

We have a great collection of:

Interview tips  and best practices.

Interview questions and answers 

Common mistakes to avoid during your interview.

what you should do after your interview and 

Signs that your interview went well or not.

Check them out! If you enjoy this article, you’ll find them interesting.

Here’s a recap

  • The essential information that you must not leave out of your CV is contact information, CV summary, work experience, education, and skills.
  • Optional sections can include certifications and awards, languages, interests and hobbies plus any relevant social media channels.
  • Include references to be available on request.
  • Make sure your CV is clear, concise, and not longer than 2 pages except in a few cases of academic CV with lots of research.
  • Choose the right CV types for your CV writing
  • Use proper formatting to improve readability and legibility.
  • Proofread and proofread…it only improve your CV.
  • Ensure your CV is well-tailored to the specific job you are applying for.
  • Also, avoid repeating what you have in a CV in your cover letter.
  • Your cover letter is important and could make the hiring manager give you a call and schedule an interview.

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2 Comments

  1. 05/02/2021
    | | Reply
    | Reply
    Kate

    Thank you so much for this informed article. I have learnt a lot.

  2. 03/03/2021
    | | Reply
    | Reply
    Oladoyin Falana

    Glad you found it useful.

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