How to Write a CV

| Nina Chamlou

How to Write a CV

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When applying to a fellowship, graduate program, or internship in psychology, you may be asked to submit a curriculum vitae (CV) for the first time. So, what is a CV? You may have heard it's basically the same as a resume, but this isn't quite true.

The Difference Between a Resume and a CV

The key distinction between a CV vs. resume lies in the meanings of the two phrases. 'CV' stands for curriculum vitae, or "course of life" in Latin. 'Resume' is the French word for "summary."

Basically, your psychology resume serves as an overview of your work history, volunteer work, skills, and education. It should give recruiters a snapshot (or summary) of your experience and areas of interest on one page.

Your CV should go into more detail. You can include achievements, honors, community service, research projects, and publications. Experienced professionals may have CVs up to 12 pages in length, but those early in their careers typically cover 2-3 pages.

In the U.S., resumes are the standard document needed during the job search in most industries. CVs are typically only used in academica, science, and medicine. While most employers prefer that you provide either a resume or CV, some may ask you to provide both. This way, they can narrow down a large pool of candidates by glancing at their resumes. Then, they may use the CV to gain a deeper insight into past projects and roles.

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Setting Up Your CV

The first step in writing your CV is to format your document correctly. Leave margins at the standard one-inch mark, or adjust them down to half an inch if necessary. Set the font to Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri, or Verdana in size 11 or 12.

Then, list your contact information in the top left corner of the first page, including your first and last name, mailing address, phone number, and email address (on separate lines).

Separate the rest of the CV with headers, which should be larger than the body text, such as using font sizes between 14-18. Underneath the appropriate section, include each job title, project, or accomplishment, followed by an explanation of the role. Listing the details of each role with bullet points can make the document easier to read.

Sections to Include

CVs typically include the following headers. If you do not have any relevant information to put in any of the sections, you can omit the section entirely.

List all of your degrees from high school onward (if you are a current or recent undergraduate), including the title of the degree you earned, the name of the school, and the year you graduated.

If you are currently enrolled, list the name of the program and your anticipated graduation date.
Optionally, include a bulleted list of your skills relevant to the position, such as data-analysis software, research skills, proficiency in languages, etc. List all of your relevant professional experiences. If you are applying to a research position, you may decide to only list your academic roles. Alternatively, you can separate your nonacademic roles into another section.

Put the position titles in bold, followed by the employment time period. Include 2-3 sentences describing your responsibilities and achievements within the role.
Include your publications in the form of an MLA or APA citation. Unpublished work can be included as long as it has been submitted for review. List the title of the unpublished paper in italics with the phrase "under review."

For presentations, list the title, date, and the name of the event in which you presented. If you have quite a few papers and presentations to list, you can separate these into two sections.
You can include relevant memberships by listing the organization's name, chapter, and the time period you have maintained membership. List any notable achievements, such as awards, scholarships, grants, and honors. Put the name of the achievement in bold followed by the year you received it and the organization that awarded it to you. Include the name of the license or certificate, the date you received it, and the organization that awarded it to you. Optionally, you can include the names of 3-4 references with their phone number and email address. Some choose to leave this section out and wait for the employer to request references.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

CVs are allowed to be longer than resumes, but that doesn't mean that longer is always better. Avoid run-on sentences or unnecessary information. Provide all the details relevant to each section, but keep your wording concise. While you don't want to be overly humble or minimize your experience level, you must also stay clear of exaggerating the scope of your role on your CV. Recruiters for psychology are skilled in verifying information, and you don't want to appear deceitful. Also, triple check that dates you listed next to each experience or educational milestone are factual, so you don't confuse recruiters. Less experienced candidates, such as baccalaureate students and those applying for psychology internships or fellowships, can list nonacademic work experiences. However, if you are applying for a doctoral program, professorship, or clinical role, it is more professional to leave most nonacademic jobs off of your CV. In certain industries, deviating from the standard CV format may be acceptable, but academia isn't one of them.

Avoid including anything that could be seen as unprofessional, such as slang, use of bright colors, an unprofessional email address, photos, or use of humor. Some recruiters may not mind, but it's better to avoid the risk of putting off a potential employer.

Frequently Asked Questions


What does CV stand for?

CV stands for curriculum vitae, which means "course of life" in Latin.

What is the difference between a CV and resume?

In the U.S., CVs are typically only used in the fields of academia, science, and medicine. They can be several pages in length, whereas resumes are typically limited to one page.

How long should a CV be?

Your CV could be as short as two pages and as long as 10 pages. This all depends on your experience level. Students and recent graduates don't need a CV more than 2-3 pages in length. An experienced professor likely has various publications and experiences to list, which could result in a longer CV.

Should I list an objective statement at the top of my CV?

Including a short summary of your goals and experiences is considered acceptable by most employers. However, an overly general objective statement filled with buzz words or cliches can make you seem less professional to recruiters, so make sure your statement adds valuable context to your CV if you choose to include one.

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