What is a CV? (Definition + 2024 Guide) - CV Plaza

What is a CV? (Definition + 2024 Guide)

author Sobhan Mohmand, Career Expert         date 1 Jan 2024

It may be that you’re looking to apply for a job and the employer has asked you to submit a CV as part of the application process. You may be wondering,

“What is a CV and how do I write one?”

A CV is a document that stands for ‘Curriculum Vitae’ which is the Latin expression for “the course of one’s life”. Your CV is your personal marketing tool showcasing your qualifications, work experience, personal qualities and skills to potential employers to secure a face-to-face interview for a job.

CVs are mainly used by applicants in Europe and Asia to apply for jobs. In the United States and Canada, applicants use a résumé (pronounced ‘rez-ume-ay’) to apply for jobs. It’s a French word meaning ‘summary’.

What a CV is and how to write one to apply for jobs

First impressions count

Your CV and cover letter are the first contact you have with an employer when applying for a job and may receive just 30 seconds of their time on the first reading. Ensure that your CV contains the right information, in the right order and in a form that is easy to read.

A good CV will boost your chances of being interviewed and securing the jobs of your dreams.

You are in full control

Your CV is not only the first thing the potential employer sees about you; more importantly, it is the only part of the whole job selection process over which you have 100% control.

Use the guide below to find out more about CVs, how to write one from scratch and get expert CV tips and advice to secure more job interviews.

Let’s begin!

Table of contents

Definition of CV

The simplest definition of a Curriculum Vitae is that is ‘a document containing a summary of one’s academic and work history.’

The Oxford Dictionary defines Curriculum Vitae as “a brief account of a person’s education, qualifications, and previous occupations, typically sent with a job application.”

It is pronounced, “kuh-ri-kyoo-luhm-vee-tai.”

The Latin meaning of Curriculum Vitae is “the course of one’s life” but this can be misleading as a CV is not an autobiography full of personal details; it is a short document that only contains details about your skills, academic achievements and work history.

What is a CV used for?

The most common use of a CV is in the process of applying for a job.

There are two ways to use your CV to apply for jobs:

  1. 1. Respond to advertised vacancies: Employers advertise vacancies in many ways and in different places, including; online job boards, company websites, university careers services, recruitment agencies, Jobcentre Plus, social media and newspapers. The fastest way of finding vacancies is by using online job boards.
  2. 2. Make speculative applications: This involves getting in touch with employers and asking whether they have any job opportunities available, despite not having advertised for a job opening. You usually need to make many speculative applications to different organisations before you are successful in securing a job interview.

What is the purpose of a CV?

Some people mistakenly believe that the purpose of their CV is to get them a job.

This is not the case!

No employer will call you and say,

“Hello – I’ve just looked at your CV and I’m glad to inform you that you’re hired! When can you start?”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that in the real world.

The ultimate purpose of a CV is to get you to the next stage of the recruitment process, this may be an informal meeting, a telephone interview or a formal face-to-face job interview.

Once this has been accomplished, it is over to you at the interview to bring the words on the CV to life, impress the employer and secure the job that you want.

The objective of a CV in a Job Process is to get you an Interview

The importance of a good CV

We live in a world of competition. The job market, in particular, is getting more and more competitive. There are millions of people looking for jobs at any given time and limited vacancies to meet demand. When employers advertise vacancies, hundreds of applicants will be applying for the same job so it’s essential that you have an effective CV to stand out from the crowd.

Martin Yate, a best-selling careers author, states in his book The Ultimate CV Book (Pg.3):

“Your CV must speak loudly and clearly of your value as a potential employee. And the value must be spoken in a few brief seconds, because, in the business world, that’s all the attention a CV will get. The CV takes you only the first few paces toward that new job. It gets your foot in the door, and because you can’t be there to answer questions, it has to stand on its own.

Don’t underestimate the value of your CV; it is one of the most important documents in your possession. It can open the gates of employment to you faster than any other document could.

How long should a CV be?

Employers receive hundreds of applications for each job opening. Recruiters will, on average, spend less than 30 seconds reading a CV. Your job is to make the most out of this tiny window of opportunity and sell yourself to the recruiter.

Research has shown that the most effective CVs are the ones that are short and to the point.

The general rule is that your CV should not be longer than two A4 pages. Young people, school leavers, college students and those applying for their first job should opt for a one-page CV. Most other applicants, including university graduates, executives and managers, can adopt a two-page CV. Only specialist, academic, scientific and medical CVs can be longer than two pages.

Related: How Long Should a CV Be? (The Definitive Guide – 2023)

Example of a CV

The following is a good example of how a standard CV should look like:


Features of a good CV:

  • A conventional CV format (chronological or functional)
  • Clear, simple and uncluttered layout with clear section headings and the information presented in a logical, easy-to-follow way
  • Bullet points and short sentences instead of long paragraphs
  • Only contain relevant information
  • Be short in length (a maximum of two A4 pages)

Related: Example of a great CV.

What should be included in a CV?

The following is the information that a typical CV will include:

  • Personal/contact details: Contains basic contact details such as name, address, telephone number and email address.
  • Personal profile statement: A brief statement that outlines your key strengths, abilities, experience and personal characteristics.
  • Achievements: A list of your achievements or accomplishments from your career, education or life in general.
  • Employment history: An overview of your employment history and work experience.
  • Education: An overview of your academic background and qualifications.
  • Qualifications: A list of any professional or work-based qualifications.
  • Skills: A brief overview or list of your key skills that are relevant to the job you are applying for.
  • Hobbies and interests: A list of your hobbies and interests that are relevant to the job and that could add value to your application.
  • References: Details of two referees who know you well and can vouch for you to the employer.

What should not be included in a CV?

The following is a list of things you should never put on a CV:

  • Irrelevant personal information: It used to be the norm to include your age, date of birth, marital status, gender and nationality on your CV. Today, due to recent anti-discrimination laws, these details should not be included in a CV.
  • Photograph: Unless requested to do so or if you’re applying for a job as a model or actor, you should not put your photograph on your CV.
  • Outdated information: Things that happened ten years usually have little relevance to your job today, what you are doing currently is much more important. Remove any outdated and irrelevant part-time, paid and unpaid jobs from your CV.
  • Salary expectations: You should never disclose your salary expectations on your CV, especially not this early in the selection process. You can make a note of it on your cover letter if the employer has requested this information, but not on your CV.
  • Religious or political affiliation: Don’t disclose these details unless you’re applying for a job in which this information is relevant.
  • Jokes: Recruiters’ jobs depend on selecting the right candidates for the role so they take recruitment very seriously. Never make any jokes or unprofessional remarks on your CV as that will automatically get your application rejected.

    CV template

    Below is an example of a typical CV template that you can use to help you write and organise the content on your CV:

    [Name – first and surname only in large, bold type]
    [Home address including postcode]
    [Telephone number – preferably mobile number]
    [E-mail address]
    [Personal profile statement]

    (A brief business-like description of yourself, outlining your key strengths, abilities and experience)

    (A list of your achievements)

    (Name of school, college or university)
    (Dates you attended)
    (The qualification you achieved)
    (Grade achieved)
    (Brief description of key modules or units studied)

    [Work experience or employment history]
    (Name of the company)
    (Start and end dates)
    (Job title)
    (Brief description of your key duties, responsibilities and achievements)

    [Professional qualifications]
    (Details of any work-based, professional qualifications)

    [Key skills/competencies]
    (A list of your key skills that closely match the job requirements)

    [Hobbies and interests]
    (A brief description of your hobbies and interests that are relevant to the job and could add value to your application)

    (Details of two referees that can vouch for you to the employer. Alternatively, “References are available upon request” will suffice)

    Related: Download free CV templates in Word format.

    How to write a CV

    The content of your CV needs to be prepared with meticulous attention to detail. Set aside plenty of time to write and edit your CV for maximum effect. Use the step-by-step guide below to help you write your perfect CV:

    1. Start with your personal contact details at the top

    The top of your CV is dedicated to your personal details that include your name, address, telephone number and email address. Make your name the main heading of your CV, written in big, bold letters and centred on the page.

    It’s optional to include a link to your LinkedIn profile or personal portfolio.

    Related: A guide to writing personal details on a CV.

    2. Write a compelling personal profile statement

    A personal profile statement is the opening statement of your CV.

    It is a brief summary of your personal characteristics, abilities and experience.

    It is designed to introduce you as a person, create a good first impression and encourage the employer to continue reading your CV.


    • Keep it short and concise
    • Use real-life examples
    • Tailor it to the needs of the employer and the requirements of the job

    Related: Best personal profile examples for all jobs.

    3. List your achievements

    Next, list a few of your achievements or accomplishments that show you in a good light.

    You can use examples from both your personal and professional life.
    Your achievements are a testimony of your skills, abilities and commitment to succeed in everything you do so employers are much more likely to invite you for an interview if they perceive you to be an achiever rather than just a doer.

    Examples of achievements include awards, promotions, pay rises, etc.

    Related: Examples of best achievements to put on a CV.

    4. Give details of your academic background

    There are a wide range of formal qualifications you can mention in this section; school-level qualifications such as GCSEs, college-level qualifications such as A-Levels and university-level qualifications such as undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.

    For each entry, you must state the start and end dates, course name, institution name and grade achieved. It’s also recommended to list a number of relevant modules that you studied, giving the employer a fuller picture of what you have learned.

    Related: A complete guide to writing your education on your CV.

    5. Give details of your employment history and work experience

    This is the most important part of your CV. You can list various types of jobs in this section, including full-time jobs, part-time jobs, voluntary positions and internships. For each entry, you must state the start and end dates of the employment, company name, your job title and your key duties, responsibilities and achievements.

    Related: Employment history on a CV (complete guide + examples).

    6. List your professional qualifications

    This section is dedicated to any vocational, work-based and professional training qualifications that you may have. If you don’t have any of these qualifications, don’t worry, just skip this section.

    7. List your key skills

    Next, list some of your key skills, talents and abilities as they relate to the job. Examples of skills that you can include in this section include communication skills, computing skills and organisational skills. Make sure you include a mixture of both soft and hard skills.

    Related: 50+ best examples of CV skills to put on your CV.

    8. Mention some of your relevant hobbies and interests

    You can add great value to your CV by including a few of your hobbies and interests that are relevant to the job. For example, stating that you participate in charity events demonstrates that you have excellent interpersonal skills, which is an essential requirement for many jobs that require working with people.

    Related: BEST Examples of Hobbies and Interests to put on a CV.

    9. Give details of your references

    The last part of your CV is the references section, where you are expected to provide details of two referees who can vouch for you to the employer.
    One of them has to be your current or former employer, the other can be someone like your teacher, tutor, personal trainer, etc.

    Alternatively, you can also write, “References are available upon request” if you do not wish to disclose your references this early in the recruitment process.

    Related: Should you include references on your CV? (Guide + Examples)

    Types of CVs

    There are several formats in which you can write your CV, depending on your personal circumstances and preference. The following are the three main types of CVs:

    1. 1. Chronological CV
    2. 2. Functional or skills-based CV
    3. 3. Hybrid CV

    1. Chronological CV

    The chronological CV is the most common format used and favoured by recruiters. It lists the candidate’s information in reverse chronological order (i.e. starting with the most recent job and working back to the oldest job).

    This format ties the applicant’s job responsibilities and achievements to specific employers, job titles and dates. The CV will demonstrate a clear record of career progression from the first job up to today.


    • It has a clear, logical and straightforward structure
    • It is relatively simple to write and update
    • It is the most preferred format by employers and recruiters


    • Candidates often treat their chronological CVs as autobiographies – too long, too much ‘telling’ and not enough ‘selling’. An effective way to overcome this is to eliminate any outdated or irrelevant information from your CV.
    • It clearly shows any inconsistencies and gaps in your employment history.

    Who should use the chronological CV format?

    • Applicants who have a number of years of work experience
    • Applicants who haven’t suffered career breaks or prolonged periods of unemployment
    • Applicants who apply for jobs in the same line of work or industry

    Corinne Mills, a well-known career expert and HR executive, writes in You’re Hired, how to Write a Brilliant CV (pg.100): “Employers like them because they can see what your work history and career progression has been. They can also see any career breaks, the length of each employment and any changes in career path.”

    2. Functional or skills-based CV

    The functional CV highlights your key skills, combining your experience or achievements from various jobs regardless of when they occurred. It uses dedicated section headings such as ‘Key skills’ or ‘Achievements’.

    For example, you may have done a small amount of account handling in four different jobs in the past; the functional CV allows you to combine all the skills and experience of these different jobs into one section of your CV.
    Contrary to a chronological CV, this CV style de-emphasises employers and employment dates. It mainly focuses on the transferable skills and experiences gained, without too much focus on when, where and how they were acquired.


    • It prioritises the needs of the employer by highlighting the applicant’s key skills and experience that are relevant to the job
    • Employment gaps are not noticeable


    • Recruiters find functional CVs more difficult to follow because the information is not listed in a logical or systematic order, especially if they want to get an idea of your career progression to date. This is usually not an issue for applicants applying for entry-level jobs.
    • Employers are somewhat more suspicious of this format as it enables the applicants to hide any gaps or breaks in their employment history

    Who should use the functional CV format?

    • First-time job hunters or entry-level applicants without much work experience
    • Applicants who wish to pursue new or second careers in different industries
    • Applicants returning to the workplace after a long absence

    3. Hybrid CV

    This type is also known as the ‘Combined CV’. It retains much of the fixed order of the chronological CV but there is a lot more emphasis on skills and achievements. This format aims to take the best elements of the chronological and functional CVs so can be quite lengthy.

    Which CV format is the best?

    The best CV format is the chronological CV that lists your jobs starting from your current or most recent job and going back to your first job. Recruiters prefer it for its logical, easy-to-follow layout and improved readability. Research has shown that chronological CVs, in general, are better at outperforming functional CVs in winning job interviews.

    Unless there is a specific reason why you would adopt a functional CV format, the chronological CV format is the preferred choice for all applicants.

    Why do CVs get rejected?

    Imagine you’re the employer for a moment.

    You have 120 CVs on your desk and you have to choose only a handful of applicants to invite to an interview. The first thing you will probably do is to reject/bin all the bad CVs to reduce the pile. That’s exactly what recruiters do, too.

    Bad formatting, unclear section headings, spelling mistakes, lack of focus and too much irrelevant information are some of the main reasons why CVs are rejected so quickly.

    Get the basics right and the employers will keep reading!

    CV tips

    • Keep it simple: An uncluttered document with a plain layout is much more likely to be read by an employer than a complex, unorganised one. Less is often more when it comes to a CV.
    • Use clear language: Direct language and straightforward sentences are easy to read and understand. Opt for bullet points and short sentences and avoid using highly technical terms, jargon and long paragraphs.
    • Use facts and figures: Employers love data so give them lots of facts and figures when discussing your work experience and achievements. For example, use expressions such as ‘Lead a team of 9 marketing staff across 3 branches’, ‘Generated £70,000 of sales in 6 months’, or ‘Increased sales by 69%’.
    • Update your CV regularly: Job adverts usually have strict deadlines by which you have to make your application. Having an updated CV available at all times allows you to quickly apply for any new opportunities that may present themselves.

    How to structure and format a CV

    Your CV needs to be a selling document, well laid out, succinct and easy to understand.

    Use the following formatting tips to make your CV stand out from the crowd:

    • Present information in bite-sized chunks: Most research has shown that recruiters spend around 30 seconds reading your CV on the first reading. The recruiter will look more favourably on your application if they do not need to search for information. Use clear headings and formatting techniques to divide your CV into manageable sections.
    • Select a professional and easy-to-read font: There are two types of fonts; Serif and Sans Serif. Serif fonts have small finishing strokes at the end of each character, while Sans Serif do not. Examples of Serif fonts include Garamond, Cambria, Georgia and Times New Roman. Examples of Sans Serif fonts include Verdana, Ariel, Tahoma and Helvetica. Which font family should you use? Experts in typography generally recommend using cleaner Sans Serif fonts to improve the readability of your CV. Find out more about the best fonts to use on a CV.
    • Select an appropriate font size: Use a 12-point font size on the main body of the text on the CV. If you’re struggling to include all your important information on two pages, you can go down to 11 or 10.5 points. Going smaller than these font sizes is not recommended; it will make the CV very hard to read and the employer may get irritated and stop reading. For the heading of your CV, you should use 16 or 18 points to make it stand out.
    • Use boldface: Bold is a neat way to make certain pieces of text stand out from the rest. Use boldface for all the headings and subheadings of the CV.
    • Use underline for email addresses or websites: It is generally recommended to avoid using underline on your CV as it makes the text look cluttered and slightly difficult to read. The only exception to this rule is when using it for email addresses and website hyperlinks.
    • Be consistent: When using any of these features – font style and size or attributes such as bold – you need to be consistent throughout otherwise it will distract the employer’s attention from the content of the document to its format or layout. For example, if you make one heading bold, you should make all the rest bold too.
    • Proofread your CV: Print out a copy of your CV and proofread it yourself or ask a family member, friend or careers advisor to proofread it for you. Candidates sending CVs without spelling or grammar mistakes are 61% more likely to get a reply.

    How to send a CV to an employer

    Don’t send your CV by post as it will most likely get lost, misplaced or ignored. Send it via email to the appropriate person (i.e. hiring manager) or upload it on their website/system – refer to the job description or advert for the exact instructions.

    Employers prefer to receive CVs by email because they can locate, open and review CVs within seconds without having to worry about going through piles of printed CVs.

    Note: Even though it’s e-mail, you’re still making a formal application so avoid using informal/slang language, abbreviations and smiley faces!

    Related: How to email a CV.


    A Curriculum Vitae (abbreviated to CV) is a document that you use to apply for jobs. It contains important information about your educational qualifications, employment history, personal qualities and professional skills.

    Employers will use your CV, along with your job application form and cover letter, to decide on your suitability for the job and whether to invite you for a job interview.

    When writing a CV, it’s important to ensure that you’re producing a selling document; adopt a conventional CV format, only include relevant information and present it in an easy-to-follow way without any spelling, grammar or formatting mistakes.

    Good luck with your job search!

Written by Sobhan Mohmand
Sobhan is a qualified Careers Advisor and Professional CV Writer with over 10 years of experience in helping job seekers get a job. He is a Member of the Careers Development Institute (CDI) and is listed on the official UK Register of Career Development Professionals. He holds a Level 6 Diploma in Career Guidance and Development (QCF).