How to Write a CV: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Professional Success

A curriculum vitae, commonly referred to as a CV, is a detailed document highlighting an individual’s professional and academic history. It serves as a comprehensive platform for job seekers to present their qualifications, work experience, education, skills, and accomplishments.

Unlike a resume, a CV is often lengthier and more thorough, customarily used when applying for positions in academia, research, or areas where specialised knowledge and expertise are crucial.

A desk with a laptop, notepad, and pen. A "CV" title at the top of the page. Bullet points and sections for education, experience, and skills

Writing an effective CV requires a strategic approach to ensure that it not only contains all relevant information but also stands out to potential employers. It should be formatted in a clear and professional manner, making it easy for the reader to identify key details at a glance.

A well-constructed CV will include a personal statement, details of one’s education and qualifications, work experience, skills, and, if applicable, publications and conferences. Tailoring a CV to the specific role and industry one is applying for can significantly increase the chances of securing an interview.

In the ever-evolving job market, it’s important to keep abreast of the latest trends and formats for CV writing. Professional templates can offer guidance, but they should be customised to reflect an individual’s unique experiences and strengths.

With careful attention to detail and a clear presentation of one’s career trajectory, a CV can be a powerful tool to advance one’s professional opportunities.

Understanding the Basics

When creating a CV, one must have a firm grasp of its purpose, understand the different format choices available, and know the essential elements of an effective CV layout.

Purpose and Importance of a CV

A CV, or curriculum vitae, serves as a personal marketing document intended to secure job interviews. It chronologically outlines one’s professional history, educational background, and relevant skills. The importance of a CV cannot be overstated; it is an employer’s first insight into a potential employee’s qualifications.

CV Format Choices

The format of a CV is crucial in presenting content in a readable and logical manner. There are several CV formats to consider:

  • Reverse-Chronological Format: Focuses on work history, listing jobs starting with the most recent.
  • Functional/Skills-Based Format: Emphasises skills and achievements rather than work history.
  • Combination Format: Integrates both chronological and skills-based formats.

Choosing the right format is dependent on one’s industry, experience level, and job requirements.

Effective CV Layout

An effective CV layout ensures the document is easily navigable and aesthetically pleasing, helping employers find the most important information quickly:

  • Design: Keep it professional and resist the urge to overdesign.
  • Template: Select a modern template that aligns with contemporary standards, yet stands out.
  • Consistency: Use consistent formatting throughout the CV for a cohesive look.
Contact InformationMust be clear and accessible.
Personal StatementShould succinctly summarise qualifications.
Work ExperienceListed in reverse-chronological order if using that format.
EducationPlaced prominently if highly relevant.
SkillsHighlight those tailored to the job application.

A well-structured CV incorporates these elements in a layout conducive to quick scanning. The choice of a CV layout should reflect one’s professional identity and be tailored to the job one is applying to.

Personal Information

The ‘Personal Information’ section of a CV provides a snapshot of who the candidate is. It is essential for recruiters to understand how they can get in touch with the candidate and to gain a quick insight into their professional background.

Contact Details

Name: Always start with your full name.
Home Address: Include your address, but it can be limited to the city and postcode.
Telephone Number: A mobile phone number is preferable.
E-mail Address: Use a professional email address.
LinkedIn Profile: (Optional) If applicable, provide the URL.

It is recommended to present contact details in a clear and accessible format, possibly as a table or list:

NameJohn Doe
Home Addressxxx, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal
Telephone+27 76 456 789

CV Profile Summary

A ‘CV Profile Summary’ should be a high-level synopsis of a candidate’s qualifications and experience. It should be tailored to the role applied for, emphasising relevant skills and achievements. This profile acts as an introduction to the individual’s CV, setting the tone and framing their professional narrative.

  • Keep the profile summary short (around 5 lines of text).
  • Highlight key attributes, experience, or standout achievements.
  • Write in the third person without the use of ‘I’ or ‘My’.

For example:

A dedicated financial analyst with over five years of experience in the banking sector. Skilled in data analysis, financial reporting, and regulatory compliance. Recognised for exceptional accuracy and an analytical approach to problem-solving. Actively seeking an opportunity to contribute to a dynamic team in a leadership capacity.

Professional Experience

When crafting a CV, the Professional Experience section serves as a pivotal point to showcase career progression and relevant work experiences. This section, often referred to simply as “Work Experience,” is where one highlights their professional journey, demonstrating how past roles and achievements align with the job they are applying for.

Listing Job Positions

In listing job positions, it’s customary to present the information in reverse-chronological order, starting with the most recent role. This structure allows employers to assess the candidate’s current capabilities and see the most relevant experience first. Each entry should include the following:

  • Job Title: Make this stand out with bold formatting.
  • Company Name: Immediately after the job title, italics can differentiate this information.
  • Location (city, country): Adds context to the work environment.
  • Dates of Employment: Include month and year to showcase the duration of employment.

A typical layout for each job position might look like this:

Job TitleCompany NameLocationDates of Employment
Senior Marketing ManagerABC CorporationJohannesburgMay 2021 – Present
Marketing AssociateXYZ EnterprisesDurbanJan 2018 – Apr 2021
Junior Marketing AssistantMarkTech SolutionsDurbanSep 2015 – Dec 2017

Highlighting Achievements

Under each job position, candidates should highlight key achievements rather than just listing job responsibilities. Achievements demonstrate how they added value to their previous employers and showcase their potential contribution to future roles. For each achievement, use bullet points and begin with strong action verbs. Quantifying these accomplishments can also be powerful, as it gives tangible evidence of success. For example:

  • Implemented a new marketing strategy, leading to a 20% increase in lead generation within six months.
  • Managed a team of 10 marketing professionals and delivered projects on time and under budget.
  • Awarded Employee of the Year for exceptional performance and dedication to company goals.

Education and Qualifications

When crafting a CV, the education and qualifications section forms a foundational element of one’s academic and professional competences. Here, an individual showcases their academic achievements and any certifications or licences that are pertinent to their career path.

Academic Background

An individual should list their educational achievements in reverse chronological order, beginning with the most recent. The details of the degree, institution, and the period of study are crucial. If relevant to the job application, it is also advisable to mention grades, especially if they are remarkable.

University Education

  • Degree: Bachelor in Computer Science
  • University: UNISA
  • Years Attended: September 2018 – June 2022
  • Grade: 2:1

Certifications and Licences

This subsection is dedicated to additional qualifications apart from formal education, such as certifications for technical skills or professional licences. They should be listed with the name of the certification, the awarding body, and the date of completion.


  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP): (ISC)², May 2023
  • Project Management Professional (PMP): Project Management Institute, December 2022


  • Chartered Accountant: Institute of Chartered Accountants in South Africa, November 2021

Supplementary Skills and Information

Including a section on supplementary skills and information in one’s CV can significantly enhance a candidate’s appeal by demonstrating additional competencies and passions that make them a well-rounded and dynamic professional. It is essential to tailor this section carefully to make it relevant and valuable to potential employers.

Relevant Skills

Hard Skills: One should list their industry-specific abilities, such as proficiency in software relevant to their field.

  • Programming Languages: Python, Java, C++
  • Frameworks: Angular, React
  • Tools: Docker, Jenkins, Git

Soft Skills: Candidates should also consider stipulating interpersonal and transferable skills.

It’s advisable to integrate soft skills into the descriptions of work experiences, rather than merely listing them.

Language Skills: Mentioning language proficiency can be advantageous, especially for roles requiring multilingual communications.

  • English: Native
  • isizulu: Intermediate – B2
  • isixhosa: Conversational

Computer and Technical Skills: For non-technical positions, familiarisation with common office software like Microsoft Office or Google Workspace can be invaluable.

In contrast, technical roles should detail more specialised proficiencies, such as database management or software development.

Optional Sections

Candidates have the autonomy to include optional information such as hobbies and interests, volunteer work, and publications, each of which can cast light on their character and dedication.

  • Volunteer Work: Detailing charitable engagements illustrates one’s commitment to community and capacity for empathy, teamwork, and leadership.

  • Hobbies and Interests: Sharing personal interests can help show a well-rounded personality.

    This is beneficial if the hobbies are relevant to the job or demonstrate transferable skills.

  • Publications: For academic or research positions, listing significant publications alongside their citations can establish one’s expertise and thought leadership in the field.

Submission and Follow-Up

In this section, we address the crucial stages of finalising your CV and taking proactive steps following your job application, ensuring a meticulous approach to enhancing your candidacy.

Finalising Your CV

A candidate’s final step before submitting a CV is a thorough review.

They should utilise a CV builder or tool to ensure that the format is professional and coherent.

Candidates must proofread rigorously to eliminate any typos or grammatical errors, as these can be detrimental to first impressions.

It’s vital to tailor the CV to each specific role, aligning with the job description and incorporating keywords that are often scanned by an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to increase chances of reaching hiring managers.

Key points for finetuning a CV:

  • Utilise a CV builder: Ensure consistent formatting and structure.
  • Proofread: Eliminate errors and check for clarity.
  • Tailor your CV: Customise your CV for each job application.
  • ATS Optimisation: Include relevant keywords for ATS recognition.

What To Do After Submission

Post submission, candidates should be proactive to support their application.

Following a short waiting period (typically one to two weeks), sending a polite follow-up email to the hiring manager can demonstrate their enthusiasm and keep their application top-of-mind.

The email should be concise, reaffirming the candidate’s interest and key qualifications for the role.

They should reference the specific job title, the date of submission, and express a willingness to provide further details or attend job interviews.

A concise follow-up email structure:

  • Subject Line: Reference the position title and your name.
  • Greeting: Address the hiring manager politely by name.
  • Body: Reiterate interest and qualifications; inquire about progress.
  • Closing: Thank the hiring manager; sign off professionally.

Frequently Asked Questions

When crafting a Curriculum Vitae (CV), a candidate must ensure the document is comprehensive, tailored, and professionally formatted. This section addresses common inquiries applicants may have during the CV preparation process.

What are the essential components of an effective CV?

An effective CV must include the candidate’s contact details, a personal statement or objective, work experience, educational background, and a list of relevant skills.

Each section should convey clear and concise information that aligns with the job requirements.

What steps should I take to tailor my CV for a specific role?

To tailor a CV for a specific role, the candidate should carefully read the job description and highlight key skills and experiences that match the employer’s requirements.

Customising the personal statement and providing relevant examples of achievements can significantly increase the CV’s impact.

How can I highlight my skills and experiences effectively on my CV when I have limited work history?

Candidates with limited work experience should focus on transferable skills, volunteer positions, internships, or academic projects that demonstrate applicable abilities.

Emphasising soft skills, coursework, and extracurricular activities can also help portray a strong potential fit.

What are the recommended layouts and formats for crafting a professional CV?

A professional CV should have a clear, simple layout with consistent formatting.

Using headings, bullet points, and professional fonts aids readability.

The traditional reverse-chronological format is widely accepted, but functional or combination formats may be suitable depending on the candidate’s work history.

How should I present my academic background in a CV if I’m still a student?

Students should list their academic achievements near the top of their CV, including the degree being pursued, expected completion date, and any relevant modules or projects.

If applicable, academic honours and awards can be highlighted to demonstrate scholarly excellence.

What are the best practices for proofreading and ensuring my CV is error-free?

Proofreading the CV multiple times is essential to avoid grammatical errors and typos.

Candidates may also use spell-check tools or services and seek feedback from mentors or professionals in their field.

A flawless CV reflects attention to detail and professionalism.

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