Structuring a CV

a PORT for Modern Languages tutorial

1 Structuring a CV

1.2 How it should look

The layout of a good CV is almost as important as its contents. Its visual aspect plays a key role in persuading your potential employer of your skills, since appointment committees often have to read a large number of applications and therefore in their first sifting they will be scanning CVs rather than paying close attention to detail. You need to make sure that key points stand out.

You are advised to avoid any eccentricity which will distract your reader, such as:

fancy fonts:

use the simplest types (such as Times, Arial or Helvetica), without alternating them. Bold and underlined prints are on the other hand effective for headings.


the only suitable 'decorations' are the bullets aimed at starting sub-sections and making lists clearer. Allow for margins (adopting, for example, a spacing of 1.5 and a border of at least 2 centimetres).

multicoloured ink and paper:

old-fashioned black ink on white A4 paper is still the best choice, since applications are usually photocopied in black and white. Use a good quality printer (possibly a laser one).


As to its structure, our suggestion is to subdivide your CV into different sections clearly separated and marked by a white space and/or a subtitle in bold. Within each section, list your achievements in chronological or reverse chronological order. Once you have decided, use the same system throughout. 

At this stage in your career it is likely that your CV will not be very long - consequently some information that wouldn't be appropriate later in your career might be useful, such as for example reading groups or seminars you may have organized. You may also want to include topics or MA modules or essays that might be relevant for the position you are applying for. For example, if you were working on eighteenth-century French literature in your PhD research, and the job you are applying for involves teaching a course on twentieth-century French literature, you can include any MA modules/dissertation on that topic.


Remember that in any case your CV has to be


be as simple and neat as possible without being trite. Avoid technical terms (except if strictly necessary) as well as obsolete words and forms.


be precise: a vague choice of words (just as a proximate description of your various experiences) will leave a vague impression.


be detailed without being wordy. Long explanations make readers miss the point rather than make it clearer.


do not be reticent: omitting a piece of information you are expected to reveal (such as the reason why you left a job) creates the impression that you have something to hide


keep to facts: do not introduce any assessment of your own experiences (they are supposed to speak for you).


format your CV in an effective way: your key skills and experiences should be identified by a cursory glance.