You may think that writing your personal statement or cover letter is the only part of an application process that requires creativity.  After you've wrestled with a way to tell your story in other than a clichéd manner ("It was a dark and stormy night..."), you may feel that you don't have to spend that much energy constructing your resume or CV. Wrong! A well-crafted summary of your life's achievements may be the first, and possibly only, written document that the people evaluating you ever get to see. Fortunately, the resume and CV are very easy to construct and maintain if you follow these simple guidelines.

Before we get to the five steps, let's clarify the difference between a CV and a resume.  The CV (which stands for "curriculum vitae") is typically used in the world of academia, where size tends to matter (longer is better). The resume is typically used in the business world, where short and sweet is more likely to seal the deal. I'll use the terms interchangeably here just for convenience, but you should keep in mind that if you're in an academic context, you definitely want to construct a CV and not a resume. If you're in the business world, you should have a resume but keep a longer version on the back burner should the application allow for more than one page.

Step 1: Decide on the format, but whatever you decide, make it simple and elegant. Don't even think about using a pre-set template produced by a software company.  The design should not detract from the content, and if you adorn it with bells and whistles, the content may get lost. You also may lose the interest of the more conservative evaluators of your application who are turned off by what they see as contrived or cutesy.  Also, choose a font that's easily readable: nothing smaller than 10 pt.

Step 2: Arrange your achievements in a workable format. You can decide what categories you would like to use based on your field and the typical set-up that applicants or professionals tend to prefer. Typically, the main categories you would include are contact information, education, employment, and honors and awards. As a p.s., when you include your contact information, make sure your email address is professional, so use either a variant of your name or a school-issued email. "" does not convey a professional image.  Whether you include interests, skills, or objectives depends on the purpose of the document (these are rarely in CV'S). These categories will vary depending on whether you're in the academic or business world. Check here for great guidelines that people in academia can use.

Step 3: Verify the information with your records.  Our memory is notoriously fallible, so if you want be sure you neither miss something important nor take credit for something you didn't do, go back through your previous files, documents, and calendars.   Validate your actual grades (i.e. your GPA) with the GPA that is stated on your transcript. The same rule applies to any awards, certificates, or other distinctions you've earned. If you are providing dates of service in an organization or activity, make sure you are recording accurately the number of months or years.

Step 4: Consult with potential referees.

Before listing an employer, teacher, professor, advisor, or supervisor, make sure that you have that individual's permission.  An added benefit of doing this is that you can also get feedback from that person on your document, especially if this someone who was a close mentor to you. You may even ask that person if you could borrow his or her CV or resume as a model to use for yourself.

Step 5: Moving forward, keep your CV or resume up to date. The best way to ensure that you are ready to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way is to add to your document whenever anything changes. Going through your calendar is a great way to make sure that the material stays current.

To ensure that you have the material instantly at your fingertips, no matter where you physically are, store your document on a "cloud." Google Docs is excellent but not as good as Dropbox, which allows you to upload your cloud file with the file you store on your computer.  Whenever you link back up to the Internet, your file will automatically link up too. An added benefit is that you will always have access to previous (even deleted) version. Dropbox had security issues at one point, but these are fixed, and the problem is no worse than what would happen if you left the flash drive containing your cherished documents on a bus seat.  As an added note, save your file as a PDF so that when it's downloaded, it will print the way you want it to and not be subject to the vagaries of different computers or printers. Before you go public, though, proofread everything both online and on the printed document.

In short, having a great CV or resume ready to go at any time is a major asset when it comes to seeking any new position or promotion.  When you see an opportunity, you will be able to grab it without having to produce a rushed and hence, unprofessional, document.

Good luck and may you have a long and productive CV!

For related career advice, check out these additional blog postings:

Selling it: Making interviews work for you

Writing a compelling life story in 500 words or less

How to make recommendations work for you

Want to boost your job prospects? Try a beauty makeover

Follow me on Twitter @swhitbo for daily updates on psychology, health, and aging and please check out my website, where you can get additional information, self-tests, and links.

Copyright 2011 Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D.

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