I dare say the first thing people look at when they open your application is your CV. It is the easiest way to get a quick overview of who you are, what you’ve done, and maybe what you’re capable of doing. There are three things you should keep in mind when you’re writing your CV.
Your CV needs to be visually easy to understand (meaning, it has to be clean and uncluttered!). My best suggestion is to create columns for your CV. Each column should serve a function. For example, if you were to have three columns, column 1 would be for categories, column 2 would be for explanations of activities in a specific category, and column 3 would be for dates when you did those particular activities. You do not want to have text blending into dates or dates blending into categories. It makes it very hard to read a cluttered document, and if there is something you are trying to highlight about yourself, your reader won’t be able to discern what it is.
There are dozens of categories that you can include on a CV: Education, Work Experience, Publications, Presentations, Workshop Participation, Languages, Relevant Courses, Honors and Awards, Certifications, Skills, Affiliations, References, and the list goes on and on. No, you don’t have to have every single category listed on your CV. You should have enough information on there to portray yourself in the best light. For some departments, certain categories are irrelevant, so why take up the space? And when you write each category’s content, make sure the most recent information is at the top of the category, and the oldest information goes last (reverse chronology).
For your application, you should make sure to have the most relevant categories at the beginning of your CV. This is why having categories that you can copy/paste and move around is a good idea. Say, for example, you’re applying to a department that has a strict language requirement. You might consider putting “Education” as your first category and “Languages” as your second. Or, if you’re applying to a department like Anthropology, you might start with “Education” and have “Relevant Field Work” as your second category. Skim through the department’s “Degree Requirements” or “Program Requirements” page so you get a sense of what you will be doing in the program. Use the information from those pages to emphasize on your CV what needs to be highlighted about you.
Remember, you shouldn’t neglect putting together a stellar CV just because it’s a short document. This document will often be the first impression a committee has of you, so put in the effort to make it look good and be informative.
Here’s an example of the first few categories I found important for my applications to PhD programs in 2012.