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Further Education

CV/résumé overview

CV/résumé overview

What is a CV for graduate/professional programs?

  • Most graduate and some professional programs require applicants to submit a CV or résumé as part of their admission package. Unlike the documents for job applications, these terms are used interchangeably in the context of graduate/professional program packages — so follow the CV advice below, regardless of whether a CV or résumé is requested (NOTE: for academic job postings refer to guidelines for CVs addressed in Writing CVs)
  • A CV is a key tool that contains your relevant accomplishments and is used to highlight your candidacy for a program
  • Think of your CV as an argument (proof) about why you will succeed and why you are the right fit for the program

Tips for creating an effective CV for graduate/professional programs

  1. Highlight credentials with a focus on all experiences that showcase your competencies (skills) related to the program
  2. Provide an objective, factual, targeted, personal history relevant to program
  3. If specific CV guidelines are provided by the program, follow them
  4. Consider all of your experiences and what you have gained from them. For example, have you:
    • Taught yourself a programming language?
    • Had any type of international experiences?
    • Attended academic-related events such as conferences, seminars?
    • Shadowed professionals, interacted with patients/clients?
    • Completed
      • relevant projects/papers?
      • a 4th year thesis?
      • capstone design?
      • the EDGE Certificate?
      • the Student Leadership Certificate Program?

All programs require specific document packages that might include:

Strengthen your application by using each of these tools as a chance to reinforce the highlights of your candidacy, and by combining them to build your case.

What do admission committees want in a CV?

An admission committee needs to see you in terms of:

  • Understanding of and fit with the program: do you have enough of the competences (skills) required to be successful?
  • Ability to collaborate with students/faculty
  • Ability to succeed in practicums/internships/co-op jobs
  • How you can add value to and complement what the program offers
  • Awareness of how your research area(s) align with research being conducted by potential supervisors for a research-based graduate program

Read the program requirements carefully and note what information is emphasized, such as:

  • Competencies required for success in program and field/profession
  • Clinical experience
  • Research experience
  • Health-related experience
  • Teaching experience
  • Work experience
  • Specific courses or areas of expertise

Use resources to find information on the program such as:

  • Relevant print/online resources
  • Profiles of faculty
  • Student biographies
  • Information sessions, graduate fairs, etc.
  • Questions obtained from program ambassador (if info is not on website)
  • Informational interview(s) with alumni and/or students
  • Professional association websites and/or governing/certification bodies to review list of competencies

Use all of this information to generate a concise list of 4-5 points that would represent the ideal program candidate. Then, evaluate the case for your own competency: what is your best proof that you match their needs?

Writing effective bullet points

  • Use bulleted statements throughout your CV
  • Each bullet point should strongly communicate your qualifications and accomplishments which are relevant to the program/profession
  • Any bullet point in the Experience sections, Education, and Activities and Interests sections should begin with a skill or achievement action verb that will create a vivid image of your accomplishment
  • 3-5 bullets are standard for each experience, but readers often do not scan past the first three bullets - so prioritize and place the most important and relevant information first
  • Be concise and avoid repeating verbs
  • Refer to the list of action verbs -- all action verbs are not created equal: verbs like “helped,” “assisted,” “participated,” and “worked,” although technically in the active voice, fail to provide a specific picture of what you have done, so avoid them wherever possible
    • If you intend to use such words to show that your role was to participate in but not to lead a project, consider using other strategies
      • If you were one member of a two-person team, consider using “co-” as the prefix to the action verb describing your role (e.g., “Co-edited user’s manual”)
      • If you were part of a team with 2+ members, explain your role and end by indicating that others were involved (e.g., “Edited user’s manual for XYZ software, as member of communications team,” or “Edited user’s manual for XYZ software, in collaboration with supervisor”)

You may find it helpful to think of the following three components as you begin to write bulleted statements:

Complete statement

  • Did x using y to achieve z
  • (What) + (How) + (Why)
  1. What: what action you took, using a skill or achievement verb (e.g., designed)
  2. How: how you performed the task: a) actual tool or technique (e.g., using MS Access); b) role you played (e.g., as member of 5-person team); and/or c) using an adverb (e.g., effectively, accurately)
  3. Why: what result or outcome you achieved, quantified wherever possible (e.g., doubled speed of information retrieval)

Complete statement

  • Designed client database using MS Access; doubled speed of information retrieval


Although each bullet point should include skill and task components, always adding tools and results may be too lengthy. Try to include points that use three or all four components several times throughout your CV, especially when demonstrating key achievements.

Because it is important to demonstrate productivity and achievements to admission committees, begin some of your bullets with the outcome, using an achievement action verb. The above example would then read:

Complete statement

  • Doubled speed of information retrieval by successfully designing client database, using MS Access

When using both types of bullets (i.e., skill-first and achievement-first), begin your list with an achievement-first bullet for the greatest impact. Please refer to the list of Action verbs provided as a reference for both skill and achievement verbs. Consider using a key competency to start each point.

Action Verbs (PDF)

Sample experience headings

The following skill areas can be used as headings in the experience portion of CV. These are suggestions only; you may use many other headings, as well.

  • Administration
  • Advising
  • Analysis and Evaluation
  • Business Development
  • Business Management
  • Childcare
  • Client-focused
  • Client Relations
  • Clinical
  • Communications
  • Community Liaison
  • Community Work
  • Computer Experience
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Consulting
  • Counselling and Development
  • Creativity and Design
  • Crisis Evaluation and Response
  • Customer Relations
  • Customer Service
  • Data Collection/Entry
  • Design and Development
  • Electronics Knowledge
  • Equipment Operation
  • Evaluation/Analysis
  • Financial Analysis
  • Food Preparation
  • Fundraising
  • Health and Safety
  • Healthcare
  • Health-related
  • Human Resources Management
  • International Experience
  • Law-related
  • Laboratory
  • Leadership
  • Management
  • Mentoring
  • Office Administration
  • Organizational Development
  • Planning
  • Presentation Skills
  • Professional
  • Problem Solving
  • Product Development
  • Program Development
  • Program Planning
  • Programming and Special Events
  • Project Management
  • Public Relations
  • Public Service
  • Public Speaking
  • Quality Control
  • Research
  • Sales and Marketing
  • Special Events Coordination
  • Strategic Planning
  • Supervision and Training
  • Systems Development
  • Teaching
  • Team Work
  • Technical Skills
  • Training and Development
  • Trouble Shooting
  • Warehouse/Inventory
  • Writing and Editing
  • Writing and Presentation
University of Waterloo

Centre for Career Development