Curriculum Vitae translates literally as "the course of one's life", or the course of one's career. It's a snapshot of your experience, education, skills and training that's used to 'sell' you to a potential employer.
The truth is, that even though you spend hours carefully crafting your CV, the average recruiter spends just two minutes reading it. Therefore, it's very important that your CV is easy to read, and clearly conveys the information that your potential employer is looking for.
You should be holding it in your hands! It's the job description and person specification for the job. In most cases, employers will go through your CV and cover letter, or application form finding out how many of the criteria you match. The people with the most matches are invited for an interview.
There are different styles of CV that are appropriate for different sectors, and for different people.
There is no single way of writing a CV. Recruiters are simply people with their own likes and dislikes. So it's quite difficult to say definitively how a CV should be set out to appeal to the employer you have in mind.
However, there are some general pieces of advice:
Based on these guidelines, CVs can be divided into three very broad styles; Chronological, Hybrid, and Skills-based. Choosing the right one will make it much easier for you to get your message across.
This is the traditional CV style, which most people naturally default to. You list your qualifications and employment in chronological order, with small sections on other skills, and interests. If it's an academic CV, you'll also have a third 'appendix' page listing your publications and conferences attended.
The hybrid CV is a halfway house, and is a safe option if your career hasn't had too many gaps, and you're not making an enormous career change. Whilst it follows the order of a chronological CV, the skills section is larger and tailored perfectly to the information given in the job description and person specification. You can choose to include or omit a career objective statement.
The skills-based CV is a more modern style. It often has a career objective statement at the top - a few sentences saying who you are and what kind of work you are looking for. It then moves into a large section devoted to your skills (which you will have tailored to match those described on the person specification). After this, you list your education, employment, interests and references.