Writing a curriculum vitae in LaTeX: Part 1

Writing a curriculum vitae (what Americans would call a résumé) is something that most of us have to do when applying for jobs. LaTeX users will naturally want to do this using LaTeX. Beyond the technical detail, there’s also the question of the wider requirements for a CV: while these are not LaTeX-related, they do form an important part of the process. So here I’d like to look first at the big picture, and then at some of the LaTeX approaches available.

What is a CV?

Before we look at writing a CV, it’s important to be clear on what its for. Broadly, a CV is a condensed and (hopefully) easy-to-read summary of your qualifications and job experience. Most people want their CV to look good, but it’s important to remember that most employers have a tick list of items to find, and the look is probably of marginal importance in most cases. Of course, LaTeX users will still want to take the time to get a great visual result. (If you are applying for a job with a heavy dependence on visual design, then appearance may be the key!)

The other thing to bear in mind is that the requirements for a CV are dependent on the country and subject area you are in. Here in the UK, the normal advice is that a CV should only be two pages long. For academic jobs (like mine), a list of publications will often make the CV longer, while for industrial positions statements about your abilities, non-work activities and so forth are common. There’s also a strong feeling against having a photograph, both here in the UK and in the US, for equal opportunities reasons. On the other hand, several other countries have very different conventions, so before you start it’s important to check on what is needed.

Each job you apply for is different, and that means each CV you send of should be targeted to that job if possible. So while the basic structure will vary slowly, you should consider what to emphasise in each application. That’s an area where LaTeX’s ability to comment out lines can be a real bonus.

Classes

As a CV is a specialist type of document, it’s no surprise that CTAN features a number of dedicated classes. I’m seen a few questions recently about moderncv, while in the past I used CurVe. In these and other cases, the idea is to use a mix of standard mark up and specialist macros to construct the output. In most cases, there is some form of tabular-like appearance generated along with the necessary headings and so on.

There are advantages and disadvantages to using one of these classes. Most obviously, someone else provides both the mechanisms you need and (hopefully) a good example to start from. The problem tends to be that altering the layout can be a bit awkward. As I said, while CV appearance may not actually be vital, most of us want to make our CV ‘personal’, which means altering the appearance.

Roll-your-own

The alternative to using a pre-built class is to construct your CV yourself, setting up a structure that makes sense to you. Now, there is a bit of effort needed to do this, but it does allow you to decide on exactly how things will look. For my own CV, I used to use CurVe, but in the end decided this was actually making my life more, not less, complex. So the current source is based on the standard article, using some custom macros.

Most of what I’ve done in my CV is pretty simple, but it’s always nice to have documented examples. That would probably make this post a little too long, so I’ll return to look at the detail in my next post.

9 thoughts on “Writing a curriculum vitae in LaTeX: Part 1

  1. The real question though is how to have LaTeX source that generates beautiful PDF and HTML that fits with the CSS of a website. XML-based systems like résumé allow for multiple targets but it is not maintained and the PDF is ugly.

  2. Well, that depends on how you use your CV. For me, ‘passing trade’ is a non-issue: I’m not about to get asked to take up a job as a post-doc by anyone online. On the other hand, I guess for freelance programmers this is much more likely. (I’ve no real idea: do people actually hire this way?)

  3. Slight correction: In the US, there is also a CV, it’s just different. It’s more of a long-form resume for which lengths of 5-10 pages are not unusual. Academic and science position announcements tend to request CVs rather than resumes in the US.

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