Writing an Academic Resume: The Curriculum Vitae
If you are looking for a job on the faculty of an institution of higher education, you should know that the resume you create for that kind of position is quite different from the ones that are created for employment in other sectors. Almost all of the rules that you may have heard about resume creation don’t apply here and it can be quite daunting if no one has ever taken the time to talk about the process with you.
Over the years, I have found a number of my students confused about what was required of them when they wanted to apply for a position at a college or university and so I decided it was time to create a resource for them.
Rather than creating a resume, people searching for academic positions build something called a Curriculum Vitae or CV for short. The value of creating a successful CV goes beyond its ability to convey your suitability for a job. It is a document that will be continually updated during your career to serve as a sort of living history of your accomplishments. This will be especially important as you move forward in your career and apply for tenure, promotions, or other recognitions.
Writing a CV is just one part of the application process for positions in higher education. You will also be crafting a cover letter (these can range from 1 – 4 pages) and, depending on the institution and the department, a variety of supporting materials such as a teaching dossier, statement of research interests, or a teaching philosophy among others. Each of these documents requires a great deal of time and attention. This is no walk in the park, but it’s the only way to get your foot in the door at an institution of higher education. The potential impress somebody important and get a job that is present in business simply isn’t part of the way that academia works. So, if you’ve decided that you really, really want to get a faculty position, you are going to need to invest yourself fully and make sure that you do it right.
Now, you are staring at the blank Word document that is open in front of you and wondering, what next?
What is Included in a CV?
Your CV will give some of the standard information that would be presented on a resume, name, address, phone number and email. After all, it doesn’t matter how qualified you are if the employer can’t contact you!
Then you will need to summarize your educational history – but don’t go all the way back to kindergarten! At this stage in your life, high school accomplishments don’t mean anything (unless they were truly stellar like managing to crack the code in Mayan hieroglyphics and receiving a McArthur Genius Grant).
Start with your most recent degree and work backwards to your undergraduate. List the name of the university, the degree, and any specializations. For advanced degrees you may include the title of the thesis and/or dissertation associated with it. You will have the opportunity to elaborate further in your cover letter. If you took classes that did not lead to a degree you may want to save those for a later section – you want you educational history to be clear and easy to read at a glance, so don’t clutter it.
If you have any professional teaching experience, that should come next. This can include teaching assistantships or things of that nature. It should not include the time you led an art class at summer camp – however, save that information and keep it in mind because it might work to support your case in the extensive cover letter that you will get to write to accompany your CV. If you do not have any teaching experience, don’t create a heading for it and then write: ‘none.’ Instead, move on to the next section, which could be titled something like “Academic Accomplishments.”
Your work history is something to consider including in your CV. This is especially true if your discipline is one of the professional disciplines such as architecture or hospitality. You will want to indicate any relevant professional experience that will serve to support your claim to expertise. You should not include work that would not contribute to your quality as a faculty member. Yes, if you hadn’t waited tables for the four years you were in graduate school you never would have been able to afford you degree, but if you are looking for a position in a department of Art History, that experience really didn’t prepare you for assuming the responsibilities of a faculty member. If you are simply trying to demonstrate that you have been working for a long time at a particular place as an indicator of your reliability, you may include that supporting information in your cover letter.
Depending upon your individual experience, you should include a section that indicates your history of scholarship. Chances are if you are applying for a faculty position, you have already had some experience with scholarship. It may be that you travelled with a faculty mentor to present at a conference or that you served as a juror in a student research symposium. Whatever the nature of your scholarly experience, you will need to include it so that the search committee can evaluate the strengths that you will be building on as a new faculty member.
Any search committee understands that a new graduate is a risk. What you have to do is show them that you have a sufficiently strong work ethic and understanding of the activities that you will be expected to perform as part of your regular job should they hire you. Don’t think, however, that just because you are new to this that it will always put you at a disadvantage. Sometimes, a search committee might be suspicious of someone who has had a long and distinguished career. After all, if they were doing so well at their former position, why are they leaving?
If you have any other activities that don’t fit neatly into the education or scholarship categories, you can create a separate section to accommodate them. Just remember that they should be sufficiently weighty to merit the space.
The final categories of items that might be included on a CV could be categorized under headings such as:
- Award and Recognitions
- Professional Development (this is a great place to put any courses you have taken that weren’t part of a degree program)
- Organizational Affiliations (If you aren’t a member of the organization that is closely aligned with the discipline in which you want to teach, you should join right away so as to have that listed)
- Committee and Service Assignments
Finally, you should provide references. It used to be that references were provided along with their addresses, but hardly anyone writes letters requesting recommendations anymore. It is much more likely that a search committee will request a recommendation via email and so you should provide the name, title, affiliation, and email addresses. It is better to spell out the references in this way rather than saying that they will be provided on request. Academia is a small world and by listing your references, you are letting the search committee know that their colleagues are endorsing you. Don’t make them work to get information out of you!
How Should I Frame My Work Experience?
The listing of your academic experience is generally more straightforward. The reason being that there is only so much variation possible in the degree and it’s really the end result of the education that is important to list. With employment, there is rarely a ‘job completed’ moment. Most jobs end because one or the other parties involved wanted to terminate their relationship. This is especially true of the kinds of jobs that people often hold during college.
If you were applying for a position in management, or something like that, you might need to include the kinds of things that you had achieved while being the managing partner at a restaurant for example. However, if you worked the checkout at your grocery store, nobody expects that you will have reorganized cashiering strategy or that you will have finished all of the checking out that needed to be done. There is simply a moment when it is no longer advantageous for either you or the employer to continue with the employment and then it is over.
So, the first step to preparing your work history for the CV is to remove anything that isn’t part of demonstrating that you have the skills or the potential to flourish as a member of the department. None of this is meant to devalue the employment, it is simply to keep your CV focused and on target. The assumption is that everyone has worked jobs that aren’t necessary to put on a CV, it’s not an effort to hide that fact.
Sometimes the title of the position as it was given doesn’t really accurately convey the nature of the job. You may have been given the title of “Sales Associate” but maybe that’s just a title that is given to everyone and you were actually in charge of creating the window displays and designing the merchandise layout. Well, if you are applying for a faculty position in design, those are important things that you want to bring to the search committees attention as part of your ‘real world’ experience. Don’t hide it behind the title, use the adjectives that describe what you did to create the heading. You could say something like: Visual Merchandising Sales Associate – this isn’t inaccurate, you aren’t giving yourself a promotion, you are simply being more descriptive of your activities so that it is clear to those reading your CV what it is that you were doing. After all, they don’t really care what the name of your position was, they want to know what you were doing.
You will need to provide the dates of each employment entry. Use the years to frame the entry, don’t add months and days, that’s too much information and using the years may also help to smooth out some of the employment gaps or spaces between relevant jobs that were filled with short term work. Again, you aren’t trying to be dishonest, you are trying to convey the nature of your work experience as related to the position for which you are applying.
Make sure that each entry in your work experience follows the same format. If you are using bullet points to elaborate on employment responsibilities in one entry, don’t switch to a list with commas for the next entry. This means that you may not be able to make formatting decisions until you have fully explored what you wish to convey. It’s a good idea for you to go through your employment history and decided upon what you want to communicate and then the way in which you want to communicate it, rather than vice versa. You want your CV to support your message, not be something you have to try to fit your message into.
How Long is a CV?
By this point you may be trying to figure out how in the world you are going to fit this into the one page resume format you have probably heard so much about. You aren’t. Don’t despair, no one expects you to. Academia works differently and a CV is as long as it needs to be in order to detail the important information to be conveyed. When you are starting out, it may only be two or three pages in length. My CV currently runs 12 pages and I have seen them longer than that. The key is to not lengthen them out with fluff – everything that is written on your CV should be part of building a case for your expertise. If you have presented at 37 conferences, then you should list all 37 (or as many as you are proud of…) on your CV. There isn’t some magic number that cuts you off, such as only listing the top three or some other such nonsense.
Don’t try to compete with the CV example that you saw that was produced by a university professor with 15 year of experience under her belt. Of course she has done more than you have (or at least, we certainly hope so!) Therefore, it might make sense for her to have added a number of other headers that help to clarify the mass of experience, but if you use all of those headers, each section will only look weak…and that’s when you’ll be tempted to start fluffing.
This is exactly the kind of question that annoys faculty when students are asking about papers they have been assigned. How long does it have to be? That generally translates as: what is the minimum that I can do and be finished? Obviously, you are feeling a bit more motivated than your average student – after all, you are creating a document that will have an enormous impact on a very central aspect of your life. So, hopefully, you are thinking of this more in terms of what is the most that I can put into it?
The golden rule here is: write until you are done. No less, no more. Academics are particularly attuned to writing that is designed simply to fill space. Many find the type of language that is used when there is insufficient meaning to convey to be not just useless but actually aggravating. Business talk about value-added efficiencies and other jargon of that nature will only work against you, so when you run out of things to say, simply stop.
As the saying goes, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”
How Should I Format My CV?
This is a complex issue because there are differences across disciplines in terms of the standard formatting expectations. One of the best things you can do as you start to determine how you would like to format your CV is to look at a number of examples from other people in your discipline. Rather than trying to adopt somebody else’s template entirely, you should look to find techniques from a variety of CVs that will make the information you have to present as clear and as strong as possible.
In design, art, and other visual disciplines there are many more opportunities for creativity in a CV than there might be in engineering or biology or English for example. It is expected in a design discipline that you will have some sense of visual communication and your CV should reflect that. If you are applying for a position in a department of design but your CV is poorly designed, it is even more devastating to your efforts than it would be otherwise.
You have to remember that your CV is your first impression – it is the face that you are presenting and even if you might think it isn’t fair to be judged on looks, it happens. It can actually be an excellent opportunity if you reframe it to realize that you have the chance to demonstrate talents and abilities that might not otherwise show up in concrete examples or listings of accomplishments.
There are books out there designed to help you figure out how to most effectively format your resume. Before purchasing a book, however, make sure that you check its date of publication – after, I would imagine that our founding fathers (or your parents) formatted their CV very differently than today’s market is expecting!
If you have a Kindle, Jay Lansing’s newest CV guide “How to Make a CV” (2014) is available for $2.99 and provides useful advice not only on the CV but also the cover letter and other aspects of the job hunt. This is just one of the dozens of guides and books that cover the topic as well as a number of websites that share expert advice.
The fact is that your CV is a communicative device. If it doesn’t communicate, then it doesn’t work. Make sure your CV isn’t difficult to navigate, even though innovation may be something that is prized by your discipline if your CV is so innovative that nobody is really sure how it works, you may never get the chance to show off your skills as a member of the department. It’s a fine line and you have to make a decision about the balance that works for you. If your CV perfectly expresses you and you don’t get hired, it is probably that the department wouldn’t have been a good fit. You just want to make sure that they didn’t misunderstand who you are and lose the opportunity to provide you with a fruitful place to work!
At the end of the day, don’t be beholden to what you have seen, make sure it works for you.
Keep It Up-to-Date
You may think that you will remember all of the things you have done during the course of a year, but you would be surprised at how unreliable your memory can be. A committee that you were serving on or a time that you served as a guest editor are all things that you need to include but that might not be the first things that come to mind when you think over your career.
I recommend updating your CV each and every time you have something new to add to it. Don’t wait for them to pile up – individually your accomplishments don’t take much time to insert into the document. However, if you wait for six months or a year (or ten) to add them, it becomes a monumental task. A system used by a colleague of mine who was particularly bad at updating her CV that she found helpful was to keep a box on her desk into which she would throw a copy of anything that would serve as a reminder of a future CV entry. When she received notices of accepted papers, she would scribble the information onto a piece of paper and throw it in the box. An email thanking her for her service would get printed out and thrown in as well. This way, she at least had a guide to lead her through the process of updating her CV.
Another important reason to keep this up to date is that you never know when somebody is going to be looking at it. Most department websites have links to the CVs of all of their faculty members. At any point, someone may be searching through that or somewhere else on the Internet and if they come across an outdated CV they might miss important information. For example, sometimes a university has a position to fill and they might look through the accomplishments of other faculty at other universities to prepare themselves to recruit. Do you want to miss that recruiting opportunity because it doesn’t look like you have done anything new in the last several years?