Presenting a Life

In Latin, curriculum vitae means “course of (one's) life.” (Tangential advice: Do not start essays with a definition, even if I just did. It’s beyond hackneyed.). Your CV is often the first and always one of the most important ways that you are introduced to a search committee (or anyone else) as a scholar. The overarching goal of your CV is to tell the story of who you are as a professional and what you have to offer a potential employer. Everything on your CV should tell that story.

There is no one right way to format and organize a CV, but there are lots of wrong ways. Some general advice follows!

1. Review lots and lots and lots of CVs. CVs of famous people, of recent graduates, of your own faculty, of assistant professors, you name it. This is what the internet is for. What are the norms in your field? You will see a wide variety of styles and approaches, and will identify some that you find particularly effective. Copying CV styles is completely acceptable. You will see that some superstars have terrible CV formatting; they can get away with it because they need no introduction. You have to do better.

CVs look different at different career stages. For example, as an ABD or recent PhD, you should probably list your conference presentation titles to give readers a sense of your research agenda. If you’re an endowed chair, maybe you just list dates of presentations; your publications speak to your body of work. What do the CVs of recent successful job candidates in your field look like?

2. All about YOU. The point of your CV is to highlight what YOU have done, YOUR credentials, and YOUR experiences.

DO: Instructor, Underwater Basket-weaving, Fall 2020

DON’T: Underwater Basket-weaving, Fall 2020 (instructor)

3. Avoid unnecessary formatting and content. The rule is to make it as easy to get information from your CV as possible. Don’t let lots of junk get in the way of the things that matter. Your headings do not need to be small caps, italics, and bold; just one or two of those will do. (In fact, save italics for book and journals titles only). Lines, parentheses, font size changes, and the like—what purpose are they serving? If you can’t answer that question, let them go.

4. Format consistently. It is easier for readers’ eyes to land on the important stuff if the formatting is consistent and clean. If you right justify the year for conference presentations, do that for teaching experience, invited talks, and all other dated entries. Keep headings consistent. All of this makes it easier for the search committee to appreciate your amazing accomplishments.

5. Format for your strengths. There are basic norms about how things are ordered on a CV but there is still a lot of flexibility. Make sure that the key information appears on the first page and cannot be missed. If you have publications, they must appear on page 1. Give readers a reason to turn the page.

Use that flexibility to tell your story. If you don’t have many/any publications, but you’ve been successful in securing grants and fellowships, put that section ahead of publications (but probably get both on page 1). If you’re stronger with pubs than grants, go with that order. If you’ve gotten one or more impressive external fellowships (Look! People other than my committee think my work is promising!) and you’ve also got a bunch of internal grants (e.g., ISLA, Kellogg), then subdivide your grants and fellowships section into external and internal. You don’t want the search committee to skim over that section because it’s a bunch of $1000 grants from ISLA (very useful!) and miss the fact that you’ve gotten a highly-competitive NEH or NSF dissertation fellowship or the like.

In some disciplines, some scholars list publications and other things with the year right or left justified. This is a great example of choosing a format that serves you well. Do this if you are a consistent producer, publishing every year. Skimming down a column of dates with every year represented at least once tells the story of a scholar with an active and successful pipeline. Other people (I am an example) have bursts of research or publish bigger things (like a book) every few years. Organizing my publications by year wouldn’t tell the story I want to tell, which is about overall record, rather than year-to-year consistency.

6. Nothing from college. (Possible exception: thesis and any thesis prizes). The stuff you did in college got you into grad school. Its purpose has been served. The stuff you do in grad school gets you a job. That’s what goes on your CV.

More generally, everything on your CV should speak to your qualifications for an academic job. If it’s not relevant, take it off. A shorter CV that is direct and clear is far preferred to a longer one with lots of padding.

7. Font must be at least 12 point. Search committee members are old.

Don’t just listen to me! We also read others’ advice for CVs including the following:

Reyes, Victoria, How to Write a CV for the Academic Job Market. Inside Higher Ed
Kelsky, Karen, Dr. Karen’s Rules of the Academic CV. The Professor Is In blog
Saideman, Stephen, Rules for Writing One’s CV. The Duck of Minerva blog (specific to political science but much of the advice is general)