An ever-constant yet ever-changing document in the life of academics is one’s curriculum vitae or C.V. We apply to programs, fellowships, grants and of course jobs, all of which require our C.V. It may seem like a simple document to compile, which may explain why so many people appear to leave it to the last minute. However, like so many other things in academia, being thoughtful and well-prepared about one’s curriculum vitae can go a long way. Working on it well in advance of when you may need it is a good idea. You should keep a running file of all of your accomplishments and add items as they occur rather than wait for a time of need to compile this all-important document. Not only does this help reduce the number of to-do items come application time, it also ensures that you are not leaving any relevant items off it inadvertently.
One way to learn what C.V.s look like in your field and what works well is to look at the C.V.s of people who are in positions to which you aspire. I addressed the reasons for browsing people’s C.V.s in my last column, and getting a sense for how to structure yours is an additional rationale for perusing others’ documents.
There will be some institutional specifics about what is and is not required or preferred on C.V.s, so it is important to check about local requirements and expectations. There will also be disciplinary variations in what is customary to list and in what order. It would be impossible and impractical to address the precise idiosyncrasies of every field in this piece. To make the advice as broadly relevant as possible, I will highlight some overarching strategies.
It may seem superficial to start with layout and design considerations, but the reality is that most situations that call for search or grant committees to look at people’s C.V.s concern looking at numerous C.V.s in a fairly compact amount of time so it is best to make the content as easily accessible to the reader as possible. This means avoiding highly unusual fonts, layouts and designs. If applications were requested in hard copy, it also means not adding layers of extra folders that make accessing the physical copy unnecessarily tedious. (You may wonder how I even come up with such notes of consideration. I would never have thought to come up with this particular point had I not myself experienced a few times the extra effort required to access certain candidates’ C.V.s during various application procedures. When you only have a few hours to get through a pile of 150 or so files, even minor-seeming issues like that can make a difference.) Bottom line, fancy layout is not the ticket to standing out -- easily legible, impressive content is.
The C.V. should start with name and contact information with a mention of a website when available (ideally one is indeed available, with additional materials such as copies of one’s published papers). The next item should be current position and educational background or in the case of graduate students, the degree being pursued currently and degrees already obtained. Then a line or two can be inserted about areas of teaching interest if this is an application for a job that includes instruction. What follows next may be disciplinarily specific, but generally speaking, major accomplishments such as publications are important to list up front, as are fellowships and grants. Conference presentations and teaching experience can be listed after. Some of this may be institution and position-specific, however. If you are applying for a primarily teaching position then it may be a good idea to start with related activities first and then move on to details about research accomplishments. It is completely fine to have more than one version of your C.V. circulating when it comes to the ordering and emphasis of material as long as everything on each of them is a reflection of reality.
It is best not to embellish too much and it is absolutely imperative that you do not lie on the C.V. If a paper is under review then do not list it as a publication. You can have a separate section under the publication heading listing works currently under review. If you do include such items, recognize that you may have just breached any semblance of the double-blind review process. Similarly, grants under review should be listed as such unless you have final word from the granting agency that your application was successful.
Embellishing and especially outright lying can have serious consequences. Stating that you have a book contract when your book is just now out for review and you do not yet have a contract is simply wrong. This is the kind of issue that may well come back and haunt you. It may be that one of the people looking at your record has been asked to review your book for a press where it is under consideration. As a reviewer, this person will likely know whether you do or do not have a contract in hand already. If the answer is no and your C.V. states otherwise, there could be repercussions for your candidacy, such as being dismissed as a viable candidate at that stage. (Does this sound like an unlikely scenario? I got the example from a friend who recently experienced precisely what I describe here while on a search committee.)
Unless there is a specific request to do so, there is little reason to list grants to which you have applied but that you have been unsuccessful in obtaining. While listing such attempts certainly shows good work ethic and an understanding of the importance of pursuing research support, it is also a sign of what you have not managed to accomplish. While everybody gets rejected from certain opportunities, it is usually not particularly beneficial to advertise these, certainly not during the earlier stages of one’s career.
Once you have a draft of your C.V., be sure to circulate it to a few peers and mentors for feedback. Like with everything else, it is helpful to take a step back and have another pair of eyes scrutinize your work whether for catching simple typos or pointing out confusing layout or unclear phrasing. Once you incorporate the feedback, you will have a ready document to distribute and update as you accumulate additional experiences. As application deadlines come around, you will be glad this part of your portfolio is ready to go without too much additional work necessary, leaving you more time to focus on your proposal and other components of the application.
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