For those of us who have been on the job market, who have secured tenure-track positions or who have been faculty members for a number of years, the ins and outs of a CV seem self-explanatory. Yet, in many ways, they are not -- especially for graduate students who may not get this sort of professional development in their program. That’s why people like Ellen Mayock and Karen Kelsky have written successful advice columns or posts on the subject.
In this essay, I’ll discuss my dos and don’ts of CV writing. Some of them overlap with Mayock and Kelsky’s. My advice differs somewhat, however, in that it is not a point-by-point instruction manual like Kelsky’s. And while Mayock’s column provides useful advice for tailoring your CV to a broad range of venues -- whether for a grant application or a yearly review as a faculty member -- I will focus here on a general CV that can be used for the job market and on your website, if you have one.
Here are some suggestions for what to do and what not to do, drawing on my own experience. (Keep in mind that conventions are often field specific, and I’m writing from a sociology background.)
Do look at the CVs of recent graduates in your department who have secured tenure-track positions and those of current assistant professors whom you admire. Use their CVs as models for your own.
Before looking up these people, ask yourself: What kind of job do I want? Do I want a job at a research university? A state institution? A liberal arts college? And when examining their CVs, ask yourself: What is my first impression of the CV? Is it easy to read and find information? Is it organized?
Like many, the department where I earned my Ph.D. maintains a list of first placements. Through such lists, you can identify people to google to find their CV or with whom you can make a connection because you share an affiliation. I’ve done this when I’ve been on the job market and found it helpful in identifying the kind of CV that I wanted in terms of content and format, as well as where to submit it.
Do remember that publications are the currency of the job market. So if you want a job at a research university, make sure to include your publications after your educational information and research and teaching interests and before any other section. You want the most pertinent information to be first and easily findable.
Some people will tell you to include teaching experience before your publications when you apply to liberal arts colleges. My first tenure-track job was at Bryn Mawr, a women’s liberal arts college, and, based on my experience, it probably wouldn’t hurt to put your research first when applying to a selective liberal arts college. But before you do that, I also would urge you to check with any mentors you have with direct experience on recruitment committees at liberal arts, community and other types of colleges.
My own CV has the following sections, in the order they appear:
- Academic appointments;
- Education (which denotes where I earned my degrees);
- Areas of interest (the broad topics or subfields of my research and teaching);
- Papers under review and in progress;
- Fellowships, grants and awards;
- Invited presentations;
- Selected presentations (from the last five years);
- Additional research experience;
- Teaching experience; and
- Service (to the profession, university, department and community).
Do be transparent. I err on the side of being crystal clear about my accomplishments. That means I provide the date of my Ph.D., particularly since it was granted at an unconventional time: during the winter rather than the fall term. That’s because I had my first child the summer before, so I delayed my Ph.D. defense and tenure-track start date by six months.
Being transparent also means each section in my CV has relevant subsections. For example, under Publications, I differentiate peer-reviewed articles from book chapters. I also make a separate subsection for “other publications” -- a catchall for the rest of my writings that don’t fit neatly into any other category (such as an encyclopedia article or a report) and “public sociology writings” (where reference to this column will be located). I also distinguish between external versus internal grants and what courses I’ve taught at each institution.
Do ask your mentors and peers for feedback on your CV. Especially if you’re on the job market, ask someone to look over your CV even if you think yours is fine. The CV is often your first impression, and you have nothing to lose by asking for another person to review it. Best-case scenario: they have no feedback because it looks great. Worst-case scenario: someone suggests better ways to help you put your best professional foot forward.
Don’t include a photo or family, marital, citizenship or other personal information aside from your name, contact information and links to your website. Although you may see full professors include this information, and those in other countries may regularly add these items, it is not the norm for the U.S. job market.
Don’t, as other people have noted, include descriptions of your work. This is appropriate for your website but not for a CV. Think of it this way: your website can provide more details about who you are as an academic, while the CV is a shorthand reference of your accomplishments.
Don’t pad your CV. In other words, don’t try and “puff up” any of your accomplishments. Papers under review or in progress should not be under “publications,” and things generally should be listed only once. (That said, noting an award under both the publication that won it and the awards section is fine.)
Similarly, don’t say “in preparation for [name of field’s top general journal].” It’s great that you are aiming high. But it doesn’t really tell the reader of your CV anything, and your aspirational journals are better saved for a cover letter.
Similarly, don’t list where a paper is submitted or under review unless it received a revise and resubmit letter. This is more of a personal preference of mine, but it follows along the same logic: anyone can submit a paper anywhere. So it’s not really a signal of the quality of the work, and while a paper under initial review does mean it passed the hurdle of being sent out to reviewers and not desk rejected, it’s still not a strong signal of anything. An R&R, in contrast, provides real evidence that your paper has potential, is original and can contribute to the field.
As a graduate student or postdoc, you may feel as though you have a slim CV. That’s OK! It’s where you are supposed to be. Your CV will grow in time as you begin to publish more and get involved in your discipline. Focus on what will actually matter: not the length of your CV but rather the quality and content of your work and where you publish. Think of the places where you publish as signals of with whom you are in conversation (e.g., a general or specialty audience) and your academic identity.
Of course, you should aim to publish in the top general journals of your field. But not all of our papers will be published in those outlets. Think of top specialty journals as indicators of who you are as a scholar.
For example, if you are an urban scholar, you should publish in specialized urban journals. That may seem obvious. But thinking of journals as signals of who I am as a scholar was not something that naturally occurred to me. I only realized it as I was figuring out how to thrive in, and not just survive, graduate school.