CV Doctor Returns - English

September 25, 2008

Once a year we take on the mantle of CV Doctor. We ask readers to send in their CV's and select four for an online critique.

This year we chose to evaluate three faculty CV's: one for a Ph.D. candidate in English, one for a Ph.D. in the history of medicine, and one for an Ed.D. in social work. We also selected the CV of a Ph.D. candidate seeking an administrative position in a campus teaching and learning center.

Every year in our annual critique, we notice a few common mistakes. The following list, along with the CV critiques provided here, should serve as a starting point for anyone drafting a vita, or as a model for anyone looking to refine their current document.

  • Follow directions. Please. A fairly high number of people sent us documents -- such as teaching or research statements -- that we did not offer to critique. We wonder how many of those same people send in documents to search committees that they never requested. You will make the best impression in applying for positions by giving a committee the documents it asks for.
  • Quotations attached to the bottom of the e-mail message on which you submit your CV are unprofessional and cheesy. As much as we like chocolate or respect the accomplishments of Gandhi, we agree that jaunty little quotes on such subjects don't belong at the end of your career-related e-mail messages. It is important to conduct yourself professionally in all work-related communications.
  • We say this every year, but we'll remind readers once again that the correct singular of CV is curriculum vitae, as in "you'll find attached my curriculum vitae." The spelling "curriculum vita" is incorrect. Sometimes, people use the term "vita" as in "I've attached my vita to this message." This is also correct, but causes confusion for many. Why are both terms correct? Curriculum vitae means "course of life" so vitae is in the genitive form, rather than the nominative, and in the genitive vitae means "of life." Vita is the nominative, so when people say they are sending you a vita, the literal translation is "life."
  • When you send your CV via e-mail, don't just label the attachment "CV." Label all of the attached documents with your name and a one- or two-word description of what the attachment contains: "Smith CV" or "Smith teaching statement." Search committees may receive several hundred applications; labeling your attachments properly will make it easier for them to find yours quickly.
  • Be sure to include your name on each page of your CV. Beginning on the second page of the document, include a page number next to your name on every page.
  • Do not include on your CV the full mailing addresses of institutions from which you earned degrees or organizations at which you've worked. Specifying the institution's city and state, or city and country if it's foreign, are sufficient. Drop all street addresses and postal codes. They just clutter up your vita.
  • Don't feel that you need a lot of white space on your CV. If you spread your information out by having huge margins, deep indents, and lots of skipped lines, you just make it harder for people reading it to scan information quickly, and you do yourself a disservice. Tighten it up, and make sure your most significant accomplishments appear on the first and last pages of your CV.
  • Avoid sloppiness. Check repeatedly for spelling mistakes, and use a consistent format and spacing. While it might seem insignificant to you to sometimes refer to Minnesota as "MN" and other times as "Minn.," that, added to other inconsistencies and errors, makes it look as if you don't care enough to polish this all-important document. Have a few other people look at it, and ask them to be thorough. If you're not a detail-oriented, copyeditor type, find someone who is to read your job-market materials.

If you need more help, we recommend consulting previous columns of The CV Doctor (listed by year on the right side of this page).

We would also like to note that we received CV's from people at institutions that we know have very capable career-services offices that can give excellent feedback. When seeking career advice, try your Ph.D.-granting institution first. Even if you have moved away from the university, its career counselors may be able to help you.


Have a question you would like answered in Career Talk? Send it to While we are unable to answer letters personally, we will consider them as material for future columns. Confidentiality is assured.

Julie Miller Vick is senior associate director of career services at the University of Pennsylvania, and Jennifer S. Furlong is associate director. They are authors of "The Academic Job Search Handbook" (University of Pennsylvania Press), newly re-issued in an expanded edition this summer. If you have questions for the Career Talk columnists, send them to