The CV Doctor Returns

July 29, 2005

We've written a lot over the years on how to prepare a CV. No offense, but after looking through dozens of vitas for this column, we believe it's still necessary to go over a few basic points.

Whether you plan to go on the market this fall for the first time, or are returning for yet another go-round, the last thing you need is for a poorly drafted CV to be the reason you don't get an interview.

One point we would like to emphasize: A CV has many sections. Within each section, the most current information -- the most recent degree, position, and publications -- should be at top of the section. That is called reverse chronological order, and it serves to highlight your current or most recent (and, presumably, strongest) experience and credentials. We saw quite a few CV's in which the authors listed their degrees in the wrong order, with their undergraduate degrees as the first entry. That is not a good way for a Ph.D. to show off his or her credentials on an academic CV.

Here are some dos and don'ts regarding other common problems we encountered:

  • If you're applying for positions in the United States, don't include personal information on your vita like your date of birth, marital status, or, even worse, your Social Security number. In some countries, it is standard to include such detailed personal information on the CV. That is not the case here.
  • Do think strategically when you write your CV. Would a "Research Interests" section be a good way to show off the depth of your research abilities? Do your prestigious grants merit a separate section, rather than just hiding them under the relevant degree in an "Education" section, or burying them in an "Honors and Awards" section on the fourth page of your vita?
  • Don't include your grade-point average or GRE scores on your CV. It's fine to include them on a résumé if you are applying for a consulting position but not on a CV for an academic job.
  • Do print out your CV and take a very close look at it before you send it to anyone. Double check your page breaks. Make sure you don't have any weird indentations. Do you use boldface type or italics appropriately and consistently? Is the format visually appealing? Figure out whether your format will remain the same if you're sending the document via e-mail.
  • Do consider your readers. They will be scanning many CV's. They don't have time to search for relevant information, so don't bury it. While a CV has no prescribed page length, it is still in a candidate's best interest to write clearly and succinctly, highlighting your most outstanding accomplishments and qualifications.
  • If you've taught a lot of courses, don't simply list them all. Find a better way to categorize them, such as using subheadings to organize the information.
  • Don't list everything you've ever done on your CV. While it's a big mistake to omit pertinent information that would be interesting to a hiring committee, too much irrelevant information won't serve you well. Those temporary jobs you held in retail management do not interest a faculty search committee.
  • Do make sure to include your last name and the page number on every page of the document -- except the first. Otherwise, if one or more of your pages comes loose, no one will know to whose CV it belongs.

We appreciate that so many people submitted their CV's for public online critiques. It was not easy to select only five to review. We have removed the names, contact information, and other identifying details from the five that we received permission to use. We provide a brief introduction to each CV and offer suggestions for improving it in footnotes. We chose CV's from the following academics:

If, after reading our suggestions on those CV's, you still need help, you can find plenty of additional advice in our previous columns. In 2003, we evaluated the CV's of academics in the humanities, the arts, and the health professions as well as for a department chairman looking to move up and a Ph.D. with a prior professional career. You can also check out the CV reviews we did in 2002, 2001, 2000, and 1999.

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Julie Miller Vick is associate director of career services at the University of Pennsylvania. Jennifer S. Furlong, who earned her Ph.D. in romance languages from Penn in 2003, is a graduate career counselor at the university. Vick is one of the authors of "The Academic Job Search Handbook" (University of Pennsylvania Press), along with Mary Morris Heiberger, who was associate director of career services at Penn.