The CV Doctor Returns

September 26, 2003

In academe, autumn means two things for job seekers: The hiring season is under way and it's time to get your CV in order.

For the fifth year in a row, we asked job candidates to submit their vitae for an online critique. This year, we asked for CV's in five specific categories that we felt we had neglected in the past. We received dozens of vitae but were able to evaluate only five.

Choosing from this focused group of candidates was extremely difficult, because they represented so many fascinating backgrounds and individuals. Some of the CV's seemed so practically perfect that we wouldn't have had much to suggest.

What particularly struck us this year was how many individuals have successfully made career changes, moving between fields traditionally thought of as distinct. Not only have people changed fields, but they have combined, and recombined, life and scholarly interests to undertake exciting new areas of research.

Certainly there are some standard elements that belong on any CV. But this batch of vitae, taken as a whole, demonstrates why you should never use a prescribed template for your CV, but rather, should organize your vita according to categories that are relevant to your specific qualifications and the interests of your potential employers.

If our varied critiques offer any common advice, it's that material be reformatted, reorganized, and sometimes condensed so that it practically leaps off the page at harried screeners.

We are grateful to the five candidates who gave us permission to use their CVs. Their names, contact information, and other identifying details have been removed. We provide a brief introduction to each CV and offer suggestions for improving it in footnotes. We chose CVs from the following academics:

  • An A.B.D. in the humanities.

  • A department chairman seeking promotion.

  • An M.F.A.

  • A Ph.D. with a prior professional career.

  • A Ph.D. in the health professions.

If, after reading our suggestions, you still need help, you can find plenty of additional advice. Last year, we reviewed the CV's of three recent Ph.D.'s, a dean, and a community-college instructor. In 2001, we evaluated three faculty CV's and reworked each vita into a résumé for an administrative or a nonacademic job. In 2000, we reworked the CV's of Ph.D.'s at different stages of their careers. And in 1999, we evaluated five CV's in disciplines as varied as art and biology.

Mary Morris Heiberger and Julia Miller Vick are the authors of The Academic Job Search Handbook (University of Pennsylvania Press). They have provided career services for thousands of graduate and professional students since 1985. Ms. Heiberger is associate director and Ms. Vick is graduate career counselor at the Career Services office of the University of Pennsylvania.

You can order their book directly from the University of Pennsylvania Press or from either of the on-line booksellers below.  Barnes & Noble