The CV Doctor Is Back

Brian Taylor

December 16, 2009

The first CV Doctor column was published 10 years ago in the fall of 1999. Over the years we have tried to look critically at the vitae submitted by readers and point out ways to make the documents more effective. This year, because state budget cuts have made this hiring season even more difficult than usual for Ph.D.'s, we decided to take a different approach to the CV Doctor.

Many of the doctoral students and postdocs we've talked with say they are pursuing dual job searches this year, looking for both academic and nonacademic positions. With that in mind, we decided to help two candidates prepare both strong academic CV's and résumés for nonacademic positions. We evaluated their documents and asked them to make changes. Here are the Before and After versions, with commentary.

CV's and résumés are very different documents. However, a good CV or résumé always has the following:

• It is tailored to the type of job you are applying for. For example, if you are focusing your search on liberal-arts colleges, you would not want your teaching experience to appear on the third page.

• It has consistent formatting, and its wording is clear and concise, with no spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors.

When turning a CV into a résumé, you should should be sensitive to a few things:

• Length: A CV often lists all or most of your academic achievements. A résumé geared to a nonacademic audience will generally not include long lists of honors and awards, or a lengthy education section.

• Language: Résumés are best written using bullet points, active verbs, and language that demonstrates your achievements.

• Numbers: Quantifying your achievements often helps in writing a strong résumé — "Raised $1,000 in funds for student group" or "Developed a procedure that increased lab efficiency by 15 percent."

• Translation: A good résumé will help translate your academic experience to a nonacademic audience. Some people in the "real world" will not understand what it means to be a teaching assistant, a postdoc, or a research assistant. Show them. Rather than write, "taught history," write "taught undergraduate courses on topics ranging from U.S. History to Europe in the 20th Century." And avoid using jargon that is specific to your field.

• Audience: Who is the audience for your nonacademic résumé? The answer to that question should guide you as you describe the work that you've done. You wouldn't want to use highly technical terms to describe your work if your audience is unlikely to understand them.

Both résumés and CV's are documents that constantly evolve. The final versions we show here are the result of a dialogue between us and the two readers. They listened to our advice and suggestions, incorporated them into their revised documents, and made the final decisions as to what they felt highlighted their qualifications most effectively. We hope that readers find these documents, and our comments, helpful in preparing their own materials.

Julie Miller Vick is senior associate director of career services at the University of Pennsylvania, and Jennifer S. Furlong is associate director of graduate-student career development at Columbia University's Center for Career Education. They are authors of "The Academic Job Search Handbook" (University of Pennsylvania Press). If you have questions for the Career Talk columnists, send them to