If you are a student or a recent graduate applying for an internship or research position in academia, you may find that the process is slightly different from any other job application. That’s how they do things in academia: properly. The whole affair will probably remind you of your college admission ordeal – and might even give you some painful flashbacks and anxiety. “What can I do to impress the search committee? Should I write my essay about my motivation or about my skills? Should I add my YouTube channel under the contact information? Do I have enough relevant publications?”
Stop right there. I want you to take a deep breath and exhale slowly. First of all, give yourself some credit: you are intelligent and capable. Second, you’ve been there. You’ve been rejected – and selected. It wasn’t nearly as terrifying as you had anticipated it to be, was it? Now then, besides essays and personal statements, a CV might be something new to you. Let’s look into it and equip you for a shining application!
What is a CV?
CV is an abbreviation of the Latin expression “curriculum vitae,” which means “course of life.” A Curriculum Vitae is an itemized list of one’s entire education and experience, focusing on the academic side. It includes accomplishments, awards, honors, scholarly publications, research projects, etc. Since a CV is so detailed, there is no length limit. For a student or a recent college graduate, an average CV will take about two pages.
That is where the difference between a resume and a CV is the most pronounced. Although both terms are often used interchangeably, these are two different formats with different purposes. A resume is a short and snappy summary of your relevant experience, while a CV is a detailed description of your entire experience. Also, CV is requested chiefly for jobs in academia, education, and medicine. If you are looking for a research position or a teaching job, you will need to create a CV. If, on the other hand, you search for opportunities in any other industry, they will ask for you for a short and sweet resume. If that’s the case, check out my previous post on how to write a great resume even without job experience.
However, if you are applying for a research scholarship, postgrad program, or your first TA job, read on to learn the basics about crafting an impressive CV. It will take some time, but it’s very straightforward.
How to Write a CV for Academia?
Of course, each field has its own established standards. Moreover, your academic seniority and experience also influence the details you might include or omit. However, for an entry to a mid-level specialist, which you possibly are (looking for CV advice and all), there are some generally applicable recommendations. Here is an approximate structure of a CV and things you might want to put there.
- Contact details
- Personal information
- Educational background
- Professional history
- Teaching experience
- Research experience
- Invited talks
- Language skills
This is the first information that should appear on your CV. The good practice is to include your name, email, address, and phone number. Make sure you use a mailbox with a professional handle in a “firstnamelastname” format. A Ph.D. application from firstname.lastname@example.org doesn’t look very professional, does it?
Additionally, you can link to your LinkedIn profile, Twitter page, or personal website (if it is your professional page or particularly relevant to the application).
This section has a similar function to a resume’s summary, although it is a bit more formal. State here what position you are applying for and why. Provide a brief overview of your key qualifications most relevant for the post.
This part is crucial for an academic CV, so make sure you fill it out carefully. Put your studies in reversed chronological order – starting with the most recently finished degree or the school you currently attend. For example, “Soon-to-be Bachelor in Creative Writing, Columbia University School of the Arts, class of 2023”. For every entry, put the name of the institution, degree earned, and the year of graduation. Also, mention achievements, such as being on the Dean’s list and your GPA. You may also want to highlight courses relevant to the application if the degree itself doesn’t look tangent.
Here you must only list contractual, tenure-track academic appointments. For each entry, include the institution’s name, department, title, employment dates, and duties you performed. If you are only an aspiring professor, just leave this section out and concentrate on the “Teaching experience” section instead.
Here you should list all temporary teaching jobs, such as adjunct professor, teaching assistant, etc. List the institution’s name, department, and course for every position. Additionally, mark if the course was undergraduate or graduate and the dates taught. Note that you don’t have to list every single temp gig you had, only the most relevant for the position you are applying for or the most significant, where you designed and taught courses on your own.
If you have any published research projects, put them here. This section is probably more important than the universities you have earned your degrees in. List your publications in reverse chronological order. If you have a lot to list, you may want to group your projects based on where they were published: peer-reviewed journals, books, web publications, etc. It’s okay to also include articles under review as well. Give the expected publication date and the full citation, if possible. If you don’t have enough details about the future publication yet, mark it as “in press.”
A pro tip: check with the university you are applying to and use the citation format they prefer there.
If you have participated in research projects as a Research Assistant or Associate without making it into publication as a co-author, list them here. Include the name of the institution, your position, and dates. Briefly describe how a particular project was conducted (solely by your department team, as a multi-institutional collaboration, etc.)
Why should this be additionally mentioned after you have already listed your research? Because it makes your research more impressive in the eyes of the committee if it was funded! It means your project was meaningful and worthy of attention and support. Briefly list the name of the grant/fellowship/scholarship, the granting institution, and the dates.
Put any awards worth mentioning in reverse chronological order. List the date, granting institution, and the name of the prize.
Being invited to another campus as a speaker is an outstanding achievement since it shows you are recognized as an expert by your peers. List all the talks providing the name of the inviting institution, department, dates, and the topic you spoke about.
List the forums and discussion panels you have participated in, giving the name of the organizing institution, conference, your topic, and dates. Don’t list conferences where you gave a lecture – put those in the “Invited talks” instead.
Language skills can be useful in various fields of study. Plus, many universities see them as an indicator of academic success and intellectual ability. So if you speak more than one language, mention it on your CV. List each language along with proficiency level: for example, “native,” “intermediate,” or “elementary.”
Although you might include or omit this section at your discretion in the regular job resume, references are mandatory for an academic CV. As a rule, you should provide at least two references: your current or the most recent former employer and a colleague who knows you in an academic setting and can vouch for you as a professional. For a recent graduate, it’s okay to include academic references instead of professional ones.
For everyone on this list, give their name, title, address, phone number, and email. That might seem a bit excessive (no one will actually contact them by snail mail in 2022!), but that’s the established format, and academics are known to be great sticklers for traditions.
A Quick Round of Dos and Don’ts
Now for a quick checklist to make sure you put your best foot forward with this.
- Ask your senior peers or faculty advisors for help. If this is your first CV, it might be helpful to look at several successful examples. Note both the information given and the layout. You will also benefit from a customized sample done by a professional writer. CVs are among the many paper formats you can request from PaperHelp.
- Use clean formatting that helps the reader navigate your CV: neutral colors, readable fonts, bullet points, italics, and bold font (sparingly). It might be tempting to use a designated CV template. However, Jörgen Sundberg, a talent acquisition expert and the CEO of Link Humans, warns against it, as it makes you look just like everyone else when you want to stand out. Instead, he advises searching for CVs of people in your field, noting things you like about them, and starting with a white canvas.
- Tailor your CV for a particular position. You don’t have to do a new version from scratch every time. That would be unsustainable! Still, you might want to rearrange the information and put forward the most relevant projects and publications.
- Definitely create a unique cover letter for every application. Although most cover letters aren’t read by recruiters, they can help show motivation and initiative. For entry-level positions that do not require much experience, soft skills take center stage – and a cover letter is an excellent opportunity to signal those traits.
- Borrow words from the job description. Check if the position you are applying for specifies particular skills and what terms are used to describe them. “It’s not wise to put keywords on your resume if they aren’t actually true to your experience, but do your best to describe any overlapping skills in the exact same language,” advises Jennifer Herrity, a career coach at Indeed.com. This will make it easier for the ATS (an automated Applicant Tracking System) to find your CV and match it with the job requirements.
- Proofread for spelling, grammar, and typographical errors. Use automated tools or request editing from a professional service.
- Include the info dating too far back. Although the CV seemingly should include all your history, better leave out anything from before post-secondary education. The only exception is when you prepare your CV as a high-school student.
- Try to be funny or cute. Your tone should be businesslike here. To display your personality and quirks, your essays and statements of purpose fit better.
- Worry about the length. There are no limits, so padding with great detail or cutting important information out to make your CV shorter is neither helpful nor productive.
- Include your age, ethnicity, religious or political affiliation, marital status, sexual orientation, health information, height, weight, etc. The same goes for your photo. This information is unnecessary and can only put the committee in an uncomfortable position regarding anti-discrimination policies. If this information is expressly requested and relevant (for example, a scholarship is awarded to Black women in STEM or preference is given to an LGBTQ youth), your essay or a cover letter is a place to put this info.
- Use too much professional jargon. Your CV must be clear and comprehensible for anyone, not only your peers in the field. People from the admissions department reviewing your application might not understand all the ultra-technical terms you flaunt – and they are your audience. So concentrate on readability and let your publications, research, and teaching experience speak for themselves.
Congratulations! You’re awesome. Now it’s time to put your CV out there. Apart from making direct applications for advertised jobs, you might want to submit your CV to job sites to make it searchable. Create a full master CV with all the information about your academic and professional background for job sites. Then, trim it down every time for targeted applications, highlighting the most relevant details for each position. This trick will improve your chances and save you a lot of time. Good luck!