Making Your CV Work for You

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Some academics look at their CV once a year, at annual report time, and add their recent activities and accomplishments to the document, creating new lines on their document and give it no further thought. Others, especially those on the job market, regularly fine-tune and alter their CV so that it fits each new job application.

Whichever scenario best represents you, it might be time to take a look at it and see if your CV is the most effective document it can be for its intended purpose. And for the purposes of this advice, I’m only going to talk about the chronological or functional CV with which most of us are familiar. The Canadian Common CV, required for Tri-Council grants and many university reports, is a template and non-customizable, so out of the scope of this advice.

If you are not required to use a template or follow a specific university-mandated style, are you sure that the style and layout of your CV are the best ones to showcase your work? If you’ve been in the profession a while, take a look and see if your CV highlights your key achievements. If you are just adding lines to your CV each year at report time, does that mean that your CV still lists your education first? While it is standard for new scholars to follow this format, one hopes that after 10, 15, or 20 years in the academy, your PhD is not the most significant thing you have to offer the university. (And, of course, for some junior scholars this is the case as well.) Instead, consider beginning the CV with your work experience, and then highlighting your research and teaching achievements at your current university. Merely choosing another item to foreground can change the feel and impact of the entire document.

Increase the Impact of your CV

In the world of business resume writing, most career specialists recommend having a blurb or list of keywords describing your skills and achievements at the top of the document, right under your personal information. While this is atypical in an academic CV and might be frowned on in job applications for junior positions, a senior scholar can be creative and empowered in how they present themselves. A CV that netted me an interview for an administrative job I ended up not wanting included this at the top:

An accomplished academic with cross-functional expertise in teaching, curriculum design, academic program management, review and development. Comprehensive knowledge of post-secondary education environments to meet the needs and expectations of internal and external partners for the delivery of quality programs and an excellent student experience. Dedicated to excellence with proven strengths in leadership, communications, customer services and team development.

Expectations around scholarly engagement are changing in most academic areas. Has your research or teaching implemented innovative instructional technology? Do you have a blog, twitter feed, or other social media platform that disseminates your research or teaching ideas to a popular audience? Are you involved in collaborative projects that have a larger footprint than your own university?

You can present this type of work by focusing on “reach,” or “innovation,” or “engagement.” Providing statistics about the reach of your work in the digital world can make this more concrete. Another crucial step is to make sure that you have set up a Google Scholar Citations alert or check up on this indicator periodically. While I don’t want to promote the increasing quantification of academic work, numbers occasionally have good stories to tell. Scholar Citations will guide you to reviews of your books as well as citations from books and articles, allowing you to present a fuller picture of who is engaging with your work. Having an ORCID identifier and including it on your CV along with other pertinent personal information also signals that you carefully track the reach of your work.

For those who are on the job market, make sure you customize your CV for each job to which you apply. For research-intensive institutions, foreground your research experience. For teaching-intensive jobs, emphasize your teaching. Beyond that, however, the advice above applies to you, as well.

CV Format

Start off your CV with a header containing all of your personal information: name, address, university address, email, phone, other identifiers. Set this off from the rest of your document in size and make sure that each subsequent page has a header with a page number and your name. This will make anyone who has to read it think kindly of you.

Obviously, this is not the place to experiment with super cool fonts or play games with margins or font sizes. Your CV should be easily readable; aim for size 12 font and enough white space to give the reader’s eyes a bit of a break. Too much white space–resulting from adhering to a style that requires excessive tabs to remain consistent, for example–also results in a clunky document.

Headings or sub-headings that highlight the contents of the CV are important and deserve some critical thought. If you are involved in collaborative teaching or research, does it merit its own section on your CV? Or, do you have a particularly varied teaching or research agenda that would benefit from some tailored presentation in your CV, rather than being lumped together under one heading?

Spend some time with your CV to make sure it is working for you!

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