Writing an academic CV

For those of you who haven’t managed to get to one of the Academic CV sessions that we’ve run this year, I thought I’d try to summarise our top tips for writing an effective academic CV. Academic CVs are different to non-academic CVs, so it is important you don’t assume that the same CV can serve both purposes. A while ago I posted about non-academic CVs (see https://researchstafftraining.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/non-academic-cvs/) so I won’t go into the differences here again, but rather just try to emphasise how you can use your CV to really sell yourself when it comes to applying for that academic post.

1. Always tailor your CV to the particular post that you’re applying to. It’s fine to have a general CV on file so that you can keep a record of your conference presentations and publications, but you will need to alter it for each job that you apply for. At the most basic level, if the job is a teaching-focussed one, you will want to highlight your teaching experience and qualifications, whereas if it is a research-focussed post, you’ll want your publications and conference papers to take centre stage. However, you’ll also need to read the job descritption and person specification carefully, as well as visiting the University’s and department’s websites to get a better understanding of what they value and where you might fit in. You can then use your CV to market yourself as a good fit for the post.

2. Think about your strengths and weaknesses and consider how to use your CV to empahsise the former and downplay the latter. For instance, if you don’t have many publications, think about what a publications record conveys to potential employers and try to highlight those things elsewhere in the CV.  If you don’t currently have any articles out, you’ll really need to demonstrate that you have the potential to contribute high-quality publications in the relatively near future. You therefore need to find ways of showing that your research is of the right standard and of real interest to your disciplinary community. You might be able to do this in other areas of the CV – for example, invited papers or lectures show that people in your field know who you are and recognise your expertise. You can also use your CV to demonstrate that, although you may not have any publications out now, you have a publication strategy. Including papers that are ‘forthcoming’, ‘under review’ or currently ‘in progress’ can show that you have a production line of papers planned. Only include papers that you are genuinely working on, and be clear about the progress of any papers which are currently being considered by journals.

3. Remember that your CV is likely to form only one part of your application pack – there will almost inevitably be  a covering letter and/or application form alongside your CV. This means that you don’t have to account for everything on your CV – it should convey the facts in a clear and concise manner. The covering letter or application form offers you the opportunity to make explanations.

4. Think carefully about what to include in your CV.

  • Firstly, the academic staff who form recruitment panels will have limited time to dedicate to the process (this is another part of the job that they are expected to do but which is not formally recognised among their day-to-day duties). They will also probably have a very large number of applications for each job. This is a good reason not to give them reams of irrelevant information to sift through – be very conscious of the information that you offer on the CV and how it is presented. The layout should be clear and easily navigated, and the font size should be easy to read. Be wary about including information that is not directly related to your academic experience – academic recruiters are probably not going to be interested in your membership of the WI or passion for tabletennis UNLESS it is clear how that experience relates to your suitability for the post you’re applying for.  If you have no experience of leadership within academia, but have been chair of the PTA for 4 years, that probably is relevant, but the fact that you spend your weekends riding rollercoasters probably isn’t.
  • There is some information that you don’t HAVE to include on your CV, but which you can, if you choose to. For example, you don’t need to have your date of birth on there, so it’s really up to you whether you want to include it. Think about whether it is to your advantage to include this type of information – after all, your CV is a marketing tool to help you to sell yourself. If you are a bit of an academic star and have several publications under your belt at a fairly young age, it might impress the selection panel. However, if that isn’t the case, you might want to keep your age to yourself.
  • Unlike non-academic CVs, academic CVs do not have to be kept to 2 sides. Unless the advert states that you have to restrict the length of the CV, you can make it as long as necessary (if you do have to restrict the length, don’t be tempted to reduce the font size until it’s unreadble). However, as you accumulate conference papers, you might want to be more selective about what you include on the CV. You can use a heading like ‘relevant papers’ or ‘recent papers’ which allows you to tell recruiters about the most important things you’ve done and simultaneously lets them know that you have given other papers too. Again, it is up to you whether you do this or not – if you have lots of publications it might be worth just mentioning the more recent conference papers that you’ve given or courses that you’ve taught in order to keep the CV down to a manageable length but if not, you might want to show that you’re strong in one of these other areas.

5. Think carefully about how you present the information.

  • There are no hard and fast rules about things like the titles of different sections so you can play around with them, organising the information in different ways to emphasise different aspects of your experience and strengths. For instance, if you have taken part in Researchers in Residence, you could include that under ‘Knowledge Exchange’/’Public Engagement’, or you could put it under ‘Teaching Experience’ depending on what aspect of the experience you want to draw attention to. Try to have a look at other people’s CVs to see what headings they use and how they arrange the information. You might see things you’ve missed out or find a better way to organise your CV.
  • Think also about how your presentation of information might look to a potential employer. Are there gaps in your employment history? If so, is there a better way of arranging the information to account for the gap, or do you need to explain it somewhere else in your application? Obviously it is imperative that you do not lie, but you should also remember that the CV is a marketing tool and you should present yourself and your experience in the best light possible.  A good example might be the dates of your PhD – say you started in September 2000 and submitted in September 2004 but your external examiner fell seriously ill and you weren’t give a viva until March 2005. Maybe you then couldn’t make the summer graduation and so waited until January 2006. Just putting the beginning and graduation dates (ie 2000-2006) on your CV could make it seem, through no fault of your own, that you took 6 years to get the PhD when in fact you had completed it in a reasonable 4 years. In this circumstance it may be worth including dates of submission and graduation when you mention your PhD to illustrate that the hold-up was not between your start date and submission date, but between your submission date and eventual graduation.

6. There are some similarities with non-academic CVs. Firstly, you should avoid any fancy fonts or unusual colours. In many ways, academia is fairly conservative, and clear, clean, easy-to-read CVs are safest. The way to make your CV standout is to make it look as professional as possible, not to get creative with clip art. You should also avoid too much use of bold, underlining or italics – if you use these for headings, be consistent. You should not include a photograph on the CV – it is not usual to do this – and you don’t need to have ‘CV’ or ‘Curriculum Vitae’ at the top.

7. Finally, get some feedback on your CV. A friend or family member may be suitable for proof-reading the CV and commenting on the layout, but you should also ask an academic member of staff or a professional careers advisor to take a look. You can book an appoinment with the Careers Consultant for Research Staff by going to: http://www.careers.manchester.ac.uk/staff/research-staff


One thought on “Writing an academic CV

  1. A great article with some interesting tips.
    Always send a covering letter with your academic CV, recent research we recently undertook, proved that many employers will not even read a CV that is sent without a covering letter.
    The Personal Profile on your CV is often the first paragraph the employer looks for and reads, as the article above says you need to sell your strengths that are needed for the job you are applying for, turning your general CV into a targeted CV. Don’t undersell yourself here, you need to be positive while keeping the personal profile short and direct.


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