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As always, the following are my opinions, and mostly apply to academia.

The big secret seems to be what employers are looking for. Faculty doing the hiring are looking for evidence of productivity and innovation first. Secondarily, they want to see continuous development. This must be shown simply and clearly, so the reader doesn’t have to hunt for information. Lastly, faculty want to see neatness. That’s it.

Productivity

This is the measure of success, and so it is the chief predictor of future success. The most important products are publications and grants for scientists. Publications not only demonstrate that the scientific work you have done can pass the test of peer-review, they demonstrate that you have writing ability. Traditionally, the publication section has been put last, but I argue this is backwards.

Innovation

This is harder to pin down, and means different things in different disciplines. But generally, faculty want to see that you are doing interesting work. Traditionally, this has to be gleaned from your publication titles, grant titles, and the like because there isn’t a section labeled “Gee, look at the innovative work I do.” Can you communicate this explicitly? In fact you can, by adding a section not traditionally found in CV’s. By adding a Profile and Research Interests statement, a concept borrowed from Federal Resumes, you can speak directly to the reader and highlight your innovative work and experience.

Continuous development

The temporal pattern of your professional development is important. Faculty want to see that your accomplishments grow over time. Thus most sections in your CV must be organized in reverse chronological order, so the reader knows what your most recent accomplishments are. Dates, i.e. years, are important here to, but that doesn’t mean listing the date first all the time. Listing years first can be distracting an unattractive in many cases, so you’ll see that I advise moving the dates to later in the listing.

That said, continuous development is not an absolute. Employers don’t want to see large gaps in a person’s professional record, but what constitutes a gap? Because the job market can be brutal, lets be honest, it may be some time before you land that dream job.

Simplicity

How much detail is too much? The answer to that question depends on the job you are applying for. Teaching positions require more information about the classes you’ve taught. A relatively new document however, the Teaching Portfolio, is taking the primary role in demonstrating your teaching experience. Do you need to highlight your skills? For most academic jobs in your field, you won’t need to list your skills because the readers, who are your colleagues, already know what it takes to get a particular job done.

Clarity

This is the issue of basic editing as well as formatting, which is definitely a secondary concern. Grammar on a CV is special case, as the use of sentence fragments is necessary to avoid over using “I”. As for formatting, what matters is the ease of locating information. This means prominent section headings, and specific section content. You’ll see that when it comes to sections, I’m a “splitter”, not a “lumper”. It is possible to over-split, however.

More difficult to pin down is what “fluff” or “padding” really is. Padding can come in three forms: totally inappropriate listings, outdated listings for your career level, and too much detail in other listings. Your high school, for example, is not appropriate for your CV (as opposed to Federal Resumes where your high school is required even if you have a Ph. D). Those early in their career will have elements in their CV not present in more senior CV’s.

Neatness

Have your documents proof-read by someone else. Do not simply rely on spell-checks. Spelling errors will not do. They stand out like sore thumbs, and reflect badly on you. Errors can to creep in that you will not see, but which will be obvious to another human, including inappropriate words spelled correctly.

One thought on “CV Writing advice III: What are they looking for?

  1. Pingback: Curriculum Vitae writing advice | David F. Raikow's River Continua

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