This advice is for American academic CV’s, not European “CV’s”, or American resumes. That said, the following guidelines should apply to everyone in every field. By “Section” I mean top-level divisions with top-level headings like Education or Work experience. By “Listing” I mean an individual item or piece of information with a section.


Think Qualifications, Products and Activities.

Qualifications include your education, training, and experience. It’s the first thing selection committees want to know so it should be first. This includes a short profile and research and/or teaching statement, your education, training, research experience, teaching experience, and work history. What actually goes on the first page will depend on the what you want to emphasize in relation to the job ad. Products include publications and grants for scientists and academics. Activities demonstrate you participation in the scientific community, your organization, and the community at large.


Present the most important information first in a listing.

By stating the most important facts first, information is easier to find. This goes toward preventing the reader from having to hunt for information. That means your degrees in the education section, etc. Many people list the year first. While listing the year is important, I find it distracting when I want to know what degrees you have, what classes you’ve taught, etc.


Use reverse chronological order for historical development.

The chronology of your professional development is very important. Selectors what to see development over time. The way to convey this is to list everything within a section in reverse chronological order (newest first, oldest last). Without reverse chronological order, it can be very difficult to gauge your professional development.


Eliminate redundancy.

Redundancy is a form of padding. Redundancy can creep in when you have multiple listings describing the same activity, like research. If you have a publication, several presentations, and research experience descriptions all of the same project,  you are restating the same work three times. Strive for efficiency without sacrificing relevant information. In this example, you could keep the publication, summarize your presentations by excluding titles, and drop the research experience description. Such a strategy goes toward building a CV to match your level of professional experience.


Format your document to make it easy to find information.

Formats are a matter of taste. Even so, you should format to make it easy to find information. Its easy to over format by using multiple fonts, too many indentations, or mixing styles. Simple and consistent formatting enhances your document by making it look neat and professional.


Summarize sections once they get too big.

As your experience grows, so too do certain sections in your CV. Also as you progress, some information no longer becomes relevant for your level of experience. It is usually possible to summarize sections, but this will change the type of information presented. For a example, a list of presentations complete with titles and authors can be become a very long for a senior graduate student or postdoc. At this point, presentations could be summarized by naming the meetings you attended followed by the years you’ve presented material. That way you both save space and quickly convey both the diversity of meetings you’ve attended and how times you’ve presented material. The emphasis changes from the content of the presentations to your experience doing presentations. Note: I wrote this several years ago, and since then I’ve gone back and forth on how to present presentations. I currently use a list of presentations with the full citation, as I do for publications.

Subcategorize when possible.
Break up long lists into sub-categories in order to make them easier to read. You can also highlight certain details of your experience by your choice of sub-headings.


Tailoring your CV to your career stage.

Undergraduates seeking admission to graduate school, graduates seeking permanent positions, and Assistant Professors seeking tenure all have different roles for their CV’s to fill. Information that helps a potential advisor choose his next graduate student will be outdated at later stages. In general, this means beginning with details about your work experience in order to make up for a lack of products like publications, moving through transitions where you have both, and finally only presenting the products. Throughout the book you will find advice on what amount of detail is appropriate for your professional level within discussions of specific CV sections.


Adapt your CV to specific job ads.

Do not regard your CV or any of your application materials as static.  Use your CV to back up statements you make elsewhere in your job application materials like the cover letter. In this way to can both present a coherent job application package and demonstrate your interest in the position. “Cookie-cutter” and completely inapporpriate CV’s get submitted in job applications all the time, so give your self an edge over the competition and tailor you CV to the ad.


The common question of how to focus a CV for a teaching position is addressed in the teaching experience section.


Some general ways you can tailor your CV to a job announcement include:

  • Tailoring the Profile statement to the annoucement
  • Organizing information in sections and subsections that match the announcement.
  • Reordering sections to emphasize selected experience.
  • Changing the level of detail with selected sections.

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