7 Tips for a Better CV

Your CV can help you get the job
Your CV can help you get the job. Chris Ryan / Caiaaimage / Getty

Your curriculum vitae (CV), your academic's resume, is an essential part of your application graduate school,  postdoctoral fellowships, and jobs. Your CV and accompanying cover letter is the first and sometimes only contact you will have with a potential employer. Your CV will determine whether your application is rejected outright or deemed worthy of further examination. You have one chance to impress your reader - and many employers simply glance at CVs.

Make the most of your shot by attending to these tips for preparing CVs.

1.  Seek Input

Writing a CV is hard.  What do you include? How do you describe your work succinctly? Everyone struggles with writing their first curriculum vitae. One of the most important tips for writing a helpful CV is to not allow yourself to suffer in silence. Approach your professors and ask for advice.  Reviewing your mentor's CV can be intimidating because it is likely a dozen or more pages long, but you can often gain insight about format and content. Seek feedback from your professors and give it very careful consideration because faculty are likely the intended audience for any position to which you might apply. Don't forget to speak with other students. Share your concerns, lament, and review each others' CVs. Be sure to meet with students within your cohort as well as more advanced students.  After reviewing several CVs you should have a better idea of what to include in your own

2.  Be Concise

Remember that anyone who reads your CV will have read it alongside a large stack of CVs. Make yours stand out by staying relevant and including only pertinent details. Fully express your accomplishments and skills but make every word count. Although all entries must be described, do not use more than a few lines for any one entry.

3.  Omit irrelevant personal information

Do not include information about your age, marital status, number of children, ethnicity, political affiliation, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, place of birth, height, weight, hobbies and photos of yourself. These items are irrelevant and invite bias on the part of reviewers. Do not include activities and accomplishments from high school.

4.  Use accurate headings

If you model your CV after your professor's, ensure that your category labels are accurate. Your professor's CV might include a section entitled Honors and Awards, for example, Don't use the same heading, Honors and Awards, unless you have at least one honor and one award to list. In other words, use accurate category headings. If you have received one award, a section simply titled Awards is acceptable.

5.  Use page numbers

What happens when a thick file folder filled with applicant CVs falls off of a desk? Paper goes everywhere! Make sure that the pages in your CV are identifiable. Create a header for your CV that includes your last name (at minimum) and page number, permitting the CV to be reconstructed should the pages be separated.

6.  Attend to Presentation

Make your CV pleasing to the eye.

Use clean subtle formatting with 1 inch margins. Use bold type and bullet points sparingly for emphasis but avoid creating a busy-looking document. Make your curriculum vitae easy to read and it is more likely to be read. Print your curriculum vitae on white paper. Do not use the heavy bond paper that is common for resumes in business settings. Although bonded paper is often used to make business resumes stand out, they are not preferred by most academics and may convey that the writer is unaware of the norms of academia, which, as you might imagine, can turn readers off.

7.  Proofread, Proofread, Proofread

Typos, misspellings, and grammatical mistakes are indefensible. CVs with errors are usually tossed.

Finally, beginning curriculum vitae writers are often flummoxed when they read professors' lengthy CVs.

  A first curriculum vitae might be a single page long. The only rule for CVs is that they must depict your experiences and competencies accurately. The number of pages entailed to accomplish that goal does not matter. Curriculum vitae grow with careers.