How to optimize your CV (with some help from EndNote)

A curriculum vitae (CV) plays a crucial role in your academic career, but creating one can be an intimidating – and even confusing – endeavor. Knowing what to include, and what order to put it in, is very personal. All too often, students and job candidates find themselves following templates which neither highlight their strengths nor speak to the requirements of the job or university they’re applying for.

Unlike a resume, which is rarely over two pages, a CV can be very long. Seven pages would be normal for a PhD student. In the CV, you’ll outline your education, awards, publications, conferences, teaching and other academic accomplishments. Simply having the right content, however, is not enough to create an effective CV.

“The goal is to create documents that are what I call ‘glanceable,’” says Andrew Green, associate director of the UC Berkeley Career Center. “By which I mean, if I pick up your CV while I’m on the phone and don’t have my glasses on, would I still see what’s most important about you in terms of my assessment of you as a candidate?”

This means listing your accomplishments in order of significance, starting with what’s most important. In comparison to a resume that has any, and all information about yourself listed on one page, the first page of your CV is what will convince the hiring committee to read the second page, so the most important information has to be there. In most cases, you’ll start with your educational background, and next will depend on the university and job description.

Think like a committee

To decide what goes where, it’s important to understand what the search committee is looking for. Both the type of institution and the subfield of the job posting will help determine that information. Large research institutions are looking for publications, conferences and other research history. Smaller colleges are looking for people who care about teaching, service learning and student-based activities.

This means that, almost regardless of the job description, you should put your teaching experience first when applying to a teaching-oriented college. When applying to a research-oriented college, you should highlight what makes you the best fit for the job.

“What they’re looking to see is someone who is ready to be their colleague,” says Green.

Most academic jobs are listed by subfield – i.e., 20th Century American Literature – so it’s important to prioritize the information that shows your experience in that subfield. Most jobs aren’t posted on a departmental basis, so you’re really highlighting the subfield specifically. If you studied literature, don’t highlight your experience with Chaucer – even if it’s a bigger part of your background – for an American Literature position.

The more noteworthy your accomplishments, too, the higher they should be prioritized. Will the hiring committee want to learn more about you after reading a given piece of your history? If the answer is yes, it should be on page one or two.

Because different institutions want different information, you’ll need at least two versions of your CV, probably more – which is where EndNote can be extremely useful. CVs almost necessarily have long lists of citations – be they publications, conferences, awards or something else – and EndNote can help maintain these lists of citations, even as you reorder and reformat them to suit the needs of different positions and universities.

The CV you submit for each application should highlight what makes you a good candidate in the first couple of pages. The approach of following a template, or creating a holistic image of yourself, is not effective. Of course, you don’t need to exaggerate your accomplishments, either.

“Our goal is simple clarity,” says Green. “Help them understand who you are and what you have to offer, and have confidence that good things will follow from that.”

 

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