Tips for Becoming CV Savvy

You’ve been putting off working on your curriculum vitae for too long – now you’re ready to make inquiries about jobs and it’s time for the rubber to meet the road. You need to get your CV up to speed. But if you’re like most people, you’re a little uneasy about tooting your own horn. You’d rather let your work speak for itself. For you, those sections of the CV that call for “bragging” may be the hardest to write.

Make your CV standout by following these suggestions:

Standard sections to include:

  • Identifying/contact information (your name, address, phone numbers, email addresses)
  • Academic preparation (conferral dates and degree titles of all degrees, including anticipated conferral date if you haven’t yet received a degree and the institutions that awarded them).
  • Professional experience, including teaching and/or research, and any assistantships you received. List experience in reverse chronological order (unless the disciplinary norm is to list it in chronological order).
  • Publications, presentations, and papers. List everything you've published (either as sole author or as co-author with a faculty mentor) and those papers you have submitted for consideration. If you're in a fine and performing arts field, you also should include performances, exhibitions, and compositions.
  • Grants and awards. List any grants you've been awarded, worked on, or revised. Honors and awards deserve a place in your CV. Did you get through your undergraduate program on a merit-based scholarship? Did you win a prize for your writing or come out on top in an undergraduate or graduate engineering competition? Did your name ever appear on the Dean’s list? Did you earn a fellowship to finance your graduate study?
  • Professional memberships. As a graduate student, not only can you join professional associations for a remarkably low fee, you should. Even if you can’t attend the annual conferences, you can make a name for yourself by publishing in the association’s journal, serving on committees or contributing to online discussions for members.

Optional sections you might include:

  • Leadership experience. Do you belong to the University’s or department’s graduate student association? Do you participate in student government? And if you’re a member of such a group, what committees do you serve on or what offices have you held? Have you served on departmental committees or other university-wide committees?
  • Specific skills developed. Students in some fields (the sciences, for example) may have developed lab techniques and use of specialized equipment, computer programs and languages, technology and other technical skills. If it comes down to a matter of two candidates, the one who's indicated she knows how to use the Project STAR Spectrophotometer will get the nod over the one who hasn't listed any specific, relevant skills.
  • Language proficiencies or international work experience. If you've lived and worked elsewhere in the world, you can build your marketability, especially with academic institutions that encourage study abroad or that attract a large international student body. The same holds true for private sector businesses that have or aspire to have a global presence. List this information at the end of a CV – unless the international travel relates to a Fulbright or study abroad. (However, if you traveled to Spain on vacation, it’s not relevant.)

 Don’t Include:

  • Any irrelevant information. Don’t mention your age, ethnic identity, sexual orientation, marital status, political affiliation or religious preference.
  • Your hobbies, place of birth, or the state of your general health.
  • Photographs.
  • Note: There are possible exceptions to these exclusions. For instance, if you're applying to a private church-sponsored institution, then your religious preference may be relevant. Even in such a situation, however, it's probably better to omit the information and wait to be asked about it in a personal interview.

Before You Send It

Once you’ve gathered all the content for your CV, it’s an excellent idea to seek feedback from an advisor about disciplinary expectations that determine how a CV is structured and formatted and what information is most relevant to the position you’re seeking. Also, be sure you tailor your CV to the mission of the institution or department to which you are applying. For instance, if you're applying for a job at a primarily undergraduate institution, teaching experience is going to be more important than research experience; listing specific research skills may not be necessary. Once your CV is nearing final draft form, you may wish to sign up for a Job Search Document Consultation with the Office of Graduate Studies.

Demonstrating your performance, accomplishments, and capabilities isn't a one-time event. It should be a life-long activity. If you add your achievements to your CV as they happen, you’ll build a professional and dynamic picture of your capabilities, and gain the recognition you deserve.