04 October 2013

CVs versus résumés

There’s a lot of variation in people’s understanding about how to convey information about your past work experiences in academia.

First, there is a big difference between a CV and a résumé (in North America; the terms means slightly different things in other countries, I’m led to believe). A CV is a comprehensive document of your academic achievements. This means there is no length limit. In contrast, a résumé does have a length limit; usually two pages.

Anyone who tells you to limit your CV to two pages is not talking about an academic CV. They’re talking about creating a résumé.

Different organizations have different expectations. As noted above, there is variation in the terminology in different locations, and not everyone draws a clean distinction between the two. That means it is important to read instructions for particular positions, particularly if you are looking at different cultures, whether they be institutional (going from academic to industrial) or national (North America versus Europe).

But I have yet to hear of any academic institution that wants two-page résumés. Particularly for tenure-track jobs, post-doctoral positions, and the like, I am willing to bet that a two-page résumé would doom an application. For many people seeking entry-level positions, educational background, publications and presentations alone would take up more than two pages. And that would give you no place to talk about your teaching and service.

Because CVs are long, this means that the onus is on you to make it well-organized and typeset correctly. Make sure you put important things (like papers) early, use clear headings for each section, leave wide margins, number the pages, use a proportional typeface, and so on.

While I’m here, let me address another suggestion I’ve seen: “Add a line to your CV every [unit of time].” The problem with this advice is that it treats all “lines” in your CV as equal. They are not. Publications matter most. Adding papers to your CV will help more than almost anything else. Treating a paper as “a line in a CV” on par with a presentation or serving on a committee is short-sighted. Figure out what lines on your CV matter the most, and put an appropriate amount of effort into them.

Because while CVs are long and comprehensive, they aren’t evaluated just by putting them on a scale and seeing whose is heaviest.

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