Post Academic

The Post Academic CV series: Finishing touches

Posted in Process Stories,The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on June 3, 2010
Tags: , ,

So while Caroline has been helping you get in the right mindset to compose a resume, I’ve been running on a parallel track, offering some tips on finetuning your CV.  I’m not sure I’m really an expert on the matter beyond having some hands-on experience with my own CV, but I have seen a lot of CVs and figured bringing together all that I’ve learned about ’em might be helpful for folks trying to seek out some starting points on putting one together.

Now that our hypothetical CV has incorporated all the basic elements and has been given a little dork bling to help it stand out, here are some final tips to help you maximize the utility of the CV you’ve come up with.  A lot of what I discuss today has to do with editing, although, if you followed the earlier steps, you hopefully already have a clean, crisp CV to work with.

"Shoulder Pads" by TimmyTruck (Creative Commons license)

To Pad or Not to Pad: I’ve mentioned this before, and the decision you make on what and how much to put on your CV depends a lot on what you have to work with.  If you’re, say, a younger grad student and you just haven’t had the experience and time to accrue many achievements, go for broke and include whatever you have.  Think of the CV as a learning experience that’s end in itself, rather than means to something else.

If you’re not, I’d suggest erring on the side of concision and discretion–but that might be because I didn’t have a lot of things to pad with and I’m of a mind that winning some undergrad award doesn’t really matter in the larger scheme of things.  To put it another way, if you’ve made it to a grad program and are ABD, your CV audience can take it for granted that you’re reasonably smart, so that best-paper-written-by-a-sophomore award is probably overkill.  Here’s another blunter way to put it: If you don’t have the goods after just starting the first chapter of your diss to be a competitive candidate for a tenure-track position against someone who’s almost done and has publications, there’s no amount of embellishing your CV that’s going to give you a realistic shot at things–unless there are somehow more jobs than people who work in that field or you don’t mind flat-out lying!

More “padding” below the fold…

If you need more concrete parameters about what makes the cut and what doesn’t, ask yourself if you can explain everything you include on your CV in case you are asked about it.  Here’s an example from my own experiences: One time, I was asked about a legitimate, fancy sounding award I won as a graduate student called the “Most Promising Future Faculty Member in the Humanities” at a convention interview, and totally flubbed it.  (What I couldn’t say was that I think I won it because it was the first time it was offered and that I probably won by default!)  I couldn’t describe the thing, although, at that point of that particular interview, it probably didn’t matter that I was tongue-tied.  I guess the point of this anecdote–beyond learning that I’m not shameless enough!–is that you should always be ready to talk about anything.  If you can’t or don’t want to talk about a line on your CV, leave it off.

The other thing about filler is simply that it probably doesn’t help that much, unless it’s what you need to get over your writer’s block.  Think about it this way: Either a reader in the rush will totally skip over the last, less consequential entries or a nitpicking nellie with a strong BS sensor–every search committee has probably got one–might become subliminally skeptical about you and your other real accomplishments.  So if you’ve got a lot of legit conference papers on your CV, maybe you don’t need to list lectures you give to the class you’re TA’ing for as an “invited talk”; instead just list them under the description of classes you taught in your “Teaching Experience” section, since, you know, that’s what it really is.  Again, the best rule of thumb should be that, if you feel squeamish about something, just forget about it.

Cut-Paste-Aim-Fire: Once you have a complete document to work with, it’s a lot easier to tailor things to fit the actual job you are applying for.  The academic job application process can turn into an assembly line process, especially if you’re applying to, like, 50+ jobs.  But keep in mind that not all jobs are the same, and that finetuning things might help you–and not doing so might reflect a carelessness that won’t.  Move things around depending on what you are targeting: Put your lit experience first for a lit job, or your interdisciplinary background at the top for an interdisciplinary position, or your extensive comp experience for a writing and pedagogy opening.  All it takes is a little cutting-and-pasting to make it look like you care–which is good, because you probably do!

Stay Organized: Once you’ve finished everything on your computer, you’re in the clear, right?  Well, just be sure that you can access and send out everything the way you want to, and that the CV file doesn’t go straight to the digital clutter heap.  You’ll inevitably have various versions of your CV, which you’ll be revising as more and more accomplishments pile up.  So just be sure to clearly indicate in your file name all the specifics you need, describing versions by type (i.e., which discipline and skills it highlights) and date.  And especially with more and more job applications going online, it’s not a bad idea to include the specific job title in your file name, to help keep things straight.  I don’t know how many times I’ve been worried that I mixed up my envelopes mailing out applications or attached the wrong PDF file to an email.  It might be more work to keep things organized on the front end, but it’s well worth it to know the right document was sent to the right place.  You’ll have enough to worry about and obsessively fixate over.

Good luck!

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