Things NOT to do on your CV
Note: This article was first written in Chinese on December 9, 2022 and translated into English in 2023.
A while ago, I saw a conversation between alumni and a faculty member from the Ohio State University on Twitter about creating CV (Curriculum Vitae, resume in academia). Their conversation, coupled with my observations of academic hiring processes and my experience in helping students revise their CVs, made me realize that the "common CV mistakes to avoid" were not knowledge everyone knew. So today, I'd like to share some insights.
Before sharing, I need to clarify that my summary of the "common CV mistakes to avoid" is based on my own understanding from my experience. I cannot guarantee the universality of these suggestions. Moreover, my advice may be more applicable to the culture of North American academia, and I have limited knowledge of its applicability to Europe, Asia, or other regions. Readers with experience outside North American academia are welcome to share your thoughts.
So, how important is CV?
Jobs, grants, awards, and many other opportunities in academia often require submitting a CV as the first piece of material.
I attended a workshop on "academic job market" in graduate school. The professor leading this workshop said that among all the materials submitted for job applications, CV might be the only (or one of the only two materials, with cover letter also being important) material that would be reviewed by almost every colleague in the hiring department. In addition, screening CVs is often the first step in academic hiring. If a CV is deemed "passable," the hiring committee may continue to review other materials.
Moreover, academics' professional trajectories are often made public. When we search for scholars online, their websites usually include their CVs. It can be said that CV is the main venue for people to understand a scholar’s past experiences and recent updates in academia.
In graduate school, I was advised to find some scholars whom I admired and see how they designed their CVs. Clear layout, well-organized content, and no typos are basic requirements, so I won't elaborate on that here.
A CV includes some basic sections, such as education, employment, publications, grants, awards, invited talks, conference presentations, teaching, and service. Generally, education and work experience are essential background information and are listed first. Then, among other content, publications are a crucial part of academia (especially in research-intensive universities). As a result, people often list their peer-reviewed publications immediately after the "employment" section. However, some people may highlight their most impressive achievements on the first page. For example, the ability to secure external grants is highly valued in academia. Thus, if someone has received numerous large grants, they may choose to list grants before publications. Similarly, if someone has won many prestigious awards, listing awards earlier in the CV can leave a strong impression.
In short, when arranging CV content, consider conventions and also think about the most valued skills and achievements for the opportunity you're seeking. What are your core competencies among all the selection criteria? Once you think through this question, you can organize your CV accordingly.
In today's article, I just want to offer one major piece of advice for creating a CV: Don't inflate your CV! This advice can be expanded upon in several ways.
1. For academic publications at different stages, it is essential to distinguish them clearly, preferably using separate sections.
This suggestion is actually the same as the one in the screenshot above: Don't list your manuscripts under review with your publications on your CV.
Generally, academic publications have several main stages:
Generally, item (a) will be a separate section as it is confirmed and one of the most crucial parts of a CV. Whether to include (b), (c), and (d) on your CV depends on the individual, career stage, or the reason for submitting the CV. Typically, when being on the job market, people list (b), (c), and (d) as we want to signal to future employers, "I have set up my publishing pipeline!" If you decide to list (b), (c), and (d), be sure to separate them from (a); otherwise, it may seem unprofessional or even an attempt to inflate your CV.
For item (d), some may wonder if listing more is better. That's not necessarily the case. I remember someone telling me not to list too many works in progress. Especially if you don't have many publications but list a lot of work in progress, people might question, "Does this person lack the ability to carry a project from beginning to end and produce published papers?" After all, what ultimately matters is not how many ongoing projects we have but how many papers we have successfully published. When we list work in progress, we could briefly describe the completion level (e.g., draft available upon request) to give people a more concrete impression of the project's potential.
Also, don't exaggerate the amount of work in progress. If you're not actively progressing a project or it has been stagnant for a long time, there seems no need to list it. I've heard of people emailing their co-authors (first author) to ask if they plan to continue the project and if so, what the next steps are; if not, they plan to remove the project from their CV's work in progress section.
2. For different types of academic publications, it is essential to distinguish them clearly, preferably using separate sections.
Whether we like it or not, different academic publications carry different weights. For example, peer-reviewed books and journal articles are generally well-recognized achievements in academia and carry the most weight when we are looking for a job or going up for tenure/promotion. Book chapters or book reviews have relatively less weight. Non-peer-reviewed publications or non-academic publications, such as writing short articles for magazines or newspapers (like the one I'm writing now, lol), are considered public engagement and are only supplementary outputs. When creating a CV, be sure to separate these non-academic publications from the "weighty" conventional academic achievements. If we list these items together, others may find us unprofessional, or worse, think we are deliberately inflating our CV.
I've heard a story about a PhD candidate at a prestigious university. At first glance of the CV, that person seemed very productive, with many single-authored articles as an ABD (All But Dissertation) student. Upon closer examination, only one article was peer-reviewed, while the others were non-academic short pieces written for organizations or media. A friend lamented, "I can't understand why that person did this. Didn't anyone in their department or their advisor review their CV or point out this issue to that person?"
People generally skim through CVs quickly, so when creating our CV, we should put ourselves in the readers' shoes and think about how to present our past achievements and future plans in the clearest and least misleading way possible. When preparing our CV, we should consider whether others can easily find the information they need. Since one of the main functions of a CV is to showcase our academic publications, this section should be listed separately instead of being mixed with unpublished or non-academic works.
3. Avoid mentioning the same information in multiple places in your CV.
I can’t remember where I saw this piece of advice. As for this suggestion, I'm still exploring: When would it be seen as a negative signal? When is it appropriate to not only place important information in the corresponding section but also directly link it with other content? For example, if someone's book or paper has won a prestigious award, they might list this information directly below the book or paper, but they will also include the award again in a separate Honors and Awards section. Most people don't seem to find this practice problematic.
However, I think the reasoning behind this suggestion is similar to what I shared earlier: If the same information occupies multiple lines in different places in a CV, it can easily give the impression of inflating one's achievements.
Lastly, I want to share a positive insight. Many of my friends, when facing bottlenecks or feeling they have not made progress, update their CVs and then realize they have accomplished so much without even recognizing it! I hope everyone has an impressive CV, and behind it is a joyful journey of learning and working.
Here is the link to the original article in Chinese: "这些学术简历大忌，你中了吗？"
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Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of British Columbia