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Writing Effective CV's and Resumes

Most grad students need a good resume and a good CV.

This post is part of a series on career advice for graduate students who are considering career options both inside and outside academia. If you are broadening your job search beyond the academic world, it is likely you will need both a Curriculum Vita (CV) for academic-related opportunities and a resume for everything else. Keep in mind as you review this material that I am providing general guidelines which can and should be adapted to fit your situation.

Resumes and CV's are both marketing documents designed to pique the reader's (employer's) interest, persuade the employer to want to learn more about you, and get invited for an interview-- so it's imperative that with both documents you keep your audience in mind, and write in a way which will appeal to them. As a result you will want to target your CV or resume to the position you're seeking, and you will likely have several versions of your documents. Remember-- not all employers are the same, even within a field. You will likely have 3 different CV's, for example, if you're applying to community colleges, liberal arts colleges, and research universities. And if you're seeking administrative positions at these institutions, you will probably use a resume.

The bottom line as you construct both your CV and resume is: Have I made my top three skills/strengths relevant to this position clear? Remember this question while you write your documents, including your cover letter.

Key differences: Length and Audience

The two biggest differences between a resume and a CV are the length of the document and the audience for whom they are intended. A CV for a recent Ph.D. graduate will likely be about 3-5 pages. That same individual's resume will be 1 page; 2 at the most. The audience for the CV is academic in nature: a CV is designed for a scholarly audience and is primarily used for academic positions, research grants, fellowships, etc. (Please note: this article focuses on an American CV; international CV's are different-- read this if you're trying to write a CV for the international market.)

Resumes, in general, are one page in length and designed to create a professional identity geared toward a more general audience in business, nonprofit, government, etc.

How do you know when to use each document? Sometimes it's a judgment call, so start with the job description and/or the position advertisement. Does the employer specifically request a resume or a CV? If the position requires substantial academic training (doctorate) it is more likely to require a CV, even if it's not in an academic setting. On the other hand, lawyers and other professionals who have the equivalent of doctoral-level training generally use resumes. Keep in mind the audience for the document.

As you write either document you'll want to think about how to create the most effective presentation of your skills and talents, as well as what factors in your experience and education demonstrate your ability to fulfill the requirements of the job.

Well-written CV's and resumes both need to be relevant to the employer, be organized in such a manner that the reader can find the desired information quickly and easily, be clear in language and presentation, and show a consistent message and format.

Before we proceed with more details about specific sections of a resume or CV, let's stop to consider what's actually going on in the human resources office or on the search committee. In both cases, the individuals screening candidates are trying to get the stack of resumes/CV's down to a manageable size. They are going to make rapid decisions based on hiring criteria, and their goal generally is to eliminate as many candidates as possible in the first round. This means that any misspelled words or typos, mistakes, irrelevant information, sloppy formatting, are all going to result in elimination.

If you want your resume/CV to stay in the consideration pile, you need to make sure that the information about you that is most relevant to the position you're seeking hits the reader between the eyes. Don't bury important information in the middle of your document. Make it easy for an employer to see what your strengths and talents are and connect them to the desired position.

Both resumes and CV's present information in reverse chronological order: the most recent education and experiences are listed first in their respective sections. Use action verbs to highlight your strengths and accomplishments. Here's a nice guide to active verbs with helpful explanations on creating strong bullet point entries.

Present your information in an organized hierarchical system-- again, with the most relevant information first. Use what is called "gapping language" rather than full sentences in both resumes and CV's. Gapping language refers to the use of sentence fragments which begin with an active verb followed by a noun or a description of sorts. (There is no "I" in a resume or CV.) For instance, instead of writing, "Last summer I participated in a research study of teenagers, collecting and analyzing the data for an article soon to be published" you might write:

Researched adolescent behavior; interviewed subjects, collected and coded data, and analyzed data using XYZ statistical software.

Prepared data for inclusion in forthcoming article in Psychology Today.

Here are some specific sections of a resume/CV to consider:


  • This section is the same whether on a resume or CV.
  • The heading is simply your name, address, email, and phone. Do not include any personal information.


This is usually the first section in a CV and resume for recent graduates because it's what you are selling to the employer.

  • If several years have passed since you received your degrees, or if your education isn't relevant to the position you're seeking, you can move your education section to the end of your resume.
  • Most CV's list formal education first throughout an individual's career.
  • Focus first on the name of the institution, the degree received, the major, and the graduation date on both the resume and the CV. If you haven't received your degree yet, write "Degree expected" and add a date.
  • You can also add Awards or Honors in this section if you don't have enough for a separate section.


  • You will include your dissertation title (and a short explanation if necessary), the name of your advisor and possibly the members of your committee, depending on the tradition within your field of study.
  • If you have received additional training through workshops on teaching methods, seminars, computer training, etc., create a separate section called "Professional Training" and place this section after your Experience, Presentations, and Publications sections. Professional training usually doesn't carry the gravitas of formal education and shouldn't be included in the Education section. (Again, this is subject to interpretation-- if your professional training directly relates to the position you're seeking, you can include it in your education section-- just keep the formal edcuation at the top of the section.)


  • Do not include your advisor or committee.
  • List your dissertation title only if relevant to the job. Otherwise, consider creating a line like, "Completed research focusing on...." and keep the information clear and understandable to the average reader who doesn't know your field.
  • If you have received additional training through seminars, workshops, continuing education, etc., you can place this in your education section as well. Because you are using reverse chronological order and your training might be more recent than your college education, you need to choose whether the college degree is more important/relevant or the additional training you've received. If it's the college education, then simply create a sub-heading called "Professional Training" in your Education section and place your training under that. This will keep your degree at the top of the Education section.



  • Usually the first experience section is either "Teaching" or "Research" depending on the primary duties of the position you are seeking.
  • For teaching experience, include any courses taught by name, not number (for example, "Abnormal Psychology" not "Psychology 245"). Describe your role in the class (TA, lecturer, etc.). If your role has increased in responsibility over the years, highlight that by explaining what you did. Mention any relevant interesting characteristics of your classes. For instance, did you have to accommodate students with disabilities, re-design the syllabus or curriculum to better fit the students' needs, create new learning modules, develop creative techniques for teaching the content, etc.
  • Use a short paragraph/bullet format to explain what you did as well as highlight specific areas. Focus on your relevant strengths and skills. Continue to use gapping language-- do not write in full sentences.
  • Your "Research" section should include any funding you received. Explain the topic of the research, the methodology used, and the results of the study. In a CV you can go into greater detail; in a resume, keep it simple unless it is directly relevant to the position.
  • Focus on academic-related experience in your CV; do not include unrelated nonacademic information.
  • You can create a separate "University/Department Service" section that would include committees and other projects you participated in.


The experience section is critical to your job search and should be built up as much as possible.

  • Explain your academic experiences in nonacademic terms.
  • You can include volunteer experience, internships, service on committees, or any other nonacademic experiences.
  • Begin with the most relevant experiences. If you are not seeking a teaching position, do not start with that unless it is the only experience you have to sell. Call the section "Experience" and then show, as much as possible, the skills you provided that are related to the skills needed for your desired job.
  • Use a bullet format, focusing on active verbs and continue using gapping language, not full sentences.


These headings include publications, presentations, research, service to the institution, etc.


  • On your CV you will list any/all professional publications, presentations, research, etc., in separate sections.
  • Use reverse chronological format and your field's bibliographic style.
  • If you have completed articles that haven't been published yet, you can describe them as "Forthcoming" or "Works in Progress" as appropriate.
  • For presentations, focus on what you presented (title), the organization or group you presented to, the location of the presentation, and the date.


"Using Films to Teach Abnormal Psychology." The American Psychological Association Convention. Orlando, FL. August, 2012.


  • Only include most relevant publications, presentations, etc., or ones which highlight specific skills.
  • Use more general terms to describe research and publications when the actual research topic is irrelevant to the position.
  • Focus on the skills you used to create the final product.
  • You can also include relevant blogs or social media postings.


  • Languages: include on both resume and CV; indicate level of skill, such as fluent, conversant, read/write, etc.
  • Professional Organizations: Include on a CV; also on a resume if space permits.
  • Hobbies/ Interests are OK on a resume, but choose judiciously and only include if you have the space to spare. They are generally not included on a CV.
  • References for both CV's and resumes should be placed on a separate page & include complete contact information. Do not put references in the body of your CV or resume.

Want to learn more and see examples of good CV's? Check out these excellent resources:

Purdue OWL guide to writing your CV.

Chronicle of Higher Ed CV resources.

Columbia University guide to converting your CV into a resume.

The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina- CV versus resume.

For help writing your cover letter, check out these blog posts:

Writing the Dreaded Cover Letter

A Strategy for the Writing the Dreaded Cover Letter

Want to learn more? Here are the links to my series of posts related to helping graduate students find jobs outside academia:

The Graduate Student Job Search: Welcome to the Chaos

Leaving Academia: The Transition Begins

Career Transitions for Graduate Students and Others

Writing Effective CV's and Resumes

10 Tips for Developing an Alternate Career While in Graduate School

Social Media and the Grad Student Job Search

©2011 Katharine Brooks. All rights reserved. Like Me on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter.

Photo Credit: Mike Licht

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