CV for the academic job market

by Eszter Hargittai on June 9, 2008

Over on Scatterplot, there is a discussion of how CVs should look when students (or recent graduates) are applying for academic jobs. Even within one field, opinions are going to differ, so on a blog such as CT, there’s a good chance people will disagree. Nonetheless, some points may be generalizable so I thought I’d post an edited version of my long comment to that thread here. My experiences come from having applied to numerous positions in several fields when I was on the job market in 2002 (with several on-campus visits and then job offers resulting) and from having sat on a couple of hiring committees in addition to seeing CVs of additional folks who’ve been interviewed in my department and some others on campus over the past few years.

One way to approach putting together one’s CVs for an academic job application is to look at the CVs of people who’ve gotten jobs recently, jobs of interest to the candidate. If someone’s been out for a few years, it’s fine to ask them for a copy of their CV from the time when they were on the market. (On that note, it’s also worth asking people for a copy of their application letters.)

Overall, it’s important to put the most important information on the first couple of pages. What’s most important? This partly depends on the type of job (top research department vs liberal arts college vs lots of other possibilities). My comments are mainly about applying to top research departments in sociology, communication and some related fields.

Order – For top research positions, I’d start with degrees (including school, field, year), then perhaps a line or two about interests followed by publications, grants and awards, invited presentations then conference presentations, followed by teaching and service. If it’s a type of department where teaching may be more important than research then I may put teaching above presentations to signal its importance. Another place to emphasize teaching is in the application letter as well as by including additional materials in the packet such as teaching philosophy or teaching evaluations.

Formatting – Please skip any fancy formatting, fancy paper or fancy binding. The latter, especially, can be very distracting. The last time I was on a hiring committee, there were a few files where the applicant put his/her material in an additional folder. (The staff putting together the materials tend to create folders for each applicant anyway.) Sometimes, these folders make the CVs and other materials harder to access. I realize it may sound ridiculous that it would be a notable nuisance to deal with this, but when you have just a few hours (yes, that’s the reality of the situation) to go through 100+ applications then any such distractions make a difference.

Papers that have been submitted to a journal for review and have been invited for resubmission – These should be listed, although I’d prefer to see them in a section separate from Publications. One possibility is to have a separate section called “Papers Under Review” where the first entries can be the ones with an R&R (“revise and resubmit) status. However, I would not list specific journal, if for no other reason, because it compromises the blind review process. [UPDATE: as noted in the comments, a point with which I agree, there may be great value to signaling the specific journal and by listing the title the blind-review process may be compromised anyway so perhaps it’s best to mention the journal.]

Papers under review – I hate seeing these on CVs, but I have experienced colleagues bringing them up in discussion at earlier stages in the process. While I don’t believe it does someone any good at the long-short list stage, it may help in retaining a name/file for that stage. (That is, when the committee is working its way from 100+ applications to, say, 20-30, these entries may help keep a file in the pile.) My preference – as a committee member on the other end – would be to see this under a separate section after publications as noted above.

Unpublished papers not under review – Some folks will list papers that are not under review (e.g., XYZ Title. ABC Department. Unpublished Manuscript). I would not include these. If anything, I’m left wondering why they haven’t been submitted for review if they are full papers.

Declined awards – If these are off-campus awards then I would mention them. These tend to be declined either because the recipient also received another award that created a conflict or for personal reasons, neither of which signal professional concerns (in fact, the former suggests that the recipient is very resourceful in successfully applying for several awards).

Dissertation abstract – While I’ve certainly seen people include this (and have seen such friends get good jobs) I personally hate to see CV space wasted on this. There are plenty of other places in the packet where one can include this information (most notably as a paragraph in the application letter). I turn to the CV for a quick glance at the main accomplishments such as publications, grants and awards. That said, most of our searches tend to be pretty broad so we’re not necessarily looking for very specific things. I guess if a department had a very specific need to fill then perhaps one could communicate a match in the abstract.

Tailoring to job specifics – If a deparment is looking for something specific (i.e., it’s not an open search) then it’s a good idea to tailor either the letter or the CV (or both) to the position.

All-in-all, I’d draft a CV and show it to faculty in one’s department for feedback (obvious person being one’s advisor, but getting feedback from additional faculty can also be helpful).



Bill Gardner 06.09.08 at 1:21 pm

If you are applying for a medical school job, include everything (except papers under review). Every abstract at every conference. Every course you have ever taught. Every journal you have reviewed for. Every post-doc you helped train. Every committee you have served on. Anything the NIH has ever asked you to do.

If this reminds you of Election, it should. The culture values intelligence, but it really loves compliance and work ethic.


PersonFromPorlock 06.09.08 at 1:39 pm

Does it tell us anything about the value of education that academics aren’t headhunted but must apply for work?


Dave 06.09.08 at 1:53 pm

Errr… why pay other people to figure out who might be interested in a vacancy, when you can just advertise it and find out?


Bill Gardner 06.09.08 at 1:57 pm

“Does it tell us anything about the value of education that academics aren’t headhunted but must apply for work?”

Eszter is writing for people who are applying for entry-level jobs. For senior positions, they call you.


Jacob T. Levy 06.09.08 at 2:28 pm

I think papers that are only under review should omit journal titles, but don’t think that the same is true for R&Rs.

The title of the paper alone compromises blind review if one of the referees happens to see the CV; and for everyone else there’s no ethical loss and a significant informational gain to including the journal name. An R&R from a top journal is valuable; it signals some predictable likelihood of publication in that journal and a high likelihood of publication one or two tiers down, and indicates much-better-than-average-grad-student level work.

Many readers skip cover letters entirely (really), making a dissertation abstract on the vita useful.


rm 06.09.08 at 2:33 pm

At East Impovershed State Comprehensive University, all positions are advertised (isn’t that a law?) and I seriously doubt there is much headhunting, unless for the big administrative positions. Networking, yes; headhunting, not below the President, I don’t think.

This says nothing about the value of education, but it says something about the funding, i.e. the value as perceived by the voting public and its representatives.


rm 06.09.08 at 2:37 pm

Having been on a bajillion hiring committees in a humanities field, I’d say the CV should make it easy to find answers to any factual question. All the above advice is good, but order isn’t as crucial as simple clarity. Include or don’t include the articles under review, but if you include them, label them as exactly what they are. Tell us what your job title was, exactly. It should be easy to perceive a timeline. There should not be huge lists of undifferentiated information. Headings should be formatted for clarity (i.e. whitespace and consistent formatting, levels of headings differentiated if you have them).


Eszter 06.09.08 at 2:39 pm

Does it tell us anything about the value of education that academics aren’t headhunted but must apply for work?

In addition to what Bill Gardner said, see the follow-up post I just put up. Even at junior level, people get approached. But it is still important to have information that is easy to make sense of and can be shared readily with colleagues as one makes a case for a particular candidate.

Jacob, I think that’s a good point about listing the journal of an R&R paper (I’ll go and look whether I can tweak my post to reflect this). I certainly agree that there is considerable value to having an R&R at a top journal especially.

I would also encourage including that information in any promotion and tenure materials, but those aren’t disseminated nearly as widely.


rm 06.09.08 at 2:42 pm

In English, as perhaps in no other field, the cover letter matters. It should be clear, fluent, and reasonably free of jargon, and it should not misspell the university’s name, and it should be individualized to the job. For a teaching-heavy position, avoid saying much about your dissertation research. If you can manage to make it sparkling and pleasurable to read, good, but don’t sweat it. Mention all your accomplishments and awards, but do so casually, as if they just happen to have some relevance to your passion for teaching East Impovershed State Comprehensive University’s unique student body.


Eszter 06.09.08 at 2:44 pm

RM, I think the cover letter can matter a lot, but that wasn’t the focus of my post. (You should feel free to discuss it, regardless, of course.:) I think it is very important to cater it to the school and department. I have lots of other thoughts on that, but again, somewhat separate from the CV.


onymous 06.09.08 at 3:16 pm

I don’t understand the point about blind review. Are you saying it isn’t just the referees whose identities are unknown to the authors, but also the authors who are unknown to the referees? If so it seems completely bizarre from my point of view over in a field where everyone reads preprints, not journals, and referees are likely to have already seen any paper they receive posted online weeks before.


christian h. 06.09.08 at 3:19 pm

In mathematics, absolutely include preprints that haven’t been submitted and papers under review (but, as has been said, label clearly).


Jacob T. Levy 06.09.08 at 4:14 pm

onymous: yes, in many disciplines the gold standard remains double-blind review, with both authors and referees unknown to each other. Electronic preprints whittle away at that a bit– but even though I keep track of SSRN postings in my field, I’ve never received a manuscript to referee that I’d previously seen in that fashion (though I have received, e.g., manuscripts I’d seen presented at conferences).


Tom Hurka 06.09.08 at 5:08 pm

I agree with Jacob about R & R’s — they mean something, especially from top journals.

Papers under review or still being revised can go in a Writing in Progress section — shows the variety of your interests without suggesting that things are complete but not sent to journals.

And, following on Eszter’s point about order, I think it even helps to put the most important things on a part of the page where they’re most likely to be seen. E.g. let’s say you won a prestigious prize. Put a section on Prizes or Awards at the top of a page, and put the prestigious one at the top of the list. Search committee members are skimming quickly — don’t give them a chance to miss a key bit of information by burying it in the middle of a section or at the bottom of a page.


BillCinSD 06.10.08 at 5:54 am

When i applied for my current job at Central US Tech, I had to apply online, with 5 areas to input material — 1. qualifications ie degrees and previous positions, 2. Transcripts, 3. Publications and presentations, 4. Teaching and Research plans, 5. Supplemental material. I think I used 5 for one page of my transcripts that was too large to be included with the rest of my transcripts.

I wasn’t wild about how it was executed, but it did move my prep time from working on my packet to figuring out how to get all the material input correctly.


John Quiggin 06.10.08 at 6:23 am

In economics, the likelihood of a first-round acceptance (unless the author is *very* well-established) is close to zero. There’s about a 10 per cent chance of R&R, but conditional on that, about a 90 per cent chance of ultimate acceptance. So, quoting an R&R at a good journal is worthwhile, in the letter if not in the CV.


CR 06.10.08 at 10:16 am

This is a bit sneaky, but my thinking on listing the journal where a paper is under review is not to for a very simple reason. Between submitting the job application and meeting a hiring committee, the paper may have been rejected by that journal, which is a very, very sad thing to spend interview time discussing. (I.e. it’d be an obvious question for the committee to ask: “So, how’s that paper going at PMLA?”) Leaving it blank leaves you room to quickly resubmit a rejected paper, thus leaving it more or less constantly under review unless accepted.

Sneaky, I know. But seriously, one doesn’t want to talk lots about paper rejections at a job interview. And when you’re starting out, and aiming for top journal placement, you’re bound to be rejected sometimes or lots.


paul 06.13.08 at 9:01 am

Many of the CVs I see (particularly those of post-doc applicants) are extremely long, maybe 8-10 pages, with lists of unpublished reports and courses taken years ago. From what I’ve seen, European CVs seem to be shorter than those from America, Asia, or Africa.

I’ve always been a fan of the short CV, but I’m interested in the view of commenter #1 (“include everything”) because I don’t see how large amounts of detail will help a CV compete for attention with potentially hundreds of others. You probably have less than a minute to make an impression. Is this view widespread? If so, I’m never going to get a job with my three page CV.

The other thread on academic blogs leads me to muse that maybe CVs should become even shorter and just direct you to a website?


eszter 06.13.08 at 1:11 pm

Paul, no, you wouldn’t want to direct somebody to a Web site for core information. I suspect most people, while going through applications, are amidst a pile of paper and the last thing they want to do is drop the flow of things to check out something online.

That said, I suggest that people start removing things from their CVs as they advance in their careers. As you noted, Paul, information on courses taken seems superfluous after a point unless there’s something in particular that’s meant to signal (e.g., perhaps interdisciplinary training?).

Comments on this entry are closed.