The CV: The first gate

I don't remember thinking very much about my academic CV until I went on the job market. I submitted a copy to my dissertation adviser, who returned it promptly, covered in ink. Whole sections were deleted. Elements had swapped places. My dissertation synopsis sounded more like an abstract and less like a rationale. What I had treated as a fairly clear cut genre turned out to be more complex and nuanced than my writing sample. Like the personal statement, used often in doctoral program applications, the academic CV (curriculum vitae, in Latin, the course of life) is a functional document which serves as a proxy for the candidate. Its audiences are varied, but in all cases, if an academic CV is requested, the stakes are high. Often, the CV is the first element in any dossier; as such, it acts at the first gate through which candidates pass in their move from graduate student to colleague. This post is intended to begin discussion on the genre, lay out some basic guidelines, and call attention to typical pitfalls.

It's most helpful to think of academic CVs--and any dossier materials--as contextually bound and responsive to the exigencies of each job call.  For example, when I entered the market, I sent applications for positions at R1/R2 institutions and SLACs. Some of the positions were focused entirely on teaching, some on research, some on administration, and most on a mix of the three.  Further, like most doctoral students, I could lay claim to a number of areas of interest and expertise.Working backward through my educational history, I could foreground experience with professional/technical communication, writing program administration, research methods, rhetoric, and composition. The job advertisement determined not only which area I chose to highlight but also the order of elements, like teaching awards, publications, and service to my department.

If candidates remember that job search committees are made up of humans who are very likely already overworked and exhausted, they can best craft a document that efficiently and effectively communicates their potential value. Knowing the gloriously convoluted process of the academic job search may help: The search committee has access to all of the dossiers from all the candidates. From the initial stack, they choose perhaps 10-15 candidates to move to the next stage. Often, prior to phone, Skype, or MLA interviews, schools will request additional materials from a larger pool of candidates in order to further narrow the field. Once a candidate has been invited for a campus visit, the entire voting faculty has access to that candidate's dossier.

While CV templates can be created in advance, candidates should also do their research by checking out each school, department, and program to which they are applying. If job ads cite particular classes the candidate would be expected to teach, that knowledge should help structure the CV. 

1. The first and most golden rule: the first two pages should carry the weight of the candidate's professional identity and potential contributions. I'm not arguing that committees never read past the first two pages. I am arguing that search fatigue makes those first two pages the most important.

2. Candidates applying for a range of foci should create separate CV templates for each. A CV for a candidate applying to teach 4/4 at a SLAC would look very different from an advertisement for a research position at a large university. Further, a CV for an administrative position would order its elements to showcase pertinent work. Details get even finer grained as candidates with multiple academic interests assemble materials for these different institutions and positions.

3. However, even candidates applying for R1, research-intensive, positions should remember that teaching is valuable. While publications will appear before teaching awards, recognition for outstanding teaching should appear on the first two pages, if possible. Candidates with multiple professional contributions (may we all be so prolific!) should, of course, still include publications, conference presentations, and grant funding before teaching when applying for research positions.

4. Personal skills and interests have no place in an academic CV. The document is intended to communicate professional contribution. As such, the first page is prime real estate. Candidates should resist the urge for font pyrotechnics. The first page, regardless of focus, should include contact details, educational history (in reverse chronological order, stopping at undergrad), information about the dissertation or capstone (title and adviser), and a short list of research interests. The order of elements following this core information should meet the exigencies of the position and institution.

5. Candidates should resist the urge to put anything on the CV that they're not comfortable discussing at an interview. These entries could range from fabrications to side-work taken on to float the bills during graduate school.

6. All of these shall-nots may work up the CV as a potential textual minefield, and it can certainly serve that function if care isn't taken. However, candidates who consider the CV an opportunity to display their work--that is, the last five to seven years of their academic life, maybe more--are those who have started to make the move from candidate to colleague. Indeed, the CV stands in for this important identity shift and is often the first document a job candidate creates which will mirror his/her post-graduation status.

I give each of these points with the caveat that candidates should never drive themselves crazy customizing CVs. High levels of customization translate to high instances of typos and other egregious errors. While misspelling the name of a publisher buried on page six of an eight-page CV may not cost a candidate an interview, forgetting to change the name of the school in the "Courses I am Interested in Teaching at State University" might.

A CV documents past achievements and hints at future potential. In contrast, the job cover letter contextualizes these achievements and moves them into the future tense. In the next blog, I'll break down this very important element of the dossier, as it works to supplement the CV.


Bellatricksy said...

This reminds me of a professor I worked for once who was up for tenure review. She was quite worried that she didn't have enough stuff. All of those binder with all of those sections, and every day she would change what kind of borders she wanted on the pages, and I would have to reprint everything and replace them individually in page protectors. After a week of this, she didn't really appreciate my suggestion of glitter glue.

Charlie Sheen said...
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