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The Academic CV: 5 Common Mistakes

An image of Heather Patton.
By Heather Patton
September 19, 2017
An image of a crumpled up resume.

Creating an academic CV is a vital part of working in higher education. Your CV can also be an important tool when applying for funding, publication, professional development, and other opportunities outside the university.

Whether you are creating your first CV, or you want to “freshen up” one you already have, here are 5 of the most common mistakes people make and some useful advice on how to avoid them!

 

1: Overthinking design elements

If you go online and search for résumé and CV templates, you’ll find an exhausting number of examples that range from plain and simple to overly flashy.

It can be tempting to use a colorful, design-heavy template full of graphics, photographs, and complex design elements. I get it – they’re really pretty to look at. However, when it comes to creating an academic CV, simplicity is key. Many people still prefer to print out CVs, and a simple design will make sure yours can be easily printable and readable!

Here are some design elements to keep in mind when creating or updating your CV:

  • Use the same font throughout, and choose one that will be readable on any computer (Times New Roman, Arial, Courier, etc.).

  • Use consistent font size and formatting for your headers. Choose bold over italics whenever possible – it is easier to read while scanning.

  • Don’t write “Curriculum Vitae” at the top. I know this is widely debated, but if you write a solid CV we should recognize it as such.

  • List your accomplishments in reverse chronological order, so potential employers can focus on your most recent work, rather than something you did 10 years ago.

  • When citing your publications, presentations, or other works, make sure to use consistent formatting (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.)! This is a major pet peeve for many people!

 

2: Focusing on duties over accomplishments

I find this to be a common mistake when people shift from a professional résumé to an academic CV. When discussing your professional and academic roles, focus on what you achieved or experienced, rather than your day-to-day duties. For the most part, the institutions you apply to will be familiar with the daily duties of a professor, research assistant, or administrator. Focus on the things you accomplished that stand out, or things you did above and beyond your regular duties.

For example, when describing a prior teaching position, ask yourself what you accomplished beyond simply “I taught English 101.” Most institutions already know that a teacher lectures, grades papers, and administers exams – they don’t need to hear about that. They want to know what special skills and attributes you can bring to the position.

Instead, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did you create your own syllabus and/or teaching materials?

  • What types of learning managements systems (LMS) did you use to build your courses? Were your courses in person, online, or a hybrid?

  • Were you on a committee within your department? What did you accomplish?

  • Did you take on any leadership duties within your department?

  • Were you a part of creating/updating any curriculum, textbooks, or course outlines for your department or university?

  • Did you teach a specialized group of students (engineer majors, students with disabilities, nontraditional students, non-native English speakers, etc.)?

Focusing on the unique and amazing things you did while taking on research, teaching, or professional roles will help you stand out!

 

3: Using one CV for absolutely everything

Another common mistake I see is using one version of your CV for everything. Not tailoring your CV to fit the institution or position you are applying to can make you appear lazy or lacking attention to detail.

For example, I often advise my colleagues to create both an internal and external version of their CV. When applying to internal positions, you can get away with using course codes (STA101 instead of “First-Year Statistics”) or internal jargon you can’t use when applying outside an institution.

Also, make sure to organize your CV for the position! If you are applying for a research position, start your CV by listing research interests and experience. However, if you apply for a teaching position, move your teaching and presentation experience to the top. Putting the most relevant things on the front page will make sure your reader doesn’t have to get 3 pages deep before finding what they’re looking for.

 

4: Not asking for outside feedback

If I could give you only one piece of advice when writing/updating your CV, I would urge you to get a fresh set of eyes to look over it. I can’t tell you how many CVs I have read over the years that contain mindless spelling errors, inconsistent formatting, or annoying design elements – and my colleagues are English professors. Yes, even English professors are known to make mistakes!

Once you find a trusted colleague or friend to look over your CV, make sure to ask them the following:

  • After glancing over it quickly (give them a minute or so), did you easily find my education/teaching/research/other relevant experience? Or did you have to dig around to find it?

  • Is it easy on the eyes? Can you easily read a printed and online version of it?

  • Does it contain any spelling/grammar errors?

  • Did I miss anything you think I should add?

  • Does it fit the job description?

By having another person read over your CV, he or she will hopefully catch any errors or blind spots you need to address. Also, make sure to thank the person who helped you by buying them a beer, coffee, or offering to look over their CV in the future!

 

5: Not updating regularly

Once you have gone through the daunting process of creating an academic CV, your work is far from over! You will need to regularly go back to your CV and update it to reflect any new accomplishments or experience.

How often you update your CV will depend on the kind of position you have, so keep that in mind. Set a date on your phone or calendar to look over it once a month, at the end of every semester, or once a year – whatever works for you! Keep a “master copy” of your CV on your computer, so you can add to it whenever something comes up. You’ll use that copy as your basis for creating individual CVs for each future position you apply for.

 

Conclusion

It doesn’t matter if you are writing a CV for the first time, or fixing up one you’ve been using for 20 years – avoiding these common mistakes will make sure your CV stand out.

In addition to the basics we discussed here, there are specific criteria for CVs in different fields of study or when creating an international CV. If you aren’t sure how to create a specific CV for your situation, I always advise asking the head of your department or a more experienced colleague for advice. Once you’ve done that, and followed the advice here, you should have a solid CV that you can use for years to come!

 

 

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Heather Patton is a writer, editor, and adjunct English instructor with 10 years of experience in helping her students become the best writers they can be. She has taught at Wright State University and Clark State Community College in Dayton, OH, and Seattle Central College in Seattle, WA. Her students often refer to her as “nice but expects a lot,” which she feels is a pretty accurate assessment of her teaching philosophy. She has an M.A. in English Composition and Rhetoric from Wright State University. When she isn’t grading papers or editing company websites, she is an avid hiker, voracious reader, and makes a mean banana bread. 

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