Academic CV Building: Where to Start

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It is vitally important that you work on building a strong CV whatever your current level is on the career ladder. A good CV will get you noticed at the job application stage and take you through to interview but it will also be needed for funding applications, when applying to speak at conferences or when looking to get work published. You may also need a CV if you are looking for an internal promotion and for consideration for a salary increase. Here are some tips on how to build a good CV:

It's an ongoing process

You may think that the only time you should work on your CV is just before you put in an application for a new job. This is definitely not the case. If you are serious about your career and hope to progress you should be constantly updating your CV so that you have an up to date version ready for any eventuality. It is far better to add a new skill, qualification or publication to your CV as you acquire it when you can remember the full details of ‘when and where', rather than trying desperately to remember what you did several months or even years after the event. This also has the advantage of focusing the mind and encouraging you to do things to improve your CV.

If you are a postgraduate or a full time academic and haven't done anything in your working life that enhances your CV for a period of more than a couple of months then you need to focus on doing some career building. Most academic CVs are broken down into three areas:

  • teaching
  • research
  • administration

Depending on the job you are applying for, these parts of the CV will be ordered differently reflecting the requirements of the institution. Here are some things to focus on in each area as you try to develop a strong CV:

Thinking about teaching

Many people begin their teaching careers when they are a postgraduate so it's important to start early making a record of every course that you have been involved with. You may not need to include details of your full teaching history in every CV but it is good to keep a record of your experience in case it is required. Make sure you:

  • record the institution where you taught
  • the title of the course
  • the level (i.e. first, second or third year undergraduate, masters etc.
  • your duties on that course

When describing your duties you obviously don't have much room to go into a lot of detail on a CV, but you need to convey more than simply ‘seminar tutor', for example. Instead write a brief list of things you did such as ‘led small group seminars of my own design, set and marked essays, invigilated and marked exams'. This will give readers of your CV an understanding of the skills you acquired while working on that course. Obviously at a higher level you will also expect to show evidence of course design and management, so remember to include those aspects too.

It's important when building a CV to show any qualifications that support your teaching skills, so if you have done a teaching training course at your institution or elsewhere then make a note of this. If this is not something you have had the opportunity to do then ask at your university if they will send you on a training course. It will be time consuming but will make your CV stronger and will give you confidence in the classroom. Later on in your career you may become involved in pedagogical research to develop your own teaching techniques or theories of teaching in general; again, keep a full record of this on your CV.

Research, research, research 

The research section of your CV will usually come in two sections, the research you have done and its quantifiable output (i.e. your publications) and the funding awards that enabled you to do your research. These are two areas that must be constantly developed if you are to progress in your career. But developing them is time consuming and challenging, especially while holding down a teaching-heavy position that means you can get little done during term time.

In today's current employment climate you must show that you are constantly striving to get more work published: unfortunately having resting or even thinking time is not feasible. If you have not added to the research part of your CV for some time then you need to think about how you can get some work into print. Is there a conference paper that went especially well that you could expand and offer to a journal? Is it time to start thinking about your next book project? Once these projects are seriously underway you can put them on your CV with the label ‘forthcoming', although you should have a tight schedule for publication once you include something on your CV. It would be embarrassing to have something listed as ‘forthcoming' for more than a couple of years.

In terms of funding, this is another aspect of your CV that will attract a lot of attention from prospective employees, so it's vital to keep it up to date. Funding awards are very competitive so if you are given money this needs to be clearly expressed on your CV. Explain who the award was from, the period covered by it and the title of the project. Briefly describe your role (such as research assistant or project manager). You can mention awards like this even if you were employed after the bid was completed as long as you make clear what your role was. If you are having difficulty boosting this part of your CV, talk to colleagues about best avenues to pursue and also consult your university's research and development office. They are there to help lecturers apply for funding and will have a good knowledge of what is available in your field and how to word applications so they receive attention from funding bodies.

Administrative roles are important too

It's easy to forget that building your portfolio of administrative roles is important to CV building too. When you are a postgraduate or just starting out in your career you can include duties like exam invigilation or being a member of a staff-student liaison committee, but as you progress this section is more likely to include being on managerial committees, contributing to strategic development within your department and holding posts such as examinations secretary, admissions officer and so on.

No one really goes into academia to do these sorts of things but they are important because you can show you have a wide range of skills but also that you take a full part in the life of your department. If you feel this section of your CV is weak, talk to your head of department and see whether there is any role you could take on. If you are inexperienced, offering to shadow a colleague in their job could be a way in. This is an area that is particularly easy to allow to stagnate on your CV so make sure you work hard to do something to enhance this area every few months.

And don't listen to the commercial advice that says a CV must be only two pages long. They are talking about CVs for private sector positions; no one will mind if your academic CV is four or five pages long. Of course all this CV building can leave you with a massive document of about twenty pages once you become more advanced in your career! Don't worry; a shortened version can be presented for job applications, with older or less significant experiences edited out. But it's important to keep a record of all your achievements so that the most important ones can easily be brought to the fore.

More like this:

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