How do I structure my CV to make sure it stands out?

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Academic CVs – How do I structure my CV to make sure it stands out? 

Applying for a job in the field of academia requires a great CV – but how should you make sure your CV is really effective?  There are many different forms your CV can take and it is crucial that you structure your application carefully in order to maximise your chances of being offered the chance to sell yourself in person at interview.

While there is no set format for an Academic CV, it should always be targeted specifically at the vacancy.  While you might maintain a ‘blue print’ version of your CV, this is never the one that should be sent in response to an opening.  Instead, it should be your starting point for each application you make.  Every time you submit a CV it should be edited in response to both the advertisement and the additional information you should have researched about the vacancy and employer. 

Where to start?

The first thing to consider is layout and structure – even before you start to draft your content.  It must look visually appealing in order to make the right first impression and you must be able to scan read it.  The average time spent reading a CV for the first time is about 60-90 seconds.  Get a friend to read it over, timing them for 60 seconds, and ask them what they noticed first. 

The next thing is to consider your content – what do you need to tell the employer to convince them you’re the right person for the role?

The temptation may be to simply write down everything you have done but this will mean that you are not ordering your CV carefully.  Instead, think about your key selling points – why are you the best candidate for this role?  How do you differ from other equally qualified candidates?  Once you have your shortlist make sure those are the points you feature on the first page.  Think of your CV like a newspaper article – the most relevant information should appear first. 

5 Key Design Tips for all CVs

  1. Use a large enough font size to be easy to read but small enough to give you room to sell yourself effectively. If you’re using Arial, 11 is about right.
  2. Choose your font style carefully – professional fonts include Arial, Calibri and Verdana.
  3. Leave some white space but not too much! A good rule of thumb is to use the full width of the page to avoid creating long lists and leave line breaks.  This makes your CV look full but not daunting to read. 
  4. Use bullet points to break up large blocks of text.
  5. Add in page numbers and your name as a (smaller) header on all subsequent pages – just in case the pages get separated. 

What are the differences between a Standard CV and an Academic CV?

The key difference comes down to length.  While a standard UK CV is a maximum of 2 sides of A4 – an Academic CV can extend several pages past that and, depending on the stage you’re at in your career, can really be very lengthy by the time you’ve added a list of your publications and conferences.  While it is important to include this information, it is crucial to structure a long CV very carefully to ensure all the most relevant information is mentioned on the first two pages, even if only briefly. 

What are the typical sections to include?

The sections you include can vary and your CV should always be structured carefully to tailor it to the role.  Take clues from the job advert – in what order have they asked for evidence?  If they stress research skills, you need to highlight those first.  If the focus is more on teaching, so should yours be etc. 

While there is no set structure, here are some typical section titles you may choose to include:

  • Your name - NOT ‘Curriculum Vitae’ and no titles, just your name as the header
  • Personal/Contact details - Address, e-mail, telephone.  There is no need to include your date of birth or nationality (unless you are evidencing your right to work in the country to which you’re applying)
  • Career Profile and/or Objective - Your CVs headline.  Bring in your most relevant experience and skills here and refer to the vacancy to show you have tailored your CV to the opportunity. Keep each of these to a maximum of two to three sentences.  This is one of the parts of your CV that is most likely to be read so spend time on your phrasing and keep it succinct
  • Education History - In an academic CV you will go into a significant amount of detail on your higher-level education.  Include dates, grades and key areas of study.  Highlight achievements such as awards and prizes.  Your most recent period of study should usually feature the most information
  • Research Interests - A short paragraph summarizing your research interests and experience.  Ensure this is targeted to the vacancy
  • Research Experience - This is a key section of your CV and should include any post-doctoral experience, research assistant roles or fellowships
  • Teaching Experience - Include your evidence of any lecturing, seminar work and tutorials.  State whether you have been involved in supervising and mentoring.  You might want to quantify this information by including class sizes
  • Administrative Experience - Could include: Committees you’ve sat on or chaired, groups you are involved with organizing, conferences you’ve planned
  • Professional Memberships - List all the memberships you hold, only current memberships should be included
  • References - Try to include the details of two referees (more if requested) these should ordinarily all be academic related
  • Publications - Depending on the number of publications, this should either be a list within the CV or an appendix/addendum at the end.  Use a standard referencing style (look at the style guides published for students at the institution to which you are applying and follow their own convention).  Highlight your name in bold if you are amongst a list of authors. Always use reverse chronological order.  If you feel some publications are more relevant than others, these can be highlighted with an asterisk but maintain the date order
  • Conference Presentations/Posters - As with your publications, list your conference appearances on your CV either in the main body or as an appendix.  Highlight the role you took and include titles, dates and locations.  As above, always write these in reverse chronological order

Make sure you stand out 

In a competitive field it is important that your CV stands out from the crowd.  Here are the 5 key things you need to do to make sure your CV makes it past the first sift:

  1. It must be easily scanned for your key achievements.
  2. Avoid jargon, for example, course codes that are specific to your institution – the reader may not understand it, or worse, might be irritated.
  3. Wherever possible in your CV describe your achievements rather than listing what the role entailed. Examples could include new courses you developed, teaching awards gained or funding awards.
  4. Evidence shows that the eye is drawn to figures instead of words so ensure your experience and skills are as quantitative as possible.
  5. Research the institution and show clear evidence you have tailored your CV to the role.

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