• July 28, 2014

From CV to Résumé

Your CV speaks primarily to an academic audience and acts as a record of your scholarly pedigree and accomplishments. It is an all-encompassing portrait of who you are intellectually and should include everything you've been involved with academically since starting graduate school.

But send a document like that to an employer outside of academe and it will most likely end up in the "toss" pile.

Compared to a CV, a résumé is more like a snapshot -- a brief document presenting the specific skills and experiences you have that are relevant to the job for which you're applying.

It's been five years since Margaret Newhouse first offered advice on this site about converting your CV into a résumé. You can still read her advice here. We would like to revisit the topic in this column and offer some up-to-date suggestions. We've also reworked one scholar's CV into a résumé to guide you in transforming your own CV into a powerful résumé.

CV Versus Résumé

While both documents represent you as a professional, they differ on many counts. A résumé is designed to sell your relevant skill set and experiences to a particular employer. The goal of a CV is to present a complete picture of the breadth and depth of academic experiences you have accumulated.

A CV can be any length (and may even run to dozens of pages, especially for senior professors). But a résumé must be short -- never more than two pages, and many employers prefer it to be a single page.

The formatting of CV's is also quite distinct from that of résumés. Job and experience descriptions in a résumé should always be in a bulleted format, while descriptions of research and teaching on a CV are usually in paragraph form.

Academic search committees are made up mostly of people with Ph.D.'s who know how to read a CV and are looking for your scholarly interests. Résumés, on the other hand, are reviewed by people with a wide range of backgrounds. In general, they are less interested in your scholarly skills and more interested in practical matters -- if they hire you, how will you perform on the job?

The biggest difference is in the content. CV's may include lists of your publications, presentations, teaching experiences, honors, grants, and dissertation abstracts. Very little of that should be included in a résumé.

We can't emphasize enough that on a résumé, you should include only those skills relevant to the job in question. That means removing lists of your publications, presentations, examinations passed, dissertation abstracts, etc. -- unless they have a direct bearing on the job for which you're applying. For example, in general you wouldn't include scholarly publications. However, if you're applying for a job where writing skills are paramount and the content of your publications is relevant, you can include select publications.

While CV's usually include a list of three to five references, résumés do not include such a list. You might want to type up that list as a separate document, however, and have it on hand during the interview should an employer express an interest in contacting your references.

If you have a CV prepared, then you have the base of your résumé. You will need to answer the questions we propose in the next section, and get ready to edit out a lot of information.

Don't worry: Just because that information isn't on your résumé doesn't mean you can't use it to your advantage somewhere else down the line.

Preparing to Create a Résumé

Whom do you want to hire you? While there is no wrong or right way to position yourself on the job market, you can benefit by thinking critically about your audience of potential employers. How can you sell them on your experience and demonstrate that you are a good worker? How can you make it easy for them to see your skills and understand what you can do better for having worked toward a master's or Ph.D.?

Some of this is just common sense: If you're looking at Internet and technology-related careers, highlight your computer and Web skills. If you want a job at a pharmaceutical company, focus on your laboratory experience. If you hope to become a professional writer, make certain employers see your experience as an editor and writer of intellectual content.

Employer Anxieties About Hiring Ph.D.'s:

Many employers fear that job candidates with master's and doctoral degrees are overeducated and undersocialized. They perceive Ph.D.'s in particular as people who are unable to make and meet deadlines, don't work well in teams, and can't communicate in simple, direct terms. Use your résumé to minimize such perceptions by illustrating that you have experience working in teams, meeting deadlines, and communicating effectively.

Be sure to mention other relevant experiences you have had, such as volunteering; coaching; or running workshops or Internet discussion groups. Mention activities in which you have been involved as part of a group like your professional association or graduate-student union. Such activities can demonstrate your skills as effectively as "regular" jobs. In fact, given that many people see academics as overly specialized, such activities might help you more as a candidate for a nonacademic job than your individual scholarly record.

Drafting a Résumé

The résumé aesthetic can be boiled down to two words: readability and consistency. Your résumé should be easy to scan and understand quickly. Help potential employers understand you by not making them work to puzzle out your background and skills.

Adhere to a consistent and eye-pleasing format. Use concise and accessible language. Put information in categories and be consistent -- in terms of style, format, and language -- within those categories.

Every résumé is different, depending on the circumstances of the job opening and your background relevant to that position. We don't recommend rigidly copying any particular format or template. We do recommend making a first pass at a résumé and then taking it in to your campus career center for a critique. If you don't have access to a career center through your current or former institution, check with your local public library to find out about other options.

Now for some basic pointers to get you started on that strong résumé that you have hiding inside your CV.

Format:

  • Don't be shy; be noticed. Place your contact information at the top of the page.

  • Leave adequate white space and margins.

  • Eliminate articles ("a," "an," and "the") whenever possible. Remember, this document must be scannable.

  • Use emphasizers -- i.e., bold and italic typeface -- wisely and consistently, but sparingly.

Language:

  • Avoid academic jargon. Translate your laboratory skills and research interests into everyday language when possible.

  • Describe your experience as concisely as possible. Sentence fragments are OK.

  • Use action verbs. Make sure tenses are consistent.

Consistency and Categorization:

  • Use a bulleted list to indicate each of the key skills that you utilized or the most important responsibilities you had at a job.

  • In describing each of your previous positions, use no more than three to five bullets for each job.

  • Keep the order of your categories consistent. If you decide to name the employer, then the position, location, and dates of employment, make sure you do that in the same way for each one. If you have the employer's name in boldface type in the first entry, make sure you do that for all of the entries.

What Not to Do:

  • For the most part, including an objective statement at the top of your résumé or a short paragraph summarizing your experience is considered a dated approach. Still, there might be a few business fields where that is still a good idea. Ask your contacts in the field if you are in doubt.

  • Don't reach back too far. Your undergraduate degree is relevant, your high-school activities are not.

  • Don't put personal information about your relationship status, children, ethnic origin, religion, or the like on your résumé or in your cover letter. If, however, you have relevant work experience with, for example, your church or synagogue, putting that type of information on your résumé is a personal call. If you decide to include it, make sure that you emphasize the skill or the work experience itself.

Final Thoughts

Looking at your multipage CV, it may seem impossible to reduce it to a one-page résumé. You may feel sad about "cutting" all of your scholarly accomplishments, or frustrated that you can't communicate all of your skills and achievements.

It's important to remember, however, that the move from the ivory tower to "the real world" doesn't mean that those skills and achievements are for naught. You will use them all over the course of your career -- just not in the way you had originally planned. The important thing at this stage is not to let your past experiences actually get in the way of your future ones.

One last note: Just because you have a Ph.D. doesn't exempt you from typos. Employers can and do simply throw away résumés of otherwise-qualified candidates because of such errors. So proofread your résumé, have someone else look it over, and then you proofread it again. Proofread it every time that you create a new version. Good luck.

Kim Thompson and Terren Ilana Wein work at the University of Chicago's Office of Career Advising and Planning Services. Wein is the director for library and information services and Thompson is the assistant director for graduate services in the social sciences.

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