In an early episode of The Office, Jim and Pam prank their co-worker, Dwight, by writing a mock résumé that casts his various manias as positive traits. “Gun nut,” for instance, translates as “sticks to his guns.” Eventually, they post the document online to various job sites, and Dwight receives an interested call from a competing paper company. He is excited and flattered, but, worried the prospective employer hasn’t seen his official résumé, he forwards an appendix of special skills along with the details of his martial-arts training. Despite Dwight’s insistence that “about a billion Asians” consider his yellow belt relevant, he’s not ultimately offered the position.
Our CV’s are rarely as misleading as Jim and Pam’s euphemisms or as misguided as Dwight’s addendums, but for many graduate students and younger scholars it is a real challenge to balance clarity and comprehensiveness, polish and accuracy. We’re told to organize our CV’s for the ease of overworked search committees, but we’re also encouraged to include everything. Graduate faculty and administrators often attract volunteers for their miscellaneous minor projects by dangling the carrot of a vita line. The suggestion can be that the most important aspect of a CV is its length: long equals good. Similarly, our institutions often school us in the art of little inflations. Reading a handful of submissions to the department journal and ranking them on a scale of one to 10 might make one an associate editor on the masthead, even if no real editing has been done. Does filling in to teach a sick grad student’s class count as a guest lecture? What if you were only proctoring an exam for an out-of-town professor?
The best advice I received when I started taking my CV more seriously in preparation for the job market was to read as many examples as I could get my hands on and to run my drafts by both a trusted adviser in the field and someone from the university’s career-services department. Those steps certainly gave me a better sense of what didn’t belong and helped me organize what did, but by no means did they answer all of my questions. How important is a list of professional memberships? Should grad students fork over $65 in order to list Phi Kappa Phi? Do undergraduate honors in a different field still deserve a place on the CV of someone applying for a tenure-track job? What about conference attendance (as opposed to participation)?
A lot of these questions probably need to be answered by the individual scholar based on the specific impression they intend to make, but perhaps the readers of “On Hiring” have more general suggestions for less-experienced job seekers like myself. What sort of entries stand out as fluff on an applicant’s CV? Are there important details that graduate students routinely forget to include?