PhD CV or is it resume?

I’ve often seen employment postings that ask for a CV, and just as many that ask for a resume. So what is the difference and how do you decide which one to use? As it is abundantly clear that academic positions are very hard to come by, and your CV only ever changes when you add a new publication or another year of teaching and service to the school,  the focus of this short blog will be on your resume which is a moving target at the best of times.

When applying for an academic position, the standard acceptable format is the CV. This is a lengthy detailed listing of your experiences, education, skills, publications, committee and volunteer service, awards, memberships…anything and everything relevant to your PhD and the work experiences gained along the way. I’ve seen ten page CV’s submitted to tenure committees, and five page CV’s presented for teaching postings. Essentially, the length doesn’t matter as long as you have viable content. Keep in mind that while you are an early career PhD your CV will not be very long, so forget being brief and be sure to elaborate. Instead of just listing the courses you’ve taught, give a brief description of the content and the feedback you received from your students. Keep in mind that academics are trained to screen out the bullshit and core down to the essential material, so fluff and filler are not going to impress. Your CV format may never change – just get longer as you add new items each year. Try to remember to keep this up to date, thinking back over several years can often leave you fretting over your keyboard late into the night.

Non-academic positions asking for a resume simply want a maximum two page listing of your relevant skills, experiences and education. Some employers will request other information like volunteerism, or community participation, but these are only relevant if the company you are applying to promotes this on their website. Focus on your skill set, or competencies, and when listing education pare it down to the essentials; the bachelors, masters and PhD. Don’t throw in all the workshops and teaching skills certificates unless they are absolutely relevant to the position. For example, if the position is geared towards giving professional upgrading seminars, then teaching certificates can support your qualification for this position. If this position is selling freezers to penguins, the only relevant certificates would be directly related to sales and marketing…not teaching and learning.  Choose wisely.

One common dilemma is tailoring your resume to suit the posting. I’ve spent numerous hours rearranging, editing and rewriting resumes for thousands of jobs. The trick is to insure that despite the reorganization to bring key items up front, your resume must match your online profiles in places like LinkedIn. Be aware that savvy employers will search for online profiles and if they see a serious discrepancy you may get shuffled to the G file (garbage).

I’ve read hundreds of items promoting the perfect resume template, but the latest trend being used by head hunters and employers is word cloud generators. Think about key word searches and how they work. Its called optimizing your resume. Go over the posting and the employers website and try to include as many key words in your resume as possible. Focus especially on words and themes that are repeated throughout their website or posting.  I had an executive recruiter once send me a tag cloud of keywords gleaned from my resume. It was shockingly small and didn’t emphasis the attributes I thought I was putting forward. There are word cloud generators that you can run your resume through. There are a lot of companies using these generators to cull the less relevant resumes from the pile. So here are a few simple rules that may help you with your resume;

  1. Lots of white space around the edges. Don’t change the standard margins to something much narrower to accommodate more text on a line.
  2. KISS – keep it simple stupid! Don’t include tables or pictures unless requested. Often these do not interpret well when uploaded to the employers site. Clean and simple is easy to upload, stays in format, and is easy to read.
  3. Keep separate files on your computer and save every edition you publish under the company or school/department name. It helps later if you get a call for an interview. Finding the version of resume that you sent them to see what you were focusing on  as it related to the posting will help you prep for an interview.

So while you contemplate whether you want to apply for that sessional teaching position on Mars, or the administrative position here on earth, remember that your career search is never really over, even when you land a job. There will always be another opportunity to grow.