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How to write a compelling CV

It’s important to craft a CV that you can post on your website and send to colleagues on short notice. So, with that goal in mind, we list four tips for writing a compelling and informative CV. We will also give you advice about creating an online “extended CV”—including a Google Scholar profile and professional website—to make your hard work easily accessible to a broad audience.

Tip No. 1: Introduce yourself.

Most CVs start with your name, current title and affiliation, and contact information. Some scientists also mention their date of birth, family details, and other personal information at the top of their CV, but in our experience that is not necessary or relevant. You should include a link to your website if you have one. You may also want to include a short summary of your interests and expertise to give readers a sense of who you are and what you can bring to the table.

Tip No. 2: Order matters.

For the remainder of your CV, think carefully about the order of your sections. There is a greater chance that readers will look at and remember items that are placed toward the beginning of a document—a phenomenon known as the primary effect. So you’ll want to start with the sections that are most relevant to the job you’re applying for or that feature your most significant strengths. Often, that will mean starting with your position history, degrees, publications, grants, and awards, although if you’re applying for a teaching position, you may want to place teaching and mentoring experience ahead of your publications and grants. Place less important sections—such as invited talks, conference presentations, service activities, and society memberships—lower down. Within each section, we recommend specifying the year you accomplished each item and listing the items in reverse chronological order. But don’t just take our word for it. The norms may differ in your field and you should ask your own mentors and colleagues for additional advice.

Tip No. 3: Highlight important information.

CVs are long—sometimes more than 10 pages in length—so it is fair to assume that some readers might skim your CV or stop reading at some point. If you selectively highlight words and phrases using bold typeface, that can help ensure that your reader doesn’t miss the most important information. For instance, in your teaching experience section, you might want to use bold typeface for the title of your position and regular typeface to describe the tasks that you were responsible for and where you conducted the work. We also recommend including hyperlinks to your papers, pre-prints, and other key documents because that will help readers who are interested in taking a closer look at your work.

Tip No. 4: Update your CV.

It’s important to add items to your CV as you publish papers, receive grants, and carry out other academic activities. It is a good habit to update your CV after each accomplishment to ensure you don’t forget to add it. Keep in mind, though, that a long CV isn’t the ultimate goal: It’s equally important to delete items as the accomplishments on your CV start to add up. If you don’t do that, it’ll be harder for readers to pick out your most important accomplishments and it might appear as though you’re “fluffing” up your resume with minor items. For instance, your summer research job during college might look good on an application to grad school, but over time you’ll want to omit that item. To get a sense of when to delete certain kinds of information, check out the CVs of colleagues who are at the same career stage as you. Doing so may also give you an idea of items you can add that you hadn’t thought about.

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