Karen Kelsky

Founder and President at The Professor Is In

How to Shorten a CV

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I'm hoping you can help me with a tricky issue regarding CV length on job applications. I am a recent Ph.D., currently on the job market in media studies, applying for both postdocs and regular faculty appointments (tenure-track and nontenure-track). Occasionally I will see application instructions that limit the length of the CV to two or three pages, and I find that a bit confusing (and frustrating). If an application requires the CV to be only two pages, or three, what am I supposed to cut?

It seems common for even an early career scholar to have a CV longer than that (even without "padding"), and, as far as I understand it from both reading your book/blog and from advice I've received from faculty advisers, it's especially important for grad students and recent graduates to show all legit evidence that they can meet the bar — by being published, by consistently presenting at conferences, by teaching courses in relevant areas, by taking on leadership and organizing roles, etc. I feel like I'm at a place in my career where I have to list things individually (because I don't yet have a full-time academic appointment), whereas a more established scholar wouldn't necessarily need to list everything individually. Just including the references takes at least half a page unless I want everything smooshed together with tiny font. Do I cut the references? Am I wrong about this? It seems strange that an early career scholar with publications, conference papers, and teaching experience would be "punished" by a length requirement on an academic CV.

This question actually continues on for about a page longer than the condensed version here. I asked my editors to retain even this version— which exceeds the typical permissible query length for my column — because it so perfectly captures the combination of desperation, frustration, anxiety, and exasperation that permeates the academic job market at this point. I share it in order to sympathize and empathize: These inconsistent and apparently illogical instructions, expectations, and requirements for the job market are indeed crazy-making.

I always wonder, in particular, about the request for a short CV.

Now let me pause and say clearly: If you are a regular reader of my blog and book, you know that I adamantly insist on strict page lengths for the cover letter, teaching statement, research statement, and diversity statement. I argue for such limits because of the crisis conditions in higher education. Escalating numbers of applications (anywhere from 200 to 1,000 for an opening) fall into the hands of an ever-shrinking tenure-line professoriate — which means that search committees are exhausted and easily distracted.

So I insist on — and brook almost no exceptions to — the rule of a two-page cover letter, a one-page teaching statement, a two-to-four-page research statement (lower end for the humanities, higher end for STEM fields), and a one-to-two-page diversity statement (still variable due to the relative newness of the genre). I have no objection to the idea of short job documents.

However, even I do not advocate for a reduced CV. A CV is so simple, basic, and formulaic that it is very difficult to pad in an intrusive way. Of course people do occasionally pad their CVs — for example, by adding guest lectures or indulging in narrative flights of fancy ("my work in this position is hard to condense but encompassed a range of blah, blah, blah...") — but it's rare. And because of the list-like nature of the CV genre, such errors are easy to overlook.

It particularly makes no sense to ask for condensed CVs from early-stage academics. These junior scholars should be able to get credit for all of their productivity, which is not that extensive to begin with. Why require them to cut it? Indeed, when I have encountered the requirement of a short CV, it's almost always for a postdoc or a grant application, rather than for a tenure-track job. That still doesn't really make sense to me, but given the short-term nature of a postdoc appointment, I can appreciate the search committee's desire to limit the total number of pages requiring review.

In any case, here is how to shorten your CV. First, don't panic, don't fall apart, and don't devolve into hysterical multi-page pleas for help. You have a Ph.D. (or will soon). You are smart and capable. You can do this. It's not that hard.

Begin by understanding and accepting that search committees know what they want. They have their reasons. Do not — under any circumstances — ignore their instructions. Do not — under any circumstances — send more pages (or more documents) than requested. You will only alienate the committee, and demonstrate that you would make a bad colleague.

Here are the headings you must include in a shortened CV:

  • Education
  • Professional Appointments
  • Publications
  • Grants
  • Awards and Honors
  • Conferences
  • Invited Talks
  • Languages (if relevant to your scholarly identity; if not, skip)

Here are the headings you should almost certainly jettison:

  • Research Interests
  • Teaching Interests
  • Dissertation summary
  • Service
  • Outreach
  • Nonacademic Work
  • Related Professional Skills
  • Professional Memberships
  • References

Here are some suggestions fortrimming the content of your CV:

  • Reduce your font to 11 point (but no smaller). And use a font that in 11 point is legible to middle-aged eyes!).
  • Use only single-line breaks between headings (I normally recommend double-line breaks to increase white space).
  • Adjust the top and bottom margins to 0.75 inch instead of an inch.
  • Adjust your contact information to use the minimum number of lines.
  • Follow the same order of headings that I recommend in my general CV advice.
  • Under Education, list only the bare minimum info related to your degrees (Ph.D., M.A., B.A.), with no extra verbiage about dissertation, committee, additional training, and so on.
  • Add "Selected" to all content headings.
  • Retain all major publications, but feel free to remove low-impact ones such as book reviews, encyclopedia entries, conference proceedings (unless you are in a STEM field where those count), and so on.
  • Remove publications "in progress." List only those published or in submission.
  • Limit your lists of Grants and Conferences to those within the last five years or so. If that doesn't sufficiently cut length, reduce further.

Whether you prune the Teaching Experience and Service sections of your two-page CV will depend on the job ad, so consider it carefully.

Your teaching record will obviously be relevant if you’re applying for faculty jobs. But the role of teaching varies if a short CV is requested as part of a research-oriented postdoc fellowship or a grant application. Some fellowships include a major teaching element; some include very little. The specific fellowship requirements will dictate whether or not to include any mention of teaching on the short CV. At any rate, a truncated Teaching Experience section should include a brief list of the titles of relevant courses you’ve taught, where, and when (i.e., "Fall 2016" in parentheses on the same line).

Service should almost certainly be jettisoned from a two-page CV. I give pause only because, if the postdoc has a "diversity" priority to it or some other thematic agenda, and your service or administrative work has spoken directly to that agenda, then you may want to retain just a line or two as evidence. But probably not.

Following these rules, junior scholars should have no problem producing a two-page CV. Indeed, anyone can, as long as they cut their record ever more deeply and retain only the most recent and most significant accomplishments.

Dear Readers: Have a question about the academic job market and/or professionalization? Send it to The Professor Is In! Karen welcomes any and all questions related to the job market, preparing for the job market while in graduate school, coping with the adjunct struggle, and assistant professorhood. Send questions to gettenure@gmail.com.

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