Karen Kelsky

Founder and President at The Professor Is In

How to Build Your CV

This article was first published in 2012 on Karen Kelsky's The Professor Is In blog.

Today’s post is another Special Request post, this time for Ana, who had a question about CV's. What is the best way to organize and write an academic CV? she wonders. She also asks if I know of any special tech tools for create a kind of “master” CV that could then be tailored to jobs, grants, etc.

I have to admit that I do not know of any such tools. But what about you, my readers? Have you found an app or some fabulous geeked out system for collecting and organizing your CV material? Kind of like a CV Endnotes? Please comment below if you do. We would all like to know.

What i do know is that lo, so many years ago, when I was a young assistant professor, I received a piece of wisdom from a respected senior colleague. That colleague was a model of productivity, and she liked me, and wanted to see me succeed. This piece of advice was not a trick for organizing CV s but rather a trick for thinking about them.

She told me, early in my first year in the department, “make sure that each month you add another line to your CV.”

Each month I add another line to my CV? Yikes. Really?

That sounded impossible. But she did it, sure enough, and her CV was a thing to behold.

She said, “this is not going to be hard for you.”

And she was right.

By the time I added on the national conferences I attended every year, and the talks on campus, and the guest lectures, and my new classes taught, and small campus grants, and new graduate students, and article manuscripts, and local and national committees, and the reviewing I did for journals and presses, I did have 9 new items a year (she didn’t count summers). Heck, sometimes I had a lot more than 9 new items a year.

It wasn’t that hard.

The key was, to keep my CV in mind at all times. When I had to make choices about how to spend my time, which requests to accept, when to say no, and so on, I thought about my CV, and thought about the line. Did I want the line? Did I need the line? Was it a good line? Was there a better line? It was an amazingly clarifying exercise.

Sure I did things to be collegial, things that didn’t translate into CV lines. I helped out colleagues. I went the extra mile for students (sometimes). I was a good department citizen. But I was focused. I knew what my goal was. And that goal was tenure.

As my career went on, I had the opportunity to see many CVs of many peers from my own and other institutions. And I realized that few of those peers had received this kind of advice. They most definitely had not been adding a CV line each month.

And a lot of those peers were struggling. They weren’t getting the jobs they wanted. They weren’t getting the grants. They weren’t getting tenure.

They didn’t seem to put two and two together.

CVs are not just records that passively reflect the things that you “happen to do.” They are records that you actively, consciously, and conscientiously build. You watch your CV, you think about it, you nurture it. You ask, is it where it should be right now, this month, related to the goals I want to reach this year? If not, take action that very day to change it. Finish that half-done article. Submit for a grant. Apply to a conference. Volunteer for a talk.

Take charge of your CV To me it matters less how well-tailored it is to this application or that. What matters is that it is a document that shows your pride in your work, your passion, and your motivation.

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