The CV: This is Your Life

Since Prof. McCutcheon has offered a couple of posts with advice about the job market, one on campus interviews and one on the process more broadly, I thought I would add a post about another piece of the job market process: the CV.

The topic of the CV came up the other day in our REL 502: Public Humanities Foundations course when we were looking at professional websites the students had built. Every student had included some sort of CV on their site but as we talked it became clear that why that CV was there and what it was doing needed to be thought out more clearly.

Curriculum vitae means, roughly, “course of life,” but I don’t think many folks think of it that way. When I first put together a CV I thought of it more as a list, a list of lists really. I list my publications. I list my degrees. I list the courses I’ve taught. It’s a list of lists. And hopefully those lists are long enough to impress someone.

The problem with the list of lists approach to the CV is that it is hard for the hiring committee reading it to get any sense of what all of these lists really mean. Instead, it’s better to think of the CV as a “course of life,” or as the old tv show (and one of my favorite WWF segments) put it, “This is your life!” Like the old show, the document should tell a story about you and you should be sure it tells the story you want it to.

Put another way, the CV is a narrative document. What you put on it, how you put it on there, and in what order tells a story about your life as an academic. The education section tells the reader where you were trained, maybe even who your advisor(s) were. The employment section narrates your academic experience. The publications tell a story of your growth as a researcher and your interests. Do they change? Do they follow a trajectory? What is on the horizon and “in progress” or “forthcoming?” The courses taught narrate your flexibility and breadth as a teacher.

This means you need to pay special attention to how your organize the CV and how you order it, in order to tell the best story for the job. The ordering of the different sections create the narrative structure of the document. The different sections you choose set the themes of the story. For example, if you are applying for a position at a research university then your publications should be on page one, maybe page two at the latest and they should be listed in a way that immediately tells the reader that you have a certain research agenda and potential to be a specific researcher. On the other hand, you may need a different narrative that features the variety of courses you have taught or assisted in for a small liberal arts college. If you lack teaching experience maybe you list the areas you have taken exams in or a set of “teaching areas” to show what you trained to do if given the opportunity. While there are few expected categories or sections for a CV, there is no hard and fast model for organizing it so you should choose the headings and subheadings you use wisely in order to best suit the narrative you want to present the readers.

Overall, the CV presents a narrative of your work life as an academic from 30,000 feet. A good CV will not necessarily win you a campus visit or even a Skype interview, but a good CV will pique the interest of the reader. It will make the reader want to know more, so that they will then turn to the cover letter and writing sample and other documents to find out the full story of you. So make sure your CV is your best story for the job.

This entry was posted in Faculty Blog, Relevance of Humanities, Religion in Culture and tagged , , , , , by Michael Altman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Michael Altman

Michael J. Altman is Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies. Dr. Altman's areas of interest are American religious history, theory and method in the study of religion, the history of comparative religion, and Asian religions in American culture. Overall, his research sits at the crossroads of American religious history and religious studies, using the theoretical insights of religious studies to dig deeper into what we mean by "religion" in religious history. His current research examines cultural constructions of Hinduism in 19th-century America.

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