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Guest post by Bob Dolan.

An effective curriculum vitae (CV) is needed for  academic job applications, as well as for some research positions in other settings. This article will cover the important elements of writing a CV, along with strategies for navigating your academic job search.

Identify what you want

Before you begin, you should evaluate several factors:

  • Do you need a job now? Do you have time to look now?
  • Do you want a faculty position or another role within academia?
  • Are you considering a postdoc or continuing education as an option? What are the financial implications of this option?
  • Is the job market/economic climate likely to change in the next few years?
  • Will your visa status impact your search?

Think about the academic institution you want to work in:

  • Large vs. small
  • Public vs. private
  • Domestic vs. international

What features of an academic career interest you?

  • What percentage of your time would you like to spend on research?
  • What percentage of your time would you like to spend on teaching?
  • What level of student would you like to teach and/or mentor?
  • Are you looking for a position where your salary depends on grant funding, or something that has little need for funding?
  • If you are considering a position in academic administration, what types of roles are available?

As with any job search, you should evaluate important lifestyle factors:

  • Is the culture of the institution or lab aligned with your values and lifestyle?
  • What type of setting are you comfortable working in?
  • Will you be compatible with the work environment?
  • Do your philosophies and life values align with the institution’s core values and guiding principles?

Use your network and know what’s out there

One of the most effective ways of finding faculty opportunities is through networking. For your academic job search to be successful, you have to develop connections in your department and in your field.  Faculty within your department can be important allies and mentors, but it is also helpful to connect with other faculty and postdocs on campus. They may be familiar with a wider range of potential employment opportunities. You should also see if your department offers information or notifications about specific position openings.

In addition to resources offered by your department or professional associations, you can find posted faculty positions for the universities in which you are interested on their website home page or human resources site. Other resources, both domestic and abroad, can be found in academic journals, society newsletters, and websites.

Sculpting your CV

Once you know the direction you are pursuing, you will need to create a document that aligns you with your targeted institutions. Your CV should provide a full list of your professional and educational history. Note that what is presented early on your CV will generally stand out more than material listed later.  

Highlight your strengths

Your CV should highlight the four to five key attributes you want the hiring committee to know about you. These include your skills (both technical and behavioral), achievements, your knowledge areas, and other professional qualities that you can bring to their department or lab.

Don’t forget about your behavioral assets, such as:

  •       Ability to work in a collaborative environment
  •       Ability to work in a multi-disciplinary lab
  •       Ability to lead a lab project
  •       Team orientation
  •       Strong verbal and written communication skills


For an early-career professional, a CV of two to four pages is not uncommon, while an individual with more experience could have a document of four to seven pages or longer.  


Include your name, address, and contact information.

Your research should be clearly described on page one and include What you did, How you did it, and the Results/Impact of your effort. Researching the lab to which you are applying will enable you to show how you align with their environment. Generally, you should list your most current research first; but work that you have performed in the past may also align with the needs of the department. 


If you are pursuing a faculty position that will be primarily a teaching role, consider placing your detailed teaching section before your research section. Include classes you taught, any teaching certificates, and mentoring that you performed. Include the size of your classes, whether you held office hours or corrected exams, and whether you have included student evaluations. If you are pursuing a faculty position where you will both set up a lab and teach, you must demonstrate both of those abilities in detail.

Follow the research and teaching sections with your other accomplishments, listed in their order of importance to your targeted audience.  


  • List your publications in reverse chronological order, with the most recent first.
  • Set your name off typographically, in bold or underlined font. This allows for easy identification of your position on the author list.
  • Place an asterisk on papers for which you made a leading contribution.
  • Group publications in sections, i.e. Books, Refereed Articles, Abstracts, etc.
  • List “Work in Press”, “Submitted Articles”, or “Work in Progress”.

Your discipline may have a distinct protocol on how to list your publications. Check with your local career office for guidance.


List the following:

  • Title of paper
  • Name of conference
  • Dates and location
  • You may also indicate “Invited Talk”, “Poster”, etc.


Be sure to include information about who provided the award and the relevant dates.

Honors and Awards

List these in reverse chronological order.


Add the title of your dissertation, including a brief description of your thesis work. You can also include this information in the research section, if you prefer.

Professional memberships


Work experience


Depending on the employer, you will need three to five references. They should be individuals who can comment in a positive way about your technical abilities and how you fit with the institutions to which you are applying. If relevant, make sure at least one of your references can talk about your teaching abilities. Include their name and title, university affiliation/address, and contact information, such as their telephone number and email address. You should always ask permission in advance before including them on your CV. In very large labs, sometimes you may have to provide your references with a draft of your research to ensure that they deliver the right message.

In most academic application packages, your CV will be the lead document — so it’s important that you deliver a message that will capture the interest of readers and prompt them to invite you in for an interview. Good luck!

For additional resources on-line, consider:                     (includes a career resources section)   

About the author: 

Bob Dolan provides career counseling and professional development workshops for the Postdoctoral Scholars program at MIT. He is a Certified Job Search and Career Transition Consultant with experience in the field of Career Management since 2001. Before joining academia, Bob had a private Career Consulting practice and worked with clients across multiple industries, as well as providing career consulting services for a global Career Management firm.

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