Saturday, September 15, 2007

The course of your life.

Yes, that's essentially how Curriculum Vitae translates.

If mine actually reflected my real life, it would be made of tree leaves for the first page, pollution for the second, cigarette burns for the third, tire marks for the fourth... you get the idea.

Today I've been meditating on how you should never underestimate the value of spending two hours polishing your CV. Specifically, the formatting of your CV.

Yes, it's true. The formatting matters almost more than the content.

In a recent Academic Job Search workshop I attended, one of the exercises they had us do was to be the search committee. We got to evaluate two candidates. We used real application packages with all identifying information blocked out.

Most of the people in our workshop chose the person whose CV was formatted to be longer. Much longer. Everything double spaced and indented TO THE MAX. It was very pretty, and seemed much more impressive just because of the length. Every time you had to turn the page you thought, "Wow, there's a lot on here."

I'm talking ~ 3 pages for one person compared to ~ 10 pages for the other.

Oddly enough, I picked the person with the 'ugly' CV, because that CV had more qualifications relevant to the job description, even if it took me on the order of 10 whole seconds of looking through each of them to figure that out.

But the point wasn't lost on me. Not knowing anything about a person, it's hard to know who to pick. If all they look at is your CV, it makes about as much sense as judging whether to like someone based solely on whether they have pretty feet. You're just looking at one part of the elephant.

Considering how much time we spend prettifying our papers and grants, it seems reasonable that if you're serious about getting a job, then your CV should be gorgeous.

Ironically, I've always prized my CV as one of my better application features. I thought it looked pretty good, and had lots of strong content. I've shown it to lots of faculty and tried to take their feedback on fonts, which section goes where, etc. Nobody said I was doing anything egregiously wrong.

But this exercise made me realize that it probably doesn't matter if I have more publications than either of these anonymized people (both of whom now have faculty positions in real life). What matters is that you literally have to look good on paper.

I never understood what that really meant until now.

My CV didn't need to go to a gym. It needed to go to a day spa.

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13 Comments:

At 1:21 AM, Anonymous Andrew said...

That's funny, I was always told by my university's career service to make the CV short - 2 pages max. And that's even for applying for academic positions (they said resumes for non-academic jobs should be even shorter, like one page).

 
At 9:26 AM, Anonymous andrea said...

Gee ... and all this time, I'd been operating under the dictum that a resume should be no more than two pages!

Or maybe resumes and CVs follow different rules...

 
At 10:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

why stop there? why not "look the part" too? dress sharply the way people want their future bosses to dress.

 
At 12:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oooh, so close to the secret. :)

"Not knowing anything about a person, it's hard to know who to pick."

Exactly! The point is: HAVE YOURSELF BE KNOWN TO THEM. This is the secret to getting your CV out of the big pile and into the little pile. Either someone on the search committee needs to know you personally, for example from networking at meetings, or more easily, they need to know your advisor. Best case scenario, your advisor *picks up the phone, or emails directly* someone they know at that institution and says, "you really need to take a look at her, she'd a rising star and would be perfect for you." It's not enough to write a superlative letter of recommendation, because the other 200 applications in the big pile also have superlative letters. There needs to be a personal connection somewhere. That connection is what gets you the interview. All else being equal (as it generally is... everyone's CV has great papers and super references) the committee is going to be inclined towards someone they have some personal experience with, and even a trivial seeming amound of personal contact can make the difference.

 
At 3:47 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Actually they gave us pretty distinct definitions for resume's and CV. The CV can be unlimited length; the resume cannot.

I too was told to try to keep the CV on the shorter side, but apparently that's actually bad advice.

I've gotten a lot of bad advice.

Random aside- anyone know how to do accent markings in Blogger/html? I'm too lazy to figure it out.

Oh and Dear Anonymous,

If this is "the secret", why didn't anyone tell me any of this before?

My point being, WHY IS IT A SECRET??

NOT ONE of the many, many many academic job search seminars I've been to over the years told us outright that YOU HAVE TO KNOW SOMEONE. And that if you don't know someone, you have to make them know you.

They all said "You need a CV, research statement" blah blah blah.

Why the hell do they do that??? It's a waste of everyone's time to give us incomplete instructions on how the process actually works.

Scientific method, people. We need a protocol! It also helps if the establishment isn't in complete denial that the times, they have a-changed.

In fact, when I've asked faculty outright, most have denied that personal connectiions have any effect on search committees' decisions whatsoever, and NONE have encouraged me to cold call department chairs. The first time I heard this advice was this year.

I've never had an advisor who would pick up the phone for anyone, let alone any women, let alone me.

What I've finally come to understand is that I'm going to have to make the phone calls on my own behalf, and possibly even pay out of my pocket to go to meetings and visit places in person to introduce myself to the right people in the departments where I would like to end up.

 
At 6:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To follow up on "the secret":

It's just human nature. Put yourself in the position of the hiring committee... you put an ad in Science, you get (really) 200 applications. Now what do you do? You can afford to bring in a max of 5 people for interviews. Even after you chuck all the obvious no-go applications, you're left with way more than 5, and they all look exactly the same... great first author papers, reasonable research proposals, superb letters of recommendation. Now what? But say someone on the committee has actually met one of the applicants at a meeting, maybe chatted, however briefly, at her poster three years ago. Now her CV has a human face attached to it, and that's often enough to make the difference. Or, if there's an actual phone call from the advisor... as you point out, how often does that happen? Wow, this woman must really be something for her advisor to go over and beyond the call of duty like that... put her CV in the small pile.

The seminars you've gone to are correct, as far as they go. You DO need a CV, research statement and all the blah blah blah. The problem is, everyone has all that. The question is, what do you have that all the other people don't have? Often, a personal contact is that something.

Problem is, you need to lay the groundwork for this personal contact years in advance. You need to get out and go to meetings and actually meet people. You need to pick an advisor that will actually pick up the phone for you (many, perhaps most, will not do this... that's precisely why it has value). After you're applying for jobs, it's too late. I would definitely NOT start cold-calling department chairs.

 
At 6:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The personal connection gets you from the big pile to the little pile, but that doesn't get you the job. That's why it doesn't get mentioned as factoring into who gets the job. No one really keeps track of how those CVs percolate up to the top.

Bottom line is that life isn't fair, especially in systems like the faculty job search process that are far from equilibrium. So you have to do what it takes to get noticed.

 
At 6:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i had an advisor who woul make phone calls for me only after months of prolonged begging. there was another female student in the lab, who never once asked, and he would call up his friends to consider giving her the job. how do you top that kind of favoritism?

 
At 9:21 AM, Blogger Drugmonkey said...

There are many versions of the academic CV that you will need. Off the top of my head:

1. The Full Monty CV. This has everything and I mean EVERYTHING from grad school onward. (Well, not your dog's name). Every conference presentation, every student supervised, every lecture given, class taught. The works. I usually see these from seminar speakers and I think this would be your application CV in most cases. It is easiest to keep this one as your default and then just cut away for most other versions. I know it doesn't seem like it for postdocs but eventually you are going to start forgetting some things so it is worth it to keep a Full Monty record. For your own memoir if nothing else!

2. The "usual" CV. Selected pubs for the senior types, ix-nay on the conference presentations. for trainees, of course, they will want conference presentations to fill out the "pubs" but be selective. depending on context it may drop the teaching or emphasize it. ditto "service" such as all those bitty journals you've reviewed one paper for. "honors and awards" might need to be cut back a bit to the best ones depending on how many you have, I'd say more than 5-8 is too many. (although I will note that this is a place for slipping in "unusual" background that you may think is important.) This is the one where you start hearing advice along the lines of "stick to 2 pages" or the like.

3. The NIH biosketch or other format required by a funding agency, hiring university, etc. Stick to the rules. The goal here is to communicate clearly and cleanly the information of importance. The reviewer wants to find the information, not see how clever you are about skirting the rules. They are also not going to be fooled and might get ticked. Don't try to tart up a conference abstract as a pub, even if it is in a journal supplement. Don't put in "submitted" or "in prep".

...I'm sure there are other versions. The point being that there is no single format for a CV. You need to adapt it for your given audience. This underlines YFS's main point that you should take the construction of your CV seriously...

 
At 9:22 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anonymous who said "I would definitely NOT start cold-calling department chairs."

You mean you personally would not? Or is there some reason to strongly advise people not to do this?

I know a few people who have gotten interviews this way. They were reluctant to try it, but it worked.

I was thinking I would start by calling people I know in departments where I'm interested in applying, and get their suggestions on whether they think their chair would be receptive or put off by a phone call out of the blue.

I know people in a lot of places... unfortunately most of them are not on search committees in the departments where I would be applying. But they know people who are.

 
At 10:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I meant was that if I were the applicant, as the applicant I would not start calling people I had never met. You have to use the six degrees of separation thing. It is really stunning just how incredibly small and intricately connected the world of academic science is (which is also why you don't ever want to capriciously piss people off). Just get close and let human nature do the rest.

My advice: You're applying for a position at University X. Do you know anyone at University X? Send them an email, or give them a call and say something along the lines of, "remember me? we met at such-and-such whenever-it-was. I'm looking for permanent positions now and I noticed that University X is hiring. If you know about the search, would you mind putting in a good word for me?". Same goes for your advisor... just ask them to ping somebody they know at the institution. That way it's non-threatening, it can't hurt you, and it might just get you past that first big cut. At a minimum, you are networking and maintaining / strengthening your contacts, which is always positive. On the other hand, cold-calling people can make you come across as "too aggressive". That might not be bad, but then again, it could be. The thing to keep in mind is that the rate limiting step for getting an academic job is getting from the big pile of CV's into the little pile of people who actually get interviews. If you can get yourself interviews (and can then sell yourself when given the chance), it's reasonably inevitable for one of those interviews to result in an offer, especially since the universities all wind up interviewing the same small group of people and each person can only take with one job. But if you can't get interviews... time to punt.

 
At 5:32 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

If you've reviewed a paper or two for a journal, do you list that? If so, then how do you list that? I never even thought to list that!

Also, if you've been invited to be an editor for a set of current opinion-type papers in your field, and accepted the offer but the publication in question is a bit far off, do you list that? And if so, what's the appropriate place to put it?

In thinking this over, I realize that most CVs I've seen were "the usual" or the NIH biosketch from my PIs. I'm not sure how many actual assistant faculty level job applicant CVs I've ever actually seen!

(People in my field tend to be very cagey about revealing their actual qualifications, for fear it would diminish their claims to arrogance.)

Now I'm wondering how Monty the Full Monty version can/should get!

Oh and another question- are you in favor of the line at the end where you list a few outside activities?

I saw one the other day where the person listed, you know, dancing the tango and long dog walks in the park.

Does that make you seem more real and well-rounded, or just immature/unprofessional? Also, is this an area where the advice for women is different than for men?

 
At 11:10 PM, Blogger Drugmonkey said...

Under a heading called "Advisory Activities" or some such. perhaps under the "Awards" or "Professional Societies" sections. You might have subsections for Grant reviewing (if on a study section, ad hoc'ing or whatever. trainees might have contributed to small-award reviews i can imagine), Editorial and something like "ad hoc reviewing" where you might list off a series of journals. again, the part that makes it into the "usual" CV would be selective, maybe the core society journals, C/N/S if any, etc. the goal for this latter just being that you do your part for the field and/or that the editors in the field seek your opinion.

i tend to see the fullest versions of CVs circulated with invited seminar speakers so that's something to pay attention to. it may only go to the "host" or the scheduled faculty but you should be able to get your hands on a couple...

ouble-day ix-nay on the cutesy outside activities! might as well mention that stuff like birthdate, marital status, kids and even your home address shouldn't be on there either. i see this from time to time and there may be a cultural / national difference of opinion on this. in the US, no personal stuff. I wouldn't say the advice differs for men and women in this regard. although, let's not be silly, the "cost" of admitting to being married with kids is going to be higher for women. related thought- when on interview maybe turn off that screen saver with your personal photos on it, eh?

as far as the Fullest of Monty CVs go, part of the point here is a personal record of your professional engagement. From this perspective the fuller the better so long as you tailor each one you send out.

 

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