Six Tips for Making Your CV Look Better… Right Now!

Take a second and think about your CV. Not what it could be, or what you hope it will look like in the future, but what it looks like right now. Does it tell the story of you? Is it clear and organized? Is it compelling?

I hate to point out this frightening truth, but your CV is massively important. It is often a potential employer’s or granting agency’s first impression of you, and can truly be a make-or-break document. Talk about pressure! So, how can you guarantee that you are putting your best foot forward when it matters most? Don’t panic, the GSC is here to help! Below you’ll find advice regarding CV formatting, content, and presentation. Whether your CV just needs some minor tweaking or a major overhaul, these tips can help you make it look better right now!

1. Don’t be afraid to use spacing.

It may seem like forever ago, but before being in academia, you may remember struggling to make your resumé fit on just one short page. The one-page rule is the standard in many settings, but academia is not one of them. So break free of those confines, and space it out! Using spacing effectively will make your CV easier to follow. It will also call more attention to your various sections, including where one ends and another begins, and make all of your accomplishments easier to locate.

2. Cut the small stuff.

Now that I’ve told you to add some space, I’m going to suggest that you remove some text. This can be a hard pill for graduate students to swallow, as we often find ourselves wishing we had more awards or publications to list at this early stage in our careers. Still, I strongly urge you to resist the temptation to add padding, and recommend that you remove any padding that you have already. “Padding” can mean double-listing items under two different headings, over-listing posters, or adding relatively meaningless experiences, activities, and awards. If you are a regular science writer for your school’s paper, great! Add a line! If you once wrote a letter to the editor of your school’s paper that never got published… well, you should probably go ahead and leave that off. If you aren’t sure what exactly qualifies as padding, ask your advisor or another professor.

3. Dare to be similar.

Consider emulating the CV of someone you admire. If he or she has a CV that looks impressive, don’t be afraid to mimic his or her headings or formatting. Small unique details on a CV are great, but never let your pursuit of artistic expression get in the way of clarity. Crazy or tiny fonts, wild colors, or a strange or unexpected structure will only make it difficult to follow. Grant reviewers and search committees do not have the time or energy to put in extra work just to find or decipher your poster presentations. Instead of wowing them with your uniqueness, you will likely just leave them frustrated.

4. Diversify.

Feeling a little light on experience, but don’t want to add padding? Look at other peoples’ CVs to see if you are missing any sections. We tend to obsess over publications, as those are highly important, but it’s good to consider if there are any other sections you could add to make yourself a more well-rounded candidate. Then, set your sights on making these experiences realities. Realized you need reviewer experience? Sign up to review for the SPSP Student Poster Award or the APS Student Grant Competition. Not enough community involvement? Ask how you can become a representative within your university, or at the national level. No teaching experience? Ask your program coordinator how you can become a TA, or maybe even teach your own course over the summer.

5. Keep it current.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but make sure your CV is up-to-date! If your posters from two years ago still say “to be presented,” and that one manuscript has been “under review” for nine months, you may not be sending the right message. Show the world that you take your work seriously by regularly updating your CV.

6. Make it public!

Now that you’ve done all this work to make your CV the best it can possibly be, the last thing you should do is hide it in some desktop documents folder. CVs were made to be shared, so don’t be shy! Consider sharing a link to yours on your profile page, a professional webpage, or on sites like ResearchGate and

Entering the job market in the near future and want even more CV advice? If you’re attending the 2015 SPSP Annual Convention, then you should join us at the GSC symposium on Friday, February 27th from 8:15-9:30AM in room 201A. Dr. Danu Stinson will teach students how to effectively present themselves through their CV, research websites, and social media (along with other great speakers who will discuss additional job market advice).

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