From The Cronical
of Higher Education
Friday, December 17, 2004
From CV to Rsum
By KIM THOMPSON and TERREN ILANA WEIN
guidance for academic job seekers from professional career counselors
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Your CV speaks primarily to an academic audience and acts as a record of your
scholarly pedigree and accomplishments. It is an all-encompassing portrait of
who you are intellectually and should include everything you've been involved
with academically since starting graduate school.
But send a document like that to an employer outside of academe and it will
most likely end up in the "toss" pile.
Compared to a CV, a rsum is more like a snapshot -- a brief document
presenting the specific skills and experiences you have that are relevant to
the job for which you're applying.
It's been five years since Margaret Newhouse first
offered advice on this site about converting your CV into a rsum. You can
still read her advice
here. We would like to revisit the topic in this column and offer some
up-to-date suggestions. We've also reworked
one scholar's CV into a
rsum to guide you in transforming your own CV into a powerful rsum.
CV Versus Rsum
While both documents represent you as a professional, they differ on many
counts. A rsum is designed to sell your relevant skill set and experiences
to a particular employer. The goal of a CV is to present a complete picture of
the breadth and depth of academic experiences you have accumulated.
A CV can be any length (and may even run to dozens of pages, especially for
senior professors). But a rsum must be short -- never more than two
pages, and many employers prefer it to be a single
The formatting of CV's is also quite distinct from that of rsums. Job and
experience descriptions in a rsum should always be in a bulleted format,
while descriptions of research and teaching on a CV are usually in paragraph
Academic search committees are made up mostly of people with Ph.D.'s who know
how to read a CV and are looking for your scholarly interests. Rsums, on the
other hand, are reviewed by people with a wide range of backgrounds. In
general, they are less interested in your scholarly skills and more interested
in practical matters -- if they hire you, how will you perform on the job?
The biggest difference is in the content. CV's may include lists of your
publications, presentations, teaching experiences, honors, grants, and
dissertation abstracts. Very little of that should be included in a rsum.
We can't emphasize enough that on a rsum, you should include only those
skills relevant to the job in question. That means removing lists of your
publications, presentations, examinations passed, dissertation abstracts, etc.
-- unless they have a direct bearing on the job for which you're applying. For
example, in general you wouldn't include scholarly publications. However, if
you're applying for a job where writing skills are paramount and the content
of your publications is relevant, you can include select publications.
While CV's usually include a list of three to five references, rsums do not
include such a list. You might want to type up that list as a separate
document, however, and have it on hand during the interview should an employer
express an interest in contacting your references.
If you have a CV prepared, then you have the base of your rsum. You will
need to answer the questions we propose in the next section, and get ready to
edit out a lot of information.
Don't worry: Just because that information isn't on your rsum doesn't mean
you can't use it to your advantage somewhere else down the line.
Preparing to Create a Rsum
Whom do you want to hire you? While there is no wrong or right way to position
yourself on the job market, you can benefit by thinking critically about your
audience of potential employers. How can you sell them on your experience and
demonstrate that you are a good worker? How can you make it easy for them to
see your skills and understand what you can do better for having worked toward
a master's or Ph.D.?
Some of this is just common sense: If you're looking at Internet and
technology-related careers, highlight your computer and Web skills. If you
want a job at a pharmaceutical company, focus on your laboratory experience.
If you hope to become a professional writer, make certain employers see your
experience as an editor and writer of intellectual content.
Employer Anxieties About Hiring Ph.D.'s:
Many employers fear that job candidates with master's and doctoral degrees are
overeducated and undersocialized. They perceive
Ph.D.'s in particular as people who are unable to make and meet deadlines,
don't work well in teams, and can't communicate in simple, direct terms. Use
your rsum to minimize such perceptions by illustrating that you have
experience working in teams, meeting deadlines, and communicating effectively.
Be sure to mention other relevant experiences you have had, such as
volunteering; coaching; or running workshops or Internet discussion groups.
Mention activities in which you have been involved as part of a group like
your professional association or graduate-student union. Such activities can
demonstrate your skills as effectively as "regular" jobs. In fact, given that
many people see academics as overly specialized, such activities might help
you more as a candidate for a nonacademic job than your individual scholarly
Drafting a Rsum
The rsum aesthetic can be boiled down to two words: readability and
consistency. Your rsum should be easy to scan and understand quickly. Help
potential employers understand you by not making them work to puzzle out your
background and skills.
Adhere to a consistent and eye-pleasing format. Use concise and accessible
language. Put information in categories and be consistent -- in terms of
style, format, and language -- within those categories.
Every rsum is different, depending on the circumstances of the job opening
and your background relevant to that position. We don't recommend rigidly
copying any particular format or template. We do recommend making a first pass
at a rsum and then taking it in to your campus career center for a critique.
If you don't have access to a career center through your current or former
institution, check with your local public library to find out about other
Now for some basic pointers to get you started on that strong rsum that you
have hiding inside your CV.
- Don't be shy; be noticed. Place your contact
information at the top of the page.
- Leave adequate white space and margins.
- Eliminate articles ("a," "an," and "the") whenever
possible. Remember, this document must be scannable.
- Use emphasizers --
i.e., bold and italic typeface -- wisely and consistently, but sparingly.
- Avoid academic jargon. Translate your laboratory
skills and research interests into everyday language when possible.
- Describe your experience as concisely as possible.
Sentence fragments are OK.
- Use action verbs. Make sure tenses are consistent.
Consistency and Categorization:
- Use a bulleted list to indicate each of the key skills
that you utilized or the most important responsibilities you had at a job.
- In describing each of your previous positions, use no
more than three to five bullets for each job.
- Keep the order of your categories consistent. If you
decide to name the employer, then the position, location, and dates of
employment, make sure you do that in the same way for each one. If you have
the employer's name in boldface type in the first entry, make sure you do
that for all of the entries.
What Not to Do:
- For the most part, including an objective statement at
the top of your rsum or a short paragraph summarizing your experience is
considered a dated approach. Still, there might be a few business fields
where that is still a good idea. Ask your contacts in the field if you are
- Don't reach back too far. Your undergraduate degree is
relevant, your high-school activities are not.
- Don't put personal information about your relationship
status, children, ethnic origin, religion, or the like on your rsum or in
your cover letter. If, however, you have relevant work experience with, for
example, your church or synagogue, putting that type of information on your
rsum is a personal call. If you decide to include it, make sure that you
emphasize the skill or the work experience itself.
Looking at your multipage CV, it may seem
impossible to reduce it to a one-page rsum. You may feel sad about "cutting"
all of your scholarly accomplishments, or frustrated that you can't
communicate all of your skills and achievements.
It's important to remember, however, that the move from the ivory tower to
"the real world" doesn't mean that those skills and achievements are for
naught. You will use them all over the course of your career -- just not in
the way you had originally planned. The important thing at this stage is not
to let your past experiences actually get in the way of your future ones.
One last note: Just because you have a Ph.D. doesn't exempt you from typos.
Employers can and do simply throw away rsums of otherwise-qualified
candidates because of such errors. So proofread your rsum, have someone else
look it over, and then you proofread it again. Proofread it every time that
you create a new version. Good luck.
Kim Thompson and Terren
Ilana Wein work at the University of
Chicago's Office of Career Advising and Planning Services.
Wein is the director for library and information
services and Thompson is the assistant director for graduate services in the