Academic CV: The Ultimate Guide to Land Your Dream Job

Thinking of applying for promotion or a new job? Then it’s time to dust off your academic CV.

If updating your CV has you scrambling around for your recent publications, trying to remember exactly when you started your second last role, and trying to find metrics to show what a great lecturer you are, then don’t worry, you’re not alone.

You might also be eyeing off some slick CV templates and found some advice on ‘how to make your CV stand out’.

Several features of the academic CV make it fairly specific to the academic context – your publications, grants and esteem measures. However, a large component of your CV, your work history, if structured the right way can be used to apply for nearly any position.

As an executive search consultant and previous Chair of Academic Board and Deputy Vice Chancellor Research, I have worked with numerous applicants on promotion and recruitment panels for all levels of academic and professional appointments – and I’ve also been in the hot seat myself. This article draws on what I know now, what I wish I had known earlier, and the advice I give prospective candidates who are looking at changing roles.

Therefore, the purpose of this article is to take the pain out of preparing an academic CV that can be quickly updated for any position without needing a professional photo shoot or a complicated template.

What are recruiters looking for in your academic CV?

Academic recruiters look through hundreds of CVs every year. They are attuned to scanning them in a few minutes to get an idea of your appropriateness for the role for which you’re applying.

If your CV is well structured, it is easy to determine the breadth and depth of your skills relative to the position you are applying for (whether it is an internal promotion or a job application). However, and it is a big ‘however’ – if your CV is poorly structured, the information can be very difficult to find and interpret.

A well structured CV can make the difference between getting an interview or not. If you are one of dozens of applicants for a role, a poorly structured CV may stop you being considered at all.

Your CV provides insight into several important attributes of the way you work as an academic. Can you structure and present information? How do you present yourself? What are the key themes, activities, and achievements within your career and is there internal consistency?

How important is attention to detail? Academics are busy and everyone makes mistakes. Some minor typos won’t necessarily put you out of contention for a role, but using the wrong university acronyms, poor formatting, sloppy grammar, systematic typographical and spelling errors will knock you out of the game fairly quickly.

If you can type accurately and know how to use structured word processing templates (such as Microsoft Word) you probably don’t need professional formatting. If you’re a one finger typist and cannot format a document, then having your CV professionally formatted and edited will probably be a sound investment.

Formatting your academic CV

Formatting your academic CV

The layout of your CV should make it as easy as possible for the reader to look through it and ascertain the information they need to know. A good CV structure is one that is easy to update without having to reformat your entire document.

White space

Make use of white space. It improves the readability and flow of the document.

Fonts

Use an accessible, professional font (times new Roman, Arial, Calibri, Garamond). Minimum 11 point. An effective font is one that the reader doesn’t notice. Never use informal fonts like Comic Sans.

Simplicity

Keep it simple. Minimise the use of different fonts, colours or text sizes (except for headings).

Head shot?

Do not use a photograph (more on that later).

Sidebars?

Don’t use sidebars (i.e., summaries of your achievements in an extra column). These break the linear flow of the CV and generally contain material that needs to be updated frequently. A good CV is easy to scan quickly.

Hyperlinks?

There is no need to insert hyperlinks to publications or reports. They tend to make your CV look messy, and also require updating. However, if you have websites for your research, it may be worth creating a link to those. Your CV should stand alone. Don’t assume that people will follow the links.

Order

As a general rule, use reverse chronological order in all sections (don’t have your high school checkout job as the first on the list). This also makes it easier to update your CV.

Footer

Include a footer with page numbers and your name on it (someone, somewhere at some stage will have a paper version of your CV which will become separated from the rest of the document).

File format

Save your final version as a PDF to submit it (if permissible) to maintain your formatting. PDFs are also more manageable file sizes to email and / or download.

Do I need a special CV template?

You do not need to use a special template to present your CV. Microsoft Word templates will suffice. If you go to ‘new documents,’ it will give you several options to create a new CV (resume). A standard, but well formatted document in Word will do the job. It is easy to update and the template can easily be modified to refresh the appearance if you choose.

Confused and not sure where to start? Not a problem! Download the free Academic CV template when you join the Academic Entrepreneur mailing list.

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Canva also has some fabulous CV templates which look very professional, but are more suitable for shorter resumes. Academics often have a lot to update on their CV and a non-standard template can be more difficult to work with. Keep it clean, simple, and ensure that you can update it easily.

Some selection panels still work with paper copies of documents, but assume that most will access your documents online (so make it easily accessible in online format).

Should I include a photograph on my academic CV?

Academic CV profile picture

I know it’s popular, and most generic CV templates include a photo. From a recruitment perspective, I strongly advise candidates against using photographs. A photograph is worth a thousand words, however you have little control over what those words are.

Humans are challenged by unconscious bias all the time. If your photo reminds the reviewer strongly of their ex-girlfriend / boyfriend, mother / father, husband, or other nemesis, you have no control over that, nor will you ever understand how that can affect their interpretation of you. There is also evidence that other sources of bias can creep in as well such as assumptions about religion and nationality.

As an academic, you are likely to have a social media presence and the panel will inevitably search for you. Although as this study suggests, your Facebook photo still creates bias with interview panels.

Be aware of what the panel will find when they search for you online, and curate that content appropriately using privacy settings.

What to include in your academic CV

These are the standard components of any academic CV:

  • Your personal details
  • Professional profile
  • Educational background
  • Professional experience
  • Publications
  • Grants / research
  • Professional memberships
  • Conference presentation
  • Other measures of esteem

Personal details

Name (and previous names if you have been known by those as an academic, and if it is relevant), address, contact details (personal email address and phone number), your citizenship, and / or residency status if relevant.

Your professional profile

Your “professional profile” is a paragraph at the start of your academic CV that summarises career and personal highlights that are relevant to the role. While everything else will remain largely the same in your CV, this is where you can highlight anything that you want to showcase.

The professional profile lets you inject your personality into your CV (which otherwise tends to be fairly technical), and emphasise key points you want the interview panel to be aware of.

What is your passion, what motivates you, what is an important part of your story, what differentiates you from everyone else? What change are you trying to make and why are you the best person to do it? You might want to drive change through your research, or through your leadership, or both – be clear about this, and use your language to reflect it. Have consistency in your story – use your CV messaging to reflect this. We talk more about this in our article on academic branding.

Modify your personal profile according to the role. For instance, if you are applying to be a Professor of Biochemistry you will want to showcase your Nature publications, grants and subject matter expertise. If you are applying to be a Head of School or Dean, you will really want to highlight your innovative leadership style, experience and perhaps formal leadership training (but if you have Nature publications, then you would showcase those as well).

If you are applying for a promotion or a new role, use your professional profile to establish your niche area of expertise. You should really be trying to demonstrate that you have some internal consistency around your research themes, teaching areas and philosophy. It is a real advantage if you can articulate this in your overarching statement (profile) and support it with the rest of your CV.

This section can also be modified for other, non-academic purposes, such as consultancy and board directorships.

Education

Use a standard structure for all of your qualifications.

Include the name of your degree (eg Bachelor of Applied Science) as well as any information on your academic testamur, eg First class honours, with distinction, university medal, Magda Cum Laude etc. Include the name of your institution and year you graduated. If it has changed name, use the original name, but put the current name in brackets. Eg Bachelor of Communication, Mitchell CAE (now Charles Sturt University).

The presentation doesn’t really matter, but make it clear. The title of your thesis can be useful, but the name of your supervisors are generally not necessary.

Separate formal (higher education) qualifications from other training, but it is OK to have both in this section. Include any formal qualifications you have obtained in other fields, such as a Licentiate in Music (music is a common example). It is a formal accredited qualification and shows depth.

Include other, relevant training underneath your formal qualifications. This might include formal leadership training and professional training relevant to your area of practice. Do not include minor courses, such as “training in PowerPoint” (things you should know anyway).

Generally keep training to a minimum, unless it is really relevant to your current role, adds specific credibility to your area of practice or is an important component of your background.

Previous employment

This is one of the most important areas of your academic CV. People tend to structure their employment in different ways. The options tend to be thematically, by different types of roles, or chronologically.

I strongly, strongly suggest you use the chronological approach to your CV. It makes it much easier for you to update sequentially, but importantly, it shows your career trajectory clearly and easily.

Conversely, a CV that is structured thematically is very difficult to follow (and frankly, difficult to write). Use your professional profile section to emphasise key themes (such as leadership expertise, teaching and lecturing, other content), but do not use it as an organising framework for your CV.

Start with your current role and work backwards (ie reverse chronological structure).

Include the title of the role; the dates you’ve been in this role (month and year generally, unless you were in a particular role for several years); and the institution. Provide a one-sentence overview of what the role involves (eg senior lecturer in anatomy, lecturing to third and fourth year medical students), then, importantly, provide a list of your key achievements in this role.

You don’t need to cover everything, and you may want to tailor this to the position you’re applying for, however if you do it well, and thoroughly at the start, you should not have to make many changes to this section.

As far as possible use specific examples supported by metrics. For example, if you were in a lecturing role, highlight innovations you made to the curriculum; particular accolades (eg 5 years of teaching satisfaction scores in the top 1%); and any specific teaching commendations.

In research positions, emphasise strong, key achievements, which might include grant income, high profile publications or non-traditional outputs such as exhibitions, performances or artworks, or research impact.

If you have held leadership roles, give an idea of the scale of the role (number of direct reports, budget), innovations, impact, successful changes you led or implemented. If you led or chaired important committees, such as Athena SWAN, or represented the university on national committees, mention those here.

If you have held multiple positions at the same university, even if some were overlapping, put the most recently completed / current roles at the top and work backwards.

For example, if you have had promotions in your university (eg senior lecturer to associate professor), then include the dates and roles for each of those. It shows progression, and you will have the opportunity to show innovation within each section.

Where possible, use standard names for your job titles. If your role had a non-standard name or title, spell it out or put the equivalent in brackets. For example, many countries use the term ‘assistant professor’ for what is known as a lecturer / senior lecturer in Australia. Make the translation easy for the reader by using terms that have equivalence at the institution you are applying to.

This is important, because I have been on interview panels where foreign roles have been dismissed as being at a much lower level than they actually were. Providing a clear list of the types of tasks you performed will help.

Compress your early positions if you have been employed for a long time and / or are in more senior positions. For example, someone applying for a Dean or Pro Vice Chancellor role can compress their 20 year old associate lecturer position into the title, date and institution, but will probably choose to expand more recent leadership positions.

Many people applying for senior leadership roles at higher education intuitions will have non-linear and non-academic backgrounds. Don’t underestimate the value of your non-academic positions, particularly for a senior leadership role. See the section below on how to present your non-academic career in an academic CV.

I would still suggest that you list all of your positions and time-frames. This is potentially more important for someone from a non-traditional or non-academic background because of the challenge of determining their ‘provenance’ (ie understanding your trajectory). We still see a small number of academics who have completed their undergraduate and post-graduate qualifications at the same institution, and climbed into senior leadership positions within that institution. Those people are well known and their provenance is (generally) easily verifiable. 

It is harder to fit someone into a straightforward academic position if they have had several years in a background that doesn’t fit the standard trajectory. Don’t get me wrong – this is probably the norm, not the exception, but your job is to make your CV as understandable to your reader as possible, and to paint for them the picture of how your experience fits their needs.

We do occasionally see ‘CV fraud’, which normally arises because someone had a bad experience at a particular institution. Suddenly that position disappears from their CV. A non-linear CV makes it harder to spot irregularities, and always creates suspicion (see CV Red Flags below).

While not forensically examining the details of every CV, recruiters will be most comfortable if they can account for all of your time back to the end of secondary school. They don’t need to know about your supermarket or McDonalds jobs, but it is helpful to account for your work, study time and any significant breaks.

Time off for personal leave is fine. If you took a career break, gap year, maternity leave etc, specify that, with the time frames. Again, this is part of your story.

Publications

Separate your publications into peer-reviewed journal articles, books and book sections, reports (and other non peer-reviewed, technical outputs), patents (if relevant) and other works, with a clear, separate sub-heading for each.

It is a good idea to keep your publications in a reference manager (eg Endnote, Mendeley or Zotero) so you can easily insert, update them and reformat if necessary.

Ideally, use a consistent referencing style (eg Harvard). It doesn’t really matter which style you use, as long as all of the co-authors are included (within reason).

Don’t highlight your name in your publication bibliography. A quick skim of your publications will show where you are in the order of authors, approximately how many first authored publications you’ve had, how your publishing has evolved over time, and the quality of the journals you have published in.

Different academic disciplines use different publishing conventions. Generally, the first author is considered the ‘lead’ author, but this is not always the case. If you are from an academic discipline that uses a different convention (eg the last author is the principle investigator or lead author), mention that in your cover letter and at interview.

Keep your academic CV simple. There is no need to add additional data to the publication list such as citation rates and journal rankings. These change very quickly, and will create a lot of extra work for you.

If you want to emphasise particular points about your publications (including your H-index, citation rates , or particularly notable outputs), mention those in your professional profile. The interview panel will normally look up relevant metrics.

If you have a lot of information to include here – some senior academics have hundreds of publications – then truncate it at a reasonable point (eg use the last 10 years of publications, or your most important publications) and state that you have done that. Normally when you are at that stage of your career, your reputation will speak for you.

Your research

Again, as long as you are systematic in your presentation, there is no right or wrong way to present your research. If you have completed a lot of research, it is worth using a structured table with headings to present it. This will also make it easier to update. As with the other sections, use reverse chronological order.

Important details include:

  • Research title
  • Dates (start – finish)
  • Funder, including relevant reference numbers
  • Funding amount
  • Applicant names with (PI) inserted beside the name of the principal investigator
  • You may want to include an ‘outputs’ section where you list the publications, reports and impacts arising from your research. I don’t recommend this, having tried it myself. It is a lot of work and becomes a logistical challenge to continually update and ensure you have captured everything.

A brief synopsis of the research project can be valuable if you have space. If you have a webpage or other significant research outputs, then a link to the appropriate site can be valuable – but again, do not assume the panel will access the links.

Ensure you are consistent in what you label as ‘research’. This is not the place to list non-competitive program grants, particularly if they are not research related (for example, grant funding to establish a new interdisciplinary training program).

If you have done a lot of consultancy work, it may be worth having a separate heading for consultancy. Sometimes the boundaries are not clear. For example, competitive consultancy tenders often lead to published research outputs – should you count this as research?

You can overcome the ambiguity about research funding by being as specific as possible under the ‘funder’ heading of the research section. For instance you might label your project funder as, “Southern Islands Health Department, Competitive Consultancy Tender” (include tender number if relevant) or “Invited Consultancy“.

Should I include conference presentations?

There is no right answer to this question. If you are a senior academic, there is a good chance you’ve been to hundreds of conferences and are invited to speak. In that case, just include relevant, invited presentations, or notable (eg keynote) presentations.

If you are a junior researcher and don’t have a lot of publications, but have a few conference presentations, then include those.

Be careful of the balance though. Early career researchers / academics sometimes prioritise conference presentations over publications, which for most disciplines, is not a strategic balance. Only include conferences you have presented at (not just attended).

Esteem

Nobel Prize
Nobel Prize

What are ‘esteem’ measures? They are indicators of the influence, reputation and status you hold in your field that are not necessarily captured elsewhere. They are often required for certain types of grant applications, research assessment exercises and certainly strengthen your academic CV. Some examples are listed below.

  • Invited keynote conference presentations
  • International engagements
  • Influence on industry, government or other statutory or high profile organisations
  • Awards and Prizes
  • High profile board directorships
  • Editorships
  • Research Fellowships
  • Membership of Learned Academies
  • Membership of Statutory Committees
  • Patents, registered designs and plant breeders rights
  • Guidelines endorsed by research institutions or professional bodies
  • Being on a ‘best seller’ list or high numbers of book copies sold
  • Editions and translations of your books

From industry to academe: How do I structure my non-academic CV for an academic role?

Alternative careers

If you have worked in industry or a professional role before becoming an academic, there is a good chance you will have a career trajectory that won’t easily translate into an academic CV. This is not necessarily a disadvantage, but it takes some careful crafting to present your professional credentials in a way that will be understood and valued by what might be a largely academic panel.

Disciplines like business, allied health and nursing, which are only relatively new to the higher education sector have seen rapid growth in demand for senior academic roles, particularly following their recent growth in Australia as a result of funding and policy changes.

Support for clinical academic roles has been particularly lacking in Australia to help build this capacity. This means that increasingly, clinicians and practitioners with strong industry experience are sought to take on academic roles in universities.

Universities still tend to have a fairly traditional, academic approach to judging the suitability of candidates for senior leadership roles, based on qualifications, publications and research. If you come from an industry / clinical background it can be difficult to know how to frame your CV in a way that will meet the requirements of the selection panel.

What if I don’t have a PhD?

If you have held a senior leadership role in industry, will you be able to step into a professorial position without holding a PhD? The answer is “probably not”, although this depends on the discipline and the university to a certain extent.

First, it is important to point out that in Australia, under current TEQSA guidelines (Standard 3.2.3) you must have a qualification that is at least one Australian Qualification Framework (AQF) level above the qualification level being taught, or have equivalent professional experience. In other words, if you are teaching into a Masters degree program, you will require a PhD. The definition of ‘equivalent professional experience’ is determined according to the local context and requirements. The university should have a policy to guide this.

Make sure you promote your professional experience and credentials the same way you have your academic credentials.

Specify each position, your contribution and any special innovations you may have introduced, leadership roles, and relevant training. For some reason clinicians (particularly allied health, and to some extent nurses) underestimate the importance and significance of their clinical achievements – which are likely to translate directly into superb leadership and teaching skills in an academic role.

If you have worked in the private sector and / or been self-employed, this can bring a rich array of entrepreneurial, leadership and marketing skills that are desperately needed in the higher education sector. Think about your non-academic skill set and how you can promote that. For example as a small business owner you may have managed large budgets, teams of staff and challenging contract relationships.

Have you enabled a small business turn into a large venture? Consider the wide range of skills you have developed and applied in your different roles and make them explicit in your CV.

Don’t underestimate the importance of other professional activities, such as involvement with your professional body (such as sitting on a regulatory or professional board), expert consultation (for instance, around industry standards), invited presentations to your professional peers, brokering research relationships, writing for professional newsletters (although these will not have the same weight as academic publications), and niche expertise for which you are recognised.

Red flags for academic CVs

Academic CV red flags

There are a few features that recruiters see every now and again that will cause us to ask a few more questions. It is worth being prepared if any of these apply to you:

Gaps

Do you have long periods of unaccounted time? You don’t need to have been a star academic your whole life, but gaps look as though you’ve got something to hide.  

Inconsistencies

Inconsistent stories can work against you, such as time frames that don’t match up with roles or overseas positions, or overlapping roles that are difficult to understand (such as overlapping roles in two countries – it does happen, but explain it).

Career changes

Have you had multiple career changes in short periods of time? If you have had multiple roles of less than 18 months across different institutions, it is worth explaining why. Even if the changes have always involved a promotion, 18 months in a single role at one institution is barely time to get your feet on the ground and multiple changes may show a lack of commitment.

Cancelled or unrenewed contracts

At a senior leadership level, lack of renewal of contract will also raise some questions. This is more difficult to judge. Most senior leadership contracts are 3 – 5 years. It is pretty normal for ambitious academics to start to look to move on in that time period. Organisational changes and restructures are also fairly frequent. An unexplained  sideways or downward move could raise questions.

Unusual qualifications

If there is any question about your qualifications, try to ensure that they are as easily verifiable as possible. We verify the qualifications of all senior appointments, but that tends to take place after you are offered the job.

Moving countries

Moving countries isn’t always a problem but it can make provenance difficult to determine. If you have moved across highly credible institutions, you generally have nothing to worry about. If, however, you have come from lesser known institutions and countries, your panel is less likely to have an understanding of or experience of your background. Make it easy for the panel to understand what you’ve done and to make a positive decision about you.

Inconsistent CV versions

Do not have multiple, inconsistent versions of your CV, unless one is obviously a summary of a longer CV. Most recruiters use candidate management software and there is a good chance they’ll have previous versions of your CV on file. Significant, unexplained changes to your story over time will invoke several questions.

Make sure your CV and your online profiles are consistent. I had one applicant where there were major, unexplainable differences between the roles stated on their CV and their public Linked-In profile.

Negative social media profile

Be aware of your social media footprint. If there are obvious problems, such as high profile negative media stories, you should discuss these with your recruitment consultant, head of HR, and / or the chair of the interview panel before applying for the role.

Take home messages

By investing a small amount of time structuring your academic CV, it can be a dynamic document that is easy to adapt to a range of different roles and settings, including promotion or other job applications.

By keeping the core content generic, and just updating it as you take on new roles and modifying the professional profile for different positions, your academic CV can be a resource that is easy to keep up to date.

You don’t need to invest in fancy formatting or high end graphics. A well structured, clear CV is far preferable to a busy, over-processed document.

Where can I get more support or advice on my academic CV?

Academic Entrepreneur offers a comprehensive CV support service, from general advice, to complete formatting. We also have a downloadable academic CV template in Microsoft Word format that you can modify to your own requirements.

If you would like support with your CV, contact us to discuss your needs.

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