Crafting a Well-Structured CV or Resume

Content Developed by Dr. Andrea Armani and Dr. Dominik Konkolewicz

What is a CV and Resume and why do I need a strong one?

A CV and Resume is a documents that highlight your skills, experience, and productivity in your professional career. These documents are reviewed at many stages including applying for jobs, being considered for promotions, upon applications for awards, among many others. Having strong content which is organized in a clear/accessible manner is critical for getting that job you really want, earning that well-served promotion or being recognized with that award.

Are CVs and Resumes the same thing?

Although both Resumes and CVs are documents that convey your skills, experience and productivity, there are some notable differences. CVs or curriculum vitae are literally the course of your professional life. In a CV, you will highlight all your professional activities relevant to the specific application. It is common to list all presentations you have given, all publications you have co-authored, all your professional service activities, all your teaching, research and leadership experiences and skills, and all employment positions. In this way, a CV can start at 2 pages for an early stage graduate student and reach dozens of pages as you continue on your path, publishing papers, gaining new leadership skills and experiences.

A resume is meant to be a more-focused snapshot of a whole CV, and it should not exceed 1-2 pages at most. The goal of the resume is to concisely convey that you have the skills and experience needed to be successful in the position/promotion that you are interested in. Note many employers may review hundreds of resumes for an open position, so you need to make sure your resume quickly conveys your skills and match for the position in a very short time. It is common to tailor your resume to a given opportunity or position, taking relevant content from a CV to match the requirements on the job add or position listing.

Our advice: keep your CV up to date, adding content as it is appropriate, such as when you publish and give presentations, or you take on new positions and roles that add to your skills set and experience. As opportunities come up that require a resume, not a CV, draw from your CV and craft a resume which highlights the skills and experiences you have that match the listing. Think of a CV a bit like a pantry full of ingredients that you select based on what is required for the specific listing.

Use of Resumes and CVs

In general, CVs are commonly used in academic settings. In part, because academic positions have a strong emphasis on teaching experience as well as research track record, it is common for academic positions to require CVs in their applications. Similarly, many awards, such as those from the American Chemical Society, often require a full CV of the nominee or applicant as part of the application. On the other hand, industrial positions most commonly use resumes as part of their job application process. This difference clearly emphasizes the need to have both a resume and a CV on-hand, if you are actively pursuing academic and industry positions in parallel.

Building a CV

A simple way to think about designing a CV is that you are making argument to an unknown person. Your primary hypothesis is that you are well-suited for a given position or award. To prove that you have a strong technical background, you first present your academic credentials and your research experiences. And as evidence that you not only have done research, but you have done it well, you present evidence of research outcomes (papers and presentations). Other possible sections to further support your argument of technical ability could include awards and skills learned. However, these sections just support an argument of technical excellence. A CV should also include information on teaching and service to the scientific community. This is clearly a lot of information to keep track of. Therefore, it is advisable to continuously build your CV to maintain an active repository. But how far back should you go?

Although there are differing opinions, the main consensus is to start with your undergraduate jobs, especially if they are relevant, and go through all subsequent training and skills. All publications and presentations should be included, with your name indicated, and each time you have an award or a grant funded, add that to the CV. A bit harder to think about and organize are the technical and inter-personal skills that you have gained along with your experiences. Instead of just providing a long, disorganized list, create thematic lists, such as spectroscopy, polymerization reactions, or modeling methods. Regarding interpersonal skills, make sure to highlight any leadership or mentoring activities that you have participated in. Additionally, where are your mentees now? Their success is an indication of your mentoring. Lastly, have you been responsible for a part of the lab, safety or waste disposal? These are important leadership and organizational skills. Of course, there are many more such examples for you to think about.

In structuring a CV, there are different opinions on the order of various parts. Consensus seems to revolve around start with your educational degrees, quickly followed by technical research experiences in academia or industry, generally starting with your undergraduate in reverse chronological order. (Most recent at the top of this list). Where appropriate, you can 1-2 bullet points for each degree/certificate highlighting what you focused on and skills you gained.

Next listing your employment history of job title, employer and timeframe, again in reverse chronological order. Our advice is to put 1-2 bullet points for each position highlighting what you achieved in that role. However, this could also be woven into the previous section, especially if there are only one or two positions.

Crafting a Resume

Perhaps the most critical things about a resume are that: 1) people will not spend that much time reading it, 2) it needs to communicate the skills you have, and 3) it needs to highlight you experiences as relevant for the position you are interested in.

In a resume, you will list your educational and professional experiences. Same as for a CV, list your education in reverse chronological order as well as your positions held in reverse chronological order. Space permitting, list all positions held. In many cases the positions you held during summers in college can highlight your unique trajectory, if you have the space include them. If you find that you are getting well into that 3-4 page territory, consider trimming positions to make your resume more concise. You will likely give less detail about each position and degree/certificate in a resume than you would in your CV.

Unlike academia where publications are arguably the most important part of a job applicants packet, industrial positions value skills of the applicant very highly. So emphasizing why your professional, technical and interpersonal skills are well suited for the position is going to be more important than listing all your publications. We recommend including a section called “Technical skills” highlighting technical skills you have gained throughout your undergraduate and/or graduate work. We also recommend including “Leadership skills” highlighting ways you have demonstrated leadership potential. For instance, if you were an officer in a student group, even if unrelated to your major, list that. If you are involved in mentoring, training, coordinating collaborations, etc, list those experiences. Don’t try to weave your skills into the different job experiences. It gets “wordy”, and the recruiter will miss things. 

When listing your work experiences and positions held, Explain all of your work both qualitatively and quantitatively in short phrases. For example, “designed and fabricated new GaAs laser with 30% improvement in threshold” or “designed and synthesized biodegradable PEGDA hydrogel with controllable therapeutic release profile”, rather than “worked with lasers” or “made hydrogels”.

Bottom Line

Like it or not, we need to communicate why we are a good fit for a position or promotion to a hiring, search or review committee, where there may be in some cases in excess of 100 applications. A CV or Resume is a way of organizing your skills and experiences in a way that people on these committees can use to evaluate whether or not you are a good fit for the position. Organizing your experiences can be comprehensive like in a CV, which is commonly used for academic and related positions, or focused and concise like in a resume.