The usefulness of the academic CV

Over the past decade I have seen and have had to consider hundreds of CVs submitted for one reason or another by academic faculty. The curriculum vitae is still the standard document in which an academic sets out her or his achievements, but over the years these documents have tended to grow longer and longer. As certain types of activity in teaching, research and administration have become more important in considering promotion, the typical CV has devoted more and more space to setting out the relevant details. This also includes as a matter of course a full list of the individual’s publications and conference presentations. It is not unusual nowadays for a CV to stretch over 30 or more pages.

The extent of this was made clear to me recently when I was assisting a voluntary organisation in making an appointment to a senior post. One of the five shortlisted candidates was a university lecturer. The four others presented applications with supporting documentation of between two and four pages; the lecturer’s application and CV covered 36 pages. My fellow interviewers, none of whom had an academic background, were completely baffled by his materials and concluded, before I intervened, that he was completely unable to marshall his thoughts and that he would be out of his depth outside the university. I explained to them that this kind of presentation was simply what was normally required of him and that this should not be held against him. They were very sceptical about the whole approach.

So I began to wonder whether academic CVs are still useful even in the university. A recent report from Canada disclosed that a senior researcher there was padding his CV with details of publications that simply did not exist, and I suspect that at least in certain contexts, if the list of publications was long enough or if those considering the CV were not from that particular academic area, this would not be uncovered. Of course only a tiny number of academics would deliberately do this, but it is worth asking whether the avalanche of details makes it easy to assess even an honest CV, or whether it tempts those making a judgement to assume that volume indicates excellence without attempting a really detailed analysis.

Perhaps we should ask academics to submit CVs of two pages only; and that might usefully concentrate the mind.

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6 Comments on “The usefulness of the academic CV”

  1. niall Says:

    possibly, but in my opinion a c.v. should only serve as a basic introduction to the skills and achievements that the individual possesses, but a c.v. no matter how long or short may be still be flawed, even at the greatest accuracy of information and the least. often we are too concerned with what grade or qualification in which one has achieved, but in my experience this is often not the most important factor in making a decision whether to employ the individual or not, a serious consideration has to be made from your limited contact with the individual in which the individuals personal attributes have to be quantified. my suggestion would be gather all the candidates and bring them down the pub, sit them all around the table and watch closely, it is often the one in which you would meet for a pint is the one in which is most suited for the position.

  2. Wendymr Says:

    I don’t get to see many academic CVs these days – though I do see the occasional one, as some of my clients are seeking academic positions. It’s my impression – both from my experience with clients and my research on academic CV presentation in north America (in order to help my clients) that academic CVs over here do tend to be a lot shorter.

    CVs (resumes, as the non-academic self-marketing documents are called) are in general a lot shorter; two pages is the norm for a professional and three would be the absolute maximum and only for someone looking for a very senior role. I find that this really forces applicants to concentrate their minds and only include the most relevant parts of their experience, rather than padding their documents with things they might think look good but that employers in general aren’t interested in.

    In any case, even with your 30-page CVs, how long do you actually spend reading any individual one? Not long enough to read it all in detail, I’m sure – even though I know you speed-read. On average, employers spend 5-8 seconds reading a CV/resume. In most cases, that doesn’t even take them to the end of the first page. Of course academic CVs are different, but what sections are most likely to get read during the first cull? Places of employment and publications, most probably; actual responsibilities, such as admin roles held, are probably least likely to be read. Definitely an argument for conciseness, even if we aren’t concerned about saving trees.

  3. The problem isn’t vanity or anything to do with the individual, I don’t think: the academic CV is a particular kind of audition tape for our times, in the culture of competitive research audit that has given institutions such strong incentive to draft researchers in order to get at their back catalogue. There’s also the belief that back catalogue directly predicts future productivity. So Australian CVs are getting longer rather than shorter as publication details are now garnished with journal rankings and citations, although I’ve been on hiring committees where it would have been more honest to weigh the CV on a set of luggage scales and just pick the heaviest, as this seemed to be what we were doing.

    By comparison, the kinds of experience and approaches to work that might make a colleague someone you would want to have a beer with are usually crammed into a paragraph at the back. So to shorten the CV, which would be a great step forward, you’d really have to change the whole approach to hiring, and this is a bit like taxing carbon emissions: daunting, because no one wants to go first.

  4. Vincent Says:

    Does it honestly matter. Given the whole process is purely subjective are you not as likely to pick the socially inept dud reading reams and convening expensive panels as is the dog pulling one out of a bunch with a muddy paw. Probably more in fact since you carry a whole heap of prejudice in with you.
    Also, the amount of time and money devoted to picking the correct personnel you really should show up on MetSat with a sort of happiness and productivity glow.

  5. Mary Says:

    I explained to them that this kind of presentation was simply what was normally required of him and that this should not be held against him

    Interesting conclusion! In the same situation, I absolutely would have held it against him: there is simply no excuse for someone who is applying for a senior position and has failed to adapt their approach for the culture of the organisation they are applying for. I think it’s fairly widely known that academic CVs are extraordinary for being exhaustive: I would have very serious doubts about someone’s ability to function in other contexts if they were unaware of that.

  6. niall Says:

    Through my work, i have met and worked with a vast range of different kinds of people, From business and marketing professionals to IT Consultants and developers, school leavers to ex special forces, fighters to musicians. at the age of 24 ( almost) i have had the opportunity to work with and watch people, peoples reactions, and lack their of, when you watch people long enough, you learn to see passed their social skills, you learn body language, small reactions which tell more about them than anything they could ever tell you. the beer is not important, the person and getting down to what they present to you and what they really are, is!

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