‘Never mind the quality, check the length’: a question about the ideal C. V.

Can I ask your advice, academic readership? I don’t usually talk about my job applications on here, because it seems like the opposite of this blog’s self-gratulatory purpose to report on their passage to the rejection bin*, but one that I applied for a short while ago had me wondering about something I’ve wondered about before. I used to be close to someone who’d never been rejected for a job that they’d applied for in their life, and occasionally, in an agonised way, they’d try and offer me advice. One of the things that always used to horrify this person was the length of my C. V., because theirs was never more than a page, even though they’d done a lot of stuff. The general idea was that if it was more than a page, no-one would read it, and even then the key points needed to be immediately obvious. Second page points would be lost, they said, cut it down. And I would say plaintively that an academic C. V. doesn’t work like a real-world one and has to have everything on. And in the past one of my esteemed referees has told me not to cut such documents down: “It’ll be useful for them”, they said. Nonetheless, for some years I’ve waged a battle to keep mine on four pages with research statement and three without, and tables and bullets to keep things clear.

Now, this job I just applied for, their human resources department have a model C. V. on the web. (I figure anyone who knows me and knew about this job knew that I would have to go for it, so I will risk the identification for once.) Not wanting to ignore such a hint I drafted the C. V. for this application according to that model, and well, I can’t make it fewer than six pages. Six. And I am including more stuff from the numismatic world than I used to, for reasons explained earlier, but all the same I haven’t got incredible amounts to put there and it still makes six. All of which left me asking myself, “Doctor, is it supposed to look like that?”

So I thought I’d ask you, people who’ve applied for jobs, people who’ve read the incoming documentation, what would you expect, what’s normal, what works? Short and punchy? Full and comprehensive? Compromise? I would welcome your advice, and I bet I’m not the only one.

* Though, the last rejection I had was the nicest I’ve ever received, really personal and full of regret that they could only pick one person. I was very flattered, but not a little confused as the relevant job had closed in December 2008. It turns out they got my postcode wrong and so the letter had been flying around the UK postal system for the following month and a half trying to find me. If they had wanted to interview me, I might never have known…

11 responses to “‘Never mind the quality, check the length’: a question about the ideal C. V.

  1. My shortest CV is 4 pages, and that’s because I’ve listed only positions and titles. If I added teaching responsibilities for each, or even a list of courses taught, and my service, it would definitely be 5-6. And I use a small font.

    You’ve done way more conference stuff and publications than I, I think, so it doesn’t surprise me yours is that long.

    A recent candidate to SLAC had a CV that was about 10, including 4 pages of publications and presentations. It was overwhelming. I think in such cases, it might be ok to list the 10 most recent things and add a note saying that a full bibliography can be provided?

  2. Good grief, I obviously need to bump mine up then :-) Thankyou for feedback. Also, in terms of things actually in print, I think we have almost the same number of publications, and given how unpredictable the passage to print can be, you could easily overtake me before long… `Forthcoming’ is a weasel word, unfortunately.

  3. I was told by the chair of an academic search committee last year–and he was only partly joking–that it doesn’t matter what’s on a CV only how thick it is. I said, Seriously, there’s my 3-page CV and my 10-page CV and he said, Oh, 10, definitely.

    One of my good friends is an HR executive. I asked her how people read resumes. She said: the first two-thirds of the first page, and the last paragraph of the last page.

    So for what it’s worth, I now put all my ‘impressive’ stuff on the top half of the first page and the end of the last.

    Good luck.

  4. btw, I think you left the journal title out for your review of Steve White’s book

  5. You obviously wouldn’t want to take my advice on job hunting ;-) but I’ve seen the CV of someone who got a permanent job in the UK, and without a research statement, that fitted on 2 (admittedly rather cramped) pages. What this person did was cut down on listing reviews and conference papers: they had ‘Book reviews for’ and then listed the publications, and ‘Selected other papers’ and listed the last 2-3 years.

    I think there may be a difference between UK and US practise here, as in other ways on applications: I don’t think size alone matters so much for the UK, and if you put in everything you’ve written, the significant stuff may be hard to spot. I think it would be worth asking people you know in Britain who have recently got jobs (or those at KCL who have just been going through applications).

    • I would certainly like some UK-side feedback from inside the process, though the people I know of that are reading this from that level may well feel they can’t comment just now (except perhaps in verse). I of course fluff out my reviews and conference papers by way of showing that I’m research-active even though all my publications are in endless print queues of doom, but in that person’s position I’d definitely do the same, because nothing counts so much as publication, we know this to be true. But yes: thankyou for advice here.

      • This UK based historian is arguing for 4-6 pages for a CV: I don’t know whether any of her other columns are of interest.

        • She’s on the blog-roll, not least because I applied for her post and wanted to see who’d actually got it. But I must have missed that one somehow. The rejection for this application has already arrived, so whatever I did it wasn’t sufficient, but apparently that wasn’t the factor…

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