Revamping your CV — 10 things your resume is missing

A clear, comprehensive and compelling CV is a must, whether you’re launching your academic career or summarising the years you’ve spent at the forefront of your field.

Whatever stage you’re at, your CV needs to work for you, and not against you. It may be a short document, but its role is pivotal. A poorly-constructed or inadequate resume risks actively switching off a prospective employer, however good a candidate you may be for the post.

So what might your CV be missing? Here’s our rundown of 10 things no academic CV should be without:

1. Keywords. Comb through the job ad for the specific requirements your employer has set. What are their preferred terms? Use these, even if you’re used to using alternative phrasing. Make strategic use of keywords to create the sense of a match in the mind of the person reading your CV – or in the bot scanning it.

2. White space. Let your words speak for themselves by surrounding them with space rather than fussy formatting. Avoid busy bullet points, underlining, icons and clashing fonts. Be ruthless in removing visual clutter.

3. Careful tailoring. Adapt your CV for the role in question. Don’t make a recruiter wade through section after irrelevant section to find what they need. If you’re applying for a teaching post, for example, elevate and expand on your teaching experience. Pare back any detail not relevant to this application.

4. Figures. Wherever possible, include metrics that demonstrate your impact. If your strategy boosted a particular success rate, state the percentage increase. Numbers substantiate your claims and establish your credibility.

5. Powerful verbs. Sustained over-utilisation of lifeless adjectives, passive constructions and abstract nouns has been identified as a contributing factor in readers ceasing to remain in a state of consciousness. But active verbs inject life. Pepper your CV with examples from this cheat sheet.

6. Less high-profile activities. While you’re never likely to overlook education, research or teaching, it can be all too easy to forget crucial, credential-confirming achievements in areas such as community involvement or outreach. Check out this comprehensive list from Dr Karen Kelsky to make sure you’ve included everything important.

7. Consistency. While slightly different ways to refer to anything from an institution to a source may be correct, tiny variations across your CV will detract from its content. Choose one version and stick to it.

8. Page numbers. The further you’ve progressed in your career, the longer your CV. Numbering your pages might seem a low priority, but it’s a consideration your reader will thank you for when they drop a pile of papers on the way to the coffee machine.

9. Visibility. Make your CV available on LinkedIn, and it will promote you to a global audience 24 hours a day. Read our guide to making the most of what the platform now offers. While you’re at it, be sure to include your LinkedIn URL on your CV.

10. An external proofread. It’s all too easy to miss tiny errors that may have crept in on your seventh tweak. Ask an eagle-eyed colleague or friend to give your CV a close read to pick up any quirks, gaps or typos. Better still, make the most of a professional editor’s experience and objectivity to spot and remove any errors once and for all.

Finally, when your CV is fully revamped, refreshed and glowing from your attention use the same principles to pen an impressive cover letter. All that’s next to do is to hit ‘apply’.

Further reading:

How to create a CV that is compelling, well-organised and easy to read

Creating an effective academic CV

Cover letter do’s – and absolute don’ts

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Jo Mitchell is an experienced writer and editor. After studying Modern Languages at the University of Oxford she worked in fundraising at Oxfam GB and Viva, where she specialised in writing communications for major donors. She now provides freelance editing and copywriting services at Nightingale Ink in the firm belief that sometimes words can sing.

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