How to write a clear, compelling CV


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Leonardo’s CV is a model in how to communicate your credentials. He was organized, concise, and confident in his abilities. He also put the most relevant information front and center. Modern scientists, almost all of whom will need to craft a CV at some point during their careers, can learn from his example.

It’s important to craft a CV that you can post on your website and send to colleagues on short notice. So, with that goal in mind, we list four tips for writing a compelling and informative CV. We will also give you advice about creating an online “extended CV”—including a Google Scholar profile and professional website—to make your hard work easily accessible to a broad audience.

  1. Tip No. 4: Update your CV. It’s important to add items to your CV as you publish papers, receive grants, and carry out other academic activities. It is a good habit to update your CV after each accomplishment to ensure you don’t forget to add it. Keep in mind, though, that a long CV isn’t the ultimate goal: It’s equally important to delete items as the accomplishments on your CV start to add up. If you don’t do that, it’ll be harder for readers to pick out your most important accomplishments and it might appear as though you’re “fluffing” up your resume with minor items. For instance, your summer research job during college might look good on an application to grad school, but over time you’ll want to omit that item. To get a sense of when to delete certain kinds of information, check out the CVs of colleagues who are at the same career stage as you. Doing so may also give you an idea of items you can add that you hadn’t thought about.

That concludes our list of tips for creating a CV, which is all that Leonardo needed when he applied for jobs in the 15th century. But we all live in the 21st century, so we also need to think about how to disseminate information about ourselves online. A colleague may scour the internet to find out about another scientist after they hear a great presentation, read an exciting paper, or meet someone new at a conference. And a strong online presence might lead to an invitation to give a talk or collaborate. To take advantage of these opportunities, you need to create a professional online presence.

As a first step, we strongly encourage creating a Google Scholar profile, which only takes a few minutes. The platform will list all your publications automatically based on the name that you use in your profile. (But do a quick check to ensure there are no errors!) The default setting orders publications based on how many citations they have received, which will allow web viewers to quickly find your most impactful work. Your Google Scholar profile will update automatically over time when you publish new papers.

At some point in your career, you’ll also want to create a professional webpage for yourself or, if you are a principal investigator (PI), for your entire research group. This is particularly important when you are making a career transition—for instance, if you’re applying for postdoctoral positions, going on the faculty job market, or pursuing a nonacademic career. But the sooner you build a page the better, because it will take time for your website to appear at the top of search results when someone searches your name.

A website will allow you to provide more details and context about your work than you can otherwise include on your CV. For instance, you could add a biography section, research and teaching statements, and links to materials or computer code that you have created. If you’re allowed to do so, you may want to provide an option to download your publications, as that will make it easier for scientists who don’t have library journal access to read your work. You can also provide an option to download your CV, and you can link to your Google Scholar profile and any other relevant online presence (e.g., Twitter, LinkedIn, Academia.edu, GitHub, ORCID). And if you are the PI of a research group, create profiles on your website for trainees to help them highlight their own work and accomplishments.

Bottom line

The goal of your CV—as well as extended information that appears online—is to highlight your accomplishments and make your work easily accessible. Invest the time to make a clear, compelling CV. Keep it up-to-date and honest. And build a web presence so that your work is available to colleagues around the world.

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