January 25, 2012

The Academic Résumé: Some Recommendations

By L. W. Hurtado, School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh

The following remarks are intended to give some assistance to the candidate who is perhaps applying for the first academic appointment. They are based on the writer’s experiences as applicant and (as a result of successful applications!) as a participant in the selection and hiring process at academic institutions (on both sides of the Atlantic). I do not claim that these remarks are comprehensive, but I do hope that they may be of help. I should also mention that these observations have to do particularly with the application and hiring processes in a North American setting.1 The procedures are somewhat different in the UK. E.g., British universities tend not to ask for references at application stage, but only for those applicants whom they short-list. Also, whereas you will likely apply directly to the academic department or to the search committee in North America, in the UK you may be asked to send the application through the university’s personnel office.

General Remarks

Before turning to specific suggestions about the résumé itself, it may be helpful to mention a few general remarks about the application and hiring processes. First, applicants should realize that in today’s situation most institutions advertising a position will receive many more applications than those charged with evaluation of them want to handle. So, the person(s) going through the applications will initially look for reasons to set aside as many applications as possible, so that a smaller, manageable lot is left for more detailed consideration. Thus, you must try to see that the application gets past this first culling out procedure, trying to avoid giving the prospective employer a reason for culling out the application on first examination. This means that the résumé should contain all the information the employer will want to see at the initial stage of consideration. It also means that the résumé set out the information in organized fashion, with clear headings, a pleasant and intuitive format, a clean and neat appearance, and the information should be accurate and free of “typos”. The typing should be professional quality and only laser-printed originals or first-quality photo-copies of the résumé should be sent.

Second, technically, there is a difference between a résumé and the c.v. The latter may be a statement of the major data from the life of a person, perhaps under topical headings and in chronological order. The former is a presentation of information to a prospective employer for the purpose of applying for a job. Thus, the résumé should be designed to present the applicant (a) in the best light; (b) with a view toward the position being sought; (c) and with a view toward making the examination of the résumé as easy as possible. With these things in mind, I offer the following suggestions.

l. Some information is simply not very relevant, e.g., high school record and activities, hobbies, occasional employment record (except for academic-related positions of course), and should be omitted. Likewise, today, marital status, age, and some other such personal information may not be relevant, or, in some jurisdictions, appropriate to give.

2. The information given should be arranged roughly according to the order of its importance for the particular position, and according to the probable order in which the employer will want to read it. A rough outline of material for most academic positions would be as follows (see below for more detailed advice):

  • basic personal information–name, home and (if applicable) professional address and phone number(s), citizenship (and residence visas, if held), date of birth, and (optionally) marital status & children;
  • higher education;
  • area(s) of expertise: list both teaching competence (usually described in terms of fields, e.g., Biblical Studies or Modern History, and sub-areas, e.g., Hebrew Bible or Christian Origins), and more specialized and research areas (in which you also might offer graduate instruction);
  • academic positions held (giving dates, ranks, institutions, and including temporary positions);
  • publications;
  • papers given at professional meetings (with titles, identification of meeting & dates);
  • research project(s) in progress and/or planned (with indication of likely publication format, and approximation of time of completion);
  • research grant(s), if any (other than scholarships and graduate fellowships);
  • courses taught (with institution name and the level–e.g., undergraduate, etc.) and (if applicable) experience in dissertation/thesis supervision;
  • academic-related awards and honors (including scholarships, fellowships, prizes, other recognitions);
  • memberships (and any offices held) in professional societies (e.g., AAR, SBL);
  • other academic-related activities (e.g., service on academic committees, assistance in research projects for teachers or in development of curricular materials, organizing/conducting conferences);
  • a list of references (about three to five, with full titles and institutional addresses).

3. If you apply for more than one position, it may be wise to draw up more than one résumé. For example, if you apply to a college/seminary with a specific religious orientation, you may wish to state either in the résumé or in a covering letter your own religious affiliation and activities. But such information would be irrelevant on a résumé sent to a religiously pluralist institution such as a public university.

4. I recommend listing the information in reverse chronological order under each heading, so that your most recent, and highest, attainments catch the reader’s attention first.

5. Use headings under which to arrange the information and try for a pleasant and readable effect. Do not crowd the page, but leave generous margins and proper spacing.

Specific Suggestions

With these general remarks in mind, I should like to give a few, more specific suggestions about particular parts of the résumé.

Education–Give the degrees earned, the dates of award, the institutions, the major(s) and minor(s) and mention distinctions (e.g., cum laude) if relevant. For graduate degrees include thesis title(s), name of supervisor(s), and areas of study in which you worked and were examined (i.e., candidacy exam areas).

Publications–List only items that have either appeared or have been accepted for publication. If you have items circulating for evaluation for publication, list them under a separate heading (e.g., “Work submitted for publication”) after listing all publications. Obviously, the most relevant items are books, articles in recognized journals and in books, and signed reviews in recognized journals. Publications on irrelevant subjects or in popular periodicals (such as denominational magazines, etc.) may be omitted or else listed under a separate subheading. For each item listed, give full information (e.g., for journal articles give article title, journal title, vol., date, & page numbers). For work(s) accepted and forthcoming, give the publisher of journal name, probable date, and size of manuscript(s).

To make the greatest effect, you should also consider sending one or two samples of your published work (e.g., off-prints of journal articles) along with your résumé (at least to those institutions whose advertised positions you find especially attractive!). If you have no publications yet, send a sample of your research, e.g., a conference paper or thesis chapter.

References–In the North American scene good references are crucial in getting onto the short list. In the UK, however, letters of reference from referees you list on your résumé will often be invited by the employer after short-listing applicants for the interviews. Choose those whom you use as referees carefully, selecting people who (a) know your academic work (teaching and/or research), preferably at graduate level and beyond; (b) sincerely have your interests at heart and will write as favorably as they can; (c) can and will describe your specific abilities and attributes, and will not simply write brief, general comments; and (d) have some recognition and standing in their field (at the early stages of your career, before you have had the chance to make your own mark, the standing of those who recommend you will be especially important). They should probably all be in academic positions themselves. As mentioned earlier, you may want to prepare more than one version of your résumé for different types of institutions, and you may want to vary the references (if you can!) to choose people whose recommendation would have the most effect at this or that type of school.

You should ask each person if he or she is happy to serve as a reference for you, putting on no pressure and using only those who appear to be genuinely interested in furthering your chances. (Of course, your Ph.D. supervisor is expected to be on the list.) Provide referees with a copy of the position-description/advertisement so that they can address particulars, and always see that they have a current résumé such as you are submitting for the post.

The letters of reference should be confidential, i.e., not open to you. If you are applying for positions in North America, ask your references if they would mind sending their letters directly to the parties to whom applications are to be sent. (If you anticipate applying for more than one position, alert your referees in advance, and suggest that they draw up a basic letter, keeping it in a computer file and adapting it as needed, so that they don’t have to compose a fresh one each time.)

The Application Letter–with your résumé (and items attached, such as off-prints), always enclose a carefully-composed covering letter addressed specifically to the party mentioned in the advertisement. In your letter you should (a) highlight briefly the features from your résumé that are especially significant for the position as advertised; (b) indicate why you are particularly interested in the position and institution; (c) mention that confidential letters from X, Y, Z are coming directly (in North America) or can be requested (in the UK); and (d) in general, try to make a professional but cordial impression. Each application should have its own specially written covering letter, and try to keep the letter no more than two pages. This will take time, of course, but the letter will be the first (and perhaps only!) thing read, so it’s worth making the effort to produce a good first impression.

1  For further discussion of this and related matters, see Mary Morris Heiberger, Julia Miller Vick, The Academic Job Search Handbook (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992).

Larry Hurtado is a scholar of early Christianity and Emeritus Professor of New Testament Language, Literature and Theology at The University of Edinburgh. He was Director of the Centre for the Study of Christian Origins until his retirement in August 2010. http://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/


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