#31: Six smart strategies for a strong Academic CV

Are you sending one application in after the other, but never land a spot for an interview? Are you applying for funding or a scholarship, but you’re not quite as successful as you’d like to be? Are your scientific achievements piling up, but no-one seems to notice? Well, it could all come down to a few shortcomings in your academic CV. Read on, and we’ll show you six powerful strategies you can use to build a super strong academic CV!

This particular blog topic has been on our agenda for quite a while: just a few simple shortcomings in your academic CV can have quite serious effects. We have reviewed many scientist’s CVs over the years for the TRESS ACADEMIC courses ‘How to apply for a post-doc’ position’ and ‘How to apply for a permanent staff position’. We also provide one-on-one consultancy for academic applicants who want to improve in their application materials for an academic position or before putting in a grant application with a funding body. 

We see the same shortcomings over and over again, and each time it hurts! We put a lot of effort into helping participants fix the problem in our courses. As you know, we want you to benefit from our expertise because TRESS ACADEMIC is about giving academics a helping hand! That is why we finally got around to letting you know what the problem is, and more importantly, show you six powerful strategies to creating an unbeatable CV!

What many academic CVs get wrong

Whether you’re a top-candidate for a position that’s opening, or you’re the one who receives a prestigious grant or the elusive tenure-track professorship, it all depends on how good you are at communicating your scientific achievements in your CV! Yes, first of all you’ve got to do great science, granted! But great scientific achievements alone won’t get you the job unless you are able to communicate how good for the position you actually are. 

A selection committee goes through the CVs of applicants fast, so what you write has to be immediately understandable. For those of you who are not familiar with the academic job hiring process, have a look at our SMART ACADEMICS blogpost no. 16 “Your job talk: 5 tips to make it a success!”, where we give a short outline on the individual steps. If you’re the one who finds it very challenging to write a compelling cover letter, get our Free Expert Guide: “8 common reasons why cover letters fail.” And another good one: If your academic CV looks rather messy, see our SMART ACADEMICS blogpost no. 18 “CV-makeover: revamp the design of yours!” But for now let’s focus on why many CVs fail to communicate well. And that’s the rub of the problem:

CVs from applicants are often too shallow and too short. They do not provide enough detail to show a selection committee that you are the perfect candidate for the job!

The good news is: it doesn’t have to be this way! You can do better because you deserve better! Use the two simple strategies that we outline below to help you avoid this common trap and build a CV that is rock-solid. We want you to get the job that you desire and deserve! 

Why are CVs too short & too shallow? We see four reasons

Here’s the first one: We know both young researchers quite well, and have ourselves worked many years as researchers and written many applications ourselves… therefore we know that CVs for job or grant applications are most often written right before you need them! So all the information is put together quickly in the days before a looming deadline (for more on how to avoid this, check out our blogpost no 8: “Deadline Disaster: seven easy steps to avoid”. Usually, in the scramble, people try to collect as much information as they can remember and that’s it. 

Second, there is the issue of a hard and persistent myth, which we hear fairly often from our course participants: they think a CV has to be short! Yes, some even think it should not exceed one page! We’re not going to dwell on this here, but if you submit a one-page-CV when applying for a tenure-track position, you’ll likely have the hiring-committee searching for the remaining pages in their stack of paper. Let’s be clear, you’re expected to submit a substantial CV. So don’t make that mistake either! And just on a side-note, so you’re not getting confused: an academic CV is not the same as a résumé or CV for industry. See Isaiah Hankel’s blogpost about the difference between the two at and check out the outstanding resources from Tina Person at passage2pro: CV design for industry .

Third, there is likely a lack of awareness or knowledge among applicants how a CV is used exactly in the application process. In our SMART ACADEMICS blogpost no. 16 “Your job talk: 5 tips to make it a success!” we described in a bit more detail, how an academic application process works. Believe us, a hiring committee or a reviewer for a funding agency will not take the effort to make sense of a patchy CV or take the time to piece together puzzling information.

Forth, you probably think: I’m a stellar scientist, sooner or later the world will see that! We admit, we were a tiny bit like that when just started our academic careers. As a result of that mentality, you kind of neglect your CV, because you think the achievements will shine on their own. So you do not put in meticulous effort that is needed to make your great scientific efforts stand out! But you are taking a risk with this!! Well not about the stand-out science, we believe you’re doing great research, but that is not enough today! The academic job market has never been so competitive, so you should not be leaving anything to chance. You must not risk your next opportunity by thinking that your cobbled together CV is “good enough” – you’ve got to be as good at communicating your achievements and skills as you are at performing your work in a professional capacity.

What are the consequences?

Obviously, if your CV is too short and shallow, you are decreasing your chances of getting the academic job or the funding that you are applying for. The academic hiring process at all career stages is extremely competitive, as is the competition for grants or scholarships. There are sometimes 20-40 applicants, but often more than 100 from all over the world for a single staff position advertised by a university. For prestigious funding schemes, the ratio of successful vs. non-successful ones is even smaller.  

If you submit a shallow CV, you minimise your chances of sticking out as a top candidate. You may send many job applications, but never make it to the second stage, when interviews take place. Then it doesn’t matter how often you apply! This amounts not only to a time-waster in the long-run, but can be hard on your psyche as well. It is hard to receive one rejection letter after the other, and after a while, your confidence might crumble. 

But once more: it doesn’t have to be this way! There are six easy strategies everyone can apply at any career stage to make your CV the vehicle for your career success. Let us show you the way to a strong academic CV!

What exactly is an academic CV?

First of all, we want to clarify what an academic CV contains, so there can be no mistake. The academic CV is a full record of your academic education, experience, achievements, and expertise. It is a mirror of your professional “life” and shows your individual history throughout your career! The expression “full record” should already imply that this document is not about brevity, nor is it a summary. 

If you apply for a regular staff or faculty position, the more content you have on your CV the better! Its length and scope shows what an excellent scientist you are and the more weight you can bring to the table. That is why academic CVs of highly esteemed tenured professors often span 50 pages and more. Yours may come up to 10 or even 15 pages if you have a couple of years of experience in academia already. 

But a small warning: this is never about ‘filling’ space for the sake of it. Quite the contrary. Based on your experiences, you can fill multiple pages with concise and meaningful content ONLY because you can back it up with so many relevant achievements. The length of your academic CV is always proportionate to your career level and your achievements. 

*Just for the record, because the exception can sometimes prove the rule: there are circumstances under which there is a page limit for academic CVs. Obviously, in this case, you must stick with the limits. For example funding agencies may split a CV up into various sections, so that they can ask you to turn in a short 3 pages CV, but also a separate publication record, teaching portfolio, etc.

Strategies for a super strong academic CV

If you want to get all the strategies in detail, get our free GUIDE: Six strategies for a strong CV. We’ve even thrown in real examples so you can easily transfer the strategies to your own CV! Here’s the short outline:  

1. See your CV as a work-in-progress

You do not ‘write’ a CV once, but you work on it on a regular basis. You add to it with every achievement you gain as a scientist. 

2. Collect information as you go

Start by setting up one full version of your CV. This version is just a working document for yourself, a bit like an archive.

3. Compose a tailor-made CV when you need one

When you are in a situation where you apply for funding or for a job, you take the information that you have in your full version and fine-tune it to match the requirements of that particular occasion. 

4. Make sure to add specific and relevant information 

Make sure that you add sufficient detail to each entry in your CV so it can be comprehended by those who will read it. A person from a selection committee, who does not know you and is not familiar with your achievements must still be able to assess and evaluate your information (see example 1).

5. Add credibility

You want your CV to be plausible and credible. It is one thing to write that you did something, and another to LIST your specific experiences so that it immediately becomes apparent how much expertise you actually have (see example 2).  

6. Add evidence

Since the academic environment is fiercely competitive, it is important to bring up the “hard facts” and to add evidence or proof. You can do this in many different ways, but quantitative evidence is always the strongest one (see example 3).

We hope we’ve given your mood a boost now that you know how easily you can turn your current CV into a super-powerful one! Are you curious to see how much stronger your CV will appear? Get started! 

Download the full 6-pages strategies for free so you can apply this knowledge one-on-one to your own CV!


Ok SMART ACADEMICS, we hope that reading our post made ‘the penny drop’ on how to turn your CV into your strongest asset! It is not possible to ‘write’ a good CV in ‘retrospect’ after having not collected the relevant information for years. You’ve got to stack up the facts, add evidence, credibility, and authenticity in order to come across as the top-candidate. 

We hope that we’ve been able to add great value to your application process and to make a change in the way you set up your CV. We’d be very happy if you’d send us a comment or a picture of your CV before and after or just leave us a comment of FB/In. 

Best of luck on your applications

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