How to write a grad school CV that shows off the goods

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How to write a CV for grad schoolI need a CV to complete my application for a graduate program in divinity — and I have no idea where to start! I did some Googling to try and find a good template, style guide, or even sample and immediately got stuck in a black hole of garbage career advice websites. Could anyone recommend a website or app I can use to generate a quality CV, or at least a style guide?

I’d also like some advice on the content — I am a professional community organizer with some certifications, some degrees, some awards, and some panel seats. The advice I got from the admissions office was to “put everything that could possibly be related” on the document.

Thanks for any help anyone can give. I’ve been at this for hours and I’m about to huck my nerdbox out the kitchen window. -elizadactyl

Time for a little work experience peacocking, eh? I have my Master’s in American Studies and in September I’ll be starting my PhD in English. I’ve known the importance of having a good, up-to-date CV since my last couple years of undergrad. And I also know the mire of terrible and click-baity career websites that spring up when you search for help on this topic.

The best and easiest way to write a good CV is to look at someone else’s CV. Whose, you ask? Why, your favourite professor’s. Go to their university website. They will most likely have a link directly on their contact page with their CV. This is the best way to look at what is necessary, what the format should be, and what to emphasize.

But just as an overview or guide to reading your professor’s CV, let’s run down what’s important to know — in excruciating detail.

The basics:

  • CVs, or curriculum vitaes, are different from résumés in that they include all information pertinent to the academic position to which you’re applying. They don’t include how you worked as a server for four years during undergrad.
  • They don’t have a page limit, whereas résumés should be kept to two pages maximum.
  • They also don’t have any of the “action verb” lines describe what the job entailed that résumés have… making them instantly better.

Your headings (use all that apply):

Order these headings based on what you’re applying to. If you’re applying to a program, put education first.

  • Employment: at universities, specifically: TAships, RAships, Fellowships, Professorships; but also any tutoring, teaching, writing, editing… or any other positions you think are important to show off. Note that if you’ve taught full courses, the info for the specific courses should be included in another section (see below).
  • Education: all of your previous degrees and applicable distinctions.
  • Publications: any papers, book reviews, book chapters, books you have published. Note when articles were peer-reviewed. List all publications in MLA format (or Chicago or APA depending on the program — but keep consistent!). List items in order of most recent to least recent, under separate headings for each type of publication.
  • Conference presentations: papers you’ve presented at conferences, listed in this format: “Title of Paper.” Name of conference, location of conference. Date of conference. List items in order of most recent to least recent.
  • Honors and Awards: any grants, prizes, scholarships you’ve been awarded since the beginning of your academic career.
  • Service: any positions you’ve held on committees or councils.
  • Certifications: any certifications that could be important: ESL teaching, for example.
  • Teaching: courses you’ve taught in order of most recent to least recent.
  • Your research interests: keywords applicable to your research and work.
  • Supervision: if you’ve worked as a faculty member and you’ve supervised a thesis, list it as well.
  • Languages: languages you speak and your proficiency in them
  • Memberships: if you’re a member of any academic institutions (particularly those to which membership is granted only through a committee), list it here.
  • References: all academic (name and institution only suffices usually).

When to include non-academic work

On my CV, I include some writing, researching, and editing positions that have nothing to do with academia. This is because I believe that schools would be interested in someone who uses academic skills in the workplace. I also include any paid or volunteer position I have where I use social media or programs like Adobe Creative Suite. This is less important for applying to school, but if I want to be competitive in the extremely difficult academic market when it comes to jobs, I want to show that I can wear many hats. It shows I’m a self-learner who is up-to-date with technology (especially as more and more classes move online).


  • Keep it updated! Whenever you get a new position or publish something new, add it to your CV immediately and save time later on.
  • If a conference or publication is forthcoming, include it and just note that it’s forthcoming.
  • Always save as a PDF for online applications or emails.
  • Don’t be too fancy. Go for legibility!
  • Include, duh, all your contact information at the top.


I stripped mine down and made a template for you! Just download it, open it in Word, and add in your own deets.

One more thing

I put my CV online as a tumblr page. I bought my full name as a URL and it redirects to the tumblr. It’s a good idea to own your name’s URL to make sure the real you comes up when you’re searched (and hopefully you get to it and can keep it before others with your name do). Use your middle name(s) if you have to. When applying for positions, it’s all about standing out from the crowd. Pros:

  • I like being able to point to a page that included all of my work in one place.
  • I noticed that employers generally are pretty impressed when I tell them that they can see my CV online, too. They like the information-super-highway-ness of it all.
  • I can inject a bit of my personality, which can help me stand out.
  • Of course, when you apply to schools, they’ll want the PDF file itself — but if you put it online, you can hyperlink to conference programs, publications, and other things that might stand out to your CV’s reader.

PHEW. Okay Homies: what tips do you have?

Comments on How to write a grad school CV that shows off the goods

  1. I seriously second the advice to look at the CVs of some other people in your field. If you have a mentor or a professor who likes you, ask for their advice. There are things I would never have thought to add to my CV if my boss hadn’t suggested them.

    Think outside the box a little bit. I’ve been a “beta reader” for my friend’s self-published novels for years. I didn’t get paid to do it, but I proofread the hell out of books that are now for sale on Amazon. I list that under editing experience on my CV.

  2. I just got my name as a domain name…brilliant, thanks for the idea!

    As an almost-graduated PhD candidate (next week :), these things are also on my mind. I looked as CVs from other graduate students, and asked a couple of professors to look it over. I was reminded about how important it is to ask more than one person for editing help. One professor focused more on content and returned it with two small edits, while the other really looked at formatting returned it totally covered in red ink.

  3. The order of the headings also makes a difference. For instance in my field, if I apply for a research-heavy position, my research should be front and center, with less important stuff following. Conversely, if I apply for a teaching-heavy position, my teaching should be front and center. This means you have to know what the school you’re applying to is looking for. Do they want someone with research skills? Administration/service organization skills? Know your audience and what they value so your CV can reflect that as closely as possible.

    Also, looking at examples from your field is definitely the most important thing to do. Ask your social network for examples – I’ve found most people are willing to share.

  4. I politely disagree with Caroline’s template and suggest that on a CV for application to a graduate program (which is what the question is asking about), your education could also come first (or might be better listed first), unless it is very irrelevant to your field or from a very long time ago (for example, you are very advanced in your career or have finished school decades ago).

    The question is about a graduate program in divinity, and I don’t know anything about that, but for humanities and social sciences fields, it could be useful or important to highlight first where you went to undergrad and/or what other degrees you’ve completed. And if you completed a senior thesis or other extended grad-school-like project, list that too alongside your degree. I have a Ph.D. in a humanities field, so I expect it could be different in other fields.

    In addition to looking at professors’ CV’s, a good idea (and this is a little stalker-esque, but who cares when you are pursuing your career and education goals) is to look at the list of graduate students in the programs where you are applying (almost all departments list their graduate students on their department websites) and see if you can find their CV’s (either on the university website, on LinkedIn, or on It might be more useful to see the CV of someone early in their career, as opposed to the CV of an accomplished professor.

  5. Currently I am a 2nd year PhD student in History. I would recommend putting your education section first. If you are proud of your undergrad GPA, include it here. Next, follow it with any publications you did as an undergrad (such as an honors thesis). Then, more general publications. Then : conferences and presentations. Then skills (languages, ability to code, etc). Then: academic jobs (TAships, research assistant jobs, etc). Then other jobs that might have been relevant– such as: Does your community organizing relate to Divinity School at all (my guess is that it does)- include it. I don’t put references on my CV — and since you will have to have rec letters submitted for your application anyways no need to include them here. Finally end with a section about what you like to do in your free time (keep this short).

    Don’t worry if you don’t have information for some of these categories yet. If you are coming from undergrad they probably won’t expect you to have done that much in terms of publications and such.

    Hope that helps!

  6. I see other people have covered this, but since the Letter Writer is at the applying for grad programs stage, it’s probably going to be more helpful for her to look at the CVs of people who are closer to being her peers—other grad students vs. other professors. You can get good ideas from a professor’s CV, but you also might find the sheer amount of stuff in a prof’s CV overwhelming at this stage… my advisor has a 12 page CV, for example. There’s one prof in my department whose CV runs north of 20 pages. My CV, as a third year grad student who doesn’t have any pubs yet, is a page and a half. My advice is: find a CV from a grad student at a program you’re interested in, and straight up copy the formatting.

    One great thing that Caroline mentions is putting your CV online: you should absolutely, absolutely have a webpage, even if it’s just a wordpress or professional tumblr page. Admission committees (and later job search committees) will google you and having a web presence that’s more than just social media is a way of controlling what they find when they do that.

  7. Hello, professional resume writer/job search professional and ex-HR recruiter here 🙂

    Just a quick side note: although I know the original letter was asking about grad school applications, Carolyn mentioned that CVs are way better than resumes – no frustrating little action verb bullet points. The only thing I’d caution is that if you’re ever applying in industry, even after grad school, most companies will prefer your resume, NOT your CV.

  8. I am an Early Career Academic (currently a post-doc), and I approve all of Caroline’s advice!

    Rather than looking at profs’ or peers’ CVs, though, I normally look at the CVs of people a little ways ahead of me, who are in the kind of job I would like to have. So in your case, I would look at the CVs of PhD students or post-docs. Ask people you admire for their CV too – they will probably be happy to help!

    Another (quite random) tip someone gave me: when you list awards/scholarships, you may want to list the cash value of the award. Unless you are applying to a university where you have already studied, people reading your CV may not know that a relatively minor-sounding award was actually Super Duper Important. Some people disagree with this, but your mileage may vary, etc.

    Also, for any UK peeps who feel confused – Americans have this thing where resumes are for normal jobs and CVs are for academia. In the UK, obviously the term CV is used regardless. The advice still stands – normal-job CVs should be two pages ish, but academic CVs have no page limit, and can often be 8 pages or longer.

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