Don’t Ask Career Services for Help With Your CV

Of the the 111 posts on The Professor Is In’s blog, which one, do you think, has the most comments?

The Six Ways You’re Acting Like a Grad Student (And How That’s Killing You on the Job Market?

Dr. Karen’s Rules of the Campus Visit?

Why Your Job Letter Sucks (And What You Can Do To Fix It)?

If you guessed one of these, as I would have, you’d be wrong. Although these have hefty numbers of comments (15, 30, and 62 respectively), they fall far, far short of the most-commented blog post on the site.

That honor, by a vast margin, goes to: Dr. Karen’s Rules of the Academic CV.

Seriously. Seriously? 121 comments on the post on CVs?  Who woulda thought?

But why?

Well, I don’t know exactly why that post got such a dynamic and substantive response (the comment stream should indeed be read alongside the post itself—it’s that good). But I have suspicions. I suspect that it is because clear, reliable information on Cvs is ridiculously, insupportably hard to come by.

And that brings me to the topic of today’s post. In today’s issue of the Chronicle I found the most wonderful column. Called “The Rhetoric of the CV,” by Joshua E. Eyler, this column clarifies what I would be likely to call the “ethos” of the CV as a document, but which Eyler calls the “rhetoric.”* Whatever you call it, it is the meta-story that the CV tells about you as a candidate. Not just a static and dry list of facts, the CV is a dynamic and living document that tells a story in its taxonomies, orders of value, and silences, and in the style and economy of its wording.  Through these extra-textual elements the CV communicates instantly, at a glance, the basic hireability of you, the candidate. And yet, too often it is completely neglected.

As Eyler writes,

The CV has a reputation for being purely utilitarian in nature and, as such, has less glamour than other application materials. I don’t think I am going too far, though, when I say that the CV may be the most frequently and closely read of all the documents that candidates send. For search-committee members who often must assess 100 applications in a short time, the CV offers the kind of holistic picture that few other documents can match. And it is always among those materials made available to other members of the department or to attendees at a job talk. In some cases, it may be the only part of the application available to those groups.

Because of the frequency with which the CV will be read, then, it is important to note with care not simply the kinds of information that go into it, but also the order of information, the organization of facts, the section headings, and all the other seemingly minor details.

In each section, and in the document as a whole, candidates must make an argument that moves from the most important evidence to the least important. All of that together makes up the rhetoric of the CV.

My real point in today’s post is actually, though, a cautionary one. The fact is, there is no one document about which misinformation is so rife, as the academic CV. And it is the Chronicle that is primarily responsible for this sad state of affairs. As I tweeted today, about the Eyler column, “Finally a good column about Cvs in the Chronicle!”

The culprits here are none other than the Chronicle’s regular columnists, The CV Doctors.

The CV Doctors are advisors in campus Career Services offices, and for many years in the Chronicle, and also in their book, answer questions and give advice about Cvs. And their advice is all too often outdated and painfully inaccurate.

The reason is, they are coming from a Career Services perspective, and not a hard-core academic one.

I don’t doubt that they are sincere. I don’t doubt that they take their job very seriously.

But anyone who has not, themselves, been responsible for the awful, painful task of evaluating 300-600 CVs for a single scholarly position in a department is not qualified to opine on the fine points of the CV. Because it is not the information on the CV that is at issue. It is the ETHOS/rhetoric of the CV—the aura of the CV that communicates that you, the candidate, are the real deal, the genuine article, a serious academic, a true pro, an insider, a member of the tribe— that must be spot-on, perfect, and flawless. And that is what people from Career Services, no matter the campus, no matter how well-intentioned, are not in a position to evaluate.

As I wrote at one point in reply to a query in the comment thread on the CV blog post,

“Are you aware of how much damage well-intentioned Career Services people do to poor, hapless Ph.D.s on the academic job market? Perhaps you are not. But I will tell you, because I see the outcome of their advice in my business every day. I don’t doubt that they are sincere, but they are *completely* ignorant of the biases and rigidities and unspoken norms and judgments that dominate Ph,.D. hiring. I know that they work closely with Ph.D.s. But they’re profoundly ‘off.’ Because they aren’t in the thick of it, fighting through 500 applications for one tenure track position. The wide variability that they permit and endorse, the vast wordiness of so many of their models, which in a ‘normal’ hiring context might be perfectly reasonable, are simply deadly in a context when search committees are harassed, overwhelmed, underslept, and forced by circumstances to be utterly unforgiving.”

Let me put this another way. Tenure track hiring is now the equivalent of the Olympics. What was good enough at local, city, state, and national levels is reduced to .001 second differences between winning Gold and not qualifying at all. Mistakes within the .001 realm in your job documents are enough to keep you from even being shortlisted.

I know this is discouraging, because in a context where the actual tenured faculty have almost entirely abdicated responsibility for providing reliable professionalization advice, Career Services is all that many Ph.D.s have left.

But don’t go there. Career Services offices are meant to serve the career needs of the undergraduates, and the MA students heading into professional fields—ie, the real-life job market. For those of you trapped in the purgatory of the tenure-track ACADEMIC job market, steer clear of Career Services offices, and make sure that your advice comes strictly from other members of the tribe, the ones who know the secret handshake.

*I was not aware that I am mentioned repeatedly in the comment stream of this Chronicle column when I wrote this post!  I’m even accused of anonymously spamming the comment thread!  As my 13 year old daughter would say: “Aaawkward….”

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Don’t Ask Career Services for Help With Your CV — 16 Comments

  1. Pingback: so many different lines…. «

  2. “Career Services offices are meant to serve the career needs of the undergraduates, and the MA students heading into professional fields—ie, the real-life job market.”

    Sigh…this is all too true.

    I was at the Career Services office the other week and asked the Counselor her opinion on attending an online PhD programs to ultimately obtain a tenured position (College of Behavior & Social Sciences). She said, “Um, I don’t see why not.” When I spoke with 2 tenured professors last night and asked their opinions, they both looked at each other and grimaced.

    Um, yes, go strictly to the members of the tribes and take it from there.

  3. I see where you’re coming from, but I want to give a public vote of praise and respect for the career services director I worked with, Victoria Blodgett at Yale. She could not have been more helpful, sympathetic, or incisive. She patiently helped me turn my amateurish CV into something that actually got me jobs, she was with me every step of the way as I negotiated offers, and years later, she’s still giving me advice. As I imagine is the case for many good career services people, she was the very first to say that her advice alone is insufficient. She told us we needed to elicit targeted advice from our department, assured us that it was our right to have this advice, and told us how to get our advisers to give it to us. More important for me, she was the most sympathetic, supportive person I encountered while in grad school, at a difficult time. I was not the only person to cry in her office. She was the one who read my cover letters — one for a TT job, one for an alt-ac job — and said, “I see where your passion is, and it’s not for the tenure track.” No one else would have, or could have, said that to me.

    • I saw this on FB as well. Thanks for sending it. I am thrilled that a person like Victoria Blodgett exists (while surprised that she’s at an Ivy), and hope that there are others like her. But I would suggest that she’s the exception that proves the rule. What is most worrisome is that young, green candidates have no way of reliably evaluating whether they’ve stumbled upon a Victoria, or a garden variety uninformed CS staffer.

      • Miriam,

        Many thanks for your kind words, and I am so pleased to see that you continue to flourish. Sorry I am so late to this string of comments. Karen – Like any profession, hiring the right person into the right position is sometimes a very difficult task. Across the country Universities are quickly realizing their responsibility to provide expert career support to Ph.D. student across all fields, as the number of “good” jobs in the professoriate retract. Faculty are often under prepared and most often disinterested in lending career support to their students when their chosen path (or perhaps not chosen) is anything other than what that advisor deems a “good” job. Career advisors who have expertise in both academic and non academic career pathways and strategies are extremely difficult to identify, and place – but the options are very limited. To be completely fair – There is NO right way for candidates to structure their materials. To suggest that, as you have with your comments on the CV Doctors, is narrow at best. The selection committee for any position, in or outside of the professoriate is fickle. The reader will dictate what they want to read, the tone, the content, the impression. The candidate can research as much as possible, but in the end it’s a bit of a crap shoot. The CV doctor, like others in our profession doesn’t claim to be telling the only right way of doing something, but they share guidelines and basic frameworks from which to start. Don’t jump all over them because they haven’t created what YOU want to read – that conversation is up to you and the candidates who have the courage to seek out your advice as a reader of an application packet for a job which you have posted. Otherwise, your advice, like ours, it just a shot in the dark…perhaps well informed – but a shot nonetheless.

        • Who is Miriam? Anyway, obviously I disagree. There are right and wrong/better and worse ways to construct all of these documents, and that’s the whole point of my blog.

          • Karen, “Miriam” was the original poster of 4/6/2012 at 8:25 a.m.; I’m assuming “Victoria” is the Victoria Blodgett at Yale that Miriam Posner refers to in her post. And I think Ms. Blodgett missed the point of your post–that those who work in Career Services read job ap documents differently than those who are actually on hiring committees. I believe it is the difference is akin to those who watch sporting events and those who play. I can be a sideline expert, but until I attempt to walk that 4″ wide balance beam, I really have no understanding about how someone could fall off just doing something as simple as a full turn.

  4. What’s your advice to Ph.D.’s in search of positions in academic admin where a CV is, technically, requested, but where the job may or may not have a teaching component (i.e., associate-level positions in GLBT or multicultural programming offices), and where the rest of the application process and rhetoric do read differently than a faculty job/search? I’m having a hard time locating advice on how to pursue this track due to not yet wanting to rule out adjunct teaching and my first real hunt for something tenure-track this fall (and thus not wanting to inform advisers of my potential interests elsewhere) and my fear that seeking advice from career services might be detrimental. Any insight?

    Thanks for all of your work and advice. Your frankness is so appreciated when immersed in academic culture which, for me, has been anything but.

    • This is an excellent question without a simple answer. You’re right to not tell your advisors about your non-tt aspirations for now. Later you can, but for now, keep it quiet. They will doubt your seriousness. I believe that for admin. jobs career services might not be AS bad, so you should certainly check with them. And then, to tell you the truth…. not to be self-serving, but you should probably work with me (or someone like me)! The “translation” across academic and acad. admin is pretty subtle and takes a sure hand. One of my very first clients at TPII was someone seeking a PR job on a campus. We did some exceedingly subtle parsing of her academic background and her business background, and the academic needs of the job, and the PR needs of the job…. In the end, she got the job, but the hours we put into it were considerable.

      • The thing I’d add, is that knowing the institution is as important for academic admin jobs as for faculty jobs. In my experience — and I worked in academic admin for a bit — elite institutions read CVs/job materials for academic admin jobs very differently than others (e.g., they think — reasonably, for their student population that credentials, pedigree, etc matter while training in a particular area (e.g., MA in higher ed) is not that important; the reverse is often true at non-elite institutions). As a result, tailored CVs, job letters (and stick to 1-2 pages for these, really!), and the like are necessary in academic admin too.

      • I would recommend reading the job description carefully and trying to discern whether or not the institution is seeking someone who will be working with faculty on a regular basis. Having served on two search committees for professional staff positions this semester, I can say that one question came up repeatedly: Will the faculty be able to relate to this person and will they respect his/her credentials? I was looking for an academic and was turned off by anyone too corporate or not scholarly enough.

  5. Sadly, Career Services does very little for those completing their masters. The advice they gave me was flawed. I took my resume to several recruiters and professionals in my chosen career path. They asked me to change the very items Career Services asked me to add to my resume. After I made the changes based on the recruiters advice I start to at least receive phone calls. I would like to teach. I understand now why my resume is not working. I am using the wrong document to apply for a teaching position at the college level. I will explore your site and create a CV. I am learning so much on your site.

  6. My university’s career services office is actually quite helpful for PhDs on the academic market. They have two PhD-holding counselors who have previously held academic positions on staff, and in addition to offering counseling on traditional/non-academic job searches they also have several good seminars, workshops, and help sessions on the academic job search. They bring in outside experts and academics from other campuses as well as our own who either actually do hiring or have just gone through the process to provide information.

    I haven’t been to them for CV help so I can’t speak to that, though.

  7. Thanks this post! I’ve definitely noticed that advice from outside of academia, be it Career Services counselors, friends, or family, often follows a logic that doesn’t work for academia. It may well work in the business-world, or the non-profit-world, but sometimes the nuances and subtleties that can only be imparted by somebody in your field make all the difference in making you looked well-versed in the conventions of your field, which in-turn speaks to your preparedness in that field.

  8. CS was good for helping me with the mechanics of my CV (little things, like lining up the dates of things so that it’s easier for search committees to skim), but woefully unprepared to help me with any of the big issues. In my case, the biggest problem was that the main CS advisor, who had a social science background, knew nothing about my humanities field, and therefore had NO idea how to help me organize my materials (and gave me several tips which I knew to be false). CVs are something that I’ve had a lot of trouble getting help with; my most useful info has come from recent grads who’ve gotten jobs.

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