Resumes, CVs & Cover Letters

 

Written credentials -- a cover letter and either a CV or resume -- are often your first opportunity to interact with employers. The resources on this page will help you prepare documents to make your best first impression.

The resume and CV are both documents that list educational accomplishments, work experience, skills, and professional activities. The resume is the more common of the two documents, used by most organizations in the private and public sectors, as well as the non-profit world. The CV, or curriculum vitae, is almost exclusively the domain of scholarly or academic employment, though it can also be relevant when applying for some research, government, and academic administrative positions. The most noticeable difference in format between the two documents is length: the CV has no page limit, but the resume should be restricted to one page (for PhDs a 1.5-2 page resume may also be acceptable). The next most noticeable difference between the two documents is in the level of detail. CVs contain comprehensive lists with full bibliographic information for published papers, conference presentations, and other professional activities; this information is usually too detailed for a resume, which should instead include concise statements, such as, “Published 3 peer-reviewed papers in competitive scholarly journals.” The most substantial difference between a resume and CV is perspective. CVs are focused on the individual, the job seeker, and her individual accomplishments. The focus of resumes should be on the fit between the job seeker and the job, highlighting general skills demonstrated by research, teaching, etc. with less focus on expertise and content details of research. This difference is further elaborated in the Inside Higher Ed article "Sharing Success in New Ways," which gives the following advice about resume-writing:

 

  • Do "not get bogged down in the content details (e.g. Baroque symphony, astronomy, or Canadian First Nations government). Instead draw attention to the more meta-level aspects of your work (e.g., student success, grant writing, growth in programs)." In general, focus on transferable skills, e.g., "effective writing, public communication, awareness of student needs, program development, corporate organization, data analysis, and many others."
  • "It is [...] important to quantify your contributions. [...] There are many avenues to do this: specify amounts of time you spent on a project, indicate numbers of students effected by your work, highlight relevant efforts that contributed to the department’s mission, provide concrete measures of success, and explicitly frame direct responsibilities within an initiative. [...] remember to select and frame your numbers in ways that will indicate your transferable skills. 'Developed an engaging bridge program for the math department for 125 community college transfer students annually; a program with a 95 percent completion rate and contributed to a 20 percent increase of higher at-risk students declaring a math or science major' is much easier to transfer into another position than, 'Taught a summer semester introduction to calculus course for two years.'"
  • Resumes for PhDs Guide
Cover letters are generally required when applying for all jobs, but their formats differ depending on whether the job is an academic position or a position in the public sector, private sector, non-profits, or higher education administration. The most striking difference between cover letters for academic positions and other positions is length: cover letters for most academic positions are 2-5 pages in length (depending, to some degree, on the discipline and the position). Academic cover letters are expected to cover a person’s research and teaching activity in detail, as well as other professional activities and future research and book and/or creative projects. Cover letters for positions in industry, government, non-profit, etc. are much more concise, generally not exceeding one page in length and including only one or two examples that illustrate the person’s experience that directly relates to the posted position.

The following links provide additional information on how to compose a professional cover letter:

Versatile PhD has example resumes, cover letters, and other written credentials for a wide variety of careers in the public and private sectors, non-profit, and higher education administration. Follow the link to the PhD Career Finder.

Instructions for accessing Versatile PhD for the first time:

    1. Go to: VersatilePhD.com
    2. Click on link for “Michigan State University”
    3. Log in through MSU
    4. Click on link to return to Versatile PhD
    5. Create an account with Versatile PhD and continue to access the site directly for 1 year (after 1 year you will need to log in through MSU again)

Example CVs for industry positions:

Example CVs for faculty positions:

Resources for Academic Cover Letters:

The MSU Career Services Network website also contains excellent guidelines for writing resumes and cover letters, and publishes Career Passport, which contains tips for writing resumes and cover letters and examples of well-formatted documents. Even though these resources are geared towards undergraduate students, the general advice is applicable to doctoral students as well. The same can be said for examples of resumes and cover letters on other websites: advice designed for Bachelors degree holders can often be translated to PhDs. Useful general resources include:

Several books on the job search for graduate students include information on how to write effective resumes, CVs, and cover letters. Some general resources with this information include:

  • The Academic Job Search Handbook by Julia Miller Vick and Jennifer S. Furlong (2008)
  • “So What Are You Going to Do with That?”: Finding Careers Outside Academia by Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius (2007)

Review this handout "Resumes for PhDs" [PDF] before booking an appointment.

Click here to set up an appointment with PhD Career Services.

If you would like your English language usage checked on your resume, cover letter, or other written materials, please make an appointment at the Writing Center in 300 Bessey Hall, which has a consultant designated for graduate students.

@PhDCareersMSU