Hi, and welcome back to The Psychology PhD, a podcast developed by grad students right here in the Columbia University psychology department where we discuss psych-focused graduate programs. Once again, I’m Monica Thieu, a 5th year student here in our program.
This season we are discussing the process of applying to PhD programs in experimental psychology. In our previous two episodes, we started with an introduction to the psychology PhD, which was followed up by a show on how to get organized at the beginning of the application process. If you’re just jumping in here, we recommend checking out those previous episodes as well, and we have linked them in the show notes for easy access.
All right, without further ado, let’s jump into the topic of today’s episode: CVs and resumes. If you’ve begun to review the application materials required by your programs of interest, you’ll likely have seen that you need to submit a CV as part of your application package. When I was an undergrad, I knew what a resume was supposed to look like, and I had a sense that a CV was something like a resume, but I did wonder:
What exactly is a CV?
How is it different from a resume?
And how should I design and structure mine?
So if you’ve been asking yourself similar questions, we’ve got you covered with this episode!
But before we begin, let me provide a quick caveat that, similar to what we’ve discussed in previous episodes, the guidelines we’ll provide today are specific to the United States. In other parts of the world, what we call resumes here in the U.S. are called CVs, so things can get a bit confusing. So, if you are applying to programs outside of the U.S., I’d recommend doing some online research into the customs and norms for CVs in your location of interest.
So, with that caveat out of the way, let’s jump into a quick summary of the key differences between CVs and resumes. We’ll dive into each of these items in more detail as we work our way through the episode.
• A CV is a credential-based professional history, whereas a resume is a competency-based marketing document.
• CV stands for “curriculum vitae”, or “the course of your life”. Accordingly, a CV provides a more thorough career review than a resume and, as such, it can contain multiple pages (basically as many pages as the content requires). In contrast, a resume is a targeted summary of your achievements and skills, and should be no longer than a single page if you’re in the first 5–8 years of your career.
• A CV is static; although it will get longer as time progresses and you do more stuff, it generally does not need much if any customization for various job or program applications. In contrast, a resume should be carefully tailored for each submission.
• And finally, the formatting for a CV is extremely standardized, and we strongly recommend sticking with these conventions. In contrast, resume formatting is much more flexible—though the most unique and creative options should only be used for certain types of roles.
And next, we’ll dive more deeply into these distinctions between CVs and resumes. Let’s start with the purpose of each, as they are actually quite different! I’ll begin with resumes, as you may be more likely to have encountered them in the past (say, for an internship or a job in the corporate world).
A resume tends to be the standard document that’s requested when you’re applying for a position in business or industry. Imagine that a potential employer asked what you can do for them—and to prove it with concrete descriptions of your accomplishments. A good resume does just this! As I said before, a resume is a competency-based marketing document—that is, a document for marketing yourself to employers—that provides a targeted summary of your achievements and skills. They tend to consist of descriptive bullets, each highlighting a key accomplishment, skill, or responsibility that’s relevant to the position of interest.
In contrast, a CV is a credential-based professional history that provides a thorough review of your career as a scholar or scientist. CVs are often used in academia and other research institutions. They differ from resumes in that they review all of your qualifications, rather than summarizing your relevant practical skills. They include a comprehensive overview of your education, the honors you’ve received, publications you’ve authored, presentations you’ve given, and other relevant information. And they tend to consist of lists in reverse-chronological order, with limited descriptive or explanatory text.
So now that we’ve briefly covered how resumes and CVs differ in their purpose, let’s compare and contrast their typical structure. Here is a listing of the sections commonly included in a CV versus a resume. You’ll see that some of these sections are included in both—like the Education section—and others are different. In this episode, we will be walking through each of these sections in detail.
But before we do, let’s spend a moment looking at this typical structure for each type of document. In academia, CVs always begin with your Education, and this section is typically followed by any Honors or Awards that you’ve received at this stage in your career.
Next, for senior academics like postdoctoral researchers and professors, it is common to include any Publications on which they are an author, followed by any Presentations they have given—for example, at a conference or an invited talk at a university. And to avoid any discouragement, let me highlight that most people applying to grad school will not have content to fill these sections when they apply. (For what it’s worth, most grad students I know didn’t have any publications or presentations at the time they applied, and they still got in.) I’ll mention it again when we review these sections in detail, but if you don’t have any publications or presentations, simply omit these sections.
After Publications and Presentations on your CV, you’ll typically find your Research Experience, followed by your Teaching Experience. Finally comes Service, your Affiliations, and any other Professional Experience you might have that doesn’t quite fit into the sections above.
Briefly shifting gears from CVs to resumes—a resume will typically start with your Experience, followed by your Education and then your Skills. (The only time when I’d recommend changing this order is when you’re first graduating—if you’re applying for your first job after college, feel free to place Education before Experience because that’s what happened most recently.) There are also a couple of sections that you can include on a resume, but that you don’t need to include: the Objective and the Personal sections. And we’ll talk a bit more about these sections later.
So now that we’ve reviewed the high-level structure of each kind of document, let’s dive into specifics, section by section. And as a quick heads up, I’ll be featuring real-world examples from CVs and resumes of people from my program in the video version of this episode. So if you’re listening to the audio podcast, you can find a link to the YouTube video where you can find these examples in the show notes.
So let’s begin with the header at the top of your document.
In a CV, the header format is quite standardized and, honestly, kind of boring! (And you’ll see that this semi-boring, standardized format is true throughout the entire CV.) You’ll list your name, and optionally you can list the words “Curriculum Vitae”—though some people omit this line—and then your current department and contact information, including an email address, phone number, and mailing address. If you’ve already graduated and are no longer affiliated with a university, you can leave off the department line. And as you’ll see, in a CV, this should all be in plain, 12 point, Times New Roman font, with the exception of your name—which can be bolded and in a slightly larger size.
In contrast to a CV, you can have a little more fun with the formatting of a resume header, but keep in mind it should match the look and feel of the rest of your resume. And additionally, because space is at a premium in resumes (unlike CVs), it’s probably best to keep this to two or maybe three lines: one line with your name, followed by a line or two with contact details.
Next, let’s take a look at the Education section. This should be the very first section on your CV. It should begin with a basic, all-caps “EDUCATION” header, which should be bolded but still in 12 point Times New Roman font. Then, in unbolded Times New Roman 12 point font, you should list your university, degree, and graduation date. Next, since you’re applying to graduate programs, you’ll want to include your GPA—either cumulative or for your major (and particularly if that major is psychology, and if your major GPA is impressive!). Finally, if you have received any honors or are writing or have finished an honors thesis, mention it here. And keep in mind that all of this should be in plain text, with no special formatting or bullets.
In contrast, on a resume, you have much more flexibility, both in terms of the content and the formatting. Typically, you will include similar information to a CV, but you might use bullets and formatting that looks a bit more exciting—though, as always, keep in mind that this formatting should match the rest of your resume. And as mentioned briefly before, this section will likely come after Experience in your resume unless you’re just graduating.
Next, let’s review the Honors section, which tends to follow the Education section on a CV. This is where you’ll have the opportunity to highlight any fellowships, honors, awards, or funding that you might have received. On a CV, you will list each honor or award that you received, as well as the associated organization you received the award from and the year that you got it, each on its own line. And for awards that involved cash prizes or fellowship funding, some people will also include the dollar amount of each award in parentheses following the name of the awarding organization. You can do this if you like.
On a resume, such honors will typically be bundled as a bullet point under the associated Education or Experience section, rather than being placed in their own section. And like all sections of a CV or resume, if you don’t have anything to list here, that’s OK! Simply leave the section out.
Next, let’s talk Publications. I’ll begin by reiterating that many grad students I know didn’t have scholarly publications on their CVs when they applied to grad school. This is normal! If you fall into this group as well, then you can simply omit the Publications section—no need to include it at all. However, if you have had the rare opportunity to author a publication, you can add it here. To do so, you can list any publications in APA format. In the show notes, we’ve included a link to a website with more information on APA reference formatting so you can take a look. Thanks to APA formatting, you may notice that the formatting of this Publications CV section is a bit more exciting than the other sections. In addition to standard APA reference guidelines like italics for journal names and book titles, be sure to bold your own name in the author list. This helps readers see where you fit in!
Finally, in a resume used for business purposes, it’s pretty uncommon to include research publications. However, if you’re including your Research Assistant position in your Experience section, you could consider listing any publications as a relevant bullet point under that position.
Next, the Presentations section on your CV should be formatted just like a Publications section would be, with APA-style references for each presentation. Just like in the Publications section, be sure to bold your name in the reference. And for anyone who has been working outside of academia prior to applying to grad school, it may be helpful to know that this section is typically for presentations or posters presented at scientific conferences. I wouldn’t recommend including everyday business presentations here. And like the rest of the CV, if you haven’t given any scholarly presentations, no worries! Just omit the section.
And with regard to resumes, presentations typically won’t be worth the space that they would take up on your resume, unless it’s something very special that might excite your potential employer. If this is the case, I’d recommend bundling it as a bullet point under the relevant Experience item.
All right, so, moving on to Research Experience. As a grad school applicant, this section is very important! This is where you will list the positions that you have held working in a scientific research lab. As we covered in the earlier Grad Apps videos, research experience is probably the most important aspect of your qualifications for PhD programs. Although you’ll cover your research experience in the most detail within your Statement of Purpose, which we’ll be covering later in Episode 5, in your CV you will list the basics of your position, including the university and the lab you worked in, the dates of your tenure, your supervisor, and 1–2 lines briefly describing your responsibilities. And like the rest of the CV, keep the formatting basic.
If you’re working on a resume instead of a CV, you might find that you want to include your research experience as well if it’s relevant to the role you’re applying to. Great! So, to do so, include your research experience within your main Experience section with the lab listed as if it is a company. Then, include bullet points that highlight your specific accomplishments and translatable strengths or skills—things that you’ve learned to do or be in the lab that would also be valuable to an employer, like project management or data analysis skills.
Teaching Experience should be included in a similar manner to Research Experience in your CV. This is where you’ll likely include any teaching assistantships you’ve held (if you have had any). Include your instructor’s name, the university and the course, and the semester or quarter it was offered, and a couple brief lines describing your responsibilities. Some people also choose to highlight the average teaching review score that they received for each course in this section.
On your resume, teaching experience may be worth including in your Experience section if your accomplishments or skills are, again, directly translatable to the position for which you’re applying. If not, however, feel free to leave it off.
Next up: the Service section. If you’re new to academia, you may not have heard of this category before. Service encompasses work that you’ve done to support your department, university, or field, such as committee membership, volunteer work, or service on an editorial board (e.g., for an undergraduate research journal). On your CV, these listings will go in a simply-formatted Service section, with a single line for each role.
And on your resume, there aren’t any specific conventions regarding this kind of work. If it is a long-term commitment that’s relevant to your position of interest, you could include it as an Experience item. If not, it likely merits just a bullet in your Personal section (if anything).
Finally, Affiliations. Many people include an Affiliations section in their CV that lists the professional organizations to which they belong. Although this section is optional, it can help to fill out a light CV and highlight your ongoing involvement in the scientific community. Include one line per organization with your role and dates of membership. This information probably isn’t worth including on your resume at all, unless you need to fill up space! If this is the case, you could add the information as a line in your Personal section.
All right, so that concludes our review of the various sections in a CV and their analogous sections in a resume (where applicable). Next, let’s quickly run through some notes that are specific to resumes now.
First, let’s talk about two different ways that you might organize your Experience section in your resume: reverse-chronological versus functional. A reverse-chronological Experience section starts with your current (or most recent) professional experience at the top, and then works backwards through time as you make your way down the page. This reverse-chronological organization is, by far, the most common and straightforward way to list your experience. We would strongly recommend using this style of organization unless you have a good reason not to!
In contrast, a functionally-organized Experience section will consist of separate groupings of professional experiences based on the primary function you performed in each role. This kind of organization can be really useful if you’ve made a big professional change—say, from one industry to another—as it can help the reader to understand what took place before versus after the change. Functional resumes can also be especially effective when you are discussing this change in your cover letter as well. However, keep in mind that if this is for your first full-time position out of school, I would strongly recommend using a reverse-chronological approach.
Second, one optional section for resumes that I mentioned earlier is the Objective section. If you decide to include this section, this is where you’ll provide a targeted one- or two-sentence-long summary of your career goal (which should align with the job to which you’re applying) and, potentially, specific keywords, experiences, or skills that make you a great fit for that role. So, should you include this optional Objective section? It might be worth including if you’re making a big career change or if you have a resume that’s light on content. If you don’t fall into these groups, though, we’d typically recommend that you leave it out and dedicate that space in your resume to other sections.
Next, let’s turn our attention to a section that is common in resumes but not typically found in CVs: the Skills section. This is a section where people often highlight their technical and language skills. Given that the Experience section of a resume tends to focus on your accomplishments, rather than your credentials, the Skills section is where you can quickly identify to employers that you know how to use all the software that they reference in the job posting. In this section, each piece of software and/or language—a language you can speak or a language you can code in—receives its own bullet point.
Finally, another optional section for resumes is the Personal section. This is where you can include 1–3 bullet points on who you are as a person (ideally with some kind of connection to the field that you’re applying to work in). Why include this section? Hiring decisions often come down to personal fit, and this is a way you can highlight your human side. To be as effective as possible, we would recommend keeping these points brief and specific—vagaries like “Enjoys cooking and traveling” aren’t typically that useful.
Next, let’s talk about the language you’ll use throughout your resume. As we covered at the beginning of this episode, resumes are sales documents intended to market you as a brand. As such, the most effective resumes will use active verbs that demonstrate specifically what you have accomplished, rather than what your duties or responsibilities were. Furthermore, employers appreciate when you quantify these accomplishments. For example, how many client relationships did you manage in your time in this role? How large was the budget you oversaw? Specifics like these can help bring your experience to life for the reader. Although it may feel a little awkward, it is also a good idea to include some buzzwords from the job listing. Employers these days often use software that automatically scans your application files for keywords of interest, so including these words may help your resume to pass this initial screening.
Finally, we strongly recommend tailoring your resume for every single job opportunity. (This is likely different from your CV, as I mentioned before, which tends to be static and doesn’t need to be tailored in this way.) For your resume, this means revising and reordering your bullets for every single opportunity so that your most relevant experience for the position you’re applying for is featured as prominently as possible.
Next, let’s quickly talk about formatting. If you’ve searched for example resumes online, as I have many times, you’ve probably found many examples that look fairly traditional with black Times New Roman font. However, you may also have come across examples with more of a custom design. How do you decide which is right for you? We would recommend that you only consider a custom designed resume if you are applying for a creative role in a creative industry. If you’re applying for anything else—say, law, consulting, or a nonprofit job, stick with traditional formatting. And if you’re not sure, go traditional.
Finally, let’s talk about how to stretch or squeeze your resume, keeping in mind that resumes should really be a single page (at least until you’re at least 5–8 years into your career).
If your resume is light and you’re having trouble filling one full page, adjust your formatting so that you are using 12 point font, 1 inch margins, and are including ample white space—for example, a full line break before and after each heading and between each position. And additionally, if you have had more than one role at an organization—for example, if you’ve been promoted—list these roles as completely separate Experience items. And if you’re stretching, it could also be helpful to include that Objective section at the top and the Personal section at the bottom. If you still need to fill space after doing all of this, you might even include Experience and Education items from your time in high school—though we recommend doing this only if you absolutely need to!
Next, let’s talk about the opposite challenge: If your resume is content-heavy and you’re having trouble squeezing everything just one page. In this case, you might adjust your font, margins, and white space so that you can fit more on the page—so a smaller font (though no smaller than 10 point), smaller margins (though no smaller than ½ inch) and less white space (for example, only a blank line before your headers, but not after them). If you’ve had multiple roles at a single organization, you could condense them into a single experience item and simply list the roles and dates side by side. Finally, remove the Objective section as well as any information in Experience or Education that’s from high school. And consider combining your Skills section with your Personal section—perhaps only including one Personal bullet, if any.
So, to wrap up, let’s quickly review the key differences between a CV and a resume in the U.S. once more.
• A CV is a credential-based professional history, whereas a resume is a competency-based marketing document.
• A CV provides a more thorough career review and, as such, it can contain as many pages as necessary. In contrast, a resume is a targeted summary of your achievements and skills, and should be no longer than one page if you’re in the first 5–8 years of your career.
• A CV is static; although it’ll get longer as you get more experience, it doesn’t need to be customized for most applications, while in contrast, a resume should be tailored for every single application you use it for.
• And finally, the formatting for a CV is extremely standardized, and we strongly recommend sticking with those conventions. In contrast, as you heard, resume formatting is much more flexible—though again, the most creative options should only be used for creative roles.
That’s all for today. I really hope that this has been helpful. In our next episode of The Psychology PhD, Episode 4, we will talk about acquiring research experience and requesting letters of recommendation for graduate programs from your research supervisors. In Episode 5, we’ll talk about writing your statement of purpose for PhD applications, and in Episode 6, we’ll talk about preparing for interviews with schools that you’re applying to.
And just as before, we’ll be updating the show notes to include links to these different topics as soon as each new episode launches. You can find the show notes below this episode in the description if you’re watching on YouTube or in the show notes section of whatever podcast app you’re listening on.
To receive notifications when new episodes are released, subscribe to our YouTube channel or to our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you’re listening. You’re also welcome to join our email list to receive an email each time we release a new episode. And, finally, if you found this content helpful, once more, please consider liking the episode on YouTube or rating and reviewing the show in your preferred podcast app.
Talk to you next time!