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Writing a CV makes me paranoid that I'm failing to abide by unwritten rules. Of course CVs are flexible to capture the diversity of accomplishments someone might have. But there must be plenty of things a hiring committee absolutely expects. So I'm interested in anything that must be on a CV — whose omission would raise a red flag — of a mathematician looking for an academic job.

"Obvious" answers are welcome. Even things which sound obvious like "your name." What is obvious to someone who has read and evaluated lots of CVs is different from someone preparing one for the first time. In your answer, please also be fairly specific about scope: have you served on hiring committees? for what types of positions? in the US or Europe or?

(Note: As suggested in the comments, it is very good to ask people "in the know" directly for such career advice. One reason for asking this question on MO is to have more open, less clubby answers — there is an echo chamber effect when you ask a bunch of people in the same subcommunity.)

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The usual strategy is to imitate the CVs of a few slightly older friends (people who have successfully gotten the sort of job you would like). This will give you a good feeling for what should be included: if they all include something, you should too, and if only one of them does, then you should ask around before copying that. Once you know what you will write, you should pick the best-looking CV and ask the author whether you can model yours after their TeX source. Finally, you should ask your advisor and your friends to look over your new CV and make sure it is OK. –  Henry Cohn Oct 25 '11 at 2:10
Make sure to include your current MO reputation. –  JSE Oct 25 '11 at 3:05
I cannot resist a comment on the changing nature of the profession. In the 1980's we recruited famous algebraist Maurice Auslander as Head, and our Dean asked him whether he had any grants, and if so why were they not on his vita. His response was, and I quote: "No self respecting mathematician would put his grants on his vita!" Needless to say this has totally changed. grants are the primary ingredient of a viable vita in any job search today. If I am wrong here. I would gladly celebrate that fact. –  roy smith Oct 25 '11 at 3:32
It appears to be a standard European practice to include one's birthday on the CV, but this is almost never done in the U.S. (where it is illegal for the hiring committee to base a hiring decision on age), and it appears odd to do so. For Europeans applying in the U.S., therefore, I'd recommend leaving the birthday off. –  Joel David Hamkins Oct 25 '11 at 17:44
For discussions on the appropriateness of this question, please go to tea.mathoverflow.net/discussion/1184/… . And please up-vote this comment so that it resides "above the fold". (Discussions of the content of the question should be done here.) –  Theo Johnson-Freyd Oct 25 '11 at 18:20
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7 Answers

From my perspective, the critical question isn't what must be included on your CV, but rather what mustn't, since that seems to be the more common problem (judging by the ones I see). What I'm about to describe is based on my experience at a U.S. research lab; I imagine it generalizes quite a bit beyond that, but I can't say how far, and it is certainly country-specific.

I'll discuss five rules below, with some overlap between them. Of course these rules are not absolute (except for the last one), but you certainly shouldn't break them without thinking carefully about it and deciding there's a good reason to do so.

(1) Your CV should represent you as a professional mathematician. Anything that is not relevant to your professional life should be left out. For example, you should generally not describe non-math-related summer or part-time jobs, hobbies, side interests outside of mathematics and related fields, etc. If there's something unusually interesting or impressive (you published a novel or are a chess champion) or that displays relevant skills (you write free software in your spare time), it's OK to mention it, but just briefly and not in a prominent position.

I've seen some hair-raising violations of this rule, in which applicants devoted considerable space to things that have nothing to do with working as a mathematician. Nobody is going to reject your application just because you put something weird in your CV, but it's not good for your image as a professional.

(2) Your CV shouldn't include anything unless you think the search committee might need or want to know it. For example, contact information is valuable, as is anything that can legitimately help judge your application. However, in the U.S. you should not list your age or birthdate, your marital status, information about your children, or your religion (unless you are applying to a religious institution). I realize this is common in some countries, and of course people will be understanding about that, but it comes across strangely to give people information they don't want and shouldn't be influenced by.

(3) You should try not to seem desperate to impress, particularly with awards and distinctions. Some people provide enormous lists of very minor distinctions, sometimes with no relevance to research/teaching/service (for example, a college scholarship from a local business club). Coming across as insecure can make you seem less attractive: an ambitious department wants to hire people who are marginally too good for them, not people who are trying hard to be good enough. As a rule of thumb, when you get your Ph.D. and apply for your first job, it's OK to list any substantive distinction from grad school. You can list a few undergraduate honors, but only if they are impressive (Putnam fellow or major university-wide prize, yes; random scholarship, no). You shouldn't list high school honors at all (well, just maybe an IMO medal, but be careful not to look like you consider it your proudest achievement).

(4) Be sure not to give the impression you are trying to obfuscate anything. I don't just mean you should tell the truth, but also that you should be clear and straightforward. For example, people sometimes feel bad about not having enough items to list in their publication or talk sections, and it can be tempting to reorganize the CV to try to obscure this. For example, you could replace the "publications" section with a "research" section in which you list not just publications but also talks and poster presentations, or even current/future research topics. This is a bad idea, since it can look like you are trying to make the information less accessible, and then everything on your CV will be looked at more skeptically. Instead, you want to make it easy to understand your CV and easy to see that you aren't doing anything tricky.

(5) Don't lie. Don't say a paper will appear in a journal until it has been accepted, even if you are sure it will be. Don't say a paper is submitted until it is, even if you plan to submit it by the time the committee meets. Don't call something a preprint until it is written down and ready to distribute (you can say "in preparation" before then, but many people will ignore this since it is unverifiable). Don't say you have received a fellowship or prize if you haven't. You'd think all these things go without saying, but I've seen a couple of people get caught on one of them. You really don't want to be the person who gets asked for a copy of their preprint and can't produce one.

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This is a valuable answer! –  Suvrit Oct 26 '11 at 16:45
Very nice and detailed, and remarkably on target. I will mention though that part (1) is where things can get a little fuzzy. I have always been aware that people listed non-professional things on their CV, and I was never certain what the purpose was (and I always wondered how much/little to say there). Indeed, I am not sure why someone applying for a position in a lab would need to supply this information; but it will be relevant to apply to a liberal arts college. Hence the need for several versions of the CV for people who apply to a wide range of places. –  Thierry Zell Oct 26 '11 at 23:05
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  • Include the URL of your web page (and have one!).
  • Include the arXiv references of your papers, and in the PDF version make those arXiv references actual links to the papers (e.g. using the hyperref package).
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(if only to make life easier for a putative diligent reference writer, who'd like to peruse your papers before putting pen to paper...) –  Scott Morrison Oct 25 '11 at 21:03
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I second the advice about modeling your CV on those of others. Personally, when I'm reading CV's of job applicants, here is what I first look at:

  • Name, employment history, education (the latter two switched in order of importance if the person is a very recent PhD)
  • research interests
  • publications
  • honors, awards, editorial work

At a second pass, I'd look at

  • talks
  • teaching
  • PhDs/postdocs supervised (depending on the position advertised)

Unless these are explicit requirements of the position (senior hires, hires to administration), I find information on grants and department-level service not very helpful. Granting systems in different countries vary wildly, as does the nature of what's service.

Caveat emptor: this is how I read CVs, and is not intended to imply anything of a universal nature.

(added later to provide scope): I've served on hiring committees in Canada for postdoc, junior and senior faculty searches (open and targetted), university senior administrators, prize committees (for research awards) and for granting agencies in North America and Europe. So my experience is limited.

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An obvious answer

One cannot insist enough (and I am surprised to see this has been hinted at already, but not stated quite this boldly) on the fact that different positions have different expectations, e.g. many non-academic employers seem to expect a single-page résumé.

Even when looking for an academic position, candidates routinely keep more than one version of their CV. In order to tailor to the specifics of the various positions (more or less emphasis on research, post-doc vs. tenure-track). Even if you put the exact same items in all your CVs, the order in which they are presented, which items are emphasized and detailed is a good way prove that you understand the expectations of the position, and make sure that the relevant items are easily found by the reader.

I cannot be more specific since this question yet again commits the sin of being a non-geographically specific career question: needless to say that localization also plays a role.

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So certainly it makes sense that for a teaching vs. research position you'd want to put more or less emphasis on your teaching credentials. But I have no idea what you mean when you talk about emphasizing different things for post-doc vs. tenure-track. This isn't at all obvious to me, in fact I hadn't heard this before. –  Noah Snyder Oct 26 '11 at 13:35
@Noah: I'm sure it depends on the circumstances, but as a post-doc I would emphasize more the collaboration aspect (what topic? with whom?) than for a tenure-track position. –  Thierry Zell Oct 26 '11 at 14:27
@Noah again: generally, applications materials for a tenure-track position should be more forward-looking than for a postdoc: people want to have an idea what you'll be doing 5 years from now in the first case, while that is not really relevant in the second case. Of course, the CV is about what you have already done, but depending on your circumstances, there are ways to emphasize X and play down Y to suggest either what's going to happen in the near future, or further down the line. –  Thierry Zell Oct 26 '11 at 18:01
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As Henry suggests, you should just model it on other people's CVs (you can use mine; I ripped it off from Ezra Miller), and ask a more senior person if you're uncertain about an item. The obvious items are (it's CW, so people can add):

On practically every CV

  • Name
  • Contact Info
  • Employment History
  • Education
  • Grants, Honors, etc.
  • Publications
  • Service
  • Teaching

Things you might include (but which I don't necessarily recommend):

  • Citations
  • Talks
  • Programming languages or foreign languages spoken
  • Names of people who will vouch for you
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@Gerry: Could you elaborate on "Citations"? –  Mark Grant Oct 25 '11 at 6:40
@Yemon, I'm responsible for "Citations", so I'll answer Mark. –  Gerry Myerson Oct 25 '11 at 11:26
@Mark, I'n suggesting one might include a list of all the papers (if any) that have cited your own papers. This is unnecessary if you are world-famous, and likely impossible if you are just starting out, but if you are somewhere in between it may be a good way to show a hiring committee that people are actually reading the stuff you publish and are taking it seriously. –  Gerry Myerson Oct 25 '11 at 11:30
I took the liberty of breaking this up into things I would be surprised NOT to see, and things I see sometimes but are not universal. –  David Speyer Oct 25 '11 at 17:27
I don't remember noticing the additions @GerryMyerson made to this answer. Let me just say for the record (since it's my name at the bottom of the answer) that listing citations sounds like a terrible idea to me; this falls under Henry's heading about desperation. If you really think a committee will be impressed by your citation record, suggest to one of your recommenders that they mention it. Foreign languages also go under "not relevant to your professional life." Either the committee doesn't care, or it's going to need much more evidence than a line in your CV. –  Ben Webster Oct 24 '13 at 19:52
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Your PhD advisor's name (listed under education).

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I would add that it doesn't hurt to put the title of your thesis, too. Some advisors have students working on very very different things. –  Spiro Karigiannis Oct 26 '11 at 13:34
It's worth pointing out that prospective employers are likely to contact the supervisor even if they are not listed as one of the referees. –  Carl Oct 24 '13 at 21:59
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I will second Thierry's reply. Of course, when I see the term "CV" I think of academic positions, whereas if one is seeking a job in industry one would instead produce a "resume". Different beasts, though in both cases the purpose is to some extent the same, namely to give an employer some idea why they should be interested in you to fill their opening. As Thierry said, a hiring manager in a corporation or industrial firm will have a very different set of things he is looking for in a resume compared to what a hiring committee in a math department at some college or university expects in a CV.

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