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Build a better CV

Simple steps to help graduate students improve their CVs.

By Brendan L. Smith

Print version: page 28

Simple steps to help graduate students improve their CVs.

Curriculum vitae (CV) is Latin for "course of life," and the preparation of this academic and professional summary is crucial for life after graduate school.

"A CV should be a thorough, exhaustive account of professional experiences, honors and activities," says Mitchell Prinstein, PhD, director of clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Anything that speaks to one's professional experiences or character would be relevant to include."

While a resume is a one- or two-page summary of work experience, a CV doesn't have a page limit. It is a much more detailed account of an applicant's accomplishments, including education, teaching and clinical experience, research, publications, presentations, grants, volunteer positions and membership in professional organizations, such as APAGS .

"In academia, we're really using CVs almost to the exclusion of resumes because they provide more detail about an applicant's background," says Prinstein, who has written about CV preparation and professional development .

That's why it is crucial to get them right. Here's advice from the experts on how to make your CV stand out:

Tailor it for every position

Adapt your CV to each position you apply for, says R. Eric Landrum, PhD, a psychology professor at Boise State University who has written about academic and professional development. "You don't do one version and just copy and paste," he says. "You absolutely want to tweak a CV for the environment you want to work in." So, if you are applying for a clinical position, list your clinical and internship experience high on your CV, while research and teaching experience should be listed more prominently for research or faculty positions.

Be clear. Explain your accomplishments simply, Prinstein says. For example, describe any awards that you include and their significance, don't just list the award name. Likewise, briefly describe your responsibilities for each research, teaching or clinical position. "Someone might list that he was a teaching assistant for Psych 265, but no one knows what Psych 265 is," Prinstein says. "You need to make sure you are writing your CV for a broad audience."

Don't pad it

Your CV needs to show clearly how you stand out from other applicants, so don't list your coursework, for example. Do list any specialized training, certifications or relevant skills you have, such as fluency in languages besides English or knowledge of statistical software programs, says Landrum, the 2014 president of Div. 2 (Society for the Teaching of Psychology). "The goal of the CV is to be as long as possible because you want to demonstrate a long academic life, but you should not pad it," he says. So, don't include attendance at conferences unless you delivered a presentation or had a leadership role. Don't include undergraduate accomplishments, except for prestigious awards, publications or other high-profile achievements. Also, to avoid any misrepresentations, your CV should clearly state if manuscripts are under review, accepted or published in peer-reviewed journals.

Include your volunteer service

Too often, graduate students forget the importance of including volunteer service on their CVs, says Elizabeth Morgan, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Springfield College who has written about CV preparation. Mentoring new graduate students or working at a local soup kitchen, for example, speaks to your commitment to the field or the community.

Don't get too personal

It's a bad idea to include hobbies or irrelevant personal information, such as marital status or number of children. You can include part-time jobs unrelated to psychology if those jobs demonstrated your work ethic and initiative, Landrum says. But don't list your salary or reasons for leaving a job on your CV.

Once you are done tweaking your CV for a position, ask your mentor, advisor or others to review it, Landrum says. "Spelling and grammatical mistakes are fatal flaws in a CV. It has to be absolutely perfect," he says. Also, send your CV to any references you provide so they can highlight your achievements if they are asked to write a recommendation letter.

Make it easy to read

A CV should use APA style with clear headings, no flashy graphics or unusual formatting, and a simple business font, such as Times New Roman or Arial, Landrum says. Keep it simple and readable. Precise technical language is fine, but avoid jargon. Use action verbs and active voice instead of passive voice.

Craft a strong cover letter

No CV is ready to send until it has a cover letter that provides more personal information about why a candidate is applying for a position, such as a love for teaching or a particular connection to that college or university. "A cover letter really helps people connect which parts of your CV that are most relevant for the job you are applying for," Prinstein says.

Start early and keep updating it

A CV is a working document, so try to update your CV every semester to make sure you don't forget any accomplishments. "In the first or second year of graduate school, a CV will probably be somewhat depressing because it is so bare," says Morgan, "but it can help you identify opportunities and experiences that you need to include to be a competitive candidate."

Brendan L. Smith is a journalist in Washington, D.C.  

See a sample psychology graduate student CV  (PDF, 424KB) from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

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How To Write a CV for a Psychologist (With Sample and Tips)

Updated December 9, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A balanced curriculum vitae (CV) can help candidates get noticed by employers. A CV is a thorough account of professional experiences, education, honors and activities used when applying to jobs, internships, residencies or for programs and scholarships. As a clinical psychologists, you can use a CV to show a detailed account of your accomplishments and give insight into your work and research. In this article, we discuss how to organize and write a psychologist CV with a template, sample and additional tips to help you secure an interview and advance your job search.

What is a CV for a psychologist?

A CV for a psychologist is a working document for your entire professional and education background, updated frequently to include research publications, milestones or new credentials. Psychologists and other medical professionals typically use CVs more than resumes because they are intentionally long, letting you list all relevant experiences within the industry in detail.

Most psychologist CVs follow a standard layout that includes:

Name and contact information

Professional objective and summary

Education and experience

Licenses and certifications

Honors and awards

Research studies and publications

Professional organizations

Tips on writing a CV for a psychologist

Here are some tips and suggestions for writing an effective psychologist CV:

Be neat and consistent with formatting: Select a readable font, like Arial or Times New Roman, and use italics sparingly. Write dates as MM/YYYY (10/2020) or Month/Year (October 2020) and be sure to keep dates, formatting and font uniform throughout your CV.

Spell out acronyms: Put the full name of an organization at first reference with its acronym in parentheses. For example, the American Psychological Association (APA).

Review your CV regularly: Updating your CV is easier with a fresh memory. Consider reviewing yours monthly or several times a year, especially after important milestones, projects or new employment.

Save each CV revision: Date and save each revision to have it on file—you can use former versions as the foundation for updates. Maintaining a current CV also makes it easier to submit online applications or draft a resume version of your work by trimming down your CV rather than starting from the beginning.

How to write a CV for a psychologist

Use these steps to create a well-rounded CV that establishes you as a strong psychologist candidate for a job:

1. Select a format and header

Choose a format that fits your background or matches the job description for a role, like a chronological CV that lists your experience and education in sequential order or a skills-based CV that emphasizes skills and qualifications, for example. Select a simple design that's easy to read, using standard colors, fonts and designs.

A header includes your personal contact information at the top of your CV. Consider making this more noticeable, with bolded text in a readable font and double-check contact numbers and emails are correct.

2. Write a professional summary or objective

Below your header, include a professional objective, summary or both. Here are the key differences between the two:

Objective: An objective tells the employer what type of research, work, position or industry you are looking for.

Summary: A summary describes to the employer the skills and experience you already have that can contribute to a future role.

Personalize and tailor these sections of your CV to each position you apply for, using keywords from job descriptions to appear as a more viable psychologist candidate.

3. Add your education

As a clinical psychologist, it is important to highlight your educational background, degrees, internships and clinical studies. Use this area of your CV to include relevant information, like dissertation topics, key discoveries in a research project or making the Dean's List. For some roles, including many entry-level positions, showcasing your educational background first is a good way to lead with the most important information.

4. List your experience

In this section, list your work experience or clinical research in reverse chronological order. Select the most important responsibilities and showcase how they added value to the position, project or research. For example, "Supervise peer-based group therapy sessions and lead a high-school advocacy group to heighten awareness and social tolerance" strongly describes your dedication and compassion.

Consider placing this section above education to show employers the depth of your background, especially if you have extensive work experience in the field. If you have less work experience, try including internships, university teaching assistant roles or volunteer work in the industry.

5. Use action verbs

When showcasing your duties as a clinical psychologist, use vivid action words, be descriptive and give detailed examples to define the level of your work and experience. For example, "Create a warm, welcoming and accepting space where all gender identities and sexual orientations have the freedom and safety to express themselves" sounds stronger than "interacted with clients."

6. Concentrate on unique accomplishments

Showcasing unique achievements give an employer a deeper outlook of what they can expect from you beyond basic duties. As a clinical psychologist, you can include research initiatives you organized, contributed to or led to acknowledge your expertise. For example, "Launched a supportive, comfortable and educational recovery center for addicts ages 16+ with over 500 beds at two facilities" shows your dedication to your field and the outreach it has.

7. Share your skill set

Be sure to include your analytical, research and critical thinking skills, though also share soft skills to differentiate you as a candidate. Consider putting these, for example:

Writing: If you publish industry research papers, study statistics or articles.

Public speaking: If you give presentations, lectures or interviews.

Mentoring: If you help others in the field, whether at collegiate levels, through volunteering or within your workgroup.

8. Include organizations, licenses and certifications

Include professional associations or organizations you belong to in the industry and any licenses or certifications you hold. The strongest of these are ones relevant to your field of work, though others can affirm soft skills, like volunteering for Big Brothers Big Sisters nonprofit and positively affecting youths and developing minds, for example. Sharing these examples shows your commitment to the industry and the community.

9. Proofread thoroughly

Proofreading is an important step to ensure there are no grammatical, formatting or punctuation errors. Run a computer review and spellcheck first, though consider printing out a hard copy to examine as well. Make sure all contact information and dates are correct, and have a friend, family member or colleague take an extra look. Consider reviewing your CV every time you make a change or update.

Psychologist CV template

Here is a template of a psychologist CV you can use to craft your own:

[First and last name] [Address and phone number] [Email address]

Professional Summary [A few sentences mentioning top skills and qualifications]

Education [High school, college or university name] | [City, State] [Dates attended] [Degree] | [GPA] | [Dissertation topic]

Certifications [Dates received] | [Certification title]

Licensures [Dates received] | [License title] | [State and license number, if applicable]

Professional Experience [Position title] | [Company or organization name] | [City, State] [Month and year-month and year]

[Bulleted list of job responsibilities and accomplishments]

[Position title] | [Company or organization name] | [City, State] [Month and year-month and year]

[Bulleted list of top compatible skills for position]

Awards and Publications

[Bulleted list of relevant awards]

Professional Activities and Organizations [List of relevant clubs, conferences or associations]

Community Service [List of volunteer activities]

Use this sample of a psychologist CV as inspiration when drafting your own:

Dr. Neven Sanderson 2390 Third Street NE, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55418 612-699-9663 | [email protected]

Objective To contribute to the mental well-being of LGBTQ young adults struggling with alcohol and drug abuse and recovery through clinical studies and in-person counseling sessions in my home state of Minnesota.

Professional Summary A dedicated clinical psychologist and skilled researcher with specialized experience in counseling the LGBTQ community in relation to drug and alcohol addiction. A proven ability to collaborate with industry colleagues on research findings and publications across research demographics. Strong relationship-building capabilities with compassionate understanding of LGBTQ young adults.

Professional Experience

Owner and Psychologist| Prism Wave Mental Health | St. Cloud, MN July 2015-Present

Create a warm, welcoming and accepting space where all gender identities and sexual orientations have the freedom and safety to express themselves during therapy and research

Confidentially conduct research studying the correlation of sexual identity exploration at certain ages with family, financial and educational background to draw conclusions on levels of acceptance and likelihood of drug or alcohol use and abuse; pending approval on publication of three-year analysis results

Offer hypnosis, counseling, behavior analysis and art therapy

Supervise peer-based group therapy sessions and lead a high-school advocacy group to heighten awareness and social tolerance, ultimately decreasing odds for addiction behaviors in teenagers and young adults

Head of Counseling Programs, Psychologist | The Retreat Recovery Center | Wayzata, MN October 2010-May 2015 Preceptor: B. Buckley, Ph.D., Executive Director of Clinical Recovery Programs & Studies

Oversee a team of 12 counselors and psychologists providing supervised detoxification and mental health sessions

Launched a supportive, comfortable and educational recovery center for addicts ages 16+ with over 500 beds at two facilities

Internship | Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation | Center City, MN August 2009-August 2010 Preceptor: V. Truxton, Ph.D., Director of Clinical Studies

Served as an intake counselor for incoming patients and their families

Organized laboratory work and doctor notations and charted client progress

Provided clinical reports and confidential updates to client representatives or family members

Teaching Assistant| University of Minnesota | Center City, MN August 2009 | Psychology 101 and 102 Professor Jude Nelson

Graded undergraduate work; led study teams for two classes per semester

Research Experience 2018-Present Lead Researcher, Prism Mental Health Responsibilities: Study the link between discovering sexual orientation at certain ages and the financial, educational or family influences on the predictability of drug and alcohol use and abuse.

2004-2005 Research Assistant, University of Minnesota Responsibilities: Study the effects of Alcoholics Anonymous and personal identification development following addiction, rehabilitation and recovery. Advisor: A. Raven, Ph.D.

Education University of Minnesota, Department of Psychology | Minneapolis, MN August 2006-May 2010 Doctorate in Psychology | Social Psychology and Counseling Dissertation: "The Experience of Therapeutic Community: Emotional and Motivational Dynamics of Drug Addiction Following Rehabilitation" 3.95 GPA

University of Minnesota, Department of Psychology | Minneapolis, MN August 2004-May 2006 Master of Science in Psychology | Cognitive and Brain Science (CAB) Thesis: "Always an Alcoholic? Critical Analysis of Alcoholics Anonymous and Identity Development in Addiction Recovery" 3.85 GPA | Dean's List | Psi Chi Society

University of Minnesota, Department of Psychology | Minneapolis, MN August 2000-May 2004 Bachelor of Science in Psychology | Clinical Science and Psychopathology Research Program (CSPR) 3.8 GPA | Dean's List | Crisis Counselor, H.E.L.P Hotline

Lincoln International High School | Minneapolis, MN 1996-2000 Valedictorian

Certifications 2010 | Certified Alcohol & Drug Counselor (CADC) 2010 | HIPPA Certified, University of Minnesota

Licensures 2010-Present | Licensed Psychologist (LP), Minnesota State Board of Licensing

Written and oral communication

Strong interpersonal skills

Organization and time management

Immense dedication to client well-being

Research and publishing

Ability to work with youth and young adults

H.E.L.P Hotline Counselor of the Year, 2004

Professional Activities and Organizations 2021 | Keynote Speaker, Minnesota Recovery Connection | Recovery Advocacy Seminar 2018-Present | American Psychological Association (APA) 2013-Present | Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development 2010-2015 | Minnesota Art Therapy Association Lead Resource

Community Service 2013-present | Big Brothers Big Sisters of America Volunteer 2015-2021 | Out & Sober Minnesota Volunteer

References available upon request.

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