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EARLIER THIS WEEK I needed to put together either a resume or CV (Curriculum Vitae) for review by a university.

I hadn’t updated my resume in at least 6 years and basically created a new one. Perhaps because I wasn’t under pressure of having to use this for getting a job, I found the process of creating it strangely gratifying. It almost seemed like editing a story.

Here were some things I learned:

1.Utilize a CV format instead of a resume.

The standard resume format forces you to begin with your employment or professional history, starting with the last thing you did. I could never keep track of the exact start / finish dates of all the different gigs I had. And I always hated how it felt like I needed to ‘cover’ various gaps of time where I was basically traveling or surfing or whatever.

Think about it from the point of view of the person reading the resume. This is the first thing they come to after your name and personal info: the last thing you did was work for 6 months as a parking lot attendant at a large corporate ski resort where your “ending salary” was $8.75.

Perhaps even worse is beginning with an “objective statement” explicating how you’re the “perfect candidate” because of cliches x, y, and z.

The CV format saves you from all of this because you start with your academic history. At least the first thing the person reads is that you graduated from high school (hopefully), college (better), and that you majored in something that is either relevant to what you’re applying for, or is something you can make seem relevant via the way you present your work experience.

2. Utilize a “Summary of Professional Experience” written in a smooth, almost narrative style.

After listing your academic history, go on to professional experience, but instead of bullet points and dates, write it all out like a story. Show the person reading it that you have skills to put sentences and paragraphs together. A summary also gives you a transparent way of ‘covering’ gaps in employment in a way that seems positive. Take this paragraph from my CV:

After graduating from the University of Georgia in 1995 I spent 5 months hiking the Appalachian trail, then returned to Athens, Georgia where I was hired by the Athens Montessori School as a middle school teacher. I helped innovate an experiential education curriculum for adolescents based on teambuilding and utilizing travel and “place” as springboards for learning. I resigned my full-time teaching position in the summer of 1999 (due to travel), but continued to work as a trip leader and teambuilding facilitator for both the Athens Montessori School and High Meadows School and Camp until relocating to Colorado in 2002.

Notice how there are essentially three years’ worth of employment that are ‘skipped over’? It’s not that I wasn’t working; it’s just that I kept traveling and doing various gigs (read: parking lot attendant) that I didn’t want to mention.This isn’t necessarily hiding anything, it’s just that these things aren’t directly relevant to my experience as a writer or educator.

3. Continuously edit each sentence until it contains only what you did and nothing more.

Take another paragraph from my professional experience summary:

In the winter of 2006 I began contributing articles to the newly-founded Matador Travel Network, and later that Spring was hired as editor. Over the next year I worked with hundreds of writers and helped cultivate a supportive community for aspiring writers, photographers, and filmmakers around the world.

In the first draft of this paragraph I’d written “Over the next year I worked with hundreds of writers and helped cultivate what has become known as a supportive community for aspiring writers, photographers, and filmmakers around the world.”

Anything that inserts something essentially subjective or just straight up unnecessary like “what has become known as” is anti-flow. Trying to make something ‘sound’ a certain way always comes out sounding false. Just state what you did or are doing, whatever it is.

4. Leave out jobs and experiences that are irrelevant to your writing goals or future career.

Take this paragraph from my summary:

In the fall of 2002 I was hired by Wild Bear Center in Nederland, Colorado as an environmental educator and teambuilding facilitator. At this time I also began working as a freelance writer, contributing to alternative weeklies such as the Flagpole as well as the regional western publication Mountain Gazette. I was hired as a reporter and columnist by the local Nederland paper, The Mountain-Ear in Fall of 2003, and in the Spring of 2004 I also became a staff writer for the Boulder Weekly.

The main things I’m trying to express in this CV are that (a) I have numerous skills and experiences as a writer and (b) I have numerous skills as an educator that tie into the way I write and work with writing students.

Therefore, it doesn’t matter that also in the during the time outlined above I also worked in construction. Or, if I was going for a different kind of job, lets say a technical writer, I would consider putting this information in.

5. Include only your most relevant publications and awards.

After the summary of your professional history, list any relevant publications. You don’t want to fill pages’ worth of urls and titles, only put the best ones up there. Afterwards (or before) add a quick note stating that you have a blog and that your archives can be accessed there.

Here’s how I started my Publications section:

Publication Credits

Matador:

Note: Because I write and publish on a daily basis at Matador, I’ve listed only a selection of work. For a more complete listing, please visit my author profile at the Traveler’s Notebook as well as my author page at Matador.

Notes on Celebrating New Year’s with Los Colque narrative nonfiction on life and culture in Patagonia

Notes on 2 Transparent Responses to Current Economic Climate for Writers 
analysis of writers’ innovations in new media and community building

Writing by Remixing: Gordon Lish and Raymond Carver literary criticism and analysis of Gordon Lish’s edits of Raymond Carver’s story “Beginners”

[etc.]
Recent print and online publications outside of Matador:

Fodor’s Patagonia (Random House, 2009) Contributed chapter on Atlantic Patagonia.

Poem in Drash literary magazine, Summer 2009

[etc.]
Special Archived Selections outside of Matador:

“How to Rebuild a Paddle” Short Story for Mountain Gazette Fall 2006

Note that it isn’t necessary to link to every single piece. All that matters is that the CV transmits a sense of what you’ve done as a writer.

5. Try to end on something strong.

Depending on if you’ve won awards or not, you can choose to end your CV either with an awards section or a section on “Ongoing Projects.” Any awards you’ve won can leave whoever’s reading your CV with a positive impression of you. Don’t forget that college grants and scholarships can all be considered awards. Here was some of mine:

Study Grant awarded by Mountain Forum for Peace in Winter of 2005 to fund travels / research in Argentina for profiling the Madres of Plaza del Mayo.

“Three Fires” winner of the 1000 words contest in Mountain Gazette, November 2003

If you don’t have anything to put up as an award (or you have something, but you don’t want to end on that ‘note’), then close your CV with your current projects, whether they be blogs or any other major writing projects.

Quick Recap:

1. Start with your Name, Address, Phone / Fax / Skype, and email, each piece of info given its own line, centered and doublespaced. After this section, everything else is left-justified.

2. Educational History

3. Summary of Professional Experience

4. Publication Credits

5. Awards

6. Ongoing Projects

*MatadorU’s curriculum goes beyond the typical travel writing class to help you progress in every aspect of your career as a travel journalist.