How to Prepare a Winning CV for Senior Academic Roles

Oliver Drake

Oliver is recruitment specialist who specialise in recruiting to academic, research and university administration roles. Oliver has gained, over 20 year resourcing for the higher education in the UK and worldwide.

When applying for senior academic roles you need to present in your CV the perfect combination of skills, field knowledge and connections that will enable your school, department or faculty to flourish. Because of this it is important to make sure that your CV highlights all of your relevant experience and really brings out all academic activities which you have been undertaking as part of your career so far. If you want to learn how to prepare a winning CV, check out this example of an excellent senior CV of John Smith who successfully applied for a Head of School position. John’s CV along with the advice below will help you understand how you can prepare an outstanding senior academic CV that will win you an interview.

Use the “Personal profile” section to emphasise your goals

The “Personal profile” section sets the tone of your CV and helps your prospective employer understand your previous academic experience and your future career goals. Outstanding senior academic CVs typically include in this section a very succinct summary of the most relevant experience of the candidate, followed by a clear and unambiguous statement of what the candidate is currently looking for. The rest of your CV will mostly speak for itself, so there is no need for this section to be long. One sentence will be sufficient to gain the interest of your prospective employer. For example, John included in this section of his CV a single sentence which fulfils two crucial goals. Firstly, it highlights the extensive (8+ years) experience which he has in teaching, administration and management – skills that are very relevant to the position he applied for. Secondly, John emphasised that the role which he is looking for now is the Head of School, which will reassure his prospective employer of his specific interest in taking on this level of responsibility:

How to Prepare a Winning CV for Senior Academic Roles Careers in HE

For extra points you could also state why you are looking to work in that specific position, just like John explained that the Head of School role will help him “use his existing expertise and take on new responsibilities”.

Express your academic interests in the “Areas of expertise” section

The “Areas of expertise” section in your CV will enable your prospective employer to understand what is your specialisation within your field. By listing those areas you will help your prospective employer assess whether your expertise and research goals fit within the university’s long-term research and teaching strategy. It will also show them that you have built a significant expertise in selected aspects of your field that will help the department or school which you will be leading gain more recognition. For example, John included in the “Areas of expertise” section in his CV the following bullet points describing the areas of his expertise:

How to Prepare a Winning CV for Senior Academic Roles Careers in HE

Make your “Relevant work experience” standout

If you are applying for a senior academic position, you might be competing against a significant number of candidates, many of whom might be more experienced than you. In order to make your CV standout you have to spruce up your “Relevant work experience” section by showing the extent of your university management expertise. Apart from mentioning in this section the titles of your previous academic roles and the responsibilities which you had in each role, you could list the projects which you worked on in your most recent or most relevant position. For example, this is what John included in this section of his CV under the “Projects worked on” heading in relation to his role of Deputy Head of Business School:

How to Prepare a Winning CV for Senior Academic Roles Careers in HE

By listing in his CV the projects which he worked on in his previous role John achieved two things. Firstly, he made his prospective employer gain interest in his CV by providing plenty of details about his experience. Secondly, he helped his prospective employer understand what types of duties John could potentially take on at the new university.

Share your funding success in the “Recent research grants” section

Bringing funding from grants and external sources is a significant part of working as an academic, especially at a senior level. As the head of school, department or faculty you will be responsible for regularly bringing in new funding opportunities to help increase the university’s recognition. This is why it is crucial that you really emphasise any funding in the form of research grants which you brought into your previous institution. For example, this is what John included in this section of his CV:

How to Prepare a Winning CV for Senior Academic Roles Careers in HE

Notice that John included the amounts of each research grant in the brackets. This is a very good strategy which will give your prospective employer an idea of the amounts which you have brought into your institution in the past – particularly if they were significant.

Sell your external links in the “Appointments and affiliations” section

Holding positions of authority in renowned associations, institutes, academies and journals outside of your university is considered as a crucial part of the academic life at a senior level. Listing your external appointments and affiliations will enable your prospective employer to understand the value of your expertise as well as appreciate the connections which you have built throughout your career. The “Appointments and affiliations” section is the perfect section in which to showcase those external connections. For example, John included in this section of his CV his position as Editor in Chief of the UK Journal of Business and Entrepreneurship as well as his Secretarial position at the Academy of Management and his Board Membership at the Institute of Business Management and Research:

How to Prepare a Winning CV for Senior Academic Roles Careers in HE

By listing his position at the Journal John will show his prospective employer that he has significant expertise in research within his field as well as a range of connections with other academics who are either the editors at the Journal or the authors of publications published in it. It will also demonstrate that John understands the ins and outs of academic research and publishing, and that he will be able to use this knowledge in coaching more junior colleagues to improve the quality of their publications. John’s managerial roles at the Institute and the Academy show that he can take responsibility for being the driving force of an organisation and identifying the best ways of helping it reach its goals. This type of skill, expertise and energy is a pre-requisite for all senior managerial academic positions. Also, notice that John included the dates when he started each of the above roles in the brackets. This will help his employer understand at what stage in his career John received the appointments.

Evidence your expertise in the “Academic memberships” section

The “Academic memberships” section of your CV shows a prospective employer that you are willing to expand your knowledge and learn best practices in university teaching, research and management from your peers as well as to contribute to their development. In this section you should include any memberships in research institutes, academic discussion groups and associations which are related to the types of skills you are required to demonstrate in the position for which you are applying. For example, John included in this section his memberships in the European Association of Higher Education Managers, the UK Association of Business Lecturers and the AdvanceHE – all of which are related to the role of Head of School:

How to Prepare a Winning CV for Senior Academic Roles Careers in HE

John’s senior membership in the European Association of Higher Education Managers proves that he has been taking seriously the development of his skills as a university manager. His senior membership in the UK Association of Business Lecturers shows that he will be interested in learning, applying and passing on to his team the best teaching practices in the field of business. Finally, his senior fellowship at the AdvanceHE shows that he has been keeping his teaching skills up to date. Notice how John also mentioned the years when he joined the above associations and specified that he is currently still their member. This shows to his prospective employer that John has been interested in developing his academic and managerial expertise throughout his career.

Prove your recognition in the “Publications in peer-reviewed journals” section

A winning senior academic CV would not be complete without a section providing the details of your publications. This section will help your prospective employer quickly understand your academic recognition and the position of your works in your field. If you have more than 5 publications in peer-reviewed journals, you should name this section “Recentpublications in peer-reviewed journals” and only mention 5 to 6 of your most recent publications. There is no need to include a full citation of the publication – your CV is not a list of references! But you should provide your prospective employer with enough information about your publications, so that they are able to quickly assess their value. This includes the name of the author and co-author(s), the title of the publication, the date of publication and the journal in which it was published. For example, John mentioned the following peer-reviewed publications in his CV:

How to Prepare a Winning CV for Senior Academic Roles Careers in HE

Notice that John also included an upcoming publication which will be published in the Journal of Management and Entrepreneurship in 2021. This will show to his employers that despite having gained a significant recognition in the field he is constantly working on new publications, which will help raise the profile of the university that will hire him for his next role.

Show your proactivity in the “Recent conference presentations” section

Finally, at this stage in your career you are expected to regularly be invited to present your research at conferences – or at least to actively look for opportunities to do so. You will give your prospective employer a lot of food for thought if you list the titles of the last 3 to 5 presentations you delivered at local, national and international conferences in the “Recent conference presentations” section. For example, here are the conference presentations which John included in this section of his CV:

How to Prepare a Winning CV for Senior Academic Roles Careers in HE

As you can see above, John included in this section not only the names of the conferences, but also the places where those conferences were held, the month and year in which they took place as well as the topics of the presentations which he delivered.


Further resources:

Lucinda Becker, Write a Brilliant CV (SAGE, 2020)

James Reed, The 7 Second CV: How to Land the Interview (Virgin Books, 2019)

James Innes, The CV Book: How to avoid the most common mistakes and write a winning CV (Pearson, 2016)

Kevin Peachey, How to write a successful CV (BBC News, 12 January 2015):

Stephen Chambers, Top 10 CV buzzwords – and how to avoid them (The Guardian, 9 February 2017):

John Lees, How to write an outstanding CV profile (The Careers Blog – Guardian Careers, 20 January 2014):

Sarah Shearman, Five ways to get your CV and cover letter noticed (The Guardian, 1 June 2017):

Clare Whitmell, Spring cleaning your CV: an essential guide (The Careers Blog – Guardian Careers, 21 March 2013):

Jack Grove, Career advice: how to write a CV for a university job (Times Higher Education, 5 January 2017):

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