Tips on Preparing a Professional Résumé or C.V.

This week I and two colleagues will give a presentation for our music majors on the topic of the résumé and curriculum vitae. As a preview to that presentation, and also for those students who cannot attend, here are the basic points we will cover, with time for questions at the end. Much of the material in my notes is adapted from a presentation I attended in graduate school given by John Stevens, recently retired Professor of Tuba and Euphonium at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Professor Stevens was a member of my doctoral committee, and along with Douglas Hill, one of the biggest influences on my professional development. Some of the material (ex. social media accounts) needed updating as it was nearly a decade old, but other things are still very applicable. The material on requesting letters of recommendation is adapted from this article, which I wrote a few years ago. A very basic résumé/C.V. template is also included.

General Guidelines

  • Keep a saved copy of your résumé or C.V. on your computer, and update it regularly, at least once a year. Keep a backup copy in a secure location (flash drive, Dropbox, etc.). A basic template is included here: Curriculum Vitae Template.
  • Keep it concise. You may include a statement of purpose or your career objectives if you wish. A résumé is generally only a few pages, while a C.V. (Curriculum Vitae) can be longer, depending on your background and accomplishments. Peruse the internet for templates and examples of well designed documents.
  • The layout should be neat and easy to read. Be consistent in your format, and include plenty of white space on the page. Use boldface, underlining, all caps, and italics sparingly. Use too much and it becomes distracting to the reader. Use a font that’s easy to read, such as Arial or Times New Roman.
  • Be sure all your contact information is correct, and that every word is spelled correctly. Do not rely on Spell Check! Proofread everything carefully multiple times, and have a colleague or mentor look over it as well.
  • List items in each large category in reverse chronological order, or in some cases from most important to least important. Dates for all positions and activities should be correct and easy to find. It should be easy for the reader to track the progress of your career.
  • NEVER, EVER, LIE ON YOUR RÉSUMÉ! Put yourself in the best possible light, but be honest and clear about everything. Examples include:
    • When listing private teachers, be very clear about teachers with whom you have studied regularly, versus those with whom you have only taken an occasional lesson or performed for in a master class.
    • If you have been a substitute member of an ensemble – as opposed to a regular member – make sure that you say so.
  • Always get permission before listing someone as a reference. Update your references periodically so that they are as recent as possible.
  • Start managing your social media accounts NOW! Be aware that potential employers can and will examine Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. to get a better sense of you as a person and possible future employee. Many employers have rules and policies governing the use of social media by their employees.

 Requesting Letters of Recommendation

  • If you have any doubts about whether an individual will give you a positive recommendation, ask someone else.
  • Make sure to ask in advance if you would like to use someone as a reference. In this case, surprises are not a good thing.
  • Ask in person if possible, then follow-up with an email containing all of the necessary details. Plan ahead, and ask at least one month in advance of the due date whenever possible. If the recommendation should be submitted electronically, make sure the person writing the recommendation knows this.
  • It is your responsibility to keep up with recommendations, and it may be necessary to send an email to gently remind someone who has not yet submitted a recommendation for you if the deadline is approaching.
  • Take the time to thank those who have written recommendations for you. Write a brief thank you right away, and then provide an update. Did you get the job? Were you a finalist?
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