by Christopher D. Lee, Ph.D., SPHR
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Question: On your CV, how can you obscure, for example, a lack of publications when your teaching record is exceptional? Or vice versa?
Answer from Christopher D. Lee, Ph.D., SPHR: Very few candidates have the idealized background for any given position. Even if one has all the requisite background, skills, and experiences, there are other variables that come into play, such as how one aligns with the particularities and peculiarities of the given institution. These might include the philosophy for how work is performed, an appreciation for the culture or geography, or even a preference for certain ways of working. This reminds us that the position is given to the individual who embodies both the right professional and the right person. So, the qualifications for a position are larger than just the requirements.
Also, previous advice argues that to remain competitive when there are detractors or not-so-positive elements to one’s background, one should tell their version of the truth. This is especially poignant if you agree with other previous arguments that a resume or CV is not simply a review of one’s career but also a marketing instrument. While a resume/CV and cover letter are prepared to share information, they are presented in a persuasive manner to get reviewers to offer the applicant a job interview. To mitigate any relative weakness in one’s application, it is important to deemphasize shortcomings, list every positive performance indicator, focus on competencies, reinforce any and all strengths, and share information that connects you to the position and the institution’s mission or purpose.
A pattern of evidence or performance indicators demonstrates strength in a given area, and multiple examples across the various position requirements usually rule the day. A single indicator — even a lackluster publication record — rarely proves the point or is a complete disqualifier.
Completing a dissertation shows one can conduct research and write well. Publishing a book or several articles shows a high degree of competence. If one does not have seven peer-reviewed publications to brag about, one can still demonstrate competence by highlighting strength in the underlying competencies. A master’s thesis, a dissertation, non-peer-reviewed articles, blogs, newsletters, article reviews, abstracts, grant proposals, marketing pieces, announcements, editorials, and speech writing all articulate elements of a writing competency. Unpublished research, consulting work, data-rich service activities as well as advising doctoral students on their research, participating in government-sponsored investigations, and developing new courses all show elements of a research competency. Tell the reader that you understand the underlying competencies and have demonstrated them repeatedly, albeit not in the singular form of a published article.
An alternative perspective is to follow an adage of the young and hip, which is to “get in where you fit in.” That is, there are places where an exceptional teaching record and low publication rate is the gold standard. Liberal arts colleges and comprehensive universities may be a better home for someone who loves teaching and publishes modestly. Likewise, if one prefers the mix of 40/40/20 — teaching, research, and service — the better fit is with a research university. Downplaying one’s novelty in certain areas is not as preferable to celebrating it in other contexts.
Regardless of the requirements for a given position, a formula for presenting oneself in the best possible light is to accentuate the positives, illuminate all performance indicators that undergird the required competencies, and make compelling arguments about how one’s experiences connect to the position in question. Do not forget to show enthusiasm for the position and any connection to the institution or region. Most often, it is the total package, not one factor, that determines who is selected. Keep in mind that storytelling has its place in presenting application materials. It allows one to accentuate their strengths, soften or obscure some experiences, and keep the focus on why the applicant is the right person and professional for the position.
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