Resumes, CV's, Portfolios

Resume vs. CV?

Most students at the undergraduate level write resumes (even though they may call it a CV).  When you get to grad school, you need to decide whether you should write a CV, a resume, or both. A CV is appropriate if you are seeking an academic positions - postdoc, professor, and, possibly, some positions at government labs (e.g., DOE national labs and NIST).  But for most non-academic positions, go with a resume.  

So, what's the difference?  If you do a simple web search of "CV vs. resume," you'll find lots of explanations.  The MIT career office web site has a nice chart, highlighting some of the differences.  One huge difference is the length, CV's being several pages and resumes being limited to one or two.  But the content also differs.  If you don't know whether you will aim for an academic or industrial job, make up two separate documents. You will be continuously revising both documents, as you move through your graduate career and beyond, so get both started now.


A CV is a several-page document in which you demonstrate your accomplishments that are essential for academic appointments - research, publishing, and teaching.  Details are important.  The professors who read these will certainly develop strategies for sifting through the many applications they receive for any given position, but expect them to spend time going over the details on any that they consider possible. 

OCS has a detailed guide that you can download from the GSAS tab on their Resumes, CV's, Cover Letters web page.  In addition to the several examples within that document, I suggest that you look at the examples on the MIT Career Office website.

Resumes and Cover Letters

A resume is often the first document that you will send or hand to a potential employer or even someone who might advise you.  You may (and should) spend time revising it continually, but you should always assume that the person seeing it for the first time may only spend 10-15 seconds looking at it.  Think of the hiring manager who has been given a stack of 100 resumes (which have already been filtered beforehand by someone in HR), who is trying to fill one or two slots.  You have a very short time to catch that hiring manager's attention to be one of the few resumes to survive her/his first pass through that stack.

It is quite tempting to try to pack as much information as possible into your resume.  But always think about that brief time to make a first impression.  While it is quite reasonable for a graduate student to have a two-page resume (postdocs even longer), pay particular attention to the first page. 

What will a hiring manager (who could be an individual engineer, scientist, programmer, etc. or a manager of a group who is hiring a summer intern) look for in that initial pass through the resumes.  This can differ by organization, which is one reason we encourage students to connect to alumni for advice. However, let me emphasize one concept - what the hiring manager is trying to accomplish by hiring you.

The hiring manager will usually be hiring you to solve a problem during your internship or a broader, yet focused, set of problems in your post-graduate employment.  She/he will want to know if you have the skills necessary to solve that problem.  You want to convey the message that you have such skills, even though your particular thesis research may be focused on a different problem than hers/his.  Hence, make sure that you have skills section on the first page of your resume. List programming languages, expertise with fabrication or measurement tools, machining skills, etc. It is also important for you to show how you used those skills.  You may have several undergraduate and graduate research experiences that you can list.  Don't just focus on the goal of the research; make sure that you also mention the skills that you used in conducting the research projects.

There are several items that are critical parts of a CV, but have little or no importance on a resume. 

  • Don't put references on a resume.  There may be an occasional job that will ask for them with your application, but most companies will only ask for them, when you are much closer to be hired.
  • You can put teaching positions on the resume, but don't use too much space on them.  They mainly signify that you know the material for that class.
  • Publications are often not nearly as important for an industrial job as an academic job.  If you have several publications, you can save space with a couple of techniques.  You could list one or two selected publications.  Or you could simply state the number of publications and provide a link to an online portfolio, where you list them.

There are many guides to writing a resume available online.  OCS has two guides that you can download from the GSAS tab on their Resumes, CV's, Cover Letters web page.   The first one is more general, aimed at the wide cross-section of Harvard PhD fields.  That one contains a page of action verbs that may prove helpful in composing your resume and a few example resumes.  Then there is also a guide (really a set of slides) aimed at Scientists, which will most likely apply to you.  The basics of writing a resume will be similar at most schools, but you may glean some additional ideas by checking out sample resumes elsewhere.  For example, I often encourage students to check out the sample resumes on MIT's career office website.  (Scroll down to the PhD resumes.) 

Portfolios and Github

Let's say that the hiring manager has put your resume into the small group of resumes to be examined in more depth.  At this point, if you have an online portfolio or github, they will likely want to spend extra time to look at your accomplishments and work/project history in more depth. 

If you are applying for a back-end programming job, have a well-organized github account that the hiring manager can search.  Don't put anything online that you don't want the outside world to see.  Obviously, if you did some work for a company, they will likely consider that proprietary.  But this caution may also hold for research work under a professor, as he/she may want to keep it secret until published.

For most other types of jobs - front-end programming, engineering, design, etc. - a portfolio is a better choice for demonstrating your skills and activities in a format that is much more extensive than a resume. 

Most students use templates provided commercial website companies such as Squarespace, WIX, Wordpress, Start Bootstrap, etc. - there are many out there.  A free alternative available to Harvard students is OpenScholar.