I talk a bit about this in my book Good Work If You Can Get It. Here are some relevant excepts:
Page 1 of your CV needs to display your most impressive achievement. Whatever the best reason is to give you the job goes up front. If you won a national teaching award, received a giant grant, or published a book as a third year grad student, say so right away. Write like a journalist—put the big things up front and the fine details in the back.
Your CV Tells a Story
I was once on the yearly hiring committee for a prestigious post-doc program. I remember reading the “presentations” section of the CV of an Ivy League applicant. The first year, the student presented at the annual graduate workshop at his department. The next year, he branched out to the regional political science association and did a talk at a neighboring university. Then, for the next three years, he presented only at the graduate workshop at his own school. He had no publications.
Ask, what story does that CV tell? First, he practices by doing a local presentation. Good. Then he branches out to regional conference and gives a real talk at a neighbor. Great. Sounds like he’s professionalizing. But for the next three years he only presents at the “graduate workshop” his own department runs for its students. Story: He stopped professionalizing. He dipped his toes in the waters but didn’t swim. He retreated into the warm comfort of home. Our reaction: Rejection.
We also saw many CVs where applicants had conducted dozens of professional presentations but never published anything. The story: These applicants are starters, but not finishers. Reaction: Rejection.
When you go up for tenure, your CV will tell a story. Suppose an external referee examines your profile. She sees that for the first for years of your career, you have no publications. Then, in years four and five, you finally get two hits. In your tenure application, you say you have three more papers under review. You mention that you are “shopping” your dissertation to different presses. The story: This person plans to publish the bare minimum to get tenure, and then never publish again. Reaction: A negative letter advising your president not to give you tenure.
Here are some other stories you don’t want your CV to tell:
1. My work consists primarily of applying my advisor’s ideas to new things. I’m like the light beer or discount version of my advisor. You can get half my advisor for half the price!
2. I plan on re-publishing my dissertation as many times as I can until I get tenure. Six years into being a professor, I’ll only be working on extracts from my dissertation. I’m never going to move on to something new. I’m a one-hit wonder—if I even manage to have a hit.
3. I’m a liar. I have no publications, but I have a “Publications and Presentations” section of my CV, where I list only presentations and papers under review. I’m hoping this will trick you into taking a closer look at me. (Instead: If you have no papers published or accepted for publication, then the word “publication” shouldn’t appear on your CV.)
4. I’m a liar. I’m going to try to pass off these book reviews or short two-page reply articles as if they were full-length original articles. I hope you don’t notice.
5. Despite completing six years of grad school and a two-year post-doc, I think my undergraduate awards and GPA are a good reason to hire me.
6. I don't understand what academia is. I spent my time in grad school not publishing papers or learning to teach, but instead on graduate student government and political activism. If you hire me, I’ll annoy the deans, induce alumni to write angry letters, and make sure faculty meetings go long. I won’t focus on the actual job, you know, teaching and publishing.
7. I volunteered for every service activity I could as a grad student, but didn’t publish anything. I’ll relieve the rest of you of committee work for six years, but then I won’t get tenure.
You want your CV to tell a much different story:
1. I am an original thinker.
2. I can contribute something new to existing conversations.
3. I can also start new conversations.
4. I can do the job better than anyone else you can hire.
5. Even after getting tenure, I’ll never stop publishing. I will publish more than you expect anyone with the job will do.
6. I will rock my classes. People will major in our subject just to take class with me. Hiring me means more money for the department.
7. I’ll be a good citizen. I’ll be fun to have around.
8. I understand how academia works, and I prioritize what’s actually the priority.