I've seen many academic CVs list the conferences the individual participated in, and I can't help but wonder how is this information useful? I can understand citing journal articles because this gives information as to the type of research the individual is doing, but I have no clue as to why listing conferences adds anything.
I typically have seen conferences appear in CVs in three ways:
- Peer-reviewed conference publications, which in some fields (e.g., computer science) can be as important as journal articles
- Talks given at conferences, whether based on peer reviewed papers, non-reviewed abstracts, or invitations, which give evidence that the person has experience with scientific speaking.
- Service to the community, whether as an organizer, a reviewer, or a student volunteer.
Beyond that, just saying "I paid $600 to register for this conference and all I got was this lousy tote bag" seems rather pointless.
Going to a conference without a publication, poster or talk still shows (at least in theory) that you know people in that research field, who you might be able to tap into for advice, collaboration or when looking for new students, all of which could benefit a potential employer. It also shows interest in that research area, although I imagine most potential employers will look at your publications to gauge that.
If nothing else it shows that the individual is engaged in it's particular field.
Edit: In Europe, CVs are typically shorter (about 2 pages) compared to the US, which can include anything that shows engagement, professional development, achievements, positions, etc.
I personally have 2 CVs. A comprehensive CV, which is typical for academic applications, that includes any and everything I've done related to my professional career, including workshops, conference presentations, etc. The second CV is more concise (2 pages), and is more like a resume - which is what is often wanted by industry.