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Writing a Curriculum Vitae

January 2004

Putting together a curriculum vitae (CV) is another one of those professional skills that M.D. trainees are somehow expected to learn without ever actually being shown how. Most of us probably end up copying the style used by our mentor. In many cases, the CV is a formality that duly summarizes one's academic career. But there are a few tips that might get your application a little extra attention when applying for a job with an organization with which you have had no previous connection.

All CVs must contain the same information: personal details, education/qualifications/ work experience, etc. But organization and attention to detail are keys to a successful initial impression. Remember, this may be all the information that a prospective employer or promotions committee will have about you.

The idea is to catch and hold the reader's attention. Most employers spend no more than a few minutes going over a CV. A good CV should be individualized for the position for which you are applying. That means you need to know what the organization is looking for in terms of skills, attributes, qualifications. Don't treat every item on your CV equally. Instead, highlight those skills and attributes that you possess that make you uniquely qualified for the position. Use positive language to concisely describe your achievements and prior experience without being arrogant.

Click here for a Sample CV. (PDF File)

When applying for an academic position, a general approach might be:

  • Academic Appointments
  • Education
  • Selected Teaching Appointments
  • Publications/Presentations
  • Grants and Fellowships
  • Students Advised
  • Honors and Awards
  • Other Appointments
  • Professional Consultantships
  • Licensure and Certification
  • Professional Associations
  • Professional Service
  • University Service
  • Other Professional Service

Again, the key is to tailor the organization for the job description. Think about using a reverse chronological format, i.e., start with your current/most recent experience. Also note that in this sample, the dates are listed on the right so as not to detract from the pertinent information. You might also want to include a brief statement about what kind of position you are seeking. This way people can immediately see who you are and what you are looking for. Notice that in order to highlight the publication section, it is placed in the middle instead of at the end of the CV, where it is traditionally listed. This may be important for someone with an extensive prior career or experience.

As with any presentation, judicious use of spacing is key. Avoid clutter. For example, subheadings such as "institution" or "dates" are usually unnecessary, as the information is self-explanatory. Use bold CAPS to highlight sections but avoid underlines. In general, this is not the time or place for fancy graphics or multiple fonts. Too much clutter makes your accomplishments harder to see and implies a lack of organizational skill on your part. Devote more space to relevant items such as your work experience. After all, factual information such as your name and address don't add to your qualifications in any way. Your main qualifications should be evident at a glance. The reader can go on to look for details, if needed.

Final word: Spell check!!! Have a friend/family member proofread your CV. Spelling errors are irritating and raise questions about your attention to detail/laziness.

A Few Words About the Cover Letter:
Cover letters are a key component of creating the prospective employer's initial impression of you. So appearance counts. This is your chance to introduce yourself and convince him/her that you really want the job. As with the CV, keep the cover letter concise: no more than one page with three, perhaps four paragraphs of text. It should highlight key items in the CV, emphasizing your qualifications for the position. Every letter should be individualized. As much as possible, address it to the appropriate person by name.

Start with a brief introduction, including when you will be available to start. In the next paragraph, demonstrate your interest in the institution or company by mentioning specific projects or areas of interest in which the organization is focused. Describe how you are specifically qualified for the job. Don't be afraid to include relevant volunteer experience or personal talents, e.g., foreign language skills that would make you a valuable team member. Keep it positive. This is not the place to speak disrespectfully of your current employer or go into problems in the workplace. Finally, conclude the letter by saying that you are looking forward to hearing back from the institution. Of course, let them know how best to contact you!

Before you sent it out: Proofread. Don't forget to spell check. Keep a copy.