In most professions, job applicants prepare and submit a standard two-page résumé to potential employers. But physicians, like senior executives, attorneys, professors and scientists, must have the longer, more detailed description provided by a curriculum vitae or “CV” if they want to be seriously considered for a new opportunity.
What’s the difference?
When it comes to résumés, the timeworn axiom “less is more” usually applies. Beginning job-seekers are regularly instructed to keep their résumés short—no more than two pages. But a CV is expected to be longer. Think of it like gold, assayed for content and weight. An experienced professional will bring a CV heavy with impressive details, and it will usually prove more valuable. On the other hand, padding a less-experienced professional’s CV with extraneous information will devalue the document and reduce your chances for serious consideration.
Second-year psychiatry resident Lauren Pengrin, D.O., who is finishing up her training at Washington, D.C.’s St. Elizabeths Hospital, won a PracticeLink CV makeover last year from experts at Resume Orbit after attending a PracticeLink Live! event. (Find one near you at PracticeLink.com/JobFair.)
Her first efforts to construct a CV had her cruising the Internet for templates and advice without any personal help. To be thorough, she included every little detail about her educational experience she could think of.
During her CV makeover process, though, she learned that packing your CV with insignificant details does more harm than good. It interrupts the flow of your document and obscures your main message.
Critical-care pulmonologist Peter Tofts, M.D., agrees: “Too much detail—especially up front—becomes just ‘white noise’ that masks who you really are.” Tofts began his first private-practice job this past year with Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle in Columbus, Mississippi.
“While résumés tend to focus on previous job history and performance, a CV places greater emphasis on education, training, board certification, publications and presentations,” says Jack Valancy, a Cleveland, Ohio-based practice management consultant who specializes in physician career coaching.
In addition to the components usually found in a résumé, a professional CV will typically include additional features like:
- Medical licenses, board certifications or eligibility
- Relevant course work
- Scientific or academic research, laboratory experience, grants received
- Papers, books and other related publications you have written
- Academic or professional presentations delivered
- Travel/exposure to relevant cultural experiences
- Related extracurricular activities, professional and association memberships
- Additional information that may support and demonstrate your qualifications
- Other professional development efforts you have undertaken
The longer you have been practicing, the longer your CV will be. An experienced physician—especially one involved in academia—may have a CV extending to 20 or more pages.
However, if you’re just getting started, don’t be distracted by any epic CVs you have seen. Instead, stick to constructing a succinct—but thorough—picture of who you are and what you want. In other words, stay focused on your main message.
Your main message
Have you ever stopped to consider a CV’s main purpose? You wouldn’t undertake any other writing project without knowing what you were trying to accomplish!
Of course, candidates hope that impressive CVs will help them land the jobs of their dreams, but CVs can’t get you a job. In your search for your next practice, a CV can only get you one thing: an interview. Keeping that in mind can help you decide what to include and how to organize your document.
Think of your CV like a highly specialized brochure designed to pique an employer’s interest in you. Hopefully your CV will catch the eye of someone and make them want to meet you face-to-face, or at least to invest in a phone call with you.
Pengrin points out the CV’s two-fold aim: “First, to present an accurate picture of your skills, credentials and ambitions; and second, to help the employer recognize how well you will fit the job opening.”
Your CV therefore becomes an important part of the first impression you make on decision-makers who have the power to offer you a job. You’ll want your main message to be positive (showing your strengths and assets), dynamic (avoiding static and passive phrasing) and above all, accurate. Making a false first impression is a recipe for disaster—a good fit requires openness and honesty.
When constructing your CV, keep these three questions in mind to make sure your main message comes through:
Who are you?
Certainly you will want potential employers to recognize your training, credentials and experience. Your CV lists the ingredients that make up you. Leaving out key components is one of the fastest ways to end up in a recruiter’s “reject” pile.
Mike Andrews, chief operations officer at OCH Regional Medical Center in Starkville, Mississippi, doesn’t see very many instant rejects these days.
“But I will quickly disregard CVs that are too short or have gaps in educational and employment timelines,” he says. “The same holds true for disorganized or poorly formatted CVs and those that contain obvious typos or other errors.”
What do you want?
The facts you choose to highlight and emphasize in your CV can provide clues about your ideal practice setting, career path and lifestyle. Tofts credits a family member for helping him understand the need for keeping his CV simple and highlighting the things important to him. He made sure that accomplishments of which he was most proud stood out loud and clear.
You have to present your work history and educational pathway in chronological order, of course, but you can emphasize the responsibilities and achievements you consider significant. If you bullet your accomplishments at a given position, start with the most important. You can use bold-faced or italicized typefaces judiciously for added emphasis. But be careful: If you emphasize everything, you’ll actually emphasize nothing.
Who is your audience?
Picture the recipient of your CV. What is he or she looking for in a physician? This requires some research on your part. The more you know about the job you’re applying for, the more accurately you will picture the employer’s ideal candidate.
“Tailor your message to your prospective employer,” Valancy advises his clients. “Do some Internet research. Ask your professional network about the organization. What type of organization is it: a large teaching hospital? A community hospital? A physician-staffing company or a physician-owned independent practice?”
“Does the organization have a mission? Who does it serve? Once you have an idea of what the organization is all about, use your CV to describe how you can help fulfill its mission and serve its community,” says Valancy.
Keep in mind that CVs can develop a life of their own. Recruiters and hiring organizations sometimes share CVs with each other after they’ve filled their own positions. That’s as good a reason as any to ensure your CV and cover letter are positive and truthful, without editorializing on less-than-desirable past employment experiences.
Setting things in order
Don’t get too creative when you sit down to format your CV. A quick Google Image search on “formatting a CV” will serve up several screens full of examples, many of which could land yours in the “weirdo” pile.
Stick to a format that looks professional, dignified and well within expected standards. Avoid creative touches of color or graphics, and don’t insert your photo—some organizations even cut photos from CVs to avoid discrimination accusations.
“Use clear, easy-to-read fonts,” says Valancy. Most experts advise sticking with standard fonts like Times New Roman or Arial, sized at 11 or 12 points. You can use slightly larger typefaces for headlines and subheadings. In fact, your name should appear at the top of your first page in a large font, centered with your title, and your primary contact information centered immediately beneath it.
It’s a good idea for your name, email and preferred phone number to appear on every page. Use your word processor’s header feature (or footer, if you prefer) to include this information throughout the document.
Most professional CVs use the first paragraph below your name and contact information to provide an introductory profile of the candidate. This short summary deserves more time and effort than you might think. In fact, it’s so important that you should consider getting help from an accomplished writer.
Your opening, says Valancy, concisely delivers your elevator speech: a crisp, clear description of who you are and what you want in as few words as possible. That requires some real writing skill, but it’s your chance to highlight your priorities and values from the outset. A powerful introduction leaves the reader wanting to know more about you.
Most CVs—like résumés—follow on with a chronological listing of the candidate’s education and work experience. Make absolutely sure that all your “from” and “to” dates appear with no unexplained gaps. If you’ve experienced any career interruption, don’t try to hide it or gloss over it. You don’t want a potential employer suspecting that you have something to hide.
Your timeline provides another opportunity to highlight what’s important to you. Include bullet lists of activities and accomplishments with appropriate entries. If, for example, you are seeking an academic appointment, list publications, research projects and experiences as an instructor while you participated in each program. (If you’ve been published more than a few times, you may want to list the individual articles in an appendix rather than clutter up your timeline with too much detail.)
Pengrin described her CV both before and after the PracticeLink makeover: “My revised CV was clearly better than my original one, which was more academic. The finished product is more employment oriented. It now focuses more on the skills I’ve developed and the particular areas of psychiatry I’ve been working in—and how that would be marketable to potential employers. It has less detail about all the various activities of my academic career. A future employer wants to see more about your recent work, what kind of system you’re used to dealing with—even what kind of EHR you’ve used.”
Wrapping it up with style
After the chronological section, most professionals add lists of publications, research projects, grants and similar professional accomplishments. It’s appropriate to include lists of awards and honors, as well as professional societies, academies and organizations in which you’ve held memberships. Be sure to include any leadership positions you’ve held as well.
Anyone with Internet access can easily figure out what an average CV should look like these days, so it can prove a little more challenging to make yours stand out in the crowd.
OCH’s Mike Andrews notes, “I almost never get a ‘trash’ CV anymore. New graduates have more resources and help to lean on, so the bar has been permanently raised.”
Pengrin learned to add punch to her CV by paying attention to details like writing style and sentence structure. Avoid passive voice and static statements (sentences with some form of “to be” as the main verb).
Keep your sentences short and direct. Tofts agrees: “Make the high points easy to see, and make sure your training and background are prominent and clear.”
After you’ve spent all that time and effort creating your masterpiece, don’t shortchange your cover letter. Granted, few CVs and résumés arrive at employers’ offices via snail mail; most applicants use email or upload their CVs to websites. Email cover letters tend to be terse acknowledgments (Attached please find my CV.) But there’s still a place for a well-written cover letter.
“Even though most job-search correspondence happens through email, a follow-up via first-class mail can make a positive impression,” Valancy observes.
Whether you decide to use paper or pixels, spend time honing your cover-letter message. When asked for advice about cover letters, Pengrin says, “Get professional help. Sometimes it’s hard for us physicians to admit when we need help, but it’s OK to admit we’re not experts in everything.”
Valancy offers several points to keep in mind for your cover letter:
- Start by thanking the employer (or its representative) for the opportunity to learn about the job.
- Summarize once again your training, skills and experience, as well as the type of position you seek.
- Suggest possible dates for scheduling an interview.
- State clearly when you will be available to start working.
Finally, when researching desirable jobs and organizations, dig deep enough to discover the right contact person for the position—and address them personally.
Avoid submitting CVs blindly to organizations advertising new positions. If possible, reach out by phone to the proper contact person and ask him or her to keep an eye out for your CV.
Taking those “next steps” like placing a preliminary phone call or mailing a carefully worded follow-up letter will make an impression. And anyone in advertising will tell you that top-of-mind consciousness can make all the difference in the world.
Timothy W. Boden, CMPE is an award-winning writer and a best-selling editor and ghostwriter.