Your CV is one of the most important documents you will ever create. Pretty much every job you apply for requires one from you. It is your potential employers first time to take a constructive look at your accomplishments and abilities; on paper at least. Thanks to the economic effects of the pandemic, the jobs market is only getting more competitive. You will often find yourself being pitted against more candidates than before so nailing your CV is vital. Get it right, and you will find yourself at the interview stage. At this point, the employer knows they like you and would like to seriously consider employing you for the role. A poor CV conversely leaves you in a constant loop of job rejections and disappointment. So let’s try and help you build a top class CV that will grab the attention of potential employers with a few simple tips.
- The Basics
There is no “gold standard” structure for a CV but there are sections that any employer would expect to find in the document. I will go into this in a bit more detail later when I compare academic and industry CV’s but for now you just need to remember the following.
For any role, the organisation wants to know how well educated you are and, perhaps more importantly, how experienced you are. They also want to get this information as easily and accessibly as possible (more on this later too). In simple terms, you CV should contain personal/contact details, education and qualifications, your career path so far with details of experience, relevant skills to the job and maybe some of your personal interests or achievements (not as necessary for academic CV’s).
References will also be expected but, to save space, I tend to just put “references can be provided upon request” as you often submit them separately. Some of these categories are a little vague but I will expand on them later. Before me move on though… SPELL CHECK YOUR CV. Typos are the quickest way to get a job rejection. They tell the employer you don’t take the time to ensure you are doing things correctly. SPELL CHECK, SPELL CHECK, SPELL CHECK. Good! Let’s move on.
How do you get someone to look at your CV in detail when they have 200 to go through? Simple; it has to pop. That doesn’t mean pages of bright coloured, comic sans text but you want to avoid dense paragraphs of black text on a plain white background. There is a delicate balance to be struck here but it is possible to make a CV attractive to look at, whilst also appearing professional. I could write paragraphs of a step by step guide for making an attractive CV. “Put a divider here, add this section there”. Really, your best resources here are google and, if you’re at a college or university, your careers team. They can help you create a template that is both eye catching and oozes professionalism. It’s all personal choice but I quite like templates like this one.
- Tailor your CV
This next point is so important. Your CV is supposed to be a working document. I have maybe 20 different versions of my CV, each one tailored for a specific job application. The aim of your CV is to tell the employer you are the right person for the job. You need to highlight how you fit the specific requirements of the role by emphasising aspects of your expertise and education that align best with the job description. Never lie, you will always get found out. But if the job is, for example, a stem cell specialist and you have worked with stem cells, make sure this is emphasised on your CV before adding the other experience and expertise you have in. You don’t have to re-write the whole thing, just adapt the details so they’re relevant.
- Have a Professional Cover Letter
Along a similar theme, it is always good to have a cover letter. To keep it professional I like to use the same template for my cover letter as for my CV so they match nicely. The length of the cover letter will depend on the application process. A lot of jobs these days require you to prepare something like an application statement. This is normally a separate document where you write a short essay explaining your expertise and why you are suited for the role. If the application does not require this, I recommend including something like that in your cover letter. Introduce yourself, explain your desire for the role and detail why you are the right person to do it.
If you are preparing a separate application statement, your cover letter can be a simple “Dear Dr/Prof X, I am writing to formally state my desire to apply for [insert job title]. A CV and application statement explaining my expertise and suitability for this role are attached. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions. Best Regards, you”.
- Keep it Condensed
Back to the point on making your CV easy to read and digest; nobody wants to read a 10 page CV. A good CV is one that gets the key points across concisely and without waffling. A single page is perhaps a dated rule, most employers now are happy with a 2 page CV as it is difficult to get everything on a single page. Generally, you do not want to exceed 2 pages. The best advice I can give is to use bullet points. They can get a lot of information across in a condensed and digestible manner. Most employers will skim read first to determine if your CV is worth of further investigation. Having lots of handy bullet points helps them do that more easily.
- Industry vs Academic CV’s
This is the last piece of advice I have and it’s pretty important but quite specific to those looking for a job in science. If you’re not a scientist, it might not be as relevant so apologies in advance.
Academic and industry jobs usually require very different CV’s. What is important to an academic employer is not necessarily important to an industrial employer. That’s not always the case though; a research focussed company may want a more “academic” CV but usually the following structures apply.
My academic CV has the following sections (cue the bullet points):
- Academic Profile – A short, bullet pointed list of key details (expertise, publications, funding awards etc.).
- Career and Research Experience – Details of my undergrad, PhD and previous research posts with an accompanying list of all the experimental techniques I have learned.
- Research Publications – As you would expect, this is just a list of all the papers I have published and any that are under review.
- Awards and Funding – Again, pretty self-explanatory. Include every bit of money you have been awarded; no matter how small.
- Teaching Experience – This section contains any lecturing I have done and any research students (BSc to PhD) who’s projects I have had an input in.
- Selected Conferences/Symposia Attended – Here I try and include at least one conference a year, preferably where I have delivered a presentation or an invited talk. Try to vary things a bit too. They don’t want to see you attending the same conference and giving the same talk every year.
My industry CV is a little different and contains the following:
- Profile – Similar to the academic profile but with a few more bullet points and a focus on lab competencies and things like GMP/GLP. They are probably not interested in how many papers you have published in this section
- Key Achievements – Another bullet pointed list. This is where I briefly mention how many papers I have published and how much funding I have secured. I also list things like clinical studies I have worked on, how many conferences I have spoken at and my experience in establishing research beacons (if you’ve done a PhD, technically you have set up a new research beacon).
- Career – Here I list every science job I have had and write a paragraph on each, listing my duties and the experience I gained. It’s important to not just include lab experience, but also to mention things like supervising researchers, IT competencies and any industry relevant experience (like ethics, risk assessments etc.).
- Education – Here I just list my PhD and BSc. If you are applying straight from undergrad you could include things like A Levels if the job description requires it.
- Lab Skills Acquired – If you have any of the lab skills they need, say so in this section and then add in any others that may be relevant. Mine is divided into 3 subsections based on the following key areas; cell culture, molecular biology and biotechnology. You could do something similar.
- Management Experience – Here I list any students/projects I have overseen. That is as close as you get to management experience at PhD and postdoc level. If you have other management experience, put it in here too.
- References – “provided upon request”
That’s about it really. Once you are happy with your CV, send it to a professional colleague to get their opinion and good luck!
Dr Sam Moxon is a biomaterials scientist at the University of Manchester. His expertise falls on the interface between biology and engineering. His PhD focussed on regenerative medicine and he now works on trying to develop 3D bioprinting techniques with human stem cells, so that we better understand and treat degenerative diseases. Outside of the lab he hikes through the Lake District and is an expert on all things Disney.
What advice would you add that Sam’s? Reply in the box below