How to Create an Effective CV

Curriculum Vitae – A Celebration of Life!

When people ask me to review their CV’s they just don’t know what they’re in for! For that matter, if anyone asks me anything they get more than they bargained for. Opinions are as much a part of me as breathing!

After reviewing thousands of CVs’ over the years I have narrowed down most problems into two groups.

  1. I Must Make My CV Only Two Pages!!
    These people feel their CV should be no more than two pages long… three at the outside. They have been warned by others that if the CV isn’t simple and brief they run the risk of losing the reader’s attention. They hear that if a CV is longer than this it will be put aside and passed over for the shorter ones.This may be true if you are a secretary or, say, a headhunter, like me, but seriously talented scientists cannot be expected to condense their experience into two/three pages. The product of this attempt creates a CV that looks either too full of acronyms, bullets, sub bullets and sub-sub bullets that it can’t be read clearly. It is all so mind bogglingly crunched that the reader will get a headache attempting to sort through the data. Alternatively a document is produced which doesn’t say much of anything at all! A person could seriously end up compromising their message. Everything just can’t fit on two pages. Don’t fall for the two page myth.
  2. I Must Put In Everything!!
    This group thinks that they must put everything into the CV from a picture of themselves to every abstract ever presented. The problem with this is exactly what the ‘two pagers’ try desperately to avoid; an overwhelming rambling document that will be set aside for future reading but that future may never come. Limit your CV to publications and talks which are peer reviewed and invited. Abstracts typically are not as impactful because they are not subject to review from peers. I also suggest avoiding publications which are “in process” or “submitted”. Similarly avoid putting in patents “pending”.

Subsequently we can learn and apply a great life lesson here; how to walk a fine line between the concise and the confusing.

I humbly submit ten quick rules of thumb to help navigate this particular razors edge without falling off either side.

  1. Put yourself in the position of the person reading the CV. In fact it may well be that you have been in that position before and if you just remember the thoughts running through your head as you looked over the file folder of CV’s there are several mistakes you can avoid.
  2. Assume that these CV’s will be read late in the day, perhaps in the evening during personal time.
  3. Be mindful of creating a document which is easy on the eyes. This means you must restrict yourself to ONE clear margin, ONE font, ONE indent, ONE bullet style.
  4. You may make good use of bold, caps, italics and underlines but you must be judicious in your choices knowing that you are drawing the eye to those particular places.
  5. Make sure that the information is easy to read! Spoon-feed your audience; they’ll love you for it. Do not hide important facts e.g., who was your PhD or post-doctoral advisor, how long were you at each particular company, where you are in the author list of your pubs etc… The more you force someone to hunt for facts the less likely they’ll take the time to hunt.
  6. Put all (or at least a good seminal list) of pubs and patents on the same document. Do NOT have them as separate attachments. Creating a separate Bio is completely different.
  7. Choose a font that is easy to read but have fun with something unique. Here are some ideas- Calisto MT, Catriel, Baskerville Old Face, Georgia, Lucida Bright, Gungsuh. There are many others as well…
  8. Avoid falling back on overused, cliché terms. Go to your thesaurus and spend some time wordsmithing.
  9. Be very careful about spelling and punctuation.
  10. And finally but very importantly – remember to use proactive terms that emphasize without overstating your personal involvement in the drug discovery or development process. There’s an old saying, if you don’t toot your own horn nobody else will do it for you!

Remember to put down only what you would be able to back up with facts. Always be your biggest cheerleader and remember that this is a representation of your professional life. Curriculum Vitae is a Latin phrase meaning “course of life”. It is meant to be more detailed than a resume and is typically used in academics or scientific community. You have studied for many years; you have worked for many years and you have accomplished much. Your CV is your reputation. “A good name is more desirable than great riches;” Proverbs 22:1

Let your CV be a celebration of your professional life!

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