Amuse-Bouche, Hors D’oeuvres Or a Heavy Meal?


Let’s define those words! Sit with me as I dig in (pun intended) to the culinary analogy.

Amuse Bouche: One small, complimentary appetizer offered at upscale restaurants intended to tantalize the taste buds, showcase the chef’s culinary creativity and entice the patrons.

Hors D’oeuvre: French literal meaning “outside of work” or translated loosely “outside the normal meal.” It is typically a variety of small bitesize tidbits meant to assuage hunger but not to satiate.

Heavy Meal: Well, we all know what that means! Full, stuffed, feeling yuck, can’t move, wish I hadn’t eaten so much, anyone got anything for indigestion?

Let’s decide here and now which one of these YOUR CV is going to be. My recommendation is to choose either the Amuse Bouche or the Hors D’oeuvre and I’ll explain why.

In the realm of science the title Curriculum vitae is used instead of resume. This is a Latin phrase meaning “course of one’s life.” Although it should be of more detail than a resume, it is not a novel. It should be brief but not bereft of details, it must engage the reader to want more information, leaving them hungry to ask for more. A full meal leaves no room for more and often is a cause for discomfort. As Mary Poppins put it: “Enough is as good as a feast!”

For constructing a CV that doesn’t make your readers feel like they’ve eaten a 5lb burger, here’s how to best present your skills, whetting the appetite of a potential employer and making him or her hungry to learn more about you!

1. The Nibble – Your Personal Summary: One of the first things presented on a typical CV right below name and contact information is ‘Personal Summary’ or ‘Career Objective’ or perhaps ‘Professional Profile’. This small paragraph or TWO at the most should provide the reader with a brief factual, exciting and accurate vision of who you are. Think of it as the foundational structure of your professional persona, the unbending core and center, which you bring to your next career role. It should be like a hand reaching out and verbally grabbing the reader by the throat. (OK, maybe by the shirtfront as violence is frowned upon these days!)

So why is it that so many people get this wrong and fill this space with all the wrong things? Perhaps what drives this is the same reason we long to fill silence with chatter… fear. Fear that we haven’t written enough, too much, or just the wrong thing. Fear is NEVER a good reason to do anything. Resist the urge to put it all and put just enough and only facts.

2. The Spice – Be factual and objective be careful not to over pepper your CV with relative, subjective and cliché terms like “proven leader,” “dynamic drug hunter,” “recognized expert,” “innovative designer,” etc. The wisest man who lived spoke these words. “Let someone else praise you and not your own mouth.” Focus on immutable, irrefutable facts such as the number of compounds you have entering the clinic, drugs on market, or collaborations successfully executed. It’s much more impactful if the more subjective comments come from others enthusiastically filling the ears of potential employers.

3. The Biggest Bite – As we move to the meat of the CV be sure the margins are aligned, clear and consistent. Don’t use the margins to point to new subject matter. The clean lines on ONE margin should rule your document! This is most important so I repeat. Have only one margin and only one indentation.

For the sake of simplicity and ease do NOT force someone do mental math to find out how long you’ve been at a company. If you’ve been with one company for 23 years do NOT put a separate set of dates for every title change without first putting the total years at the top.

Similarly, if the company has merged and/or changed names but you haven’t changed positions, make sure you present it as one continuous position indicating the change as you would a title change not a career change. Be clear about your role, the realistic level of your responsibility and input. Do not claim too much and find yourself embarrassed as you backpedal during a phone call nor be too humble and allow the reader to miss the impact of your contribution. Claim only what you have done and state the facts clearly and with confidence.

4. The Garnish – When organizing and showcasing your achievements you can use bullets or prose style, or a combination of both.

Bullets are fine unless they are too sterilized, becoming simply a string of technical words that strip away the potential impact of your achievement. The value of bullets over prose is your punch effect. A bullet is a clearly stated fact that can have significant impact if presented correctly. Absolutely do not have bullets and then sub-bullets. People have a natural aversion to confusing and disorganized presentation.

Prose is great but you need a light hand if using this and you must stick with the facts as stated above. Make sure that there is plenty of space in between two different thoughts. Do not present one large block of type. I am stealing a comment from a VP at Merck who reads thousands of CVs a year. He commented that these spaces between thoughts create visual speed bumps to slow down the dreaded “skim”. Once a person starts to skim through a document it’s hard to stop.

Prose provides the flexibility over bullets for the nuance of emotion and more information in each statement.

If you choose a combination of both, make sure the prose is presented first followed by bullets. Never mix them up which will introduce the chaos and disorganization you are working to avoid. Never repeat your achievements both in prose and then again in bullets which is redundant and you run the risk of losing the reader’s attention and disrespecting their time!

5. The Last Bite – Your education; post doc, graduate work, should be clearly stated WITH the names of your advisors and the dates clearly visible. Again, do not make the reader hunt for data.

Your publications should have your name in bold, underlined or both with the journal in italics or in bold. To continue the theme of simplicity and ease both your patents and publications should be listed numerically removing the need to count.

Try not to add posters, abstracts, submitted publications or pending patents. Limit this section to peer reviewed publications and invited presentations only. You do not want to appear to be padding your CV with inconsequential information.

An often overlooked but important part of a CV are awards and interests section. These highlight the fact that you have more dimensions than simply science.

If you are a horticulturist, a wine lover or an animal breeder add that. If you’ve taken business classes or management training seminars, add it! By the time a potential employer has read your CV they should be eagerly anticipating learning more about who you are!

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