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Thoughts on CVs and Resumes

By Dennis Tribble posted 11-04-2021 10:30


One of the activities I really enjoy is working with students and recent graduates on their curriculum vitae (CV)/resume documents. A lot of the feedback I get is that what helps most is a “50,000 -foot view” of what these documents are intended to achieve, which seems to be a new concept. So, I thought I would put these thoughts together in a blog to try to be helpful to others.

Thank you to those students and new graduates who have entrusted me with your career goals and resumes. I have learned much of what follows from working with you.

It is of first importance to remember that the purpose of either of these documents is not to land an appointment or job; it is to get an interview. There may be some instances where the document alone gets the nod, but, in my experience, those cases are few and far between. These are screening tools to permit an intended employer or grantor create a short list of applicants to interview. As a general rule, it may be wise to leave yourself something to stimulate their questions and give you something to talk about that the potential employer/grantor doesn’t already know.

The next most important consideration when constructing a CV or a resume is to put yourself in the place of the intended recipient and to think about what it is that person wants most to know and how much time they are likely to spend looking at the document. This is where a CV may differ markedly from a resume.

  • A CV is primarily used in pursuit of academic appointments for grants, fellowships, residencies, or faculty positions. As such, they are intended primarily to document academic accomplishments. In general, for these documents, longer is better.
  • A resume, on the other hand, is intended principally for consideration for employment. Employers are interested in licensure, experience, evidence of leadership, and evidence of longevity. For these documents, it is likely that the reader will commit attention to no more than the first two pages of a document, so longer is not better. If their attention is captured in the first two pages, they may read more.
  • Where these lines may get crossed occurs when you are seeking a work position that is intended to perform or support research. In these positions, academic achievements may be important, but experience in research in the “real world” will still be important.

What both types of potential employers have in common is

  • that they want to know who you are, where they can contact you, and whom they can contact to verify that what is on your CV/resume contains accurate information.
  • that they want to know how well you communicate
  • they want to know what you bring to the table for the position they have to offer (sometimes this is merely the willingness to learn).
  • they want to know whether you have growth potential in their organization
  • they want to know what it is you will be seeking from them

Students and new graduates can find themselves challenged when putting together a CV or a resume because they are early in their careers and their opportunities to generate experience and academic credentials have been limited. Nonetheless, I have seen them to be rather long, with a great deal of detail, which I generally advise them to tighten up. The other thing I have noticed is that these individuals have short-term needs, which are primarily academic, and longer-term needs which involve the kind of work they want to do. So, they probably actually need two documents: a CV for their next academic endeavors and a resume for when they head out into the job market.

From my experience as an employer, I also tell students and recent graduates that employers don’t expect a recent graduate to bring a lot of experience to the job; they are looking for indications that you are a quick learner and are willing to learn the job.

For students, specifically, I often see detailed descriptions of IPPE and APPE experiences. Those experiences are valuable, and should be documented, but one can often summarize the learnings from those experiences in a paragraph that communicates the essentials as well as a detailed discussion of what happened in each experience.

Interestingly, including too much detail is something that I tend to see in resumes in general. The longer you have worked, and the more positions you have filled, the less meaningful the details become. Very often, the job position or title is sufficient. Details that align with the position being sought may be good to include.

In the US, if English is not your first language, you may want to have someone critique your writing to ensure that your use of the language presents you in the best possible light.

Finally, these are not static documents. They not only need to be tailored to the needs of the recipient, but they also need to grow and change as your experience matures. If you are going to speak publicly or work in settings where a brief biography is important, you may also want to distill your key information into a one- or two-paragraph biography that you also keep updated on a regular basis.

What do you think??

As always, these opinions are my own, and not necessarily those of ASHP or of my employer, BD.

Dennis A. Tribble, PharmD, FASHP

Ormond Beach, FL