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Career Focus

Making the shortlistGeneral practitioner and freelance journalist Naomi Craft devises a sharp curriculum vitae …… and Patrica Scriven, an associate adviser, explains how she would rate it

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 09 November 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:S2-7066

General practitioner and freelance journalist Naomi Craft devises a sharp curriculum vitae …

  1. Naomi Craft, general practitioner and freelance journalist
  1. London
  2. University of Birmingham, B15 2TT

    When your curriculum vitae (CV) lands in the assessor's lap it has probably got less than two minutes to convince the reader of your suitability for the job. A good first impression is vital and should be combined with enough relevant detail to put you on the shortlist. A CV literally describes the history of your life. It aims to chart your personal and professional qualifications and make them seem relevant to every new job.

    Composing your CV may take an initial outlay of time and effort. But considering that the average doctor will change jobs at least three times within two years of qualifying, and that most will need to apply for several jobs before they are appointed to a new position, any extra time spent on planning and storing the master copy will pay off.

    Several sources give information about what to include in your CV.(1)(2) Your reasons for applying for the job should be on the front page. Most juniors go down several paths before they find their niche, and it needs to be clear why you are applying for the particular position if there is an apparent change of direction. Assessors will be looking for specific things - such as the minimum required experience- and not others- leave out your O level grades.

    Some things from the past may point towards your commitment to a specialty, such as a medical school prize or a subject studied during an elective. Other jobs may have given you experience that highlights your ability to deal with responsibility and stress: perhaps you have deputised for a senior colleague or worked in the busiest unit in the country.

    CV learning points

    • Your curriculum vitae must be well presented; poorly prepared curriculum vitae will be rejected

    • Read the person specification carefully. You must have the minimum qualifications and/or experience detailed.

    • Ensure your qualifications and clinical experience are easily extracted from your curriculum vitae, using heavy type if necessary. State the duration and type of training clearly.

    • Remember to give details of teaching, audit, research, and management.

    • Follow the person specification layout in your curriculum vitae wherever possible. Highlight specified desirable qualities so that these can be easily seen by the assessor.

    • If you are an overseas doctor, you must have sufficient ‘permit-free' training time left to complete the advertised programme.

    Professional advice

    There are several companies offering to produce CVs. They generally provide help with design, layout, and printing. They all recommend keeping a tight rein on personal foibles, although it can be difficult to accept this kind of criticism. According to Siobhan Mythen, office manager at CV Services, a lot of their work is taken up with editing the text to cut out unnecessary waffle or irrelevant detail.

    Companies like this do not attempt to provide the content of your CV, although some doctors assume that they will. Creative editing such as lowering a doctor's age or changing a nationality, as one company has been asked to do, is not part of the service.

    Equal opportunities

    Including personal details like age, marital status, and ethnic origin on your CV is optional. Strictly speaking, such information should make no difference to a candidate's suitability for a post, although there is disturbing evidence that it may influence shortlisting decisions. A retrospective study of 1500 doctors graduating from five British medical schools between 1981 and 1987 suggested that those from ethnic minorities experienced disproportionate difficulty in obtaining hospital posts.(3) More recently, researchers found candidates with English names were more likely to be shortlisted than those with Asian names, though their CVs were otherwise identical.(4) Most personnel departments now request information about ethnic origin on a detachable front sheet but discrimination against a candidate with a foreign sounding name may remain.


    One CV company which advises on presentation claims that your CV is like a fingerprint: a flamboyant style reflects a confident, outgoing person; dense detail typed in a tiny font with lots of punctuation betrays a more obsessive personality. The paper quality matters too: while it is advisable to avoid submitting a dog eared specimen covered in correcting fluid, it is equally unacceptable to be remembered only for your gold leaf and leather cover page.

    As most people now have access to a word processor, it should be easy enough to submit an acceptable version, particularly as most will allow you to view the final layout before printing. Laser printed versions look better than photocopies, but photocopies have the advantage of not smudging if you have access only to an ink jet printer. Avoid sending your CV by electronic mail or fax. The quality received may be poor or, worse, completely unintelligible if the computers are incompatible. If there is no option but to send the document electronically avoid unusual typefaces and send a hard copy by snail mail. Keep a copy on disk. Some agencies offer permanent storage of the completed CV so that updates can be made at any point by telephone or fax and copies are readily available at short notice.

    Assuming the hard work has paid off and the CV has landed you an interview, remember to read it again beforehand to remind yourself of why you deserve the job.


    … and Patrica Scriven, an associate adviser, explains how she would rate it

    1. Patricia Scriven, associate adviser in flexible training
    1. London
    2. University of Birmingham, B15 2TT

      Many specialist registrar posts attract numerous applicants-we recently received over 200 for one post-so how does an assessor get to a shortlist of about ten?

      My first action is to eliminate all those candidates who do not meet the entry criteria to the grade. To do this, I read the person specification carefully. This lists the qualifications and minimum length of clinical experience in the chosen specialty that are considered essential.

      I check all the application forms and CVs to see whether the candidate has obtained the qualifications and experience specified. All those who do not are put into the reject pile and I note the reasons why they were rejected.

      As I check the other CVs, I quickly read each one, at a rate of about 25 to 30 an hour. I am looking for a general description of a doctor's clinical experience, teaching, audit and research, and whether the CV is well presented

      Scruffy CVs rejected

      All scruffy CVs are rejected- there is no excuse for a badly presented CV for this type of job.

      As an assessor, I need to know what clinical experience has been gained by the doctor. A simple list of all previous posts is helpful-I can gauge the total duration of training in the particular specialty concerned. This must be supplemented by a brief description of the duties involved. From this, the assessor can estimate the level of responsibility given to the doctor and what was learnt. Failure to supply this detail makes it impossible to find out, and so these applicants are rejected. The category for rejection is that insufficient detail has been given.

      Many candidates fail to appreciate that a doctor's duties encompass the whole spectrum of patient care: emergencies, outpatient clinics and day care, work in the ward and in the operating theatre, the precise range depending on the specialty concerned. For example, surgeons who simply list operations that they can perform without indicating that they are capable of meeting the patients' needs for preoperative and postoperative care are potentially disastrous. It is no good being a superb technical surgeon if you cannot make the initial diagnosis and manage any complications. This kind of CV is rejected at this stage, again on grounds of insufficient detail.

      Now, the task of choosing the eventual shortlist becomes more difficult- so far those rejected have been eliminated on simple, easily defined criteria. The next part becomes comparative- which CVs are better and why?

      I carefully reread each one and grade it, looking not just at clinical experience; a future consultant will need to teach others, undertake audit, work in a team, and communicate effectively. The last two are difficult to judge from a CV alone, but if doctors are participating in teaching and audit then it is probable that they have these qualities. If none of these are mentioned then these CVs are graded in the poorest category.

      Importance of research

      Where competition is intense research becomes an important selection criterion. Applicants who have published in good international journals will be preferred to those who have not.

      This preparatory work takes considerable time. The assessor's duty is to be fair and to assess solely on the basis of the submitted application form and CV.

      At the shortlisting meeting the committee will confirm rejection of the candidates who do not meet the minimum entry requirements. Where insufficient detail is given or presentation is poor rejection is usually unanimous.

      Doctors from overseas cannot be appointed for a period longer than the amount of permit free training time available to them. All those doctors with insufficient permit free training for the full programme or the period of the fixed term training appointment (where relevant) are rejected.

      Exhaustive process

      The committee then has to decide which candidates to shortlist-that is, those with the “best” CVs. Preferred qualities from the person specification- for example, attendence on particular courses, experience of a subspecialty, or additional qualifications- may differentiate the best candidates.

      Comparatively young and inexperienced doctors will not have had time to complete as much audit or research as more mature candidates. Doctors wishing to return to the training grades would be expected to have accomplished something extra rather than merely performing their job. Examples of this might be completing an audit or assuming additional responsibilities such as developing a service or teaching. This is particularly important if competition is intense. Reasons why the candidates have been rejected will be documented and the “best” applicants are chosen and invited for interview. The number of doctors shortlisted will depend on the number of appointments to be made- usually about four are invited for each post available.