Preparing winning CVs and application formsBMJ 2010; 341 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c4794 (Published 15 September 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4794
Matt Green shows you how to make sure your CV stands out from all the others
Do you put off updating your curriculum vitae (CV) until an interview presents itself? When it comes to progressing your career, never underestimate the importance of an updated CV within your portfolio. Your CV is your opportunity to sell yourself to a potential employer. Try to set aside some time twice a year to review and update your CV.
The most important thing to bear in mind when producing your CV is to make it clear, concise, and to the point. Your CV should be a snapshot of your career to date, designed to help deaneries to decide whether or not to invite you for a formal interview. As such, it should be able to engage, and, more importantly, hold the attention of someone who will no doubt have seen countless other CVs.
Format and structure
Although your CV should give an overview of your career to date, it doesn’t need to be a 40 page document detailing every one of your daily activities. The length will vary depending on your level of experience, but our experience confirms that no more than five to eight pages is a good target to aim for. Clarity is vital; use an easy to read font—we recommend size 10 Arial or size 12 Times New Roman—with slightly larger type for section headings to break the CV up into manageable sections.
Ensure that you are consistent in your layout format and that you list everything in chronological order. It is acceptable and makes easier reading if the information is bullet pointed.
What to include in your CV
Although your individual experiences will dictate the content of your CV, you should aim to include these areas:
Education and qualifications
Career history (Tip: When describing your posts make sure to include the duration of the post, your grade, specialty, full name of the institution, and the name of your supervisor if applicable)
Clinical skills and experience (Tip: For the sake of brevity and to make sure your CV does not repeat itself needlessly, it is advisable if you include the details of your clinical experience in a standalone section)
Development courses and conferences attended
Research experience and publications (Tip: Ensure you include the time period over which the research was conducted; the research topic; location; supervisor (if applicable); and source of funding. Include the aims of the research, your role, and the outcome)
Teaching experience (Tip: It is essential to include this experience because the whole medical profession relies on participating in teaching, as dictated by the General Medical Council. Add your specific strengths to your application and detail the types of audiences you have taught and the various teaching methods you have used. It is worth stating that you actively seek feedback from teaching sessions)
Leadership and management experience (Tip: Leadership skills are of great importance within the modern healthcare environment, particularly with regard to the coordination of multidisciplinary care. Specific examples you can draw upon can include rota management and supervision of juniors)
This list is by no means extensive or exclusive, but should be used as a good indication of what you should include in your CV.
One important point to remember is not to embellish, exaggerate, or provide false information. You should be prepared to discuss at interview any one of the points listed on your CV. Don’t run the risk of being caught out by a lie; not only will you miss out on a career opportunity, you will also be committing fraud, potentially damaging any opportunities in the future.
Made to measure
As all applicants will be measured against the selection criteria of the post they are applying for, it is essential that you read the person specification and job description, ensuring that your CV addresses all of the desired competences. Use the career statement at the beginning of your CV to really drive home your enthusiasm and suitability for the position.
Standing out from the crowd
Prospective employers will be looking to employ someone with that something special, so it’s important to outline how you wish your career to progress. It’s sensible to mention both your short and long term goals and a summary of yourself as a doctor.
In addition, your personal interests will also be of interest to your potential employer. It is important that you demonstrate a balanced approach to your life. It is also beneficial if hobbies have helped you develop non-clinical skills that are applicable to your daily practice. Be conservative, however, when you list what you do in your spare time. There are only so many hours in the day to work, rest, and play.
The application process
The same principles listed above apply when completing your application form. Application forms are becoming more generic across specialties; however, the composition does continually change each year. This makes it more difficult to generalise or to suggest a structured template. Most application forms are based on a more ordered format of your CV, and, therefore, it’s important that you are consistent when updating your CV and completing your application form.
Recently, application forms have contained abstract questions that are designed to test the insight and commitment of the candidate—there are specific marks assigned for these answers when your application is being reviewed.
Application forms are now normally released by deaneries via a website and are accompanied by a guidance document. It is important to use the guidance document fully; even if the application form appears to be self explanatory there will be guidelines on formatting and suggestions about techniques to use when answering questions.
It is useful to adopt the STAR approach when completing these sections—situation, task, action, result. By explaining relevant scenarios in this manner you can highlight areas where you have effectively resolved situations using your skills, and you can end with a statement regarding feedback.
At the end of the form there is often a section that asks you to include any information that you feel is relevant to your application. This is the ideal opportunity to include any parts of your CV that you were not able to cover earlier in the more structured part of the form. At this point it is appropriate to include your understanding of the demands of the role and any statements about yourself that you feel make you fit the person specification. You need to ensure these demonstrate confidence, but not arrogance.
A clearly presented, concise, and accurate CV is pivotal in securing an interview. Your interview is your opportunity to expand on the detail and showcase your knowledge and experience.
Ask a colleague to read your CV to ensure it makes sense, and to check for errors in spelling and grammar. Tailor the CV to the job specification, taking into account all of the qualities and skills that are required. Use the CV to demonstrate that you possess those skills and to quantify why you, above all of the other candidates, are the best person for the job.
A correctly completed application form that is consistent with the content of your CV will ensure that your interview runs smoothly. Always use the STAR approach and ensure that you have understood each section of the form and completed it correctly and in full.
Points covered in your CV should be clear and succinct
Always refer to the job specification
Don’t exaggerate or include anything that is untrue
Ensure your CV is proofread by a colleague
Be flexible, and update your CV for each job application
Use every question on the application form to sell yourself
Make sure every word counts (no waffle)
Quality is more important than quantity
Proofread, proofread, proofread
Developmedica (www.developmedica.com) provides a range of CV and application form advice services to help you secure your first choice position. We are also providers of leading edge medical career support and advice. Our aim is to enable each doctor to reach their full potential and in doing so contribute to the improvement of healthcare provision
About the author
Matt Green established Developmedica in 2005. He will be speaking on CVs and application forms at the BMJ Careers Fair in London on 1 and 2 October and the West Midlands fair in Birmingham on 8 and 9 October.
Competing interests: MG is founder and director of Developmedica.