Intended for healthcare professionals


How can I polish my CV?

BMJ 2019; 366 doi: (Published 29 July 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;366:l4903

See Liz O’Riordan's CV template

  1. Abi Rimmer
  1. The BMJ

Three experts tell Abi Rimmer how doctors can improve their CVs to help them get their next role

Be precise to stand out

Liz O’Riordan, consultant breast surgeon, says, “Getting a job used to be all about the CV, but no one wants to see it anymore. It’s all done online through long, detailed application forms with strict word counts. Don’t wait until you have a week left to apply for a job. Look at it months or even years before you’re thinking of applying. This will show you what boxes you need to tick to get shortlisted.

“You do still need a CV. Most, however, are 20 to 40 pages in length, start with GCSE results, and are boring to read. How can you stand out from the rest?

“When I was applying for a consultant job, my husband suggested I copy the business world and condense my CV onto two sides of paper. It had a huge impact at shortlisting visits. When the medical director said that he didn’t want my CV, I could offer him a single piece of A4—it looked impressive and made it easy for him to remember what I could bring to the post.

“Use the application form as a guide. Start with your career aims—focusing on patient centred, high quality care and governance. Include small sections for research, management, and teaching. Instead of listing every audit, paper, and poster you’ve ever done, summarise the totals and give details of the two or three most relevant for that post. If you’re going for a senior post, you don’t need to include your foundation training or early specialty training posts.

“Finally, ask someone who’s recently been successful to show you their application form —keep asking until someone agrees. It worked for me. And when you do get the job, share your form with your trainees.”

Your CV is a living document

Sophia Bourne, learning and development consultant for the BMA, says, “Your CV fulfils many purposes. It’s a selling document, making that important first impression on a potential employer; it’s a career summary in your portfolio or when networking with colleagues; and it’s a reminder of your entire working life.

“In all forms, your CV is a summary of your education, training, qualifications, skills, achievements, and work experience. It must follow a standardised format—recruiters like a familiar layout—but you have some control over how you present yourself within it. It is tempting to include everything you’ve ever done, but this risks it being an unwieldy and unappealing chronology of your working life. Medical CVs can range from two to eight pages in length, depending on your experience. The key is to keep your information relevant, succinct, organised, and written with the reader in mind—most CVs have less than two minutes to impress.

“For recruitment purposes, your CV must present you to a potential future employer as the best candidate for the role. While retaining the essential information, you can expand or contract examples, and reprioritise elements according to the requirements and priorities of each post. This way, you can ensure that relevant experience, credentials, and achievements stand out to the reader and are easy to find. And, while you may fear that medical CVs can look similar, remember that everyone has unique selling points. Review your CV now and ask yourself, ‘Does this represent me?’ Ask a friend to read it and tell you if they recognise you in it and if you’ve made it easy for a recruiter to see what you offer.

“Remember, your CV is a living, breathing document—nurture it throughout your medical career.”

Inject some personality

Fizzah Ali, neurology registrar and editor-in-chief of Medical Woman, says “Consider your CV the electronic equivalent of a first impression, a document of your professional experiences, and a catwalk of your unique skill set. In short, it should reflect your professional life while being electronically condensed, tailored with consideration, and presented with personality.

“Start with the basics. An introduction should be kept brief, mentioning your current roles. A list of qualifications is essential and some elements of your employment history may need to elaborated on—for example, if flexible working has led to longer placements.

“Lists of oral and poster presentations, publications, and courses should be trimmed. Select the most relevant for the role you are applying for. I also include a few lines on extracurricular activities; after all, a healthy personal life feeds a healthy professional life.

“Once the framework of your CV is in place, give special consideration to the skills and experiences the role you are applying for requires. Often, we are presented with a set of essential and desired criteria for a post and these can be weaved in and elaborated upon.

“Presentation is important; a lengthy CV may bring personal pleasure and a sense of achievement, but an employer wants to see the relevant highlights. When applying for more creative roles the layout can function as your sales pitch, taking a different form to the one you use for clinically centred roles.

“Remember, as trainees we have access to professional careers advice, as well as constructive feedback from more experienced colleagues.”


  • Follow Liz on Twitter @Liz_ORiordan

  • Follow Fizzah on Twitter @DrFizzah

  • Sophia Bourne will be delivering the seminar “Writing an eye catching CV” at BMJ Live on 4-5 October 2019 at the Olympia Conference Centre in London. Register free at: