How can I improve my CV?

CVs are the long, detailed cousin of the resume.  It delivers much more information than a resume and takes many more pages to do it.  But whatever differences they might have, CVs and resumes both have the same function:  to get you interviews.  If you have a curriculum vitae and aren’t getting the job interviews you would like, you can borrow good resume and writing techniques to make your CV more effective.

Employers should WANT to talk to you after reading your CV.  Very often, all it takes is a few adjustments in how you write it.

Who needs a CV?

If you need a curriculum vitae rather than a resume, you know who you are:  in the United States, you’re in academia, science, research, medicine, etc.  You probably have publications or other detailed work and you must have a CV for that.

Outside the United States, CVs are much more common.  If you happen to be job searching in Europe, Asia, Africa, or the Middle East, you will probably need a curriculum vitae.

So what’s the difference?

The main differences between a CV and a resume are length and detail.  Resumes are always 1-2 pages, max.  CVs typically start at 2 pages and can easily hit double digits, especially in academic fields.  Publications are discussed in detail, as is research, training, and relevant experiences.  Once you get outside the United States AND outside of academia, CVs can more closely resemble resumes.

What resume rules can give you a better CV?


1.     Market Yourself

Any job search is at its core, a sales process.  You are the product looking for a customer who needs you.  Think about your “customer” when you write your CV.

A significant place this will make a difference for you is in your statement of interest, or objective statement.  You must clearly say who you are, what you do, and what you want.

Study resume objective statements and see how you can “translate” that to your curriculum vitae.


2.     Edit

Just because you have the freedom to write a 20-page CV doesn’t mean you should do it.  Someone has to read it.  Be concise in your language.

Use action words.  For instance, one of the cardinal rules of resumes is to never say, “responsible for” when describing your duties.  Instead, say what you did:  “wrote”, “managed,” “won,” “led,” “studied,” “found,” “spoke,” “discovered,” etc.

Make your CV interesting to read.


3.     Use Bullet Points

In resumes, bullet points are an absolute MUST.  Hiring managers at companies tend to skim resumes quickly, and bullet points lend themselves to skimming.

When you look at a page with bullet points next to a page with long paragraphs, you can clearly see how much easier it is to read the one with bullet points.

If it’s easier to read, it’s more likely that it will be read.

So borrow a resume rule and bullet point your accomplishments.


4.     Quantify Your Accomplishments

Any time you can state your accomplishments in terms of numbers, dollars, or percentages, you will get more attention and seem like a much stronger candidate.

What makes a bigger impression on you?

“Responsible for research team on a pancreatic cancer study”

“Led research team of 14 people studying pancreatic cancer cells, achieving 40% success rate in X, Y, and Z”  (not being a cancer researcher, I can’t finish that sentence)

Which statement is stronger and more attractive?  The second one, of course.

Anyone can stretch the truth with embellishing words, but unless you’re going to out-and-out lie, you can’t stretch the truth with numbers (unless you’re a statistician).  Numbers don’t lie.  They are strong evidence for you.

It almost doesn’t matter what the number is.  If you were on the Dean’s List with a certain GPA, that number should be noted.  If you have a certain percentage of accuracy in your research, you should say so.

Why are numbers so strong?  Every job must contribute to the growth and profit of an organization.  If it can’t make money, it will eventually die.  No one works for free, and someone has to pay you, don’t they?

You must show through your accomplishments how you can contribute to the growth or profit of that organization.   That tells them how you can benefit their organization and makes a case for interviewing you.

Quantify your accomplishments wherever you can.

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