Preparing an impressive CV: The DO’s and DONT’s of it

Note: This is the first post in a new series, “Self Reflection” organized by Amey Redkar written for (and largely by) early-career researchers – read more here.

Every step in your career starts with a document to present yourself clearly and concisely, to crack the advertised placement. You may have already guessed that I am talking of the document you are very familiar with, your Curriculum Vitae (In short, CV!). It represents a clear overview of your experience and skills in a nutshell to give your recruiter an insight about your personality and achievements. As a part of the new blog series ‘Self Reflection’ from the Plantae Team, we decided to highlight ten key aspects of an ideal CV, to help you get to know the main points that should be considered in order to best represent yourself and improve your chances of reaching the next stages of the selection process. The structure of CV is important and there might be some differences in the format, depending on whether you apply for academic or industrial careers, but the general points below can be considered for both. Additional tailoring and highlighting of various key points might be advantageous depending on your purpose and the academic/industrial position you apply for.

1)    Length: This is an important part of your CV that is generally flexible for academic applications although a 4-page limit usually applies. In contrast, industrial applications are normally 2-pages with a possible appendix of publications if relevant to your application. It is generally recommended to start with your name and your current affiliation as the header.

2)    General focus: This is the most important aspect of an impressive CV and should be adjusted for every individual submission to highlight what is important for the application. For example, an academic research application can focus on all the research awards/achievements, while a teaching-related position should highlight any training or experience in teaching. You should also summarize your previous track record and highlight your deliverables. In academia, your CV is likely to feature your research expertise, demonstrating it to be an ideal fit for your target institute. In the case of industry, it should emphasize how your education and research expertise match the company’s requirements.

3)    Research experience: This is generally specific depending on the purpose. In academia, it should demonstrate your research contributions through consistency in publications, your reputation through giving seminars and reviewing articles, and your ability to secure early-career funds (small equipment grants, awards, bursaries, fellowships). Be sure to highlight your name in the author list and indicate any co-first authorships. It’s a bonus to briefly include your contribution towards the work. It is also impressive to include total citations of your work, whether you were corresponding author, etc. When applying for a position in industry, mainly emphasize how relevant your gained research expertise is for the job or company, your ability to deliver projects on time and set budgets, and your flexibility to work between projects outside your comfort zone.

4)    Mentoring and Supervision: This is usually valued for Postdoc and Principal Investigator positions because it demonstrates your potential to develop ideas and management skills to achieve successful outcomes. Also in academia, primarily for a faculty position, teaching experience is a positive. Clearly include what subjects and course levels you have experience with. In industry, mentoring and supervision can be a game changer, as it highlights your research-manager ability and demonstrates you to be qualified to manage less experienced staff.

5)    Skills (Technical and Soft skills): It is important for some research positions in academia to demonstrate your unique additions to the team. It is also very important in industrial settings, as this is the primary reason for a companies’ interest in you. Be sure to mention any specific training you have taken or organized.

6)    Collaborations: This is crucial no matter where you apply. It clearly demonstrates your independent contributions to multiple research projects and the development of your team-building skills and ability to coordinate with multiple partners to deliver a set research goal.

7)    Handling administrative responsibilities and experience: This might sound premature when applying for positions early in your career. Remember though, this is a chance to show the recruiter your willingness to contribute to the progress of the department or institute or to contribute to organisation, communication, and leadership management. You can demonstrate your experience through things like organising meetings or seminars, service on committees, administrative skills gained via work experience, voluntary work etc.

8)    Highlight your success in Awards/ prizes/funding/patents: This is a very important category and highlights your reputation, record of accomplishment and your well-placed position on the success ladder.

9)    Conferences: This section is important to demonstrate your presentation skills, and helpful in giving an evidence of your desire to engage and communicate your work to a broader field and your steps towards building a professional network.  It is also an important section to highlight during the early stages of your career where you have few publications.

10) Referees: Recommendations received from senior colleagues in the field are very important in academic applications. In general, your supervisor will be one of your referees. Choose your other referees very carefully, considering their reputation in the academic field you are applying for. Also, it is advantageous to keep your referees up-to-date with your developments, and be sure to send your application and CV copy to them. The reputation of your referees might be less important in industry, where the selection is more weighted to your leadership and technical skills. In industry applications, your referees might only be contacted for confirmation after you are offered a job.

Some common MISTAKES to be avoided

  1. Do not put “CV” as the header of your Curriculum Vitae.
  2. Avoid using huge text for you name and affiliation, email and phone number. Also it is a good practise to use your university e-mail address.
  3. If you do not have any conference presentations, it’s always an advantage to include your presentations from departmental seminars.
  4. Do not over-emphasize the small stuff or over-lead with your best stuff. Keep a fine balance.
  5. Always add awards from your professional career. Do not add any award just to have an awards section
  6. Do not use abnormal fonts, colours, margins, or emoticons/emojis.
  7. Be sure that your flow, spacing and formatting is correct; start main points on next page.
  8. Do not add in the referee section ‘available on request’.
  9. Don’t forget to ask you referees before listing them on your CV.

We hope that these points will be helpful for you to draft or revise your CV in a clear, representative way. The really important thing is to have a chronological listing of EVERYTHING from your most recent to oldest accomplishments. From short contributions to major achievements, it all counts.

Following from this broad overview of this important document in your job applications, in this series we will also cover lot of exciting things in the follow-up topics giving you the chance to ‘Self-Reflect’ on your skills in Leadership and Management skills .

To learn more about CVs, you can find additional resources in the following links.

Amey is a postdoc at The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich, UK and has been a Plantae Fellow since September 2017. He is working to understand the interaction of plants and pathogens during disease development. His current research, which is funded by an EMBO Long Term Fellowship, focuses on the pathogen Albugo candida, which causes serious disease in Brassica crops, with an aim to understand the role of virulence proteins. Understanding this pathogen’s flexibility on different plant species will ultimately help to generate Brassicas resistant to this disease. His long- term interest is to dissect cell-specific sensing mechanism in filamentous plant pathogens. This work will be started later in 2018 with a Marie Skłodowska Curie Fellowship. Read more about his research here.