Building Your CV – One Brick at a Time
Whether you use a template or start from scratch, the concept of building your CV brick by brick still stands. To help you with that process, here are some standard “bricks” to get you started.
Page Setup. This step is often left to last, which is unfortunate. By setting up your pages from the beginning, you can define parameters that will help you create a consistent, elegant look. Here are suggested elements: A document with 1” margins on all sides; a footer or header that starts on the second page and contains your name and the page number; a simple and common font such as Times New Roman or Arial or Calibri; use of 11- or 12-point font size for section headings and 10- or 11-point for content.
Contact Information. As much as possible, the goal is to create a contact section that is clear, simple, and useful. That generally means confining the data to your name and then just one phone number (cell phone is probably best) and one email address (your personal address is more private than your institution’s email). You can add your city and state, but more information beyond that is not needed. By limiting your contact information, you’ll avoid the confusion and missed communication that comes with offering too many options.
Professional Profile. This is a section that wasn’t commonly used for CVs even 10 years ago but which is growing in popularity now. It normally consists of three or four narrative sentences that serve to introduce the candidate while summarizing the core of what he or she can provide. Here’s an example:
“Outgoing, dedicated clinician with research and teaching experience in Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. Strengths include patient care, diagnosis and follow-up, and a comforting communication style appreciated by families and caretakers. Bilingual in Spanish and English; motivated by a genuine desire to improve neurological care in a clinical setting.”
Education/Post-graduate Training. These sections often build themselves because the data is so straightforward. Even so, they can usually be improved with small points of strategy. Start by deciding whether to use one section or two. If you have only three or four entries at this point—perhaps a Bachelor’s degree, your medical degree, your intern year and a residency—one category might be fine. But if there are more entries, you’ll highlight the information better by putting the degree programs (such as a Bachelors, Masters, MD, etc.) into an Education section and the training experiences into Post-graduate Training. This section should appear ahead of Education, as it will be more recent and also more relevant to the jobs you’re seeking. Adding two or three lines to the training entries to describe your duties and responsibilities will add helpful context.
Experience. Depending on your career so far, this could be one or several categories, with such titles as Clinical Experience or Research Experience or Teaching Experience, etc. If you have had only one or two roles so far, a catchall category for Professional Experience will work well. Again, in all cases, adding two or three lines of context will help hiring committees understand the level of your work.
Leadership Roles. If you have participated in committees, served as chief resident, presented during rounds or held other leadership roles during your training or work experience, this category can give you the opportunity to present that information.
Professional Activities. This can be used as an umbrella category, with subsections for things like publications, presentations, conference attendance, professional memberships, etc. On the other hand, if you have a lot of entries for any of those subsections, starting a new category for that one will make more sense.
Community Involvement. Have you been volunteering every summer on medical missions, or lending a hand at community immunization clinics? This is a good category to include, since it helps hiring committees see your commitment and breadth in the field. Non-medical volunteering can also be included, but care should be taken not to over-stuff the section with intermittent or low-level activities such as annual park cleanups.
Additional Work Experience. If your professional experience section left out some of your work history, you can use this section to recapture it. To decide which experiences to include, consider your goal and how the experience might add to your credibility. For example, having worked in college at the front desk of a clinic? Highly relevant. At the front desk of a library? Maybe not so much.
Honors and Awards. Although traditional CVs often place this category near the beginning of the document, there’s an argument for moving it further back. For one thing, unless they’re very prestigious, the awards aren’t likely to influence the decision to interview you. More importantly, these lists can be very lengthy; when recruiters view your CV online, they’ll be forced to scroll through multiple screens before arriving at the information they desire.
Additional Information. This could also be named Personal Interests, but if you have facts left over that you want include, Additional Information is a more flexible category heading. For example, you could include items such as language fluency, hobbies, sporting achievements, etc. It can be a nice category to end the CV, since it bookends the Professional Profile at the beginning, and provides more context about you as an individual.
Growing Your CV
Thinking of your CV as a living document will help you remember that it needs to evolve and grow along with your career. In the past (when desktop computers hadn’t yet appeared), this meant rolling the old CV back into the typewriter and typing in a new position or publication at the bottom of the page. Now we can not only add new information without the typewriter’s limitations, but we can also revise the CV to better reflect the candidate’s current strengths and the likely interests of the hiring committee.
Here are some CV sections that will need extra attention as your career grows:
Education/Post-graduate Training. If your training is relatively recent—perhaps within the last 10 years—it makes sense to place it early in the CV. But if you’ve been working in the field for 10 or more years, your professional work experience will be more relevant to the next hiring committee. As your career moves forward, consider shifting these sections later in the document and moving your professional experience categories forward.
Experience. Whatever categories you’re using (Professional, Clinical, Research, etc.) remember to update your duties now and then to demonstrate your growing levels of responsibility. Experiences that are no longer current should be capped off with an ending date and put into past tense in the description.
Professional Activities. You may have started out with this as an umbrella category for multiple types of activity. But if you’ve been steadily publishing or presenting or attending conferences, the subsections will have grown in length and the category is likely becoming unwieldy. The interim solution will be to transition the subsections into categories of their own; the long-term solution might involve new documents—addenda—to house the lengthy lists apart from the CV itself.
Community Involvement, Additional Work Experience. These are categories that will likely need pruning as your career grows, in order to maintain relevancy. For example, last year’s volunteering at an immunization clinic carries weight and recency when you’re just finishing a fellowship. But 10 years out, that same experience might feel small or dated compared to your professional achievements. The same rule applies to categories with non-medical content that is growing more distant as your career advances.
Honors and Awards. As much as you hate to downplay your awards, this is another section that might need trimming as time goes on. Rather than simply cutting the oldest entries, however, try clustering them into two subsections: Most Recent, and Earlier. For the most recent, simply naming them as you normally would is fine. In the Earlier subsection, you can summarize with, “15+ additional awards, including:” and then provide a list of only the best two or three.
Help from the Academy—Free CV Reviews
Here’s what to do: Build your CV as best you can. After August 1, 2023, you can submit your CV draft to the AAN’s Neurology Career Center (firstname.lastname@example.org) for a free, confidential CV review. This will provide you with a personalized series of corrections for you to implement on your CV, giving you confidence to apply for any job. This offer is only available for AAN members and expires October 1, 2023, or until 200 free reviews have been given away, whichever comes first. Completed reviews will be returned within three weeks.