NEW and existing medical schools have been producing an increasing number of medical graduates without proportional growth in the number of specialty training positions. This has led to increasing competition for a limited number of jobs. Anything you can do to make your curriculum vitae (CV) stand out from the crowd is a positive step towards getting a training position.
As a result of the increasing number of applicants, employers may be spending less time reading CV or resumes to screen potential employees. Pelczarski estimates that only 6 seconds are spent determining whether a CV warrants closer inspection. Since so little time might be spent assessing the CV, it is important the application is well structured and professionally presented to gain the attention of the reader, to increase the chance of being selected for an interview.
Despite the importance of the CV, few applicants receive formal training to write a well constructed CV (here and here). Applicants often seek guidance from more senior colleagues, or mentors, who sometimes offer conflicting advice. This may cause confusion and potentially affect career opportunities.
We wanted to know what the peer-reviewed literature says about CV writing. In doing our review, we hoped to consolidate the advice and possibly decrease the confusion created by conflicting information, and attempt to bridge the inequalities minority groups potentially face.
What we found is that the CV is effectively a high stakes assessment and, therefore, it is susceptible to cognitive bias in the assessors. Every assessor has a unique perception of what makes a quality CV, shaped by their previous legitimate experiences, which includes involvement in recruitment processes, CV vetting, personal bias and an active choice for their preferences. The CV is an inevitable but problematic part of the employment system. It is the source of potential rater cognition bias, including unconscious sexual, racial or other forms of discrimination. Under-represented minority groups already battle systemic issues such as a lack of mentoring, and this may also result in poorer quality CVs. Kang et al’s 2-year study found that “unwhitened resumes” were a source of discrimination, even in “pro-diversity” organisations.
Online medical applications using standardised templates and set criteria for CV content might help to reduce assessor bias by producing CVs similar in format and appearance. This has been introduced by some jurisdictions already in regards to junior doctor applications (here). It is important applicants are aware that the CV’s success is subject to rater cognition, whether conscious or unconscious, and therefore, they should avoid themes that the literature considers barriers in CV progression.
The readability of a CV is increased through its organisation and comprehensibility. As we wrote earlier, in some cases, a CV might be evaluated in as little as 6 seconds. This leaves employers limited time to assess the CV in its entirety. An employer will most likely only read the aspects that they deem the most important for the position. Using clear, simple and concise formatting enhances its readability (here, here, here, here, and here) and can be used to emphasise the most salient points within the CV. An organised, consistent, eye-catching, and attractive presentation that uses content headings, signposting and chronological ordering are all techniques used to enhance readability, enabling the employer to easily access the desired information (here and here).
For junior doctors, we suggest ordering content from present to past, as the most recent clinical experience is usually the most relevant to the position. A chaotic presentation and minor errors, such as spelling and grammar mistakes, stunt the flow of reading and distract the employer from its content, leading to confusion and irritation. A poorly comprehensible CV may also be considered lazy and unprofessional, leading to non-selection for interview.
Applicants might be tempted to make their CV stand out to gain the attention of the employer, but this must be done with caution. Intrusive graphics such as multiple colours, clip art, creative layouts or fancy fonts can be considered inappropriate and distracting (here and here). Some employers we reviewed considered photographs unprofessional, of less importance, or necessary, only if requested. A photograph might make the CV more eye-catching but there is a risk of introducing more bias, in particular racial or gender discrimination. If a photograph is included, we suggest it be in keeping with community standards of professionalism (which we acknowledge is an area of change and debate). The standardised template in Australia does require a photograph. As medicine is considered a conservative profession, caution should be taken to not make the CV too contentious through its appearance.
There is a limited amount of information a reader can process before experiencing cognitive overload. Therefore, it is important to organise your CV to focus on aspects of your career that target the position being applied for. By tailoring the CV to the position, the applicant demonstrates why they are the most suitable for the position. This information should be clearly displayed and readily available, and some authors recommend that they should be three pages or less (here, and here).
A CV should maintain relevancy in order to enhance the readers engagement (here and here). This should be succinct as possible, as a relevant CV stresses quality over quantity. A CV that is too short may lack detail to endorse your qualities and skill set, but a longer CV, with large paragraphs, is less likely to be read in its totality. It is implied that the length of a CV generally correlates to the applicant’s breadth of experience; therefore, it is expected that junior doctors will have shorter CVs in comparison to their seniors. A longer CV, for a junior doctor, increases the likelihood that the document is filled with irrelevant information to appear experienced to the employer. Some employers recommend that less is more (here and here), as a lengthy CV may overwhelm the reader and deter them from reading on, possibly missing vital information buried among irrelevance.
Our opinion is that the ideal exact length of the CV is indeterminable. Rather, the pertinent information should be contained on the first two to three pages in a well formatted and readable fashion. This will facilitate the reader gleaning the important information before reader fatigue and boredom become issues.
The CV is essentially a representation of the applicant used by the employer to gauge who they are and how their skills and experiences match the job description. The CV should be a representation of the individual, with each section highlighting qualities and experiences within the applicant that are considered desirable attributes. When a standard template is provided, this reduces personalisation. The personal interests section is an area where the applicant can still express individuality and uniqueness, two important qualities that employers are looking for throughout the CV.
An English study recruiting deans and regional advisors from the Royal Colleges of Physicians, Surgeons and General Practitioners revealed a 94% positive response for the inclusion of social interests. Interests and hobbies allow the employer to gauge the applicant (here and here), who they are outside medicine and how they will fit into the community. Some employers, however, considered it inappropriate to include a personal interests section, stating personal interests as irrelevant on a professional document.
We believe the CV should still represent unique aspects of the individual; however, this could be further accentuated in the cover letter or personal statement.
It is vital that every detail is honest and accurate to avoid the employer questioning the applicants’ authenticity (here and here). The competitive nature of medicine might tempt applicants to misrepresent themselves. Some authors recommend “bragging” about your achievements. You should not undersell your achievements as some employers may be unaware of them, leaving further exposed to rater cognition and the potential for them to make negative assumptions about you. Overstating, however, can lead to an anticlimactic interview, and can make an employer second-guess the applicant’s sincerity.
We believe that a balance is needed. We caution those who exaggerate, make false claims, or fabricate the truth (here and here) as these may lead to contradictions during the interview or reference process. Certainly “padding” your CV (wilfully exaggerating or falsifying details) may automatically lead to rejection.
To further aid transparency, explain the relevance of experiences and involvements, rather than simply stating them. Timeline gaps must be explained to a potential employer, either on the CV or further in the cover letter, to provide clarity and prevent the reader creating negative assumptions of the time gaps (here and here). If an employer suspects dishonesty, it will lead to early rejection.
In summary, your CV must be relevant to the position and an honest representation of you as the applicant. It should highlight key qualities and important information in an organised and succinct manner, and requires professionalism and consistency throughout. A CV should not have disorganised, intrusive formatting and needs to avoid misrepresentation and falsification of information.
We acknowledge that CV writing is an iterative process and concede that certain tacit employer expectations may remain elusive and thus impossible to fully anticipate. We conclude that there is no such thing as a universally “perfect” CV and that each CV must be tailored to the position being applied for. Our advice should be used as a guide in the iterative process of writing and developing your CV.
Dr Gabrielle Hoskin is a medical intern at Ballarat Health Services. She is a graduate of the University of Melbourne, with a Bachelor Degree in Biomedicine and a postgraduate degree with Melbourne Medical School.
Dr Thomas Martin is an Anaesthetic Registrar at Ballarat Base Hospital and a clinical tutor with the University of Melbourne. He is interested in medical education and clinical simulation.
Dr Rachael Coutts is an emergency physician and Associate Director of Medical Education at Northern Health, Victoria. She has over 10 years’ experience in guiding and advising junior doctors at recruitment time, including CV and cover letter building, and interview practice.
Dr Andrew Yanqi Huang is the Supervisor of HMO training at Austin Health where he works as an anaesthetist. He is also a PhD candidate in the Department of Medical Education at the University of Melbourne.
The statements or opinions expressed in this article reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official policy of the AMA, the MJA or InSight+ unless so stated.
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