CV guide: Getting your foot in the interviewer's door

A resume or curriculum vitae is key to getting the position you want. Here's how to best put your accomplishments on paper.

By Robert Kazel — Posted April 26, 2004

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As the physician recruiter at Columbia Park Medical Group in Fridley, Minn., Judy Brown looks at hundreds of resumes and CVs every year. They range from excellent to abysmal, and some are just plain odd.

Brown still chuckles, remembering a makeshift CV she was handed while waiting for a flight at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. She was chatting with a man at the gate who turned out to be a family physician, and the more she described her group, the more he grew interested in working there. The doctor asked Brown for something to write on. She searched her purse, and the doctor proceeded to hastily scrawl his work history and accomplishments on a series of blue sticky notes.

He didn't get hired.

A resume can greatly help or hinder a doctor's chance at getting an interview. But experts say creating a winning resume can be challenging for doctors, who typically are proud of their achievements yet shy about elaborating on them. Consultants say writing a resume successfully is like finding just the right amount of acrobatic balance to walk a tightrope: The resume should be concise but not overly brief. It should call attention to strengths without bragging. And it can be sufficiently creative to stand apart from the stack, but not so over-the-top that it seems weird or wacky.

There are few strict rules when it comes to preparing your resume or CV. Younger doctors recently out of school more often produce resumes; more experienced physicians, especially those seeking research-oriented positions, tend to turn out full-scale CVs that might consist of dozens of pages recounting achievements that can include awards, research projects and journal articles.

Both resumes and CVs can be powerful marketing tools, and they share some common elements, according to resume-writing counselors and recruiters.

The heading: Who you are, and where

In some ways, the heading is the most essential part of your resume, because besides your name it should contain all the information recruiters need to locate you. Don't be coy with contact information.

"I look for where they're located now, for contact information," stresses Diana Dieckman, a physician recruiter at Spectrum Health, a nine-hospital health system based in Grand Rapids, Mich. "You would be amazed at how many don't put it on their CV. They don't want me to call their office. But I [need] at least a phone number. I need a home address and e-mail address, and what the most appropriate way to contact them is."

Include fax and pager numbers, and cell phone numbers. If you don't want to be contacted at work, say so in the resume and omit your office number. But make sure there are alternatives.

Also, be sure to list the states where you are licensed to practice.

Some things don't belong in the header, recruiters say, such as your age or birth date, gender, personal information such as marital status or number of children, or a photo of yourself. These aren't welcome because their inclusion can make recruiters vulnerable to charges of discrimination if they opt not to offer you an interview.

Also omit Social Security numbers, medical license numbers and your DEA certification number. This is especially important in resumes are sent as e-mail, because of the perils of identity theft.

Objective: When in doubt, leave it out

Although some job hunters include a statement near the beginning of their resume declaring the kind of position they want, this often is unnecessary.

The job doctors are qualified for normally is implicit in the body of the resume describing education, special training and experience. Moreover, the cover letter is a good place to describe your dream job in a more conversational and persuasive tone.

So unless you're new to medicine, or desire a drastic change in the type of work you do, experts say you can safely leave this paragraph out.

Work experience: Go back in time

For most doctors in the job market, especially those with an established work background, a resume listing schooling and experience in simple reverse chronological approach is best.

List education -- including internships, residencies and fellowships -- and jobs in two different sections. Include the title of the job, the complete name of the employer, and the city and state. Use of boldface type and bullets often will improve readability.

Remember that the resume is part of a sales pitch. Take the opportunity to give a brief positive spin to each job you've held by including a specific achievement or two. For example, instead of just stating, "Staff physician," with the name of a clinic, a doctor might add an embellishment: "As head of the technology committee, oversaw conversion to electronic medical records and a HIPAA-compliance plan that improved patient privacy."

But remember that tightrope-walking need for balance and keep your persuasion brief. Doctors should limit such descriptions to no more than a few sentences, and the accomplishments should be relevant to the job being sought, says James W. Tysinger, PhD, coordinator of faculty development at the University of Texas Health Science Center and author of Resumes & Personal Statements for Health Professionals.

"I've seen people with 10-page CVs right out of residencies," he says. "Some are a legitimate 10 pages, but some are a lot of fluff. Fluff is a lot of stuff no one's interested in, or long paragraphs about things you did in the job. Super-long narratives."

Getting personal: Hire me, I like dogs

Should a doctor include hobbies or personal passions in a resume, with the goal of appearing to have a life beyond the examining room? Maybe.

Experts say it's often to the doctor's advantage to present an image of being well-rounded, and recruiters sometimes worry that applicants with no outside interests will quickly burn out in the job.

Normally, if you want to list outside interests, it's best to choose those that at least tangentially relate to the position and bolster your case for being hired. Saying you volunteer time to a Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, for example, might help give a recruiter the impression you're comfortable treating young patients.

Bringing up your love of the outdoors could be a plus for some practice locales. For instance, Marci Jackson, physician recruiter at St. Mary's Duluth (Minn.) Clinic Health System, says doctors who say they enjoy hiking, fishing and hunting would be viewed as a better fit for Duluth's environs than a physician who is a fan of, say, snorkeling.

"You're looking for the best match socially, and from a community standpoint, as well as clinically," Jackson says. "You must find someone who'll be happy with the town and who'll want to stay. Their work life and outside-work life has to balance, because there's nothing more expensive than a revolving door."

Last year, Brown received a CV from a doctor who listed his interests as "golfing, biking, jogging, travel, keeping up with current events, watching TV, enjoying good food, sleeping in, [Minnesota] Twins baseball, [Minnesota] Vikings football, [University of Minnesota] Gophers hockey, listening to music, spending time talking, and laughing with friends and family."

The practice hired him.

"Being conservative is one thing, but being conservative with a sense of humor is OK," Brown says. "Those kinds of things really tend to get people in the door."

Accuracy is all: Proofread with care

Nothing gives employment managers more pause when reading resumes than spelling or grammatical errors. Careless mistakes can shatter doctors' chances of success.

"I once saw an ophthalmologist's resume that had ophthalmologist misspelled in a couple of places," recalls Dr. Tysinger. "It wasn't that the person didn't know how to spell ophthalmologist. It was a typographical error. And those are easy to make."

Mistakes on doctors' resumes aren't uncommon, Jackson says.

"I'm actually appalled because if they've done it on a computer they can use it to catch the most blatant [errors]," she says. "The impression you're leaving is that you didn't care enough to make sure it was right. Get someone good at spelling and grammar to check it."

Unique CV: Imagination allowed

Most resumes from doctors, according to recruiters, aren't especially daring and adhere closely to traditional form. And some professional resume counselors advise that playing it safe is the most sensible route.

But physicians don't always need to shun occasional creative touches, especially if they're trying to set themselves apart when competition for a job is stiff, says Frank Fox, executive director of the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Professional Assn. of Resume Writers & Career Coaches.

"There are really no rules," Fox says. "We're not looking for a cookie-cutter solution here. This is a marketing challenge."

Doctors preparing resumes "can go with the conservative tried and true, but if they're getting no response, it may be time to rethink the document and try again," he says.

One resume from an airline pilot, Fox remembers, included little silhouettes of planes to highlight paragraphs instead of bullets. A doctor could use pictures of tiny stethoscopes, he says, to tickle the fancy of bored recruiters.

"There's a lot of leeway in what to present or how to present it," he says.

"There's a lot of room for creativity. In fact, it's encouraged, so the resume does stand out from the crowd."

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Resume pointers


  • Include any special skills or talents that make you more marketable.
  • Write in the active voice: "Directed cardiac unit," rather than "Was given responsibility for directing ...."
  • Explain gaps in your work record.


  • Include references, but do offer to supply them upon request.
  • Use blatantly self-aggrandizing terms such as "outstanding" and "superior." Let your work record speak for itself.
  • Use extensive graphics or odd typefaces.

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Books offer job-hunting hints

Several books from AMA Press help medical professionals hone resume- and CV-writing skills. Books can be ordered online at the AMA Press Web site (link) or by phone at 800-621-8335.

  • The Physician's Resume and Cover Letter Workbook: Tips and Techniques for a Dynamic Career Presentation, by Sharon L. Yenney ($25 for AMA members, $35 for nonmembers).
  • The Physician in Transition: Managing the Job Interview, by Donald L. Double ($20 for AMA members, $25 for nonmembers).
  • Planning for a Successful Career Transition: The Physician's Guide to Managing Career Change, by Mike Scott ($25 for AMA members, $35 for nonmembers).
  • Strategic Career Management for the 21st Century Physician, by Gigi Hirsch, MD, and Mike Scott ($25 for AMA members, $35 for nonmembers).

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Cover it with a letter

An effective resume says, "I'm well-qualified." A great cover letter exclaims, "I'm clearly the best candidate for this job."

The resume is usually somewhat standardized, but experts say each cover letter should be tailored individually for each job. The letter should be addressed to a specific person, never "to whom it may concern" or "sir or madam." It also should impress upon the recruiter that you've done some homework and are familiar with the particular workplace that you're targeting.

Experts say the ideal cover letter, which should be no longer than a page, answers questions that the resume can't. Why are you interested in this particular job? How do you view it as a natural progression from your professional experience up to now? Why did you choose medicine as a career, or your specialty in particular? Is there a particular population of patients you wish to serve, a certain kind of practice setting you enjoy? Are you looking to move to a different type of community? Perhaps above all, why are you an interesting person?

The style of the cover letter should be conversational, and it should sound confident without being brash. It's also the right place to mention that you know a doctor at the practice, if that's how you learned of the opening.

Experts say the letter, like any good sales pitch, should end with a blunt request: I'd like an interview. Please respond.

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