CV… How hard can it be?

As I’ve had the honor of running the course “Career Skills for Scientists” this year, I’ve been confronted again with the myriad of mixed messages out there when it comes to writing CVs, and the confusion it brings to all who need to write one. Especially A-type academics like us. (See: “What do you mean? There is no absolutely objectively correct answer?”). Here are some thoughts I needed to get of my chest…

Warning: When I write “CV” here I mainly refer to what one would call an “Industry CV” or “Resume” or “the thing you send when there is a job ad for a non-academic position”. If you have never heard about the difference between an academic and a non-academic CV, google it! If you have never heard about the difference between a CV and a Resume, google it! You’ll soon see what I mean with the “myriad of mixed messages” (to which I am adding with this post). And yes, it might differ from country to country.

OK, if we’re all ready with the warnings then we can get to it…

There is no “one-size fits all” when it comes to CVs and answers to interview questions. There you have it. Some recruiters will tell you they don’t look at your CV if it is over 1 page long, others will question how anyone can know anything about you if you don’t have at least 4 pages. And that’s all within one sector and one country.

So, tailor your CV as well as you can, but in a way that is relevant to the context you are in. It might state in the job ad what they expect, or you can ask for tips from someone in the organization you are applying for to find out what the CV culture is like. Then you can make an informed decision.

Some things to keep in mind with regards to CVs and interviews:

  • Everyone hireling is a person, with their own personal preferences, prejudice and fears.
  • Try to figure out who you are sending your CV to: the person who sees your CV first might not be a scientist at all, even if it is for a scientific position. Same for interviews. Have mercy on people.
  • There can be differences between what is relevant on your CV, and how much detail you need, depending on whether you send it to a big company, a small start up or a professional recruiter, etc.
  • There are differences between sectors and the CV- and interview style they are used to working with.
  • You do not need to match all the criteria of a job ad to be “allowed” to apply. Don’t waste people’s time (like, by not knowing what the job is or whether you actually want it), but don’t stare yourself blind on the add either. It’s a wish list, period.
  • Many positions where PhDs are relevant (even preferred) might not mention it in the job ad. Don’t limit yourself to things that ask for PhDs specifically.
  • Relevance of info (and need for argumentation) is influenced by how big the jump is between your current field and the one you’re getting into. If you stay in hard core Life Sciences, more info of your academic experience might be informative (and less argumentation and explanation needed) than if you would, say, apply for a finance job or open a restaurant.
  • There is a tension between “being true to yourself” and “selling yourself to get the job”.  Depending on where you are in life and in the job search you can decide where in the balance you want to be. Be informed, know you have value, be humble and know how you are willing to work or not willing to work. I’d say: Be true to yourself but informed, sell yourself but don’t lie.
  • You might need to get used to how things are done at other places, so be open, but if it feels bad then take a hint. There is no point ending up in a job where you are a bad match and feel miserable.

… and I’m sure there are mixed opinions on whether or not you should listen to the things I just said or not… So good luck figuring it out for yourself!


Image by Coffee Bean from Pixabay

One thought on “CV… How hard can it be?

  1. Absolutely! Thank you so much for taking the time to share this. To be honest, I don’t know how to start my CV and a lot of ideas running in my mind but I don’t know how do I start. I try to research and research and I found your article. It will help me a lot. Thank you very much!!

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