Simon Hazelwood-Smith reports on Sarah Blackford’s Top Tips for a job winning CV at the 2014 Naturejobs Career Expo in London.
Contributor Simon Hazelwood-Smith
What is the purpose of a curriculum vitae, or CV? One obvious answer that it is a document that helps a job applicant to get through the initial candidate-selection process and into an interview. But how do you make sure that your CV gives you the highest chance of selection by an employer? And should you change your CV when applying for different types of science-related positions?
Answering these and other questions in the final talk of the day at Naturejobs Career Expo on 19 September in London, UK, was Sarah Blackford, a careers adviser at the Society for Experimental Biology in the UK. With 15 years of experience in scientific-careers advice, Blackford is an indubitable expert in the field. She says that you can employ some simple and straightforward tactics to improve your CV.
Almost all employers look for evidence in a CV of certain candidate attributes. Communication skills are essential for effective teamwork, and enthusiasm and a good attitude are important for showing that you would easily fit in to the organization where you are applying.
Applicants must be careful to target their CV to the job advert. An excellent way to do this is to go through job adverts and highlight the skills that the employer is seeking. But it is not enough to just state that you have the skills and attributes listed in the job description. Your CV should provide evidence that your skills match the position’s requirements.
It is useful to think of CVs as dynamic rather than as static documents. Adding new skills and experiences as you learn them ensures that your CV is up to date. When applying for a job, however, make sure that the skills you list are directly relevant to that particular job.
CVs should take different forms depending on whether the job is in academia or within industry. While an academic CV should highlight specific knowledge, relevant techniques and a publication record, a CV for a job in industry should be a lot more generic in terms of scientific experience, and focus more on personal attributes such as problem-solving abilities and organisation skills.
The organisation and layout of your CV is also key: employers give each CV approximately 20-30 seconds of their attention, so don’t give any reason for them to discard yours! It is vital to make it easy for potential employers to extract what they want to know. Include your experience in reverse chronological order, and try to avoid too much white space, which draws the eye away from content.
The skills and competencies section should be the main event of any CV. It is here that you can most effectively match yourself to the job description. “Pull together your evidence that you are right for the job,” says Blackford.
As the vast majority of CVs are now sent electronically, there are opportunities to help flesh out your CV by including links to your professional online presence or your published papers. Websites such as LinkedIn can help an employer to gain a better understanding of you as a candidate and what you will bring to the position.
Before submitting a job application and CV, it can be prudent to approach employers with questions about the position. “Communication prior to application can be good, but be prepared,” warns Blackford. “Have specific questions and be ready to answer.”
Writing a CV can be daunting. But breaking it down into key requirements can ease the process. Remember, job applications are two-way processes and provide you with an opportunity to learn if a job is right for you. Ultimately those educated in science are very employable and you likely have developed more skills than you are immediately aware of. So, as Blackford says,“Keep calm and sell yourself!”