Get Better: CV Clinic

Part of a series on the development of Early Career Researchers in the lab.

The idea for the CV clinic came from the lab themselves. We had previously had a session on creating a research profile and a large part of that session was spent looking at CVs. We scrutinised some anonymised CVs and suggested improvements to them. From this, the idea came to put everyone’s CVs through the same treatment! We called this a CV Clinic.

The idea was to focus on presentation of what the person has done, but not on the content of the CV per se. Everyone needs more papers on their CV, but this cannot be rectified in time for a CV clinic. What we can do is examine how ECRs can best showcase themselves.

How did we do it?

First, everyone agreed this was a good idea*. Lab members were given a deadline to submit their CVs to the lab shared Dropbox folder. Since CVs should be tailored for a specific purpose, the rough idea was “an academic CV for the next job up on the ladder if you are close to that stage, or the same job if it is not”.

We set a one week deadline. Some people had their CV ready-to-go because they were already applying for things, others needed to work on them a bit more. Since we had already looked at some example CVs, most people tweaked their CVs a bit. I also submitted my CV to the pool. One week was plenty for everyone to fit this around lab work.

At the session, we looked through everyone’s CVs by projecting them onto the screen in a meeting room and going through them one-by-one. We progressed according to career stage/seniority. This seemed the best approach in order to look at similar stage CVs one after the next. Starting with the PI CV helps get the ball rolling.

We looked at a few key areas:

Presentation

Do we like the overall look and layout? What fonts and colours are used? Is information easy to find? Are the contact details and personal details appropriate and professional (e.g. CrazyClonerGenius@hotmail.com might not be appropriate). Ask the question, what sort of person will turn up at interview?

Order of sections

On academic CVs these tend to be: Personal info – Research Interests/Summary statement – Employment/Education – Variable sections – Publications. The variable sections can be grants, teaching and admin on a faculty CV, but may be techniques, talks & posters or whatever on a ECR CV.

It was quite easy to identify when sections were in the wrong order, or where things would make more sense in a different order. Most people used reverse chronology since we had discussed the importance of this in the last session.

What can be deleted?

Too much text is a killer on a CV. So identifying things for deletion was a fun exercise. A common cause is vestigial text from an old CV, e.g. a standard technique learned during a summer placement years ago, this can be safely deleted. Another common cause is repetition. Giving the same info twice. Seek and delete!

What can be added?

The power of doing this in a group setting was that sometimes people knew about stuff that the person had left off their CV. Either because they thought it was not important/relevant or they had just forgotten. Discussing why they’d left them off and how they could be included was useful. For example, if you’ve organised an event at the University that is not exactly work-related, it might still be worth including to show that you have organisational skills. Depending on what it is of course!

Presenting the best version of yourself on a CV is tricky and feedback really helps identify excellent stuff that you might not realise makes you stand out from the crowd.

Giving feedback in a group

Everyone was willing to receive feedback in a group setting. I try to stress to the lab that “we are not afraid of criticism”, but even so it’s important to underline that everyone can always improve and feedback is nearly always helpful. Probably the PI taking part helps everyone understand this point.

Even so, critique in a group setting can be hard to take. Especially when the object of criticism is the record of everything you’ve ever done! It’s important to be sensitive when discussing everyone’s CV from the boss down to the newest starter.

Following up

I gave tailored feedback to everyone by DM on Slack after the session. Essentially, a summary of the points raised together with my own opinion and any thoughts that came after the session.

We also shared LaTeX templates using Slack over the next few days. A few CVs were prepared using TeX and the consensus was that they looked good compared to a Word version.

In their own time people modified their CVs based on the feedback.

Other ideas

We briefly discussed covering letters and contact emails as part of job hunting. This could have been expanded, possibly into a session itself.

What did we miss? If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment.

* OK, one person did not agree to take part. They did not want their CV scrutinised by their peers and couldn’t be convinced otherwise, so they sat out the session.

The title of the post comes from “Get Better” by New FADs.

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