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Creating the Best CV and Cover Letter

Welcome! This article is part of a Medscape Physician Business Academy course, . Visit the Course Page to take the full course and receive a certificate.

What a Good CV Does for You

A well-written curriculum vitae (CV) won't get you a job, but it can get you a job interview. A CV has two very different functions: to present an accurate record of your career and, along with the cover letter, to promote you as a candidate.

Start preparing your CV very early in your job search. It may take a while to line up the required references, and you need to have this document ready to send out as soon as you hear back from the first potential employer or recruiter.

Some Initial Pointers When Writing Your CV

Be truthful. Present a truthful picture of your skills, credentials, and ambitions. If employers detect any distortions, they may discard the entire application.

Be brief. It helps to understand how your cover letter and CV résumé will be treated. Reviewers may be sorting through dozens of such documents, spending just a few seconds on each one. Keep your CV to two pages and your cover letter to about three paragraphs. You will have plenty of opportunity later to address issues that you did not touch upon.

Keep your CV to two pages and your cover letter to about three paragraphs.

Don't be embarrassed about self-promotion. Finding a job means having to promote yourself in sometimes a very direct fashion, which you may not have done before. Unless you're looking in a noncompetitive locale or you're in a high-demand specialty, this will be part of the whole job search.

Choosing the Right References

The first step in creating a CV should be lining up three or four references who are prepared to vouch for you.

They may be asked to review all facets of your professional skills and personality, including your clinical judgment, social skills, reputation, and work ethic. Other topics might include the way you handle stress, your ability to adapt to new or stressful situations, and even what practice environment you're best suited for.

Your references can enormously help or harm your job search, so it's crucial that you pick the right people. Pick your references from among the physicians who have worked with you closely and have had had authority over you.

Typical choices are your chief resident, program director, and one or two attending physicians you have worked with. Don't choose fellow workers who are not supervising you, such as other residents, nurses, or other medical staff.

In any case, the people you choose have to know you well enough to answer the wide-ranging questions they may have to answer. If they can't do this for you, their effectiveness will be undermined.

Avoid Unenthusiastic References

It goes without saying that you shouldn't choose people who cannot be enthusiastic supporters of you. Some people are masters of understatement. They might use such terms as you were "adequate" or that you "met our standards." That would be damning you with faint praise. You shouldn't ask these people to provide references for you.

If, for example, you decide not to ask your program director to provide a reference because you feel he or she won't support you, you may be concerned that employers might wonder why you didn't pick that person. However, this concern is minor compared to the risk of not having your program director assess you in a positive way.

If you're unsure whether to include anyone from your program as a reference, contact previous residents who had the same list of possibilities and ask what they did. They might tell you that the person you weren't sure of gave them a great review.

When you decide to use someone as a reference, it's advisable to ask them whether they mind being a reference. First of all, it's a matter of courtesy to do so. Second, if you get the sense that they are reluctant, you might decide not to use them.

References Have to Be Available

Tell your references that they need to be available when potential employers call, and if they are not immediately available, they would need to call back within 24 hours. A reference checker will generally make three attempts to reach a reference before giving up.

Some references offer to write you a letter of recommendation in lieu of having to answer phone calls, but employers prefer to call, because they think references will be more candid.

Some employers, however, do want a letter of recommendation from references. Make sure your references have several weeks' notice so that they can compose a thoughtful recommendation.

Putting Together Your CV

The standard CV for new physicians is a simple document that lists education, licensure, honors, awards, and any publications you might have.

Increasingly, experts want the CV to start with a short promotional message showing why employers should pick you. They also advise that this message should be different for each employer. This means that you have to maintain a CV template and insert a new opening paragraph each time.

Increasingly, experts want the CV to start with a short promotional message showing why employers should pick you.

Because this opening paragraph has the same function as the cover letter, advice on writing it is included below in the section on cover letters. Meanwhile, we'll talk about the basics of writing the rest of the CV, which are pretty straightforward.

Format for the CV

You can find models for a new physician's CV on the Internet. Here is the typical order of information, in a document that usually runs two pages:

Name and contact information. These items are often in larger, boldface type, centered on the page.

Your education. Move back in time, starting with fellowship (if applicable), residency, medical school, and university. For each one, include position or degree (in boldface), name of organization, location of organization, and dates of service.

Note: Explain gaps in your timeline. Any gap, no matter how innocent, suggests that you might have had career problems. This can be addressed immediately by inserting a short "career note" directly within the education section of your CV.

Board certification. List month; year; and board certificate number, if known. List parts of the national boards that you have completed.

Medical licensure. Indicate the state and the license number.

Honors and awards. Include such items as Phi Beta Kappa membership, Alpha Omega Alpha membership, and medical school and residency honors.

Publications. You may want to list research projects here in lieu of formally published work.

Carefully Edit and Proofread Your CV

Keep in mind that employers may throw out CVs with any typographical errors, so it is essential that you proofread the whole document very carefully. Then ask a few people, such as mentors, faculty, or your program director, to review it.

Keep the look simple. Use simple fonts, such as Arial or Calibri, with an 11-point type size. Margins should be fairly narrow.

Don't use graphics, colored type, or a photo of yourself. Photos can enhance LinkedIn profiles, but employers don't want to see them on CVs. In fact, they have been known to cut photos out, because they don't want to be accused of picking anyone on the basis of race or appearance.

Should You Hire a Writing Service?

Writing your own CV is not difficult. You can find useful templates on the Web and ask friends to proofread your documents. However, this can be time-consuming, and writing a creative cover letter that really sells your skills takes special talent.

You can hire a service simply to proofread your CV, or to actually write it. Services can also write your cover letter, your LinkedIn profile, and follow-up letters to employers. Some of them even apply search engine optimization, which involves inserting keywords into the text that will push your CV to the top when employers search databases.

Prices for these services vary considerably but generally do not exceed $300. Thumbtack, an online service that matches customers with professionals, cites [1] a price to write a CV for a new graduate at $159, and the price for rewriting an existing CV at $127.

Physician search firms may also offer to review your CV and in some cases even write it for you. However, be sure to check whether or not they may have experience in this; some do not have much experience in this area.

Your Cover Letter

The cover letter that is sent with the CV and the first paragraph of the CV are good places to differentiate yourself from other candidates. Here, you can highlight skills that employers look for—such as teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, and technological skills—that don't fit into the standard structure of a CV.

This is also a great place to note your interest in the location. Perhaps you grew up or went to school there. Such ties are highly prized by employers, and really need to be prominently presented when you apply for a job.

The cover letter or opening paragraph is also a place to humanize yourself. You can mention some personal interests, hobbies, and special interests. However, bringing up too many personal interests gives the impression that you're more interested in your lifestyle than in practicing medicine.

Tips for Writing Your Cover Letter

Create a template. Then you can add material for a specific recruiter. Thoroughly proofread each cover letter before sending it off.

Start your letter with a name. "To whom it may concern" is a generic salutation that will elicit a generic response. Take time to look for the proper name to send the letter to.

Be enthusiastic. Try to convey your passion for medicine, helping patients, and working for this employer. But don't sound desperate, even if the job sounds like a once-in-a-million opportunity. Employers want to choose you on your merits.

Keep it short. Limit the opening paragraph to three or four sentences, and the cover letter to three or four paragraphs. Like the CV, it shouldn't have any typos.

Sign off your cover letter. You might say something like, "Looking forward to hearing from you," and supply the best way to contact you, such as an email address or cell phone number.

Put a personal touch at end. Include a warm and friendly "P.S." that might highlight an unusual skill. For example: "P.S: I am also an amateur magician and will share how I can be a magical addition to your practice." Marketing research shows that many people will read your "P.S." before the body of the letter.

Sending Off Your CV and Cover Letter

In most cases, you can email or upload your CV onto a job website or an employer's site.It's a good idea to convert the document into a PDF file, so that it can't be changed accidentally when people open the file.

Don't post your CV everywhere. If your CV comes up all over the place, it doesn't look like you're much interested in any particular offering.

You could make an impression on employers by sending your CV in a letter to them.

Because everyone else is posting digital CVs, you could make an impression on employers by sending your CV in a letter to them. If you do this, use high-quality paper stock and send it by registered mail to make sure it arrived.

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Welcome! This article is part of a Medscape Physician Business Academy course, . Visit the Course Page to take the full course and receive a certificate.


Koushik Shaw, MD

| Disclosures | January 01, 2017

Authors and Disclosures


Koushik Shaw, MD

Urologist, Austin Urology Institute, Austin, Texas; Author, The Ultimate Guide to Finding the Right Job After Residency (McGraw-Hill Education, 2005)

Disclosure: Koushik Shaw, MD, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.