Powerful CVs and Cover Letters: How to Stand Out

Koushik Shaw, MD


May 31, 2019

In This Article

Editor's Note: This article was adapted and updated from the Physician Business Academy course "Finding the Right Physician Job," by Koushik Shaw, MD. Additional reporting by Gail G. Weiss.

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. CVs have two main 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 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 submit as soon as you hear back from a potential employer or recruiter.

"CVs, which are often the first introduction a physician has to a group, are reviewed by CMOs, medical directors, and HR," say Tracy Zweig, president/CEO of Tracy Zweig Associates, a California-based physician placement organization.

She continues, "A neat, concise, well-designed CV suggests, among other qualities, excellent language and organizational skills. Carefully read a CV and be sure to correct any errors before sending out. Use spell-check, but don't rely on it."

Important Pointers When Writing Your CV

Be truthful. Present an honest picture of your skills, credentials, and ambitions. If employers detect any duplicity, they may reject your application. Keep in mind that many employers will take the time to verify the credentials listed on your CV.

Be brief. 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 a few paragraphs. You'll have plenty of opportunities later to address issues you did not touch upon.

Don't be embarrassed about self-promotion. Finding a job means promoting yourself in ways you may not have done before. Make sure to highlight your strengths and accomplishments.

Use keywords. Some companies that post jobs and invite candidates to send CVs have software that screens CVs for keywords that zero in on the skills or knowledge they're looking for. Several of those words may be contained in the job description. It's wise to do some research into the preferred skills and experience in your area.

"Your CV should include details about your specialty and information about your training location, because some potential employers look for physicians who have knowledge of a specific region," says Will Latham, a practice management consultant with the Latham Consulting Group in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Indicate and explain significant gaps in training or job history with short and sweet explanations, Zweig advises. For example, simply state "family medical leave" or "sabbatical."

Choosing the Right References

Line up three or four references who are prepared to vouch for you. They may be asked to review all facets of your professional expertise and social skills, including your clinical judgment, reputation, and work ethic. Other topics might include the way you handle stress, your ability to adapt to new or stressful situations, and 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. Choose physicians who have worked with you closely; have had authority over you; and can vouch for your knowledge, abilities, judgment, and expertise.

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

Avoid Lukewarm References

It goes without saying that you shouldn't choose people who cannot enthusiastically support you, such as those who might characterize you as "adequate" or indicate that you "met our standards." That would be damning you with faint praise.

If you're unsure whether to include someone 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.

Don't list someone as a reference before asking that person whether he or she is fully on board with being a reference. First, it's a matter of courtesy to do so. Second, if you get the sense that the person is reluctant, it's wise to look elsewhere.

Make Sure Your References Are Available

Most potential employers make three attempts to reach a reference before giving up. Some employers prefer a phone conversation over a letter of recommendation because they think references will be more candid via telephone. Others prefer a letter of recommendation. In the latter instance, make sure your references have several weeks' notice so that they can compose a thoughtful letter.


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