Nine ways to tailor your CV

Tennie Videler (22 March 2010)

I couldn’t think of 9 reasons to… so have adapted this theme to listing 9 ways to tailor your CV.  On this forum we have discussed how important it is to tailor your covering letter and CV to every post you apply for. How do you?

1.      For lots of advice on creating an effective CV, visit the Vitae website. The first distinction to make is whether you are applying for an academic and non-academic position. The links post to example CVs, where CVs of the same person have been tailored to different CV styles to give you an idea.

2.      Put yourself in the recruiters’ shoes and understand how they shortlist. On the ‘researcher careers in the recession’ part of the Vitae website Shiona Llewellyn wrote about how recruiters select people for their shortlist. This provides some great dos and donts.

3.      Check the website of the employer you are applying for to get a feel for what is important to them.

4.      Think about your skills. It is really important not to assume that employers will fill in any gaps or will realise what skills you have because of the fact that you have a doctorate or do research for a living. This is especially true for non-academic employers. And thinking that you will inform the recruiters of some impressive experience at interview may well be an expensive mistake as it may mean you do not make it to interview….

5.      Chris’s suggestion of using the employer’s formulation in the job description to describe your skills seems pretty spot on. They will then not have to translate the skills that you describe to those they have specified. It should also mean you cover everything they are looking for.
6.      If you feel there may be gaps in your skills/ attributes, think of skills you have gained outside of your research or think laterally about your research. An obvious example may be ‘customer awareness’. Have you had any summer or part-time jobs with customer interaction? Or are there any people involved in your research you might describe as customers?

7.      Supply evidence of any skills you list. Anyone can say they have a talent for say fund raising- when, what for, how much?

8.      How much experience does the organisation you are applying to have in hiring researchers? This is worth finding out as research published earlier this year by Vitae suggests that the more experience an employer has of recruiting researchers the more they know about the skills associated with completing a doctorate. In addition they will rate these skills higher in doctoral graduates. The less experience they have the harder you will have to work to convince them of your strengths as you are likely to be directly competing with recent graduates.

9.      Tailor your covering letter (okay, so I had to come up with 9…).

Anyone else any tips?


Sarah Davies
This is on a fairly superficial level, but I really think having a clear layout and presentation is essential. If you can't present the key points of your academic life in a way that can be taken in by someone glancing briefly at your CV, then it doesn't bode well for your ability to write well and present research generally (something which is pretty essential for most research jobs)...

George Whale
The above are useful tips, and there's no escaping the fact that a thorough application requires a great deal of work. On employers recognizing the value of Ph.D.s, a careers advisor recently suggested to me that I remove my academic qualifications from my CV because they might "frighten" some employers!

Elizabeth Dodson
Oh the joy of being 'over-qualified' for some jobs. I had a discussion with a colleague the other week who is considering doing a PhD alongside their current research post. They said something along the lines of, "At least i can delete it from my CV without having a gap in my career history if I think it will be a hindrance for some jobs". I found it quite sad that after so much work, in some circumstances a PhD can be considered a burden. My main CV tip would be: Don't write Curriculum Vitae at the top of your CV! So many people do it and its an unnecessary waste of space - as a CV should be clear enough for any potential employer to immediately recognise what it is.

Sarah Davies: I don't get invited to interview because I'm over-qualified. That's my story and I'm sticking to it...;-)

Elizabeth Dodson
But then I have seen first hand where applications of the "overqualified" are thrown out, because they 'would probably be looking for better jobs and wouldn't stay very long'. I have wondered whether, if it was ever necessary, I would still get interviews for the types of job that I had before doing my PhD... Hopefully I won't need to test this anytime soon :-)

Hannah Dee
So how do I hide a 4 year PhD in my (otherwise completely unbroken) employment history? Signed on? Went backpacking? Became a nun? Spent a while at her majesty's pleasure?

Tennie Videler
In Holland, and in other countries in Europe you'd be an employee while doing a PhD....

Blanka Sengerová
So how do I hide a 4 year PhD in my (otherwise completely unbroken) employment history? Re-write as "researcher" at whatever university you were doing your PhD at? But I certainly hope not to have to hide a PhD* at any point in my future career - if they can't accept the fact that I have a PhD and it has helped my personal development then I probably don't want to work for them anyway! :o) * Now for the interesting question, how many of you went through changing your title to Dr on the credit/bank cards when you got your certificate??

Elizabeth Dodson
Changing my bank card was one of the first things I did - and I was very disappointed that they didn't want any proof at all - so i could have had Dr on my card all along! For me being able to change my title was quite a momentous thing as I don't like to be defined by my marital status i.e. Miss, Mrs or Ms. I was also told by a friend that there is an added security benefit - in that someone was caught fraudulently trying to use a copy of their credit card - when staff at the shop thought the teenager in question looked far too young to be a doctor :-)

Matthew Salois
I've had to actually remove some publications from my CV depending on the position I was applying for. I have found that in some interviews, if they see a publication in a journal they think is irrelevant to the post, I get unfairly judged as not being a "right" fit for the job.

Sarah Davies
That's interesting, Matthew, as I've always been told that, at early career stage, the more publications the better, with the emphasis on less on what they're in. Did you get that as feedback on your CV? Or after an interview?

there is still ignorance among employers about what a doctorate entails


Tennie Videler

I. am sorry that people are feeling the need to hide that they have doctorates! I agree that there is still ignorance among employers about what a doctorate entails. The good news is that colleagues here at Vitae are working to educate them (the bad news is that this is a slow process). In the meantime it is up to us to show what rounded, skilled and multi-faceted people we are. And we need to show it in our covering letters and CVs as otherwise we might not make it to interview. Make your covering letter really good. Explain why the job would be good for you as well as why you'd be perfect for the job. And prospective employers do want to know, to put their mind at rest if you are 'over qualified' that you won't be flitting off. Changing my title on my bank card... slightly embarrassing! I knew the lady in my local branch to chat to and she was totally excited by my upcoming viva so she had prepared all the paperwork for me to sign as soon as I saw her afterwards! And I agree it's a fantastic way out of the sexist Miss/Ms/Mrs issue.