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How to Write a C.V.

Annabeth Borg
Retired Medical Secretary
Williamsburg, Virginia

Generally, your curriculum vitae (C.V.) is the first contact you may have with a prospective program director. Therefore, you would surely want a C.V. that does more than simply impart information about your personal history, and educational and professional qualifications and achievements. Strive for a CV that establishes a favorable image of your professionalism in the mind of the reader. It should emphasize your areas of strength and create an interest about you sufficient to result in a personal interview. Make your C.V. work for you!

  • There are several phases in creating an effective C.V.
  1. Compile all potentially useful information and organize those items under appropriate categories. Be sure the information you choose clearly communicates a sense of professionalism, competence, and enthusiasm.
  2. Select only the most pertinent information. Keep the level of information concise and, at the same time, as comprehensive as possible. Bear in mind that your C.V. is your "advertisement" for an interview!
  3. Finally - review and revise the document. As important as the information provided, your C.V. should be edited for proper grammar, correct spelling and appropriate punctuation. To further convey your professional image to the reader, use quality paper, ink, and equipment. Inferior materials or illegible photocopies say to the reader, "You are not important to me."
  • The following is a sample format of a C.V.
1. Contact Information
2. Personal Data
3. Educational Background
4. Employment Experience
5. Professional Affiliations and Honors
6. Publications, Presentations and Other Activities
7. References
  1. Contact Information
    This information is always located at the top of the first page. It should include your name (avoid nicknames), address, telephone and other contact numbers (fax, e-mail). Be sure to spell out words like Street, Avenue, North, etc.
    If your current address is not your permanent address, indicate your current-address information under a heading marked "Present", followed by your permanent-address information under a heading marked "Permanent."
  2. Personal Data
    This is a professional document, so disclosure of information regarding age, marital status, children, and health is a matter of choice. Some recipients expect this information, and it is a common practice to provide it.
  3. Educational Background
    The information in this section is usually given with the most recent training listed first. The order in which you present this information is your choice — be it date first, degree first, or perhaps institution first. Whichever your preference, keep your entries consistent.
  4. Employment Experience
    Begin by separating your part-time employment entries from your full-time employment entries, and list them under appropriate subheadings. This avoids any misunderstanding by the reader. The list of your employment experience generally starts with your current employment. Be sure to provide the date of your employment, your job title, and your employer’s name and address. You may choose to include major duties, successes and achievements, research interests, committee assignments, etc. It is important, however, to keep all entries uniform. Avoid providing a lot of information on your recent entries, but giving less information on later entries.

    A subheading for certification or license status may be included at the end of this section. Indicate certificate/license numbers and the dates issued.

  5. Professional Affiliations and Honors
    This section should include your current membership in professional organizations. Include any significant appointments and/or elections to positions or committees, indicating the appropriate date for each position listed. Indicate any significant activities completed under your leadership. Honors from professional, educational or related organizations should also be shown under this section. Keep your comments brief in describing these items. This will avoid the risk of creating an unfavorable impression of exaggeration on your part.
  6. Publications, Presentations, and Other Activities
    This is an area considered to be the perfect opportunity to list your professional accomplishments. The following subheadings may be listed in this section: publications, presentations, invited lectures, abstracts, research activities, community service, and leisure interests, to name a few. When listing your publications, give full bibliographic entries so the reader can easily find them.
  7. References
    Place this information at the end of your document. Include the following information in each entry: name, position, address, and telephone number, and e-mail if possible.
  • Some Points to Consider
    The information and advice given are no guarantee that your C.V. will open all doors for you. It offers a start in preparing an effective document - one that shows clarity, consistency, and an organized format. Your C.V. should be easy to read, leaving no confusion in the reader’s mind as to what is presented. Here are some points that will help you produce a document with impact.
  1. Your C.V. will be read by people who do not know you, so you must present your information in the clearest, most concise fashion possible. These people will be responsible for developing a list of recommended candidates, probably in a limited amount of time, so your document must be precise and specific at the first reading.
  2. Accurate presentation of your qualifications is imperative. Be specific - for instance, under:

    Educational Background - include your major, year degree was received, name of degree, complete name of institution (no abbreviations) and its location.

    Employment History - leave NO gaps in the total number of years worked (account for every year); distinguish between part-time and full-time work; use separate headings for entries such as: military service, volunteer activities, leave of absence (explain).

    Professional Activities - cite current memberships; clearly date all former activities and memberships.

    Publications - clarify your role in group efforts; distinguish between refereed and nonrefereed articles; use separate headings for different types of publications (journal articles, books, chapters in books, abstracts, etc.)

  3. Consistency is crucial. It reflects good organization and appearance and is vital to fast readers. Be consistent under all categories of your C.V. Do not provide information in one entry and fail to do so in other entries within the same category.
  4. Do not make double entries. This does not strengthen your C.V. and may be unfavorably viewed as "padding" by the reader.
  5. Stay chronologically consistent when presenting information. If you elect to present the most current information first, stay with that order through all sections. This makes your document easier to read and avoids confusion on the part of the reader.
  6. There is no magic number for the maximum number of pages considered ideal for an effective C.V. However, it is generally accepted that a two-to-four page C.V. should communicate the essential background details for a young professional.
  7. It bears repeating — be clear, consistent and organized. If your C.V. is hard to read or an entry projects a suspicious aura, your entire document may be discounted or even rejected.
  8. It is helpful to have the final version of your document proofread by:
    a) A professional friend who knows you (able to spot significant information left out or is confusing as presented).
    b) A professional who does not know you (able to read your C.V. critically as a person learning about you for the first time - a status similar to your eventual readers).
    c) A personnel officer, dean, or department head (experienced in reviewing this kind of material).
  9. Print your C.V. on standard 8 1/2" x 11" white paper; print on one side only; be sure the print on all copies is clear and easy to read; all pages should be clean of smudges and streaks. A single staple in the upper left-hand corner is a simple and sufficient method for securing the pages.

Individuals are faced with many choices when writing a C.V. The methods used to develop this document are varied, but the goal is the same — a curriculum vitae that will impress and convince the reader that you are the person they seek. I hope the advice offered here will help you to develop that kind of C.V. My best wishes for success in all your endeavors.

Brief Bio:

Annabeth Borg, now retired, has had more than 26 years of secretarial experience that involved working in several fields. Her early background included working for the New York State government and in the private legal sector prior to taking a 12-year hiatus to raise a family. After rejoining the work force, she worked briefly in private industry, followed by 21 years as a medical secretary at the Nassau County Medical Center in East Meadow, NY. During most of that period she served as secretary to the Chairman and Program Director of the Department of Medicine. In this capacity, Annabeth became familiar with, amongst other things, the hiring process for new house staff, both American graduates and international medical graduates. There were approximately 100 house staff in the Department of Medicine. Annabeth estimates that she assisted in the recruitment of between 500-600 house staff during her tenure at the hospital.

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