A common concern that I deal with when meeting post-docs is how to present an academic career to non-academic employers. When I first produced my website back in 2002, I looked around and realised there were limited resources with CV examples. This led me to produce one for my site. Even at the time it wasn’t intended as a model of perfection, but it was a distillation of the advice I give. Now ten years on, I think the CV had dated a little and I’d definitely add in reference to social media, but the reality is that writing mock CVs is one of the most difficult things I do, so I’m not in a hurry to produce another. Therefore, I’ve retained the link to the original CVS – partly because they provoke most of the emails I receive about the site.
A bit of history – at the time I was the Career Doctor columnist for Science’s Next Wave (now Science Careers) and in order to mimic the experience of a postdoc in this situation as closely as possible, I wrote a CV to the best of my ability –
I then showed it to a number of experts, whose comments appear below. I used their feedback and some new ideas of my own to develop a final version:
The revised CV is not necessarily better than the original — opinions were mixed, so I’ve decided to have both CVs on the site, along with the feedback, and you can decide for yourself what works. I hope these comments also reflect the quality of advice and support that is out there — I’ve deliberately approached people who would be available to a postdoc.
- an academic
- a current post-doc
- a former post-doc
- Professional Services Manager, RSC
- Former staff developer and careers adviser, HE
- a CV writing consultancy
Here are some of their comments.
First of all, some comments from me.
The first draft of the CV (which isn’t on this site) showed supervision of staff and a large group of students – both the post-docs and the academic felt this was uncommon so I’ve changed this to supervision of students only and “providing direction to work of junior researchers”.
The CV isn’t trying to imply that the post-doc is a line-manager, but my experience is that much of the day-to-day supervision of students is done by post-docs, so don’t play this down because you aren’t an official manager. Similarly budgets – most post-docs manage budgets day-today, order materials, keep track of spending and are responsible for dealing with equipment suppliers – don’t play this down because you have to get a signature from the PI!
I’m also aware that post-docs cannot apply for many grants in their own name and are therefore not involved in coming up with complex costings, but as they are commonly involved in producing draft proposals and day-to-day management of budgets, I felt this skill was worth promoting.
The way I presented my name in the main heading wasn’t an easy choice. My “real” CV includes all my designatory letters (BSc (Hons) PhD CChem MRSC) as I think it is important to show my academic credibility and my Chartered status, which suggests I reached a professional standard as a chemist (long ago, but it points to my background in a positive way). I toyed with the idea of simply “Dr Sara Fiction” on this and I would also use simply “Sara Fiction” if I felt it was too academic. No-one I showed it to picked up on this first impression being very academic – but they also all have PhDs!
I use “current status” because it is neutral and I don’t have to start my CV with a big sign saying “RESEARCH” – but then my job title does this. Job titles can be meaningless (my last job title was “Project Manager” which I never use on my CV as it is misleading), so Julie’s advice (see below) was something I took to heart. It even convinced me to write a profile statement despite my usual objections to them!
Despite our personal dislike of them, both Julie and Valmai felt the CV needed a profile statement, so I’ve added one. I also agree that in this case the CV needs careful introduction to the reader as there is a danger of them assuming it has appeared in their pile of CVs by mistake.
I’ve dropped the references from the revised CV because I ran out of space, but I would usually include them unless I hadn’t quite got around to telling my current employer of my plans to escape!
I’m concerned about the use of the phrase “senior researcher” as this is technically the PI. You also use Research Assistant rather than Research Associate – in all institutions I’ve worked in Research Assistants don’t have PhDs. Also, is the internship from 1992 still relevant?
Comments on CV2: I hate to sound old fashioned but I prefer the old format! Without a date of birth or seeing your current job title (I read this on-screen – it may be clearer in print) I was left wondering who you were, the extent of your experience and what you were doing. I also prefer the sentences that you use to describe your skills – all the action words and bullets make it read like it has been lifted out of a CV book.
I also wonder whether this new CV could carry a photo to show that researchers don’t have 2 heads and don’t always wear a lab coat!
Dr Kat Arney, (at the time of writing, Kat was a postdoc – she’s now a media star…):
Most postdocs only get 1 or 2 students as more than that means you don’t support your student properly. This might be intimidating to post-docs with smaller groups or no opportunity to supervise.
I think that stressing the budget-management side is important, as is the presenting of data to and interacting with different types of people and the supervisory role that many postdocs have. I don’t think the skills are unrealistic (in fact it’s good to see what we take for granted as your basic science behaviour described in such exciting terms!).
Dr Melanie Hanna, Freelance science communicator and former post-doc:
All in all I think it’s a good CV for demonstrating transferable skills. I have to say, in my freelancing endeavours, when people have wanted to see my CV, they wanted to see the academic one with the publications on it. Perhaps it’s to see that I actually was a productive scientist rather than just having a lot of transferable skills and wanted to get out? You would know better than I would… I think that maybe what you’ve done is a great summary CV, but often times they are interested in the specifics. I put down my talks to the public with their layman’s titles. That helps for demonstrating ability to communicate clearly.
CV writers wanting to change fields need to ensure that each CV at this point will be tailored to the job they’re applying for. From my experience, the thing about changing fields is that it has all been about networking. The old addage is true, “It’s who you know…”
A good skills based CV, but I prefer not to see “I” and “my” but to draw attention to the action words, so each point starts with “manage” or “analyse” – or similar.
The presentation and choice of a skills based CV are fine, but it needs sharpening up. The first thing I see is “Senior Research Assistant” and “University” so I’d be concerned that this CV wouldn’t get read if it was used to apply for (say) some sort of business development role. The recruiter may assume it was in the wrong short-list pile or you had applied for the wrong job.
Even though you don’t like profiles statements, I think one on this CV would overcome this problem by putting you into the right context. You could then follow this with your list of skills and then have your actual job title lower down, when the recruiter had already been engaged.
I’m also not sure about the use of the word “responsibilities” – it is better than “duties” which is commonly used, but I think still sounds a little like things you are told to do, rather than things you have control of. Perhaps you could put all of these points under the heading “achievements”?
A major career change needs more than a smart CV. You would have to research the new field in depth and really understand what they were looking for in terms of skills and qualities. I’d also recommend talking to people working in the roles that appeal and getting inside information on recruitment patterns and opportunities to gain experience – perhaps through work-shadowing or at least a visit to the work-place. The list of skills on the front of your CV would then be based on the skills you would know were relevant.
Finally, get as much feedback as you can on your CV – you’ll find that some comments agree but there are usually disagreements about presentation and style. This CV is your personal property, so you have the final say on how it looks.
If you are a member of a professional body, you’ll probably be able to get CV feedback either in person at a career surgery. Most professional bodies have careers sections on their websites – as an example look at the IOP website (I’ve written a range of careers materials for them).
Dr Valmai Bowden, Former staff developer and careers adviser, HE
I’ve now had a look at the CV. I do like the idea of it being presented in its current untweaked form. I think this is a good idea as it would probably be unwise to present an ‘ideal’ document as surely the message needs to be that every CV should be tailored to the job.
I think you have done a great job analysis of the postdoc role and the bullet points clearly show the key elements. The skills are particularly well evidenced – positive, succinct and drawing on a wide range of activities. I just have a few minor points that you could perhaps think about.
My first question is: What is this CV intended for? Is it to help a researcher get out of science altogether, apply for research in a non-academic environment? Is it for speculative inquiries or for a specific job? If it is to help in getting out of science/research, then perhaps it might help to write a short ‘Career Aim’ at the top. I am somewhat allergic to career profiles and aims as a rule. However, I was recently persuaded by one of my colleagues at Aston that, when an individual is trying to make a ‘big leap’, a ‘career aim’ or ‘career objective’ statement can be helpful in spelling out the rationale and motivation. This could perhaps highlight what you consider as your dominant strengths – matched of course to the job or occupation you are targeting.
The list of skills you have included covers most of the typical skills recruiters look for. If the CV were being used to apply for a specific job, it would of course be important to address the recruiter’s essential and desirable skills. You have not included any reference to IT or technical skills – again this will depend on the target occupation. The key thing is to ensure relevance to all information included.
Previous experience section: I wonder whether this should be ‘Previous work experience’. And if the target job means a move outside science, it might be worth thinking about including a flavour of vacation/part-time jobs in other employment sectors (if there were any!) in order to demonstrate adaptability. That said, this is a very full CV already and this should only be added if relevant.
By and large I think the layout is clear and the eye is drawn to the different sections quite well. However, I think that the subheads are a little lost – could perhaps be emphasised with bold and/or with a larger font – perhaps the size of ‘Current Status’? Also, where you have supplied dates, you might think about using bold throughout for consistency and to draw the eye. You could also use a small margin the separate the date from the prose. In the ‘Qualifications’ and ‘Other experience’ sections, this would help to highlight the separate features you have described.
Building on her research into career management for scientists, Valmai has worked at UMIST, Warwick and Aston Universities in staff development and careers adviser roles. She is now working freelance to focus on her special interests in postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers.
James Innes, Head of Marketing, The CV Centre
The CV Centre is the UK’s leading CV consultancy, specialising in professional CV writing and preparation. James looked at the revised CV.
Overall, it’s a very well prepared CV, far above average. And without a doubt it represents an improvement on the original version. Apart from a possible minor re-wording here and there and an occasional tweak to the layout/formatting, our ‘Top 3’ changes would be as follows:
- We would restructure the Qualifications section to enhance its readability, for example by making use of bold text to pick out the key words and phrases.
- We would move your contact details to a more prominent position. The last thing you want to do is to make it in any way difficult for a potential employer to get in touch with you. Potential employers, faced with hundreds of CVs, are not known for their patience!
- We would change the order of the ‘Skills Demonstrated’ section so as to place greater focus on the more specific and relevant skills and abilities, putting more general items such as Communication and Problem Solving towards the end.
These are minor changes. It is undoubtedly a very good CV – 95% of the way towards perfection – and there is no point in change for change’s sake. We just feel it needs a few finishing touches to guarantee it always makes the shortlist.
Many thanks for these comments – I welcome more. You’ll see that some of the feedback contradicts my ideas – you are likely to receive a range of views on your CV so you’ll need to judge how to use feedback to develop a final CV which you are happy with.