A CV is a sales document that should be designed to help you get a job interview, and not placed with the others that didn't catch the boss's eye, says Adi Nell, who heads up the SPVS CV reading service
- British Veterinary Association
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YOUR CV, contrary to popular belief, is not about what you want to get from your next job. It's not about how you want to develop as a person or as a clinician, and it's certainly not about the support you want from your prospective employer.
The Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons (SPVS) offers a CV reading service free to its members. As Member Support Officer, it is often my job to look at CVs. I don't do this alone: there is a team of us, and we give advice on how CVs might be altered to help the member get the position they are applying for.
Most CVs are reasonably well written, with a fairly logical flow. But a number of issues arise repeatedly, and I thought it might be useful to cover some of them here.
Job applications have two parts: the CV and the covering letter. The letter can be included in the CV as a ‘motivation’ section, but my preference is to get these as two documents. That's also easier for you, as you'll see below.
The CV should be written in a clear, large font. Most bosses, like me, will be middle- aged or older and feeling the effects of long sightedness. They can't be bothered to struggle with tiny print or fancy fonts. Your lovely CV will be added to the rejected pile if they can't read it easily. And you should keep it under two pages long – always. It should contain the following key personal details, at the top, in nice big letters:
▪ Full name;
▪ Postal address;
▪ E-mail address;
▪ Telephone numbers (landline and mobile), and it's helpful to include the best time to ring;
Don't include your age. It is unlikely to be helpful to you, and it might allow a prospective employer to start plotting your life path in more detail than you have yourself: ‘She's 30 years old so she'll be settling down and having kids in the next year or two. I'll give her a skip.’ Or alternatively, ‘What? Forty-two years old and applying for an assistant position? I wonder what's gone wrong. Must be difficult to employ – probably a troublemaker who can't settle. I'll not bother with him.’ While it is illegal to discriminate in terms of age, why would you give someone a stick to beat you with?
Similarly, your photograph is unlikely to get you the interview and might actually harm your chances (if you're deemed ‘too young’ or ‘too old’). There was a time when a photo on your CV was novel and made your document stand out, but now it's a bit old hat. Most CVs are submitted without one and it wouldn't sway me either way.
Qualifications and training
Include your qualifications: where you qualified and in what year. If you did outstandingly well and won the class medal, is that likely to make someone more or less likely to employ you? In some settings it might help, but bear in mind that this is a sales document and, ideally, only information that gets you closer to the sale should be included.
Advice on how much to include about your training will depend on whether you're a more recent graduate or have years and years of experience. This would usually be part of the same section as qualifications. For the new graduate, it's worth including something about your elective topics, what you learned during your EMS, the practical skills you've acquired in your training, and so on.
For more experienced practitioners, training isn't usually included. Instead, you'd have a fairly comprehensive list of where you've worked – your work history. If there are only a few places, write a bit about what your main duties were at each one (routine and emergency consultations, routine surgery, several bone pinnings, home visits, farm visits and some meat inspection, for example). If you've worked for years, just a line about the kind of practice each place was: small animal practice, rural farm practice, mixed practice, etc, is usually sufficient. The longer you've been in work the more experience you'll be assumed to have and the less detail you'll need to give.
It's almost never necessary to include information about your schooling unless you're a new graduate and it's relevant. In some cases, especially if you were a member of the school pig society or president of the horsey set, that can be worth including. Most bosses skim this, so don't spend much time on it!
It can be useful to include a section on special skills if you have any, and you must do so if you have a certificate or other advanced skills. Endoscopy seems currently to be all the rage, but you might be particularly good at ultrasonography, you might be a great orthopaedic surgeon, or love working up itchy dogs and cats – add that in!
CPD is of minor interest for most in practice positions. It can be useful to include this if you're applying for an academic post, but a simple list of recent CPD and a note to the effect of ‘more details on request’ is usually enough. The detailed contents of each course certainly don't need to be included.
Hobbies and interests
Hobbies and interests are always good to include. Your hobbies can give the boss something to break the ice with if he's a bit shy, but they're only worth including if they're interesting, or at least relatively interesting. Walking, travel, reading and going to movies would not be interesting. Salsa dancing, ice hockey and capoeira are relatively interesting. Sky diving, three-day eventing and base jumping are interesting.
Finally, you need a few references. Personally, I hate ‘References available on request’. What are you hiding? Why so coy? Just spell them out and let the referees know that they might be contacted! Ideally, give a number of means of contact – e-mail and mobile numbers, practice name and address, practice phone number, etc. Make it easy for your prospective employer who has 25 CVs to read.
Which brings you to the end of the document. Don't pad it out and unnecessarily extend it. Your CV should be generic enough to send to just about anyone, with minimal modification. You do need to include a motivation, however, which brings us to the all-important covering letter.
The covering letter is a key part of your application and should always accompany your CV. This letter is where you really sell yourself: why are you the best possible person for the job? What skills or attributes do you have that make you the best candidate? How does your background, training or experience set you apart from the other applicants? Please don't say, ‘I work well alone or as part of a team’. In the category of most anodyne and predictable statements on a CV, that takes first prize.
Most candidates (mistakenly) use the covering letter to explain very patiently what it is they want from their employer: support, exposure to a varied caseload, a rota that allows time for study, a location close to/far from a busy town, etc. Frankly, this is not what the employer wants to hear. He wants to know what you'll bring to the practice and why he should employ you. He wants a reason to pick up the phone or reach for his keyboard to invite you to an interview. So you need to look at yourself and think, ‘What's in this for him?’ Then tell him.
If it's a small animal job, talk a little about how you volunteered at your local charity practice to gain experience in spaying bitches – and that means you'll be quick and need little support, even though you're a new graduate. Or, for an equine practice, how you grew up around horses and are completely at home with fussy horse owners as well as yard staff. If you love cows, explain why. The covering letter is your real sales pitch: why you are the best candidate for this job. Make sure you make the most of it.
Don't forget to use the SPVS CV reading service to help you get the most out of your CV. We're happy to help. Good luck and good hunting!
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