Subodh Jain, M.D
An accurate and well-organized CV makes an important first impression on employers, says Subodh Jain, M.D. – Photo by Dionel Fisher

You’re a gem of a physician looking for a gem of a job. Your pedigree should make any employer swoon. But first, they have to consider you.

Whether it’s your first job or a mid-career change, you’ll need to pique their interest with a curriculum vitae—one that’s easy for recruiters to scan and identify you as a good fit. If the presentation is a mess or the content doesn’t match their criteria, you won’t get a second look.

In any interview, your goal is to show your unique story and credentials, but you should always do so with an eye toward your audience. That includes the recruiter who screens and presents your CV, as well as the final decisionmakers.

“What the CV allows me to do when I get on the phone is to zero in on what I want to talk more about with a candidate,” says Wilf Rudert, a physician recruiter for Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, Utah. “The purpose is not to lay everything out there. I just want to know who you are, what you’re about and if you’re engaged in that you can connect with people. Do you have proof?”

So how do you dress your CV to impress? Let’s take a closer look.

Get everything in order

To be taken seriously, your CV needs to be organized well. Hiring teams want an immediate sense of your intentions, credentials and career path. Recruiters have lots of candidates to review, and you don’t want to create extra work for them.

“Oftentimes, I have to take a separate sheet of paper and literally do a timeline because they’ve missed so many categories or I can’t see a chronology,” says Kelly Cottrell, FASPR, regional director of provider recruitment at LifePoint Health in Haymarket, Virginia. “If I have to write their jobs down on a piece of paper, I’m working too hard.”

Start with the basics

Your document should cover your career, accomplishments and interests in a logical order, starting with either your education or your work history. If you’re just out of training, this choice is a no-brainer. Your career thus far only consists of medical school, residency and fellowship.

It’s more complicated later on. Some hiring pros want your employment status upfront because it’s current, while others say education should come first because it offers a window into your practice style and training.

For instance, Subodh Jain, M.D., the divisional chief of behavioral health for Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Spectrum Health says psychiatrists often start with their residency or fellowship programs. “We see the mindset of a candidate and how they practice based on where they trained,” Jain explains. “There’s a pattern to it.”

He says knowing if a physician is more focused on research or psychodynamics doesn’t diminish their chances but just “brings a little different flavor” and provides an instant conversation starter. “It also gives us a little bit of perspective on what we could expect,” he adds.

After your education and work history, the hiring team will look for other standard sections: board certifications and licensures, leadership positions, research, professional society memberships and other activities relevant to the job.

Ruth Chang, M.D., MPH
Securing references is a crucial part of your job-search process. “We can’t sign a contract without those references,” says Ruth Chang, M.D., MPH.

Keep it chronological

Whatever order you choose for these, be sure to present information in descending chronological order. What’s most recent should come first. Recruiters want to understand your timeline easily, so the cardinal rule is: Always include start and end dates by month and year. (For anything current, simply list the range from your start date to “present.”)

You may have a legitimate reason for gaps in your resume. Life happens. People delay careers or change course. They take breaks for having children, caring for family or tending to their own health crises. Hiring teams understand this. That’s why it’s best to be honest upfront. You don’t want to omit something you’ll later have to explain in the application, credential and privileging stages.

“We recruiters are trained to look at the gaps on a CV,” says Narlyn Villaruel, manager of physician recruitment services for The Permanente Medical Group in Oakland, California. “We can see a red flag almost at a glance.”

Jain agrees, adding, “It becomes an awkward conversation when we have to ask questions about it. So we prefer that people have a good timeline as to what they’ve done.”

Be their perfect match

Recruiters are looking for signs you’re a logical candidate for a particular position, especially in specialized settings and roles. If your experience doesn’t match the job, your CV won’t see the prescreening light of day.

“We don’t have a random, generic position that anyone can walk in and fill,” Jain explains. “We have something in mind for who can perform the job, for who is the best fit.”

Set the stage

How do you catch a recruiter’s eye? A summary or objective statement or cover letter can demonstrate how your goals and background make you a good fit. It’s a chance to show off your passions, clinical interests or soft skills.

Whatever the case, your statement should be concise. It can be something as simple as “Well-trained internist looking for a job in a high-quality medical group” or a quick rundown of your skills, clinical interests or ideal patient populations. (Save strengths and weaknesses for the interview.)

For instance, if you’re a neurologist with a subspecialty in epilepsy, explain whether you want to focus only on epileptics or would be eager to see general patients, too.

As the director of practice management for Eaton Rapids Medical Center, a small independent community hospital in Michigan, Candy Parker wants evidence that a physician is willing to provide a broad scope of care.

In fact, she’s turned off by candidates who are “very closed-minded” in their objective. “Maybe geriatrics really fits us well, but I’d like to know that you enjoy babies, too,” Parker says. “I definitely want them to share all that they have to offer.”

Make your case

Unless you’re an academic or leadership star with several research papers or executive positions in your quiver, your CV will likely be brief. Most rank-and-file community positions emphasize clinical duties and patient care, so your training and work history will open doors.

Your CV content becomes even more critical when other skills and factors are at play.

As Fred Horton, president of American Medical Group Association Consulting, notes: “When you get into something that’s a bit more competitive and specialized, that’s when a CV can be a supplementary document that really helps physicians further their opportunity to procure a particular position.”

If you’re in academia, for instance, you’ll need to show you’re capable of teaching, clinical care and research—the so-called three-legged stool of a medical ivory tower career. The team will want to see a full accounting of your experience.

However, if the job is at a small private practice known for high clinical productivity, the hiring partners likely won’t be interested in a CV bloated with citations, unless there’s a specific tie to the practice. If you’ve done diabetes studies and the group has a large diabetic patient base, for example, be sure to include your research.

Instead, they’ll want to see evidence demonstrating your high-quality, patient-centered care. “Physicians who understand patient-centered care focus more on someone’s problems than just their diagnosis,” Rudert says. “They know that patients want a provider they can trust. They’re willing to develop a personal relationship with them. That’s huge.”

Howard B. Graman, M.D., vice president of AMGA Consulting, scans every CV for a continuous work history, board certification(s), great references and leadership qualities. But on-the-job performance tops his list. He wants to see surveys or other data quantifying patient satisfaction, productivity and quality care.

“If I have many candidates for one position,” Graman says, “the person who has more of these things already on their CV is probably going to rise to the top of my file—if everything else is equal.”

Show off your skills

Hiring teams also love it when candidates demonstrate leadership skills or a special connection to the organization’s mission. Ruth Chang, M.D., MPH, chief people officer at Northwest Permanente, P.C., in Portland, Oregon, says, “Those are the types of things that can really help separate one person from the other.”

Be sure to mention if you speak a second language, have volunteered with underserved populations or have leadership experience. This can be as big as being a chief resident or as small as chairing a panel. “Some of the most highly performing physicians are also going to be leaders,” explains Graman.

Likewise, make it known if you’re open to future leadership opportunities. Medical directors want to hear that you’re eager to take on extra responsibilities.

“Anybody who shows an inclination, interest or talent in leadership is somebody I’d like to have become that leader down the road,” Graman says. “So it’s very important that they include that information.”

Round out the picture

Of course, recruiters care about more than your professional history. They also want to know your priorities. That’s because they don’t just want a good fit for right now. They want an asset for the long haul.

If you’re overqualified, a recruiter may have difficulty selling you to the medical team. After all, a retinal specialist hired as a general ophthalmologist might not stick around for long.

Tell nothing but the truth

You won’t get far with any recruiter if you’re not honest, so never omit pertinent information.

Whether you were fired or you resigned from a previous job, be upfront about it—especially if you’re applying within the same medical system. Villaruel, for instance, occasionally meets physicians who don’t disclose they’ve worked within Kaiser Permanente’s vast medical network, but her due diligence always unearths this information.

And you should never, never, never lie. The truth is just a few clicks away. You don’t want to be caught like the candidate Villaruel recalls who lied about having a Nobel Prize. “If you claim something that you did, make sure that you really did it,” she says. “Because there will be a reference out there. We can do a fact check.”

Ask for a good word

References and letters of recommendation are an essential part of the hiring process. You can list references on your CV, include them in a cover letter or attach letters of recommendation—just be sure you have them ready. Otherwise, your offer may be withdrawn. “We can’t sign a contract without those references,” Chang explains.

Who should you include? People who know your work, especially your program director if you’re just leaving training. Villaruel and her colleagues always request letters from two attendings, plus a program director. These often determine who makes the initial cut. “We review everybody’s CV,” she says. “But with the recommendation letters, we’re actually able to distinguish the best candidates from the many who contact us every year.”

Graman agrees, noting that he always looks for a program director’s name. Directors fully understand a candidate’s scholarship and performance, both behavioral and clinical. “The program director’s letter to me is critical,” he says. “If someone doesn’t put that name down, it makes me wonder. It’s a red flag.”

Introduce yourself

Hiring teams want to get to know you as a person, so put your credentials in context and show them who you are. Brooke Byler, FASPR, lead physician and provider recruiter at SSM Health in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, says to view your CV as a condensed life story.

“You’ve spent many years preparing, so you want to sufficiently relay who you are and the journey you’ve been on throughout your education, training and employment,” she explains. “Our president always says, ‘I’ve seen what’s on paper. Now tell me about you.’”

Obviously, you have to be selective about which parts of your life story to list. You’ll want to include any major accomplishments, such as earning a Rhodes or Fulbright scholarship. Same goes for any related volunteer experience.

“Anybody can say ‘I’m great with patients,’” Rudert explains. “But someone who can add ‘I put together humanitarian aid packages for Middle East refugees in Jerusalem’ tells me more than just ‘I care about the well-being of people.’ You’ve proven it.”

However, your stint as a teenage lifeguard isn’t relevant. Rudert recalls one cardiovascular surgeon who listed his high school job at a car wash. When the department chair heard, his reaction was: “If he can’t understand or recognize what’s pertinent on a CV, what’s he going to do when he cracks open someone’s chest?”

Unless your summer in Rwanda inspired you to pursue medicine, stories from the past are best left in the past. “If it’s too far back and too unrelated to the medical profession, it probably looks like you’re gilding the lily,” says Graman. “That’s not a good idea.”

It’s fine to touch briefly on current hobbies. Byler, for instance, recalls one candidate whose eyes lit up when he described his passion for restoring old houses. “It helps everyone to get to know you,” she says, noting that personal details make for memorable interviews. “Even if medicine is your life, it’s very good to have hobbies outside of that.”

Chang agrees. “Being a physician is about your ability to connect with your patients,” she says. “We really want you to bring your whole self to it. So that’s definitely something you want to include. It can help you stand out.”

Keep your audience in mind

To score an interview, you’ll need a CV with the right format and content. But impressing everyone in the hiring chain requires more than listing accomplishments. It takes knowing your audience. Your CV isn’t for you; it’s for those you hope will hire you.

Start strong with a cover letter

A cover letter might seem old school, but it can help clinch the interview. “It really shows that you’re going the extra mile,” says Christine Powers, senior physician recruiter at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “I guarantee that if you prepare it, folks will read it.”

Be sure to write a fresh one for each application. You want to show you’ve researched the position and explain why you’re the perfect fit. Avoid platitudes, such as: “I’m interested in providing good patient care.” As Rudert says, “I hope you are. But you don’t need to use an extra sheet of paper to tell me that.”

Instead, use your letter to highlight details that don’t fit neatly on a CV. Keep it concise (about two to three paragraphs), and focus on your best selling points.

For instance, if an employer specializes in psychiatric genomics and you’ve had training in that area, describing your background can show why you’re a good fit. “You’re tapping something that they do,” Rudert says. “So you want to put that in your letter.”

Parker agrees, noting that she’s impressed when a candidate understands what’s important to her hospital and its small community, where employees help with sports clinics in schools and health talks at senior centers. “If I know from a cover letter that someone took the time to research our hospital and community, I’m picking that CV,” she says. “I’m putting it at the top of the list.”

Lastly, a cover letter can highlight your connection to the area. If you grew up there or have family nearby, that’s music to the ears of any recruiter or medical director looking for a new hire who will stick around.

“One of the things that we worry about with recruiting is: Is this going to be a long-termer or somebody who is here for a year or two?” Graman says. “A cover letter gives people an opportunity—without getting too flowery—to say how wonderful they are but also why they’re connected to this position.”

Takeaways for your CV

With hiring teams poised to scour your CV, check out the tips below to make sure it’s in good shape. This list could save you from alienating a recruiter—and losing an opportunity.

Be circumspect

Equity is key to hiring, which is why many human resource and legal departments don’t want to see any information that might introduce bias. That includes mentioning your faith, ethnicity and even your date and place of birth. Not every recruiter or medical director will respond negatively, but you should still tread lightly. It’s also best to leave your photo off.

“We look at everyone with the same parity,” says Debbie Brewer, FASPR, provider recruitment and development manager at Hospital Sisters Health System Medical Group in Springfield, Illinois. “The picture really doesn’t have any bearing.”

Be forthright

Sometimes, there are good reasons for moving on. But if you’re changing jobs every two or so years, recruiters may get concerned. Be prepared to answer questions about your career trajectory.

“Some movement is fine,” Brewer says. “But if they really have a pattern of leaving in two or three years, then we have to wonder, ‘Are they just in it for the guarantee and then they’ll be gone?’ That’s a huge red flag. Hopefully they won’t be offended when the recruiter asks, ‘Can you explain this?’”

Be complete

If applicable, include your immigration status upfront. Whether you have a green card or J-1 visa makes a difference for sponsorship, so you don’t want to leave that critical information out.

Conversely, don’t list your Social Security number or any other sensitive information. Employers don’t need those until the offer stage, and you don’t want risk identify theft.

Be concise

Recruiters also don’t need to see every single paper you’ve written, every course you’ve taken or every lecture you’ve delivered. Include all the relevant points but stick to the most pertinent details.

“I don’t necessarily think longer means better,” Byler says. “If you have a lot of experience, it’s OK to have multiple pages. You just want to condense it to the shortest length possible.”

On that note, don’t repeat yourself. Rudert says he gets annoyed when he sees board certifications and titles listed more than once. “It just makes the CV longer,” he explains. “Sometimes I wish I could take a pair of scissors and cut and paste to make it concise for them. It’s just padding.”

Be thorough

Double and triple check your CV before sending it off. Read it backwards to catch misspellings and mistakes, and ask several people to proofread.

“Many times, we get mesmerized because we’ve written it over and over and over again,” Horton says. “But it doesn’t need to happen. It shows a sloppiness. It’s how somebody else views you, so you want to be careful.”

Be tech-savvy

No matter what program you’re using, your CV needs to be compatible with the organization’s IT system. A PDF is the only way to ensure it opens easily with no changes to the format. “A PDF is clean. It’s going to look how you want it to look,” says Powers. “That way, there’s no room for errors when the receiver opens it.”

Be available

Employers can’t hire you if they can’t reach you. Make sure to include your cell phone number and a professional email address other than the one given to you by your current employer or training program.

“If it takes longer to get ahold of you, you could lose the job because of other candidates who are easy to get ahold of,” Rudert says. “Medical directors don’t have time to chase down a candidate. They won’t keep looking. They’ll just move forward with the one who’s easy to contact.”