Decoding your Resume

Let’s first understand why a resume, also known as Curriculum Vitae (CV), is important.  In Latin, it means “course of my life.”  So by definition it is a brief account of a person’s education, qualifications and previous experiences.  Your CV is a marketing document (like a business card).  Creating a CV is like working backwards with a mathematical problem.  Start with end goal in mind: to get you an interview for a desired job.  There is no other purpose.  Some feel that the CV needs to:

  • Be showcase your every achievement since birth
  • Justification a job change
  • Mention promotions, awards, or special recognition
  • Be a forum for describing the size of an organization, team, or budget for which you had responsibility

With the average recruiter spending 8 seconds for the first pass on a CV the depth and fluff is not looked at.  So the goal of your resume is to get you the interview.  This is achieved by persuading the reviewer that time spent with you will be worth more than time spent with another candidate.  You'll persuade the reviewer by providing quantifiably proven results that you can do the job very well.

Resume length and structure

The first question people ask is how long should a resume be?  I have seen anywhere from ½ a page to 20+ pages.  The average resume should be no more than 2 pages. If you are a new graduate or recently entered the field: 1 page should suffice.  More is not necessarily better.  Specific to the medical field there are added elements depending on the stage you are in.  For example Medical school graduates might include a small section with USMLE score information or select research periodicals.  Whereas, if you are a graduating resident, the USMLE section is not necessary.

Your resume will be composed of several key sections: A heading with contact information; a professional summary; a chronological detail of your experiences; and your educational background.  There are some extras sections that you can consider depending on your field of application.  The most important element is to understand that your CV is a living and fluid document.

Your audience

Your resume is a marketing document that needs to get past certain pre-screeners to get you your interview.  Tailoring your CV to your audience is important.  Know that a large urban academic medical center will have different needs than a small rural hospital.  Understanding those needs and portraying that in your CV gives you a leg up to the competition.  You’ve heard it before: research the company or hospital to get a sense of what is important to them.

Section I: Professional Summary

This summarizes your professional ambitions, background, and talents.  This is 2-3 lines sales pitch.  This is not your biography.  You'll highlight your skills and successes.

Job titles: These can vary from company to company.  In medicine, junior attending, hospitalist, and nocturnist all mean something different.  Know the title and its related qualifications and custom tailor your CV to it.

Professional skills: list a handful of skills that you possess that are important to your success in the jobs you are seeking. This should be genuine and not made up.  Remember you might be tested on them.  A resume is a legal part of your application and dishonesty will only serve to hurt you.  Skills should also be "level appropriate".  Meaning, if you are a med student applying for residency, it is not expected that you are proficient in central line placements.  This is a skill developed during residency.

Descriptions of your past success: a few phrases that describe your demonstrated past success. Anything for which you have received recognition is appropriate (ex. For student graduates: Top-ranked student or dean recognition award).

Section II: Chronological detail of your professional success

This is singularly the biggest changed section in modern CV development.  You are detailing your success.  You are not listing your past titles or duties; not describing your staff composition or budget size; or administrative systems used; and certainly not mentioning how your medical school ranks in the world.  You will provide a chronological detail of your professional success, starting with your most recent job first.

After you list company name, employment dates, and your title for each role, you will include bullet points.  Each bullet point will detail your success that makes a persuasive argument (sales pitch) on your behalf.  Your most recent two jobs are most important and should not really exceed eight bullet points each (on average).  Your next two experiences can get half that.  If you have had anything else, even if they were your favorite, most nostalgic, most enjoyable times in your life only get one or two bullet points each. It is very important to note that nobody is hiring you today for the job you had a decade ago.  The basic structure of every bullet point in your success resume must include two things: A success verb and a number: Numbers are expressed in dollars, percentages, or a simple number.

I will include a list of verbs later but generally showing success means something got better.  You want to be seen as getting the job done.  Don’t waste time looking in your thesaurus for variations of any word.  It really doesn’t matter as much as looking like you accomplished something.  Of course if things didn’t work out well you’ll need some help and coaching.

Words to use:

  • Achieved / Contributed
  • Added / Improved
  • Awarded
  • Increased / Decreased
  • Exceeded / Expanded
  • Optimized / Introduced / Changed
  • Minimized / Maximized
  • Generated / Saved

Words to avoid:

  • Attempted to
  • Tried to
  • Used to
  • Wanted to
  • Prefers to
  • Managed
  • Part of
  • Handled
  • Responsibilities included

So a typical bullet point may look something like this:

  • Increased x by %
  • Improved x by $
  • Introduced new x that led to # more....

Other contributions are impressive and important but only the extent they are quantifiable. New methodologies, exhibiting leadership, or bringing innovation to a company are interesting only to the extent they measurable (ex. more referrals, increased revenue, faster turnaround or Length of Stay (LOS), increased pt. satisfaction).  When considering a performance improvement project or research area, see that it will contribute rather than just push paper.

If there is a professional skill that you highlighted in Section I and you want to include it as one of your bullet points that is appropriate.  For example if you want to showcase your ability to work in a “fast-paced-environment.”  You might want to bullet “executes multiple tasks at once without compromising quality or patient safety.”  If you’re a “team player” You may say “motivates others and accepts responsibility.”  You get the point.

Overall, the above outline is remarkably simple because the job search process, despite all the anxiety and confusion, is remarkably simple. You want to do work similar to the work you've done before but at a new place and a new level. To do so, you need to explain to new people what can give them confidence that you will be able to contribute to the new team. The easiest way to do that is to share numerical data that show you have contributed in the past and can, therefore, contribute in the future.  Unlike the stock market: past performance is a good predictor of future outcomes!

Section III: Education

Depending where you are in your career will determine where this section goes: beginning or end.  It is important to chronicle your education that is necessary for the job you seek.  If you’re applying for residency, your high school information is not necessary.  Start with college and then medical school.  You need not put any description about the size of the university or whether it is prestigious in your region of the world (you’d be surprised what folks write here).

Section IV (if applicable): Publications

Many folks have contributed to some original content or presented work.  It would be appropriate to add those accomplishments.  This includes: manuscripts, presentations, case reports, and chapters in books.  If you are a prolific author, you should include only works in the last 3 years.  If there are more than 10 (congrats to you) list only those which are appropriate for the position you are seeking and add your bibliography as a supplemental offering to your CV.  The only exception here is if you are applying for a research position and this is what needs to be showcased.

Section V (if applicable): Certifications and Licenses

Self-explanatory.  However, the format should include the title, region (national, state, etc...) and certification/license number, Year and any expiration dates.

 Supplemental sections can include:

  1. Honors & Awards
  2. Professional Societies
  3. Community Service

As far as your likes and interests on your resume, I’m on the fence.  Professionally it’s just filler on paper but to some it is the way to find common ground.  Perhaps focus on tangible things you do instead.  I generally, coach folks to use this section verbally during the ice breaking portion of any interview.

 Hope this has been helpful and good luck!


As always, comments and suggestions are welcomed.  If you have an idea for future topics please share and we can collaborate.

Michael Farca served as a residency program coordinator for the Department of Medicine at one of the largest training programs in the country.  He became the Department Administrator with continued oversight of the residency program, 2 primary site fellowships and 3 rotating fellowships.  Michael has dedicated over a decade to graduate medical education and is board certified in Teaching Administrators for Graduate Medical Education (C-TAGME).

Disclaimer: Michael Farca is an entrepreneur and is part owner and operator of Master the Wards, which provides Observership U.S. clinical experiences for IMGs, CV and personal statement development. For details on this service you can click here: