Developing your CV

Your Curriculum Vitae (CV) has only one purpose – to get you an interview with the company of your choice. It is a sales document, selling you, and it has to be easy for your customer to use.

There are three areas to consider when reviewing or developing your CV:

  • Structure
  • Content
  • Presentation

CV Structure

Within the pharmaceutical industry a chronological CV is the norm, and most recruiting managers will expect to see your details presented in this way.

The CV should be kept short, ideally no more than two to three pages, with an additional page of supporting information such as publications if necessary.

Most CVs should follow the same general format, and keeping to this will make your CV easier to use. If recruiters have to search hard for the information they want, you have less chance of getting through. Many CVs are initially screened for fit, so ensure that you present the information in a way that they can use it.

The following format is fairly standard:

  • Name
  • Brief synopsis of experience and career aims
  • Personal details
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Specific skills
  • Additional information

CV Content

Name – Use the name that you are known by, rather than your given name, if different.

Brief synopsis of experience and career aims – This should be no more than about four lines, and should give the reader an immediate understanding of where you are now, your major personal characteristics and skills, and what you are hoping to achieve longer term. This is often written in the third person.

For example:
A well qualified clinical research associate with over 4 years experience working in the CRO sector. Therapeutic expertise includes CNS, oncology and urology. Excellent organisational and communication skills. Now looking to move into a line management position within a pharmaceutical company.

Personal details – This should include your home address, home and mobile telephone numbers, e-mail address, date of birth, UK/EU work status.

Education – Education & Qualifications should be presented in reverse chronological order, and should clearly state the name of each qualification, the establishment, and the relevant dates. If you have a good degree grade, add it in, otherwise leave the grade out. Only include A-Level qualifications or lower if you are a new graduate.

Employment – This should be presented in reverse chronological order, with the greatest amount of information given for the most recent or current position. If you have been promoted a number of times within the same organisation, show each job separately but under the overall banner of the company – recruiters like to see stability.

Identify your major achievements in each role, and any specific benefits you have given to the company. Use these points as examples of your “transferable skills”. Do not give reasons for leaving, as you will have ample opportunity to discuss this at interview.

Show job changes running in smooth chronological sequence with no overlapping dates, but if there are gaps in your employment explain them, e.g. Career break to go travelling. If you have been in employment for some time, your earlier experience becomes rather less relevant, and should therefore be edited down to one or two lines per company.

Specific skills – The content and size of this area will depend on the specialisation in which you are working. You should identify any particular IT skills, therapeutic expertise, management experience or relevant training.

Additional information – This section allows you to add information on interests and non-work related achievements. It is also a good place to cover language skills, or international experience if this is not covered in the education or employment sections.

If you have voluntary work or charitable achievements, add them here. For example, ‘Raised £3,000 for the charity Mencap by running in the London Marathon’, ‘Successfully completed the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award’, or “School Governor”. These can be excellent talking points at interview, and allow you another opportunity to present your skills and attributes eg organisational ability.

Interests should be concise: ‘amateur dramatics’ conveys as much useful information to the reader as a description of your last starring role. Humour is not always a good idea at this point. Some people find it irritating and you are not looking to be remembered for the wrong reasons.

CV Presentation

When people are reviewing CVs they tend not to notice if a CV is particularly well presented, but they definitely remember if it is presented badly.

  • Keep the document as plain as possible
  • Avoid borders, colour, fancy graphics or photographs
  • Be consistent with your formatting, particularly if you are applying for a job which requires a good eye for detail, such as a Pharmacovigilance Physician or QA Manager
  • Use the spell and grammar checkers
  • Keep to a simple typeface such as Arial or Times New Roman, and use a readable font size (eg. 12pt.)
  • Send as a Word document to ensure that the formatting is not corrupted – agencies and clients also find these easier for their databases.

Having built a generic CV, try to tailor it for each specific job, as the most relevant aspects of your career need to be highlighted. You are looking to highlight the skills outlined in the job advertisement. Always make sure that you keep a copy of each tailored CV to take with you to any potential interview.

When sending your CV produce a short tailored covering e-mail. This is the first chance that the Agency or Recruiting Manager has to make a judgement on your application. Don’t waste it.

Use the opportunity of the covering e-mail to highlight your key skills, and to show how well you match the brief for the role. This will make the recruiter’s job easier and will increase your likelihood of success. Reflect back some of the wording in the advert and demonstrate understanding of the role and the company

The e-mail needs to contain the following elements:

  • Job reference number or job requirement (e.g. Enquiry for the Position of Medical Science Liaison)
  • Introductory paragraph – who you are, what experience you have
  • Why you are applying for the role, including examples of what you can bring to the job should you get it
  • Follow-up and timescale – always suggest that you will call to check the progress of your application, and then do it

Control where your CV is sent. Recruitment Consultancies are required by law to obtain your consent before sending your CV to any client. Ensure that the agency has been formally engaged by the client by asking for a copy of the client’s JD.

Keep a list of companies that have been sent your CV. From a potential employer’s point of view multiple applications form a number of agencies does not look like you are in control.

Your online profile

With the massive growth of internet networking and publishing, your CV is no longer the sole source of information about you.  It is vital that any information about you on the internet is consistent with the CV you present to potential employers.   For example, if you say on your CV that you were Regulatory Affairs Manager but on your previous company’s website you are listed as Regulatory Affairs Assistant, recruiters and potential employers will question your suitability!

You can use certain internet sites to your advantage.  Professional networking sites such as Linked In and Xing can help you boost your profile and demonstrate a positive view to potential employers.  Have a suitable, professional photograph, obtain recommendations from former colleagues, make valid contributions to discussions within groups and ensure all your education and professional details and dates are consistent with your CV.  If you have published any technical papers or have contributed to any company publicity then make sure you link to them from your Linked In profile

It also pays to be mindful of the potential negative impact of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.  Ensure that any publically viewable content is consistent with the professional image you wish to portray to potential employers.  If you have personal content that you’d rather potential employers did not see then make sure your security settings are water tight.

Test out your online profile by googling yourself – this is what potential employers may do so check it out first to make sure nobody has published information or photos featuring you that you’d rather employers would not see.

The interview

This is your moment to shine!  Make the most of this opportunity to showcase your skills and experience.  Make sure you research the company beforehand, it is better to over prepare than under prepare. Understand what you are looking for and what drew you to the interview, which helps to ensure you come across as having the right focus.

You must focus on your main competencies and USPs again as mentioned earlier in this article.  The majority of interviews will involve a series of competency based questions which are founded on the idea that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. This allows all candidates an equal opportunity to present their past experiences in line with the criteria for the position being sought.  Different companies look for different competencies when they recruit for their positions; refer back to the job description to remind you of which competencies are required for that specific job.

The most popular technique to keep in mind is one often called the STAR method.  This is the Situation or Task that you have encountered, the Actions you took in light of that situation and the Results of your actions.  To prepare, identify two job related examples that you have encountered in the past which will demonstrate that you possess the particular competency the interviewer is looking for.  Listen carefully to the question to understand what competencies the interviewer wants to explore and avoid making vague statements and always provide concrete examples.

Time keeping is very important during this process, don’t be late, make sure you plan your journey in advance and take into consideration traffic, train delays etc.  When the market is tight and the competition is strong, it would be a shame that you fall down due to something like this which is completely unavoidable.  Present yourself professionally, make sure you are dressed for the occasion which gives the impression that you care about the job you are going for.  You may be asked to prepare a presentation, this has been the Achilles heel for many candidates we have worked with in the past.  Small details like sitting down during your presentation or not maintaining eye contact can all be deciding factors when interviewers are faced with candidates who are equally as strong as each other. Ensure that your presentation is on brief – and within the timescale indicated. Too short a presentation is as bad as too long!

Telephone Interviews

As part of the interview process, and sometimes as an initial screening interview you may be invited for a telephone interview.
Preparation for a telephone interview is as important as preparation before any other form of interview or meeting. The impression you create in the opening moments, and the manner with which you present yourself will determine whether or not you will be successful.

As with any other interview find out as much as you can about the company and the job description and the individual who will call you. .

Make a note of any questions you would like to ask.

Have a notepad and pen ready, along with your diary.

Have your CV at hand. In all probability the hiring manager will have a copy of it too, so you probably won’t be asked to describe your background in detail.  Ensure you are familiar with your CV and clear on reasons for career progression to date.

Prepare mentally, or better still in writing, a very brief ‘potted history’ to answer the demand ‘Tell me about yourself.’ Managers ask this not because they want the information (they already have your CV!), but because they want to listen to you, to find out how communicative you are, and how you sound.

The Call

Usually you will be given a dial in number or the hiring Manager will call you.  Ensure your mobile is in range and you are in a quiet place!  If you have been asked to call at a specific time, call at precisely the correct time. Too early shows over-keenness and may damage your negotiating position later on, or perhaps your chances of getting to the next stage. Too late shows lack of interest – excuses won’t be tolerated. If you can’t get through (manager busy), leave a message with the secretary/receptionist to show that you called at the right time. Ask when the manager is expected to be free, and try again then. Repeat the same procedure until you make contact. If you have been told that the hiring manager will call you – do not expect the same rules to apply! They may be unavoidably late! (They’re the one with the job after all!)

Tone of voice. This is the most important aspect of this form of interview. The detail is of very little importance – the manager has your CV, so they know exactly what you’ve done, and in all probability wouldn’t be talking to you if they weren’t essentially interested.


The main rules are:

Think about how you normally answer the phone at home. When you answer the phone, do so by announcing your name, in an enthusiastic style

Sound interesting/interested, energetic and enthusiastic

Vary your tone and pitch a little. Remember that your voice needs to make up for lack of body language!

Be succinct (don’t waffle)

Ask open-ended questions (beginning with who, what, when, why, where, how: these all ask for information, and keep the ball in the other person’s court). Be prepared that they will do exactly the same!

Don’t use jargon

Use the other person’s name regularly throughout the conversation (but not all the time). Also, use the company name a few times.

What else would you like to know? (An ideal opportunity to ‘close’ – see below)

Closing the telephone interview

Part of the purpose of the telephone interview (from the hiring manager’s perspective) is to find out how keen your level of enthusiasm for the role and whether you have natural closing ability (particularly for roles with elements of negotiation).

As soon as it seems appropriate during the conversation, ask for a date to meet for a face-to-face interview. Say something like ‘Well, this certainly sounds like just the job I’m looking for Mr. Brown. I’m sure I can contribute a lot to your company. I’d really like an opportunity to meet with you face to face and further explore this opportunity”.

You may have to be content with the response ‘I’ll contact AXESS, but at least you can ask ‘When am I likely to hear from you?’

Please telephone your AXESS Account Manager immediately to let them know the outcome. They should be able to find out the answers to the other questions, on your behalf.

Communicating with recruiters & HR

Regardless of whether you are going through an agency or made a direct application, your initial contact with Recruitment Consultants or HR staff could make all the difference to your success.  The tendency is to get impatient with HR/consultants and want to talk directly to the Line Manager but recruiters can exclude you from the process so it is important to always portray a positive and patient attitude.

Make sure you are targeted with your applications and apply for roles you feel are certainly within your remit; it is no good applying for positions for which you know you will not have the experience.  If anything it reduces your credibility in the eyes of potential hirers.

Control where your CV is sent. Recruitment Consultancies are required by law to obtain your consent before sending your CV to any client. Ensure that the agency has been formally engaged by the client by asking for a copy of the client’s JD.

Keep a list of companies that have been sent your CV. From a potential employer’s point of view multiple applications form a number of agencies does not look like you are in control.

If feasible, make the effort to meet with the people who are going to be representing you initially.  There are many factors behind getting a job offer and “team fit” is certainly one of them.  After meeting with you, a good consultant should be able to suggest a client whose team’s personalities and work ethic would be a good match for yours.