What to include in your CV – an international perspective

Scientists are internationally mobile & they do not always find guidance on tailoring their CVs for specific sectors and countries. Following a recent twitter debate on whether photos should be included in CVs, the EMBL Fellows’ Career Service started a survey to provide evidence-based guidance for life scientists.

A PDF summary of the main conclusions, with a graphical visualisation of the results by sector and country can be downloaded here. This article aims to provide a more detailed discussion.

So that we can update this article with more guidance in future, we have left the survey open for further responses. We would particularly welcome input from countries with no or few responses so far, and those hiring life scientists in the diverse array of non-academic careers. We will update this post once we reach a critical mass of new responses. A big thank you to all those who have completed the survey so far – including science twitter, our personal contacts & members of the EMBO Young Investigator network.

Method

We asked respondents to indicate whether certain items should be included on a CV – with the following possible ratings:

  • Required –  not read without (abbreviated to ‘required’)
  • Expected
  • Neutral / not important (‘neutral’)
  • No – inclusion may have a negative effect (abbreviated below to ‘avoid?’)

143 responses were received in the first few weeks, from respondents in 26 countries. 123 responses referred to academia, and 20 to non-academic career areas that employ life scientists (e.g. industry R&D, publishing etc.).  See the end of the article for a more detailed breakdown e.g. responses per country.

In the results section below, we have included the distribution of responses for each item. ‘Typical’ responses by sector and country are also included to provide a rough guide to trends and variation, but are based on rather small numbers (for some countries just 1 response and only 20 non-academic responses in total). ‘Typical’ responses were calculated by converting the four discrete ratings to a numerical scale (2 (required), 1 (expected), 0 (neutral) and -1 (avoid)) and averaging: the average values form a continuous scale from 100% stated that inclusion is required (2, dark purple) to 100% of respondents recommending avoiding inclusion (-1, dark yellow). Lighter colours indicate more neutral responses or mixed expectations.

Respondents could also comment on other aspects, including what they often see done wrong by applicants. A detailed summary of these comments, by sector, can be found towards the end of the article.

Results / discussion

Contact details + nationality/visa status Most hiring managers in and outside academia expect to see your contact details, nationality and, if applicable, visa status. Therefore include your full contact details in your application –  in the cover letter and/or CV (including tel. number and email). If your nationality or visa status makes you eligible to work in the country, you should definitely also include this information. If not, you could consider leaving this out – although a small number of recruiters may then not read your application; and you will anyway need to disclose this later in the application process.

Date of birth:

Inclusion of your date of birth is expected by many academics in mainland Europe. For the small number of non-academic respondents, it was less important.  In the US and UK, it is best to avoid including this information, both in academic and non-acadmemic applications.

Family status (marriage + children): 

 

 

In most countries, it is not necessary to include family status; indeed in the UK and US, this should be avoided. However, in some countries, this is the norm, and including this information may be expected by some hiring managers.

One respondent from Germany said that applications that omit marital status would not be read, and a small minority of respondents (11/143) across all countries expected to see the applicant’s marital status. This was particularly notable in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Similar trends were seen for inclusion of number of children. In these countries, and others with a similar  culture, you should therefore consider including your marital status and number of children. This is often not an easy decision, particularly for women with children. One respondent expressed the worry that “I suspect including children and marital status may have negative effects on female applicants in the country but can’t prove it”. If you decide to omit this, rest assured that the majority of readers will not disregard your CV; however, inclusion may also be positive – one respondent highlighted that knowing that a female applicant has children allows academic hiring managers to take this into account when assessing their research output.

Photo

In our survey, some respondents from Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Turkey expected to see a photo on a CV. However, in these eight countries – as well as almost all other countries – the largest majority saw the inclusion of a photo neutrally, and overall, less than 10% of our respondents expected to see a photo on a CV. In comparison, 26% thought that a photo should not be included – including five people from Germany and three from Spain, countries where photos are generally included in CVs. In the US and Canada, all respondents (1 industry, 7 academia) thought that photos should not be included. Additionally, in the UK, a large minority (35%) recommended applicants to not include a photo. In most countries, it is therefore probably safest to omit a photo from an academic CV, and you should not include a photo for job applications in the US or Canada.

For industry, companies that recruit internationally will also mostly not expect a photo from international candidates – but as one hiring manager states “if your job requires extensive interactions with the public, customers or partners, image is important and a photo may be fundamental in the selection process” – and “it is almost impossible not to find a photo of a candidate so by including a photo, the candidate can at least [choose] which photo will be shown”. A good, professional-looking photo may be positive for your industry CV, for countries where a photo is sometimes expected and/or in certain subfields.

Hobbies:

In both academia and industry, a large majority of hirers thought that the inclusion of hobbies was neutral or not important. A small number expected to see this information, but slightly more indicated that inclusion could be detrimental to your application. Nordic managers were most negative. One hiring manager for non-academic positions noted that “Hobbies, though not expected, can be advantageous to include if relevant to the position”. We normally recommend only including hobbies if they demonstrate relevant skills or a fit to the culture of the organisation, or if you have a particularly interesting (but non-controversial) hobby that would make a good talking point at the interview.

References:

Respondents in academia mostly said that contact details for references are required (32%) or expected (63%), with just 5% finding this neutral / not important. In contrast, for non-academic positions, 45% of hiring managers rated inclusion of the names / contact details for references as neutral. Where possible, ask your referees in advance and include their details in the CV or cover letter, particularly for academic positions. If you are not comfortable discussing your application to a non-academic position with your supervisor yet, you can consider omitting the details or stating ‘references available on request’ – although it is still better to include references if you can.

Additional comments from hiring managers

Below, we include the highlights from the additional comments section, split by broad sector.

Comments from non-academic hiring managers included: the importance of not using “your academic CV for an application in industry” – instead they advised that “Keeping it short is important. Having the key information on the first or maybe two pages max.” and similarly that you should include “detailed expertise that is relevant for the announced position, but no exhaustive description of everything that was done by the applicant in the past”.  This mirrors the advice industry recruiters have provided in workshops at EMBL, summarized in our previous post here.

One respondent emphasised that a “clear outline of skills and explanation of roles in previous positions” is necessary and that CVs “with a lot of ‘visual effects’ but less substance (lot of marketing) [make] it hard to evaluate real competences”. Another respondent expects candidates to include a “statement outlining what core skills” and “achievements in each role held rather than just list of responsibilities”. For advice on how to describe your skills with substance, see our previous post on impactful statements.

Comments from academic hiring managers also mention the importance of tailoring the application to the position “e.g., if it is a postdoc position requiring solely computational experience, the applicant should have it and highlight it”. Several PIs discussed the importance of demonstrating motivation in (postdoc) cover letters, with comments such as “write a cover letter or email that shows that you actually looked into what our group does, thought about it and want to work with us, and shows me how your skills will be useful to us. Be specific – bland statements about being motivated don’t count” similarly another respondent recommended that applicants should “outline on how the skills of the applicant can be used for research projects in my lab”. You should include your “middle to long term career goals and expectations from next career step” in your cover letter or CV.

As with non-academic positions, a logical structure that makes your career progression clear was mentioned as important. One hiring manager highlighted the need to explain all CV gaps – with another respondent reassuring candidates that experience in industry may be seen positively so doesn’t need to be hidden. In addition, clear descriptive headings should be used.

Below we include a summary of the specific comments on the content of some of the ‘typical’ headings. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of what to include/omit and that headings can be adapted based on the exact position you are applying for, and what information you want to bring across.

Education

  • One respondent recommended including university grades.
  • Several respondents mentioned that dates should be included & accurate.

Research Experience

  • This section should include details of the lab (including the supervisor) and the research.
  • A “realistic and truthful description of technical skill” should be gained either from the research experience description or a separate section. One respondent listed the range of technical skills as one of the most important criteria (together with publications and motivation), but a long list of technical skills was found offputting by some PIs, and is also less important for more senior applications. Skills should not be quantified as percentages.
  • It should be clear which research projects you have participated in.  In some countries (e.g. Portugal) this is more formalized than others, and a separate list can be considered.

Honours and awards

Can include:

  • invited talks for more senior levels,
  • funding obtained,
  • awards,
  • etc.

Professional activities (content varies according to career stage; may be split into subsections / renamed)

Can include:

  • grant panels,
  • reviewing,
  • examining,
  • teaching,
  • supervision responsibilities (esp. for Scandinavia),
  • meetings participated in (early in career),
  • etc.

Publications

  • The publication list should ONLY include accepted papers or preprints.
    • Some respondents felt quite strongly that applications should not “list of titles of future papers that do not exist. […] Only real achievements should be described”. Others advised that, if you feel it is important to include ongoing projects & papers in submission, make a subsection for this (including a short statement on status).
    • Similarly, non-scientific papers should go in a separate section or at least be clearly labelled.
    • One respondent mentioned that many applicants change the order of authors for publications where they share joint first authorship but are listed second in the author list. For this respondent, this was seen negatively.
  • You can consider including metrics of productivity. One respondent even suggested making “a plot of [your h-index] through time, a la Google Scholar, on the CV, in order to show your trajectory (past, present, and future)”. One Spanish PI also advised the inclusion of impact factors; although here it should be noted that many PIs and institutions feel strongly that impact factors should not be used as a metric for assessing individuals and have a policy of asking for CVs NOT to include this – so in some cases inclusion of impact factors could also have a negative effect. We advise you to try to find out how research productivity is measured in the country / institution you are applying for, and consider including relevant metrics accordingly if they shed your productivity in a positive light.

References

  • One respondent responded “Do not leave out your most recent employer from reference persons without explanation – that is a red flag for me.” whilst one felt that saying “available on request” was fine for them.
  • One person suggested including reference details in the cover letter rather than CV

Other info (under a relevant descriptive heading)

  • For academic posts with teaching resonsibilities, you are often asked to describe the types of courses you would be able to teach – sometimes in a separate document. One respondent notes: “one can teach only 2-3 different courses perfectly but not 15-20 courses” – a long list of possible courses is probably therefore not the best format here. If the position is research-focussed, publications and research experience are more important, and should generally appear earlier in the application.
  • The level of English should be included. You can include the European reference levels, A1-C2, as a guide to your ability.

Break down of responses

143 respondents

Experience level:

  • 112 hiring managers (including academic group leaders, industry hiring managers & recruiters)
  • 26 involved indirectly in hiring decisions
  • 5 people not involved in hiring

Sectors:

  • 20 commenting on non-academic hiring – including for industry R&D, science management, venture capital, clinical trial management, publishing, government & NGO roles.
  • 123 respondents commenting on hiring in the academic research / teaching sector

Countries:

  • Australia n=1
  • Austria n=7
  • Belgium n=3
  • Canada n=2
  • Czech Republic n=5
  • Denmark n=2
  • Estonia n=1
  • Finland n=1
  • France n=11
  • Germany n=25
  • Greece n=1
  • India n=1
  • Ireland n=1
  • Israel n=2
  • Italy n=4
  • Netherlands n=5
  • Norway n=1
  • Poland n=6
  • Portugal n=5
  • Singapore n=1
  • Spain n=11
  • Sweden n=3
  • Switzerland n=11
  • Turkey n=6
  • United Kingdom n=20
  • United States of America n=7