When you search for a job, whether it is a position in academia or industry, it’s important to carefully prepare your application package containing a cover letter and CV or a resume for each job posting. The highlighted information in your documents will become important factors in the decision to include you in the running for the position. Otherwise, your application documents may end up in the ‘not considered’ pile.

Among all your work experiences, skills and accomplishments, select which ones to include (and what not to include) in some of these documents to draw the attention of the hiring manager or committee.

postdoc guide to CVs, resumes and cover letters plus templates and free postdoc survival guide ebook download

In order to highlight your strengths and fit your qualifications with the requirements of the position in your documents, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Who will be reading and accessing my documents? Is it a human resources representative of a company, a recruiter, or a manager? Does the hiring committee include the head of a department and some professors?
  2. How will they access my documents? Is it by filtering keywords via a job search website?
  3. What type of candidates are they looking for? Is it a scientist with experience managing research projects? Is it a scientist with writing experience?
  4. What will they look for from the applicants? Is it a particular technical skill to perform experiments? Is it somebody with a unique expertise to fill a gap in the team?

After you find your answers to these questions, tailor your documents to match the requirements of the job posting. To start, this article provides a quick overview about the three types of job application documents you may need to prepare: a CV, a resume, and a cover letter.

Curriculum Vitae (CV)

A curriculum vitae (CV) is a document containing a formal record of your professional and academic history. This document must present all of your accomplishments, education, and work history. Its purpose is to display your academic history, so the length of a CV is variable. However, it is usually longer than a resume. The common use of a CV is for applying for faculty positions, research grants, and some research positions.

What to Include in a CV

  • Personal information: name, address, phone, email.
  • Education background: degree and areas of expertise.
  • Work history
  • Teaching experience
  • Research experience
  • Publications
  • Presentations
  • Research Grants
  • Awards
  • Professional Affiliations
  • Professional Service (for example: your experience as an editor or reviewer for a scientific journal).
  • References

How to Write a CV

  1. Start with a list of your work history. Include your position, the company information and dates when you were in that role.
  2. Use bold and all caps for headings. However, use only bold and avoid all caps for subheadings.
  3. Organize your experiences based on the requirements for the position. For example, start with your teaching experience when applying for a position with more of a teaching load.
  4. Separate contents of different subheadings with white space.
  5. List additional sections, such as volunteer experience.
  6. Finish with a list of references.
  7. Put your name and page numbers in a footer or header on every page of your CV.


- Use past tense to describe your roles and present tense for your current position.

- Avoid the first person, such as “I” and “my”.

- Arrange your accomplishments and skills within categories.

- Organize the sections based on the job posting.

- Include relevant leadership experience, volunteer experience, certifications, training, and experiences as a reviewer on additional sections.

- Make sure the content of your CV is clear, concise, complete, consistent, and current.

- Ask another person or your mentor to read your CV and give you some feedback.

CV Example, CV


A resume contains a summary of your professional experience or work history tailored to a specific job posting. The length is usually 1-2 pages. Employers of many industry positions ask applicants to send their resume instead of CV.

What to Include in Your Resume

  • Personal information: name, phone, email (it is advised to leave your address off, unless you are within a 15-mile radius of the job’s location).
  • Work history
  • Relevant experience, skills, publications, and accomplishments.
  • Education background: degree, areas of expertise.

How to Write a Resume

  1. List your work history with information about your position, the company and date range of your position.
  2. Use bold and all caps for headings, but only bold for subheadings. You can also use Microsoft Word’s built-in paragraph formatting under the Home tab.
  3. Only list work experiences and accomplishments relevant to the position.
  4. State briefly your technical and soft skills important for this position.
  5. List your skills with bullet points.
  6. Include additional sections, such as awards, volunteer experience, and certifications.
  7. List your education, certifications, awards and volunteer experience at the end of your resume.


- Limit to 2 pages and make it brief by using numbers and bullet points with strong verbs.

- Use action verbs.

- Use past tense to describe your past roles, and present tense for your current position.

- Only pick skills relevant to the position of interest.

- Use specific keywords related to the job posting.

- Highlight your work experience and skills to match the required skills for the position.

- List only relevant publications.

- Minimize using the word “I”.

- Ask someone to proofread your resume.

- Quantify your accomplishments with profits, percentages, numbers, rankings, or ratings.

For example, instead of “responsible for publishing research, writing protocols, and designing and conducting research experiments”, state “Wrote 10 research publications. Developed 10 research protocols within a six-month period. Designed and conducted 16 chemical assays critical for the organization’s QC process.”

Another example, instead of “responsible for conducting weekly QC analyses of various reagents, reported results to my direct manager. Performed daily weigh-outs of product. Inspected reagents for any quality issues”, write “Developed 15 new assays for the QC department within a 3 month period, conducted QC analyses on an average of 70 different chemicals per week. Managed reagent inspections for all 1500 chemicals.”

Resume template

Cover Letter

A cover letter is a letter to introduce yourself, show your interest in the job posting, and highlight your qualifications for the position. Think of it as a personal commercial – your pitch about what you bring to the table and why someone should hire you. Writing a cover letter can be more difficult than preparing a CV or a resume due to its narrative nature. This letter is your first chance to convince the hiring manager or committee to hire you. Therefore, make sure your letter is well written and convincing.

What to Include in a Cover Letter

  • The title of the position.
  • Where you found the job posting.
  • Why you are interested in the position.
  • What makes you an excellent candidate?
  • A call to action for the interview.

How to Write a Cover Letter

  1. Opening paragraph: stating the position and your interest
  2. Middle paragraph(s): summarizing what you offer and how your experiences contribute to the role.
  3. Closing paragraph: mentioning your availability for further questions or an interview and thanking the readers for their attention.


- Be specific about the position you are applying and show your enthusiasm for the position.

- Highlight why you are fit for the position (not just why you want the job).

- Avoid copying and pasting your qualifications from your resume.

- Limit to less than one page.

- Ask someone to read your cover letter before you send your application.

Cover Letter Example, Cover Letter


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