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Developing a skills-based CV

You have made the decision to start applying for jobs beyond academia and you may even have found a role to apply for.

This likely requires you to start developing a CV to submit with your application.

Prosper has worked with employer stakeholders and former postdocs who have moved beyond academia to provide some tips for developing your CV. 

We would advise that before reading the information on this page you:

  • Visit our Skills Inventory page to start recognising and extracting your skills and attributes from your personal and professional experience. 
  • Are aware of some of the differences between academic and non-academic CVs

CV videos

Guidance on using the job advert to tailor your CV

Examples of CVs and design tips

CV tips - make it personal!

CV tips: show your personality

Make your CV fit the role

When applying for roles beyond academia the first – and perhaps most important – thing to remember is that you need to create something tailored each time. You should take the time to craft a document that addresses the specific criteria given in the job description. You may add or remove elements, or completely re-arrange the structure of the document, depending upon the kind of position you’re applying for. 

In each case, your aim is to highlight the skills and experiences that you’ve developed as a postdoc and show how they could address a specific business or organisational need. 

“The CV needs to be revised towards the things that the organisation is looking for. Think about how you ensure that whoever is reviewing your CV can see how you meet the criteria that will have been shared in the advert. If you can show that, you’ve got the best chance of progressing on to the next stage.”

Dr Joe de Sousa, Senior Leader, Non-Executive Director and Consultant, Melhor Consulting

Create a master CV 

It takes time to create a document that showcases the skills and competencies you have matched to those outlined in the job description. 

Writing a new CV for each job application may seem like a daunting task, so prepare a master CV that acts as a template document. Don’t worry about the length of the document or how it’s presented. Think about the following:

  • Record the details of your career history, professional development and any notable experiences or achievements outside of work your master CV, then adapt the document for each new job application.
  • Use your master CV to keep track of your ongoing professional development and career achievements as a postdoc. Don’t just think in terms of research outputs, think about your broader skills and mindset.
  • Every time you overcome a challenge, find a solution, develop a partnership, do something you’re proud of – even if you wouldn’t include it on your academic CV – note it down. This will also help at the job interview stage, when many employers ask you to provide specific examples of when you have demonstrated particular skills. 
  • Update this document regularly, adding details of events shortly after they take place, while things are still fresh in your memory

“Not everybody will have done what you’ve done, and there will be a really specific configuration of experiences you’ve got from a particular project you’ve been part of”.

Dr John Miles, Former postdoc, Founder and CEO of Inkpath Ltd 

 “During the application process, I would ask my friends and my colleagues if I could look at their CVs and covering letters to help me shape my own, and I found it a lot easier to borrow from other people’s rather than starting from scratch and creating something that would be interesting to employers.”

Dr Meera Vijayaraghavan, Senior Innovation Associate – National Innovation Centre for Aging, Newcastle University

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Structure your CV

There’s no single “correct” way to structure the information in your CV or job application. Despite an unending stream of books, videos, blog posts and articles on the subject, the order in which you choose to highlight your skills and experiences is up to you. It will be determined by several factors, including the kind of position you’re applying for, and the length and variety of your work history. 

There are some generally accepted rules of good practice regarding formatting and appearance that you should try to stick to. Here are some tips:

CV Dos

  • Stick to 2 pages 
    Cut your content down to get it to fit on 2 pages. Be ruthless! 
  • Make it easy to read 
    Use an easy-to-read typeface (Arial or Calibri is ideal) with a minimum size of 12pt. Only use bold, italic and underlined text in headings, not in the main body of your text. 
  • Space your content 
    You need to pack a lot of details into your CV. Make it as easy as possible for your reader to navigate the document by using clearly-defined section headings, bullet points and concise sentences that focus attention on areas you wish to highlight. 
  • Keep contact details brief 
    It’s not necessary to include your full address and doing so will only take up valuable space. An email address and phone number are all that’s required. 
  • Make it easy to locate 
    Include your name in your CV’s filename and make it clear what the document is (for example, dr-joan-bloggs-cv.pdf). This makes it easy for employers to search for your document in their recruitment system or email. 

CV Don'ts

  • Don't split content over multiple pages 
    Sections that sprawl across the end of one page and the start of the next look messy. Avoid them if you can by rewording or removing text so it ends where your page does. 
  • Don't be afraid of white space 
    Avoid the temptation to eliminate page margins or remove gaps between sections of text. Too much text and too little space will overwhelm your reader and make it difficult for them to quickly find and extract information from your CV. 
  • Don't include lengthy references 
    Your referees will only be contacted if you’re offered a job. At the CV stage, a simple “references available on request” is sufficient. 
  • Don't leave unexplained employment gaps 
    If you took a career break due to caring responsibilities, travelling or health reasons, then mention this on your CV, rather than leaving unexplained gaps. If you learnt anything or developed a new skill during this time, be sure to include it. 
  • Don't forget to have it checked 
    Ask at least one other person to read the document before you send it to an employer. They may spot errors that you’ve overlooked or offer guidance on how to re-write things in a clearer fashion. If possible, ask someone working in a similar field for their advice and feedback. 

Use the right language

A company will receive hundreds of CVs or online applications for a vacancy, meaning the kind of language you use in your CV and the way in which you communicate your skills and experiences is important.

Keep the following points in mind when writing your CV:

  • Employers and recruiters are unlikely to spend much time reading each submission. 
  • They’ll skim-read documents, searching for keywords and evidence of skills mentioned in the job description.
  • Some larger organisations even use computer systems to scan applications, rejecting those that fail to use the keywords used in the “essential criteria” of the person specification. 

You should explicitly reference the language in the job specification. 

If the job specification emphasises the need for “excellent communication”, “strong commercial awareness” or “effective project management skills” then use those same words in your CV or application. 

Read the job advert thoroughly a few times over. Adapt your CV and cover letter to that information: it’s about bringing out the relevance of what you have done. 

Employers will look for these same keywords to help them quickly skim-read the document. Ensure that you use them in order to give yourself the best possible chance of making it through to an interview. 

“You need to tailor your CV in the same way that you’d tailor your cover letter. In our job advert, we’ll say these are the kinds of skills you need and I would expect them to send the CV back demonstrating that they’ve got those skills. If it’s attention to detail, don’t just say ‘attentive to detail’ – I want ‘Attention to detail:’ and then 3 or 4 examples of why they believe they’ve got that skill.”

Dr Kate Whelan, COO of Notch Communications and Head of Notch Scandivania

Focus on your skills

As a postdoc, you’ve developed a huge range of skills that are highly valued by employers in many different sectors. Any effective CV or job application will highlight these competencies, but to create a truly stand-out document that captures the attention of an employer, you’ll need to go a step further. 

You need to demonstrate how you’ve applied your skills and – crucially – what results this led to. 

“Look at the job description and highlight the key attributes and skills which make you a good fit for the position. Don’t just list all your skills: the interviewer will get bored and wonder why you are applying.”

Dr Shona Jones, IP Commercialisation Manager – Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, University of Liverpool  

Employers are often more interested in why you took a particular action and what the consequences were for your project, team or organisation. In other words, what you learned and what you achieved via the application of your skills and experience. 

For example, if a job specification calls for “excellent leadership skills”, you might include the following example in your CV or online job application: 

Excellent leadership skills used to coordinate the activities of laboratory technicians across three sites, leading to a 10% reduction in sample processing times. 

Any quantifiable information you can provide is always useful, and the metrics you may have gathered to demonstrate research impact may be useful here. Whenever you do something during your postdoc contract that has a measurable outcome, be sure to make a note of it in your master CV. That way you’ll always have some useful numerical examples to draw upon when making job applications. 

Make it personal

The importance of a new employee being the ‘right fit’ for the team and getting along with existing team members has only increased. Our employer stakeholders have shared that it is important to them that potential new recruits demonstrate their values and what they are interested in via their CV or cover letter as a way of evaluating their fit in the team. Make the most of some sections in your CV to get across your ‘Why?’.

Use the profile section at the top of your CV to share your professional ambitions and where you would like your career to go. If there is space at the end of your CV share some examples of personal hobbies and achievements that show your interests and further skills. 

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