Google search “How to write a resume” and you’ll receive about a billion hits giving you all kinds advice on what to include, where to put it, how to format it, etc.
Add your specific profession (i.e. physical therapist or optometrist) on the front of that search, and you’re down to half a billion. This article walks you through exactly how to approach writing any healthcare resume, starting at ground zero, but taking a novel approach.
What you'll get
You will end up with a rough template or layout - and a few different drafts - of your healthcare resume or curriculum vitae (CV)*. However, the means by which you arrive at the final draft will be reversed from the traditional model of building the document piece by piece.
It's important to think of your healthcare resume as fluid; it's a living being! You'll continually be updating a resume over time, but you have to start somewhere! That's why you're here.
How we'll get there
We will take advantage of the concept of addition by subtraction. Meaning that we’ll start by putting literally everything you’ve done onto the paper, then subtracting the things that are irrelevant to the position to which you’re applying.
In other words, don’t focus on the question, “What should I include in my healthcare resume?” Instead, ask yourself, “If I were the employer, what would I be looking for in the ideal candidate?”
I can tell you right now it is not a 10 page document highlighting your accomplishment of making the seventh grade honor roll. That said, we need to start somewhere. And the best place to begin is at the beginning.
Step 1: Word Vomit
In order to use subtraction to our advantage, we must have something from which you'll remove things.
Step one is a mental dump of all the experiences you even remotely think make you unique, qualified, or an all-around good gal or guy.
This is NOT the time to edit.
- You volunteered to hand out water at a 5k? Put it down.
- You delivered newspapers for six months when you were 12? Good for you.
- You won the watermelon seed spitting competition at the county fair in 1998? Impressive. Write it out on paper.
The point is to create a master document to pull information from later.
Additionally, putting down in writing all the things that make you awesome will build confidence during a process (applying for speech therapy job, OT internship, optometry school, etc.) that often elicits feelings of doubt and inferiority. You will be reminded that you are occasionally competent and have something of value to offer potential healthcare employers.
It is your greatest hits list. Here is an example.
And as you continue to do awesome things, the master document will continue to grow and evolve. Revisiting it every three months is a great way to ensure your resume stays up-to-date and important things you accomplish don’t slip through cracks.
That means it is going to end up obnoxiously long and only grow longer before you're finished.
That is okay.
There will never be a time when you submit your entire master resume. But, having a starting point makes every “lite” version that you submit in the future a walk in the park in comparison.
Scheduled review of your master resume also serves as a feedback mechanism for what is happening in your life. If six months or a year goes by and you find that you don’t have a single item to add, it may be an indication of misguided priorities or poor time management (this is not promotion for doing things with the sole intention of “padding your resume”, don’t do that). It could also mean you’re at a point in your life or career where not many things are changing and that’s perfectly acceptable. It’s up to you to determine the cause and corrective actions, if need be.
Step 2: Organize the Word Vomit a Bit
Now that you’ve put it all out there, you will naturally be able to group things together into categories. If you approach writing using the “throw it all up there and see what sticks” method, as opposed to the “what have I done that falls under ‘special programs and training’?” method, your document will begin to sort itself.
Creating labels or headings AFTER listing specifics always results in a more organic, better flowing document.
Start first with the concretes (your achievements) and build the abstractions (labels).
Labels will change based on profession, position in said profession (student, resident, practice owner,etc.) and a number of other factors. But, for the sake of providing some specific information, here is a list of possible label groupings. It is by no means comprehensive or exhaustive.
- Profession-related work experience/internships
- Other work experience
- Special training or residency programs
- Publications and presentations
- Organizations and memberships
- Awards and scholarships
- Test Scores
- Volunteer work
Again, writing down your achievements first then grouping is best. But, if you want to do it the other way around because it feels much more natural, that’s acceptable. As long as you end up with a master list in a roughly organized format.
Step 3: Detail the Word Vomit
Each item on your document can contain the following details:
When, Who and Where are usually self explanatory.
"What" can be a bit more complex.
What is often covered in the item itself i.e. Bachelor of Science: Biology. Sometimes, that isn’t enough and a single sentence explaining the item is necessary. However, any more than one sentence is too much. Be concise. Here’s an example of a section:
For example, you may have worked at a hospital providing therapy in the past. That’s great, but it doesn’t convey a clear idea of what you actually did.
“Provided post-stroke patients with services x,y, and z” provides the reader with enough information to understand some of the skills you have and environments you’ve been in.
Try to provide all the details on the master document for each item you list. You can (and will) delete some of the extraneous or redundant information later. In fact, that time is now. But first, a small detour.
Step X: Make a Good First Impression
There is really no good place to discuss this step. That’s because different folks prefer to do it at different times. Some do it before doing anything else; some make it the last step. Some put it on their master copy; some only keep it on their final drafts.
It’s the header. It’s simple. It contains your name and contact info.
The complexity of font, graphics, etc. is up to you. But keep in mind, the header is the first thing your potential employer will see. Clean and simple designs with a touch of personality are best. Think watch or bracelet, not orange tuxedo or ball gown. I’ve included my current header as an example.
Fool around with this anywhere in the process. It might help to switch the creativity gears if you are stuck somewhere in the writing process. Use online templates, photoshop, or simply pay someone to do it.
Step 4: The Delete Button
Back to our main event.
You’ve spent a good amount of time and effort coming up with a decently organized copy of all your detailed achievements. Now, destroy all that hard work by scrapping most of it (just kidding, well sort of).
Start by asking yourself the question we discussed earlier, “If I were the employer, what would I be looking for in the ideal candidate?”
The answer will be different based on the kind job you’re applying for and where you are in your career.
The “high school awards” section can probably be deleted if you’re applying for a new job five years into your health profession. However, you may have won a service award for volunteering in a youth health program and you are applying for a pediatric specialty. It may communicate that your goals to help kids runs deep and didn’t just pop up overnight. In that case, it should stay.
Every item and section you have should be put the test with the question, “Does this fact show the reader an important part of my story that hasn’t been said already?”
- If the answer is yes, keep it.
- If the answer the answer is no, scrap it.
Redundancy in your resume is unnecessary. The more clear and concise the resume, the better.
Step 5: Tweaking the Details
The majority of the work is done. The final touches involve thinking a little more deeply about exactly what the employer is looking for, as opposed to the general concepts.
Spend some time learning what the employer is all about and adjust your CV accordingly.
Is it a private practice looking to hire a new grad (you)?
Using space to highlight your stellar GPA and test scores might be inefficient and potentially hurt you in the long run. How? Someone may be of the mind that excellent students make poor clinicians. The employer may not want a candidate that has explicitly pointed out that she is a good test taker.
On the other hand, an academic institution or residency program likely gives much more weight to these metrics.
It is all about what the employer values, which can be hard to discern.
Fortunately, there won’t be huge number of changes to your CV based on this information, just some subtle modifications (including GPA or not). The facts are the facts. The cover letter, however, will be heavily influenced by the information you uncover about the values of the employer. Let that be the document that exemplifies your personality and highlights areas of your CV that you think will be valued by the employer.
Step 6: Formatting Your Healthcare Resume
Make it readable. Be consistent in all sections. It’s pretty simple. There are a number of templates available in most word processing software packages. You can also look online for examples. And if you don’t want to any additional work at all, you can use the bulleted format displayed in the “Step Three” section.
You don’t have to be a fancy wordsmith to put together a great resume or CV
In fact, you shouldn’t try to be.
Be brief, be clear, and be honest.
Don’t fluff up your achievements with vague or misleading information. Look at your document from the eyes of the employer and come up with an idea about what they value. If the information in your document isn’t relevant to those values, leave it out.
The final result will be concentrated and powerful. Now go out there and land that job.