Best foot forward


Your resume in its final form should be a picture of yourself on paper.

Your first step on this exciting journey that you are about to embark on is to create a picture of yourself on paper. This picture is called a resume or curriculum vitae (CV). These terms, although usually used synonymously, are not the same. Let us consider the differences. The Curriculum Vitae Handbook by Rebecca Anthony and Gerald Roe defines these two terms as follows:

  • Resume—A resume is a document that summarizes qualifications, education, experience, skills and other items related to the writer's objective. Legitimate entries could include non-academic pursuits, civic or community activities and even leisure interests.

  • Curriculum Vitae (CV)—A CV is a special type of resume traditionally used within the academic community. Earned degrees, teaching and research experience, publications, presentations and related activities are featured.

So it would seem that for your first position in veterinary medicine, you should prepare a resume. Later, if you pursue a life in academia, then research or a similar endeavor, a CV will be more appropriate. If you desire, at this point, to pursue an internship and possibly a residency, then a resume will be required as well.


Your resume should include, in this order, the following about yourself.

  • Heading—This tells who you are and how you can be reached. Make sure that the information you provide is accurate and that you will be able to receive a response at that address. The heading should include a telephone number, a fax number if available and an e-mail address. Nothing will be more annoying to a prospective employer than to try and reach you and not be able.

  • Objective—This is a short one-sentence statement describing the type of experience that you want to have in the veterinary practice or internship in which you are seeking a position.

  • Education—Beginning with your first post high-school institution, put all institutions you attended in this section chronologically. State the years you attended and any degrees you received. If you graduated with honors, you can place that here, but save other awards for later.

  • Work experience—This section usually includes all positions that you have held since graduation from high school. It can include volunteer as well as paid, especially if that work was related to animals and/or veterinary medicine. You can separate animal/veterinary related positions from others or keep them together. The positions should be listed chronologically. After identifying each position and job location, put a short statement or list of what your duties were. Use action words—such as assisted, supervised, directed, accomplished—when describing your duties. If you had several positions with similar duties, don't repeat the list; merely state "same as." You may or may not put the same name of your immediate supervisor for each position. This is not the same as using that person as a reference, but they might be contacted.

  • Activities and accomplishments—These can be academic or non-academic awards or accomplishments, sports activities and student organizations you have been involved in. These will show your abilities to get along with others and interact as a social being. If you have published or been involved in research, then that could be included here or made into a separate category.

  • Personal Interests—List what activities you like to do in your free time. This can be hiking, skiing, reading, traveling, etc. Your new employer is going to want to employ someone who knows how to relax when they are not working.

  • References—List the names of no more than three individuals who know you. Veterinary professors, especially if you are heading for an internship, family, friends, former employers and clergy are all good choices. If you know someone who knows the individual that you are applying for a position with, then he or she would be a good choice. Add the address and, if possible, a phone number of your reference, to this information. Make sure that the information you provide is correct, and contact your reference for permission to use his or her name before you add it to your resume.

Now that you have this information, what do you do with it? First, make a plan of your resume. You can create a format or use a form from a word processing program. Your resume should most certainly be typed and not handwritten. You also can hire someone to produce the resume for you using your information. At this point, this may not be necessary and might even be risky.

Your resume in its final form should be a picture of you on paper. It will tell a prospective employer who you are, where you have gone to school, what work you have done, what activities you have been involved in, what interests you have and who knows you well enough to attest to all of this. It will not get you a position, but it will get you in the door. Letting someone else prepare it might produce something that will not be as effective as what you could do yourself.

Next, make a draft of your resume. Here are some do's and don'ts.


  • Be sure there are no major time gaps in your history of education and work. If there are, then explain them.

  • Your resume should not be more than two typewritten pages. Use two pages rather than cramming it onto one.

  • Pay attention to basic grammar, and do not use any misspelled words. One misspelled word could send your resume to a quick death in the trash.


  • Do not include personal data such as race, religion or ethnicity.

  • Do not include age, date or place of birth.

  • Do not include physical characteristics such as gender, height or weight.

  • Do not include family information, such as marital status, children or spouse's name or occupation.

  • Do not include a picture.

It would be illegal for a prospective employer to request this information on a resume, job application or during an interview. At this stage tell, them what they need to know. Other information might come forth later, either during the interview or after you have been offered the position.

  • Do not enter anything you cannot prove.

  • Do not list as duties things that you were not qualified to do. Even if you did spay a cat or vaccinated a dog in a practice that you worked in while in college, do not say that you violated the law by doing so.

The next step will be to finalize and format your resume. Paper color will be your choice but should be a plain and pleasing color and heavy paper. Be sure to use a format that is easily read and at least an 11-point font. Use only one font. Not surprisingly, your choice in font tells a lot about you.

Make sure you have used open space and margins carefully so that the resume is not crammed and crowded. Now, print out on the best paper quality printer you have access to and look carefully to see that you have produced a clear, concise and accurate picture of what you want to convey to a prospective employer. Proof your resume carefully for the do's and don'ts, and ask others to do as well.

Make sure you have your resume on a hard or transportable disk or CD, and remember that each time you change a position, move to a new location or add another credit of course work, your resume changes. You will have numerous needs for your resume throughout your career. Be sure to keep it in a form and place where these changes can be made easily. A sample resume is included in this section (Figure 1).

Figure 1 Template for success

Cover letter

More than likely, you will send your resume to several prospective employers during your job search. The resume will not change that much. However, the resume should be accompanied by a cover letter that will be different with each position you apply for. The cover letter is as important, if not more important than your resume. Along with your resume, the cover letter serves to:

  • Introduce you to your prospective employer.

  • Represent you at a good advantage.

  • Stimulate interest in your background and qualifications.

Your cover letter is written specifically for one position and refers to that position, its location, its requirements and duties. A cover letter should be written as a business letter with proper heading and salutation. Font, font size, paper, quality of printer formatting and care for proper grammar, word usage and spelling are as important as with the resume.

The cover letter should be written on one page and have no more than three paragraphs. These three paragraphs should be organized as follows:

  • The first paragraph will introduce yourself, tell how you found out about the job and why you are interested in this particular position. You should indicate in this paragraph your status with regard to licensure in the state in which you are applying to the position.

  • The second paragraph will concentrate on why you think that you are uniquely qualified for this position and what special skills and expertise you will bring to the position. Emphasize any and all of your special skills or talents that will enhance the practice, such as computer skills, business skills, etc. Most practices are looking for these skills in associate veterinarians. The third paragraph will close the letter, asking the opportunity to come to the practice and interview for the position. Always close with a positive statement about your expectations of a response from the employer.

The same do's and don'ts as listed under resumes apply for cover letters.

Making introductions

You will use your resume and cover letter to introduce yourself to the appropriate individual in that practice or institution. If you mail the resume and cover letter, make the package as attractive and as business-like as possible with no folds in a 9-inch by 12-inch envelope.

Only e-mail the resume and cover letter after your prospective employer has requested you to do so. If you use e-mail, then make sure your documents are sent as attachments and not pasted to an e-mail message, which likely will corrupt most of its formatting.

Dr. McCarthy is an internationally known, author, speaker and teacher and currently serves St. George's School of Veterinary Medicine as visiting professor of ethics and jurisprudence and special lecturer on practice management.

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