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Trainee Career Toolkit



The Where, When, and Why of a CV vs. a Resume


What’s the difference between a CV and a resume?
Curriculum Vitae, or CVs, are longer and more detailed than a resume. CVs should provide prospective employers with your employment and academic background like a resume, but should also stress your teaching and research experience, publications, presentations and awards or honors.  A history of any grants or fellowships you have received is also an important addition. Resumes typically focus only on your educational background and job experience. 

Is one version of my CV or resume enough?
When it comes to your CV or resume, one size does not fit all.  You should consider the type of job you are applying for, the requirements of that position, and your expected responsibilities for that position when you format your CV or resume.  A position that requires extensive teaching suggests that you should highlight that area of your CV with clear descriptions of your pedagogical experience.  While the content of a CV may not necessarily change much between different applications, you may choose to highlight or focus on a certain area of your experience by changing the order, adding additional detail or removing extraneous information that might distract a potential employer. 

I’ve heard there are different types of resumes.  What does this mean?
There are four (at least) types of resumes:


  1. Chronological: lists your work experiences in order, starting from the most recent. 

  2. Functional: concentrates on the skills and experiences.  Often, if there is a gap in your employment history, this type of resume can “mask” that gap. 

  3. Combination: include both their history and their skills and experiences. 

  4. Targeted: a resume that applies specifically to a certain job.  It highlights only the skills, history, and talents that an individual has that pertain to a specific job opportunity.


When do you use a CV vs. a resume?
CVs are often expected when applying for an academic or scientific position, a fellowship or a grant.  Resumes are expected if you are looking for a position outside these fields.


I have heard that some applications require a biosketch.  How does this differ from a CV or resume?

Often granting agencies do require another type of document called a biosketch.  Much of the same information in your CV also appears in the biosketch, it just appears in a different format.  Here is a sample of a biosketch suitable for a NIH grant.  If a granting agency requires a biosketch, it will generally also provide you with a listing of all the information they require along with the order that the information should be provided.

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How to Write a QUALITY Cover Letter


Whether you are applying for a postdoctoral position or your first independent academic research position (PI), you should reconsider the “boiler plate” cover letter.  It is the first statement that individual PIs or search committees will read about you and you don’t want it to be the last.  Why is writing a cover letter important?  "In almost no time we can reject half our applicant pool just by looking at their cover letters," says Susan Lord, associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of San Diego in the Chronicle of Higher Education. 


General Cover Letter Tips:

  • Use simple, clean, and professional formatting.

  • CV and cover letter should be linked; use the cover letter to highlight, not reiterate, your CV.

  • Address the letter to a specific individual (the PI , the head of the seach committee, etc.). If necessary, call and ask for the appropriate name.

  • Tailor you cover letter to the position, the department, and the larger organization/institution/company.

  • Limit your letter to 1 page.

  • Make sure your cover letter is free of errors.

  • Avoid starting sentences with and using “I” too many times. After your first draft, go through and rephrase.

  • If there is a position description, echo langauge from the description in your letter, but do not lift phrases verbatim.


Sample Paragraph Breakdown:


First Paragraph

  • Take the time to address the correct individual (i.e. if the advertisement only says to send the application to the “Chairperson,” try calling the department and finding out the correct name of the person).

  • Let the reader know how you found out about the position, who you are, and where you are currently working.

  • If applying for a postdoctoral position, explain why you are specifically looking for training in their laboratory- the specific skills, system or resources they have that are attractive to you.

Second Paragraph

  • State why you are interested in the position, the department, and the larger organization/institution/company.

  • Here is where you can begin to really tailor your approach.  Emphasize the values you have in common with the organization/institution/company (i.e. teaching is often valued at smaller colleges, so be sure to highlight your dedication to teaching when applying to positions at small institutions).

Third Paragraph

  • Here you should highlight your research and experience, and relate what you have done to the position you are applying for. Make sure you address the qualities and experiences highlighted in the job ad.

  • Highlight your productivity and relevent accomplishments.

  • Again, try to tailor your letter to the type of organization/institution/company- small schools are looking at how your work might fit into both the department and institutional level while larger universities are generally more interested in how your work will integrate with the rest of the department. 

  • When applying for academic positions, think carefully about how you want your work to fit in with the rest of the ongoing research and teaching happening at this particular institution/department.


  • In one sentence, summarize why you are a good fit for the position.
  • Conclude your letter by stating what you are enclosing, offering additional info, letting them know when you will call to obtain more information about the position or timetable of the search committee, and/or providing your phone number and when you can be reached for an interview.

  • Finish up by thanking the reader for considering your application and that you look forward to meeting him/her soon.  Make sure to include a working phone number and e-mail address available for follow-up communications in your signature.

Other Important Hints:

  • For postdoctoral positions:  Principal Investigators receive many e-mails each week from potential postdoctoral candidates.  Before you send your cover letter and CV, you should ask your mentor if they can make a phone call to advise the potential postdoctoral advisor regarding your electronic communication.

  • Also for postdoctoral positions: Be prepared to wait.  Often, getting a postdoctoral position in a popular laboratory will require waiting up to one year for an opening.  This means that you will have to start looking well before you are ready to leave your current lab.

  • Your cover letter should NOT be a form letter that is photocopied and sent to every job you are applying for.  Instead, the letter should be personalized and clearly inform the reader why you are interested in this particular position, at this particular institution and in this particular department.

  • Make sure all your personal information is on BOTH your cover letter and your resume.   

  • Proofread, proofread, proofread.  Perform a “spellcheck” and read again.  Make sure your letter (and all other documents) are free from errors.


The following websites were utilized as guidance for this document: 



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