9 Tips to Create the Best Clinical Research Resume or CV

Published: Jan 20, 2017

9 Tips to Create the Best Clinical Research Resume or CV January 19, 2017
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

Clinical research associate (CRA) is one of the most prevalent jobs in life sciences. There are currently 985 CRA jobs posted on BioSpace.

A CRA is a health care professional who participates in a number of different aspects of clinical trials. As such, they can be found in pharmaceutical companies, medical research institutions, and government agencies. Their primary job is defined by Good Clinical Practice (GCP) guidelines for monitoring clinical trials.

The national average for CRA salaries is $57,540, according to Glassdoor, but can be significantly higher at pharmaceutical companies.

Jobs range from bachelor’s degree entry level CRAs with a description as follows: “responsible for assisting the clinical operations function and personnel assigned to the planning, execution and data collection activities on assigned clinical projects,” to more specialized jobs, such as Senior Research Associate Bioanalytical Development, with a description of “design and develop a broad range of bioanalytical assays including immunoassays (PK, ADA and occasionally biomarkers) and cell-based neutralizing antibody assays for protein and antibody based therapeutics in compliance with GLP and regulatory guidance to support clinical and early development studies.”

Below are 9 tips for developing a resume or CV that focuses on CRA jobs.

Resume Versus Curriculum Vitae

But let’s start with some basics. Some people use the two terms, “resume” and “curriculum vitae or CV” to mean the same thing. Even within the HR departments of corporations and institutions they are often interchangeable. It appears that in Theodora Savlovschi-Wicks’ blog article, she does as well. Generally speaking, resume writers do not, because the length is different and as a result, often the price charged is different. (In addition to writing for BioSpace, I am a professional resume writer.)

So, there are two things to keep in mind. First, if an employer is asking for a CV, they might mean resume, and vice versa, and it will be difficult to know which is which. My key recommendation is that most of the time, they will be asking for a resume, unless you are applying for a job in a university, in which case they’re probably asking for a CV.

Second, “resume” and “CV” are also interchangeable in other parts of the world besides the U.S. And again, for example, often in Europe the client requests a CV, when in fact it looks very much like a resume.

What’s the difference? A quick Google search on the differences will most of the time correctly identify the differences (but not always). The primary difference is length. The resume provides highlights of a career and the CV provides everything. The resume is your highlight reel and the CV is the kitchen sink. Most resumes are one to two or three pages long. Academic CVs often exceed 40 pages.

With these distinctions in mind, let’s look at nine tips to making your resume work for you.

1. Career Summary

Savlovschi-Wicks indicates that at the beginning of your resume (after name and contact information), you should write a “concise paragraph emphasizing your key relevant skills.” There are a number of different formats and ways this can be done, and her example: “Seasoned project manager professional with 5 years’ experience in a cross functional project management role at an international level….” is a good one.

Here’s an example from a resume I wrote for a Data Scientist a few years ago:

A highly skilled and dynamic Data Scientist with experience in both commercial and government sectors. Hold an active TS/TCI clearance. Significant expertise in large-scale data analysis, data aggregation, feature set generation, predictive modeling, and analytic development. Adept in team leadership, project management, mentoring, and liaising between data scientists, system architects and management. Documented success in developing and leading training materials and courses, leading scale data aggregation, exploration and analysis, and performing analysis using advanced statistical methods and implementing necessary algorithms and software.

2. Key Words

Many resume or CV templates have a section of typically nine to 16 bullet points just under the Career Summary paragraph labeled Areas of Strength, or Key Skills, or something similar. And there are typically three columns of bullet points. For a life science graduate, depending on your particular skill set, I would suggest certain general terms: Leadership, Experimental Design, Project Management, Grant Writing, Technical Writing, Supervision & Management. Just keep in mind that within certain industries, “Project Management” means something very specific and often has educational and certifications related to it.

In some technical areas, such as engineering and IT jobs, I will often have this as Key Skills near the top, and will create a similar list of bullet points near the bottom of the resume, only they will be labeled Technical Skills, and that’s where I will place things like: Javascript, C++, Matlab, RT-PCR, etc.

The search terms that HR departments use are extremely variable, but key words like these help bring them to the attention of the computer systems’ filtering algorithms.

Just some of the possible key words for CRA jobs include: Research, Clinical Research, Clinical Trials, CRA, Statistical Analysis, Data Monitoring, Data Integrity, SOPs, and ICH/GCP.

3. Readability

Succinct and to the point. I would also combine two of Savlovschi-Wicks points,
-- Your CV should be easy to read, and
-- Keep your CV short and simple.

Here’s something to keep in mind. A typical HR department, especially now in the age of online job applicants, will receive literally hundreds of job applications. They are often thinned out first by the computer system searching for key words. Then they hit the HR department, which has a job description. The cover letter should be designed to get them to look at your resume. The resume should be designed to get them to read the entire resume! And the resume should be designed to get them to call you in for an interview.

As such, cover letters are sometimes too dense. Get to the point. Provide a few highlights, make employers want to look at the resume.

Professional resume writers apply a so-called 30-second test. That is to say: You have 30 seconds to get the attention of the person reading it.

And that’s why your career summary and the key skills bullet points are so important. They can skim that in 30 seconds or less. If interested, they’ll read the rest of the resume.

It’s a good time to address length. Once upon a time, everybody was told that a one-page resume was required. Now, pretty much across industries, two pages is typical. But if you’re the kind of person with a lengthy job history, stellar accomplishments, or numerous relevant publications and/or presentations, patents, etc., longer is going to be necessary — and fine.

4. Past Roles

Savlovschi-Wicks states, “In order for your reader to gauge your suitability for a role, you should always include your previous responsibilities, not just titles and dates.”

However, a great resume will focus on “achievements” more than on “duties.”

Yes, you need to at least provide a list of duties. But what employers are looking for even more, is a list of Key Accomplishments. They don’t want to just see your basic operational skill set, they want to see what you’ve contributed.

Here is an example from a resume I wrote:

Staff Scientist, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology (June 2003 - Present)

From Feb. 2007 to Jan. 2013, acted as Laboratory Manager/Research Associate (promoted from Research Assistant, July 2003 - Feb. 2007) for the School of Medicine, managing new and current students and visiting scholars. Oversaw all equipment, inventory and ordering of reagents and supplies, developed and implemented laboratory SOPs.

Key Accomplishments:
• Developed significant expertise in lab animal handling and surgeries, drug injections, and post-op care, as well as genotyping, primer design, mass spectroscopy, DNA extraction, PCR, real-time PCR, Northern Blotting and other molecular laboratory techniques.
• Assisted medical students and researchers in clinical laboratory research, designed experiments and authored Animal Use Protocols, Amendments, Continuing Reviews, and created and maintained a database for animal inventory for department and university use.


I would also point out that, if at all possible, under Key Accomplishments, if you can cite statistics and data, any kind of metrics, do so. Here’s an example from the same resume for a different job.

Key Accomplishments:
• Promoted from Assistant Director (July 2005 - June 2006), to Director.
• Led a 500% growth in revenue due to personally developed initiatives.
• Initiated the program with the goal of becoming self-sustaining in 10 years, which currently has a near 100% graduation rate.


When to stop? How far back should your professional history go? Preferably no more than 15 years. The reality of that is unfortunate—ageism. Which is also why most resume writers do not include education graduation dates unless they are within the last five years.

There are a couple exceptions to this. First, if you started your career thirty years ago and prior to that cut-off did some amazing things or worked for well-known companies, they should be included. If you were the founder of a startup in the 1980s, like, oh, Genentech , that certainly is worthwhile. Or if, in an early part of your career you were working for companies like IBM , Apple , Sanofi , Shire , JP Morgan Chase, etc. It’s a judgement call. It’s also perfectly acceptable, if you give the most current jobs a lot of detail, then for older jobs, including something along the lines of: Additional employment includes Research Assistant (University of Alaska, 1980-1990), Laboratory Manager (Honolulu Diagnostics, 1991-1994), etc.

5. Therapy Areas

Make sure your resume reflects the types of skills the job you’re looking for needs. This in particular makes sense in technical areas. If you’re looking at a CRA role in, say diabetes, but all your experience is in cancer, that’s fine, but focus on where the skills overlap. But if you are looking at a CRA job for a company working on the next generation of insulin products, and you spent your last job or graduate fellowship isolating Islets of Langerhans and synthesizing various types of insulin, you absolutely must make that completely clear, not only under the job description, but in your career summary.

6. Be Honest

Again, I’ll combine two from Savovschi-Wicks’ article.
-- Describe your past roles and responsibilities accurately, and
-- Honestly is the best policy!

This might be your highlight reel, but it’s YOUR highlight reel. Don’t lie. Don’t exaggerate. Keep in mind, anything you put on your resume might be double-checked. And if you write: “Awarded $2 million NIH grant for XXX,” it’s very easy to check that you were the person writing the grant or that it was actually awarded.

It’s also tricky sometimes, if you say things like, “Manage $250,000 annual research budget,” if you actually have no input on that actual budget.

7. Don’t Include References

On her list, Savovschi-Wicks writes, “Include references.” If you’re writing a kitchen sink CV, references will be in there somewhere. So will every class you’ve ever taught, every article you ever wrote, etc. But for a typical two or three-page resume, not only are references not needed, neither is the standard statement: References available upon request.

Why? Because that’s obvious. If they like you in an interview, they’ll ask for references—quite possibly on the application. And you can supply them.

8. “Review, review, review!”

Here’s the bad news. Many, many resumes written by top people in their field are rife with typos and grammatical problems. Start by running spell check. Then read it. Then read it again, because mistakes get made. Get someone with a fresh pair of eyes to look it over as well.

9. Hire a pro.

If you aren’t comfortable with your resume, aren’t a good writer, have English as a second (or third) language, or don’t feel that your current resume is gaining the traction you think it should, consider hiring a professional writer. There are things a professional resume writer brings to the table, and being a professional writer is only one of them.

One of the big things they bring is experience, of course. A pro will actually have read dozens or literally hundreds of resumes. That helps. In fact, it helps a lot, because you don’t have to read that many before you get a handle on what works and what doesn’t. Experienced managers who have spent years hiring people will have had an opportunity to at least read several dozen resumes. How many have you read? If you’re like most people, you’ve only seen a couple. There are hundreds of good examples of resumes, as well as formats and templates online, so if you don’t want to hire someone with experience, seriously consider spending some time online reading sample resumes. It won’t be long before you get a sense of what works.

And that CRA job will be all yours.

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