Like it or not, writing a carefully-constructed resume or curriculum vitae (as resumes are known in scientific circles) is a vital part of any successful job search. Inexperienced job seekers tend to hastily craft resumes without paying much attention to format, style or content and then wonder why they can’t land job interviews. The best way to approach resume writing is to think of a resume as a work of art–something that requires a lot of thought, creativity and attention to detail. As one well-known professional recruiter and job search expert put it”Trying to find a job without a smart, well-crafted resume is like showing up for dinner at a fancy restaurant in a T-shirt and cutoffs. They won’t let you in.”
I think that it is important for job seekers to think of a resume as a personal marketing brochure that will either land a job candidate interviews or turn a job search into a long, arduous and frustrating process.
The primary goal of a resume is to show prospective employers how you are different than other applicants and why you and not they ought to get the job! So, what are the salient features of a winning resume?
Hiring managers, professional recruiters and human resource professionals tend to quickly scan resumes that they receive and make snap judgments. Therefore, your qualifications and personal attributes must “jump off the paper.” This can easily be accomplished by using bold type, headings, underlining, bulleting and varying font sizes–all of which are simple ways to visually call attention to your strengths. Avoid using paragraphs because they are dense and difficult for hiring managers to navigate.
Powerful, action-oriented, emotional words produce a strong, positive impression. Unfortunately, we scientists have been trained to write in the “passive voice.” That said; try to resist using the passive voice as much as possible when crafting your resume–think outside the box!
Job Objective or Summary Statement
I am sure that somebody has told you at one time or another to include an “objective” on your resume. Objectives tend to be boring, vague and passively delivered. Instead, I highly recommend that you craft a vibrant, action-oriented, can-do “Summary of Qualifications” that accurately reflects and highlights why you are a “right fit” candidate for the job. To that end, it may be necessary to craft more than one summary of qualifications if you are applying for several different types of jobs. For example, your summary statement for an R&D job should be markedly different than the one that you would use to land a business development job.
Which of the following examples do you think better positions the job candidate?
Objective: To obtain a research scientist position at a pharmaceutical company
Summary of Qualifications: Experienced scientist with expertise in protein purification and microarray technology. Exceptional leadership abilities and outstanding oral and written communication skills. Able to work independently or as part of a multidisciplinary team.
Resumes can be constructed either chronologically or functionally. Chronological resumes, which are most common, list content in temporal order and should be used for either lateral job moves or when seeking a promotion or looking for a new job to advance your career. When crafting a chronological resume, jobs or work experience must be listed from most recent to past. In contrast, functional resumes offer content based on skills and are most effective for individuals who are seeking career changes. Functional resumes should present your skills in the order of importance for the new career that you are pursuing.
It is important to stress that only information relevant to the position should be included in a resume. Unrelated job titles or skills can sometimes confuse hiring managers and may cause them to pass on a qualified candidate. As mentioned above, most hiring managers and employers are simply too busy to read all of the resumes that they receive. Resumes that are chosen for further considerations are typically the ones that contain pertinent, job-specific information that is presented in a straightforward and unambiguous manner.
If you switch jobs frequently or have gaps in your experience put the dates of employment in the far right hand column of the resume (we read from left to right so sometimes dates of employment are overlooked) or hide the job-changing by combining or grouping several jobs together to appear as one. Also, employment dates ought to be listed as years; not the exact start and stop dates of employment, e.g., dates should appear as 2001-2002 not July 10, 2001-January 15, 2002.
Tailoring Your Resume
A resume is not just a list of what you have done and where you have been. It is your opportunity to present and highlight the skills that you possess and how those skills translate into making you the right-fit candidate for a particular job. Quantifying or embellishing achievements and using strong, definitive statements elevate and add authenticity to you as a job candidate.
Which of these examples sounds better?
Designed and directed experiments to study Alzheimer’s disease
Designed and carried out experiments that identified a key protein in amyloid plaque formation
For each position that you apply, it is critically important to list all relevant experience in the order of perceived importance to the hiring manager or employer. Carefully reviewing job descriptions will allow you to quickly and easily identify those things that are most important to the employer. What is seen first means the most!
When necessary resumes should be tailored so that as many of your skill sets and accomplishments match what was stated in the job description. This means, that it is highly unlikely that you will be able to use the same resume/CV for all of the jobs that you are interested in. To insure success, I highly recommend that you take the time to customize or tailor each resume/CV that you submit to prospective employers. When I was looking for a new job several years ago, I crafted no fewer than 20 different resumes!
Odds n Ends
Many of you may have heard that resumes should be no longer than one or two pages in length. While this may be the convention for other fields, it is certainly not applicable to CVs or scientific resumes. That said, it is a good idea to limit the length of your CV/resume because, outside of academic circles, nobody has the time nor the inclination to read a CV that is half an inch thick! When I was working as a professional recruiter, it typically took me a minute or less after scanning a resume/CV to determine whether I had identified a “right-fit” candidate. Candidates whose CVs are too long, overly verbose or difficult to decipher rarely make it to the interview stage. I subscribe to the notion that less is more and simple is elegant!
When listing your educational background, I recommend that present your lowest degree first (associate or bachelor) and end with your most advanced degree or educational experience, e.g. postdoctoral fellowships or professional school. The name and location of the institution that awarded the degree and your major or area of expertise should be listed with each. It is perfectly reasonable to list the names of your graduate or postdoctoral advisor in this section (if you think that a mention will help your candidacy). You may also want to include your thesis title if you wrote a masters or PhD thesis. It is not necessary to list the dates that the degree was awarded. By listing the dates that you received your undergraduate and graduate degrees, an employer may be able to deduce your age. While this may not be a bad thing for entry level employees, it may hinder more experienced job seekers from securing new positions.
Membership in professional societies, organizations or clubs should be listed in a section that is separate from your educational background. Any invited lectures or presentations may also be listed under a separate heading. Also, it is important to list any extracurricular activities or specialized skill sets that you think may be relevant to the positions that for which you are applying. For example, letting prospective employers know that you were an Olympic swimmer or president of the debate team may be what differentiates you from other equally-qualified job candidates.
All of your publications should be listed on the last page of your CV in a section entitled Publications. If you are just starting your career, it is permissible to list along with your peer reviewed publications all of your abstracts, poster presentations, etc. However, if you are mid-career professional, I strongly recommend that you list only peer-reviewed publications, review articles, books and book chapters and eschew the abstracts. Any manuscripts that are “in press” should be listed. That said, I don’t think that it is appropriate to include “submitted” manuscripts –this signals to prospective employers that you may not think that your publication list is long enough to warrant consideration.
Never send your references to prospective employers unless they specifically ask for them. Simply indicate somewhere on your resume/CV that references are available upon request. For most academic jobs, it is customary to ask for references at the beginning of the application process. For industrial jobs, references are not requested unless an employer is interested in moving forward with specific job candidates.
Finally, it is vital that you understand that your resume is a required first step in the job search process. A carefully crafted resume/CV that indicates to prospective employers that you are the right woman/man for the job will likely get you to the interview stage. After that…it is all up to you. Look for the next installment of the series on interviewing skills and tips.
Click here to see the wrong way to write a resume and here for an example of one that resulted in a job offer.
Until next time….
Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!!!!!!