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Resume Writing for Life Scientists

Resume Writing for Life Scientists

Author: Cliff Mintz
Looking for a new job can be an overwhelming and daunting experience. A vital first step in any job search is the creation of a carefully constructed and well-crafted resume or curriculum vitae (CV). While there are clear distinctions between resumes and CVs—the former is a one-to-two-page document whereas a CV has no page limit—the CV is the preferred document for life scientists. This is mainly because the shortened resume format doesn’t provide scientists with enough space to adequately explain their training, accomplishments and research interests to prospective employers. However, for non-scientists jobs like administrative assistants, pharmaceutical operators, and data entry professional resumes are preferred.

Too often, inexperienced job seekers will hastily craft resumes without paying much attention to format, style, content or grammar; and then wonder why they are not landing job interviews. The purpose of this article is to provide some advice and tips to help life scientists improve their resume writing skills. The terms resume and CV will be used interchangeably; but most of my remarks are mainly directed at crafting CVs.

Formatting and Writing Tips

Open, uncluttered and less densely-written CVs are visually appealing and more likely to be read by hiring managers. This is because these individuals scan hundreds (sometimes thousands) of resumes daily and unless an applicant’s qualifications, skill sets and

personal attributes “jump off the paper”—and are easily discerned in 60 second or less—the likelihood of a face-to-face job interview is remote.

Short descriptive and succinctly-crafted phrases are the best way for employers to quickly ascertain whether a job applicant is qualified (bullets are option). Avoid using paragraphs because they are dense and sometimes difficult for hiring managers to navigate and interpret.

Finally, powerful, action-oriented verbs and adjectives tend to evoke strong, positive impressions. The use of action verbs and superlative suggest that a job applicant is confident, self assured and has a “can do” attitude. Unfortunately, scientists usually don’t excel in this area but it is essential to be successful in a job search.

Constructing a CV

Generally speaking, there can be as many as eight different sections for a CV.

1. Summary of Qualifications

The Summary of Qualifications or candidate profile is the first section of a CV that a hiring manager will see. It represents the best opportunity for a candidate to convince a prospective employer that she/he may be the right person for the “job” It should not be longer than 4 to 5 lines and must be peppered with key words (gleaned from job ads). Many organizations use software programs to screen CVs for key words and if they are absent the likelihood of employment for a job candidate is low.

2. Professional Experience

The Professional Experience section lists a candidate’s work experiences in reverse chronological order (most recent to past). Three to four short descriptive phrases that detail a candidate’s professional experiences while holding each position is generally sufficient.

3. Professional Activities

Professional activities include things that are related but not part of a person’s official job responsibilities. Examples include, consulting, editorial duties, committee memberships etc.

4. Education

Education credentials generally begin with the lowest degree first (associate or bachelor) and end with the 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 major area of study ought to be listed with each entry (Fig 1). PhD and masters’ theses title or a brief description of a research project (postdoctoral fellows) may also be included. It is perfectly reasonable to list the names of PhD mentors or postdoctoral advisors associated with PhD and postdoctoral training.

It is not necessary to list the dates that degrees were awarded. While this may not be a bad thing for entry level employees, it may hinder more experienced job seekers from securing new positions because of age discrimination.

5. Award & Honors

Awards and honors include any official recognition for outstanding service or accomplishments and include dean’s list, travel awards, scholarships etc.

6. Professional Affiliations

Membership in professional societies, organizations or clubs should be listed in a separate section entitled Society Membership and Professional Affiliations (Fig. 1).

7. Other Skills

When appropriate, it is okay to list (in a separate section) any extracurricular activities or specialized skills related to the job that may increase a candidate’s competitiveness.

8. Publications

All of a candidate’s authored publications should be listed on the last page of a CV in the in this section. Usually, this section is divided into three subsections: 1) Peer-reviewed papers; 2) Chapters, Books and Reviews; and 3) Oral and Poster Presentations (Fig. 1). Early career scientists need not include all of the categories if they lack the appropriate publications. Likewise, midcareer scientists may consider not listing oral and poster presentations. Publications ought to be numbered and it is appropriate to list papers that are “in press.” Manuscripts that are submitted should not be included.

As a rule of thumb, never send references to prospective employers unless they specifically ask for them. Simply indicate on the resume (usually immediately before the publications section; Fig 1) that references are “available upon request.” However, for most academic jobs it is customary for an applicant to send references at part of the original application package. For industrial jobs, references are generally not requested unless an employer is interested in moving forward with a possible job offer.

Tailoring a Resume

To be competitive, job candidates must routinely tweak and modify their resumes to meet individual job requirements. One convenient way to tailor a CV to a specific job, is to read the job ads created for the opportunity. Employers always list the skills, qualifications and experience that will be required by the successful applicant (typically what is mentioned first is most important). Once identified, a resume ought to be modified with keywords to show that a candidate possesses all or most of the job qualifications and requirements.

Finally, keeping a resume current is vitally important. Resumes that are not fully up-to-date may suggest that a candidate is lazy or not interested in a particular job. Also, some job opportunities may appear quickly and the time required to update an out-of-date resume may prevent a candidate from competing for a job.

Managing Job Interview Questions

Managing Job Interview Questions

Author: Cliff Mintz

There are countless interview question anecdotes and horror stories on the Internet. Moreover, urban legend suggests that jobseekers should expect to be asked “off-the-wall” or ridiculous questions during face-to-face job interviews. While this may occur during some interviews, generally speaking, interviewer questions are usually carefully crafted and intentionally designed to offer insights into a prospective employee’s capabilities and future on-the-job performance. To that point, it is important to point out that an invitation to participate in a face-to-face interview typically means that a job candidate possesses the requisite knowledge and technical skills to perform a particular job function. That said, the real intent of a face-to-face interview is to determine whether a prospective job candidate has the personality/ temperament to fit in and excel in an organization’s existing work environment or culture. Therefore, it is imperative that job candidates anticipate and prepare for possible interview questions before taking part in face-to-face job interviews.

Although it is difficult to pinpoint exactly which questions will be asked during face-to-face interviews, jobseekers are likely to be asked some variations of the following questions.

1. Describe how you overcame a particularly disappointing time in your life

2. What are your greatest achievements?

3. Why are you looking for a new job?

4. Why are you interested in this company and not our competitors?

5. What are your strengths?

6. What are your weaknesses?

7. What can you offer this company/organization?

8. Where do you see yourself professionally in five years?

It is apparent that none of these questions has anything to do with a prospective employee’s technical or job-related competencies or capabilities. They are intentionally designed and asked to help to gauge a jobseeker’s self awareness, interpersonal communication skills and the ability to think quickly on his/her feet. While some job seekers may not take these questions seriously—usually those who don’t get job offers—appropriate responses to them could mean the difference between a job offer and unemployment. Therefore, it is vitally important for jobseekers to carefully think about possible responses to these questions before upcoming face-to-face interviews. To that end, it is not unreasonable to write or “script” appropriate responses to these questions in advance of scheduled interviews. While this may seem unreasonable or overly excessive to some job seekers, experienced hiring managers can easily determine a job candidate’s level of interest in a particular job based on his/her answers to these questions.

It is important to point out that there is no “right” or “wrong” answer to any of these questions. However, it is important to be selective with the responses that are offered—especially when asked about weaknesses. For example, a would-be customer service representative may recognize that he/she—like many other customer service representatives—has trouble dealing with unhappy or angry customers. Because dealing with unhappy or angry customers is part of a customer service representative’s job, it is probably not a good idea to mention it when asked about possible weaknesses. Instead, choose a weakness that can possibly be viewed as a strength related to a particular job. For example, while being a “pushy” person may be off-putting or viewed as a weakness by many, it may be a highly desirable trait for salespersons. In other words, be selective and strategic when identifying possible weaknesses to hiring managers. More important, be certain to identify possible weaknesses that are work related rather than personal in nature.

Further, when answering interview questions, be careful not to divulge more information than is necessary or required. Answer questions as openly and honestly as possible but keep responses short, to the point and do not overly embellish or improvise responses. Job candidates who improvise responses generally do not know the answer to a question and tend to drone on to cover up their lack of knowledge. If you don’t know an answer or cannot think of a good response to a question, sometimes it is better to say “I don’t know” or ask the interviewer for help with the question. Asking for help, signals to the interviewer that a job candidate, if hired, would not hesitate to ask his/her superior for help to solve a potentially deleterious or pressing problem for the organization.

Although most of the questions asked during a face-to-face interview are asked by an interviewer, job candidates are expected to have questions too! This shows a prospective employer that a candidate has prepared for the interview and is seriously interested in the company or organization that he/she may join. By asking questions, job candidates let interviewers know that they have done their “homework” and would likely entertain a job offer if proffered by the company or organization.

Finally, there is universal agreement among recruiters and career development professionals that being prepared for face-to-face interviews helps to reduce stress, improves interview performance and increases the likelihood of job offers!

Why Professionalism Matters More Than Performance

Why Professionalism Matters More Than Performance

Author: Jason Burns

The article below is written by Sci.bio’s technology partner, Jason Burns of Kortivity. This piece really resonates with us at Sci.bio, as professionalism and customer service are our top KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).

Myth: Good performance is enough to create a successful career. Variations of this myth include: your work speaks for itself, and results matter most.

Yes, your performance and results matter. They are necessary ingredients for career success, but they aren’t enough. They aren’t even the most important.

Professionalism matters more.

What does Professionalism even mean?

The term professionalism may conjure up images of a person in a suit with a briefcase full of TPS reports, swiping their key card at 7:30am to beat everyone to the 8am meeting.

But that’s not what it is. A surfer whose job is to hang out on the beach waiting for the next righteous barrel can show more professionalism than an office worker.

Professionalism, in any industry, simply means that you treat others with respect, value people’s time, keep your commitments, and act with integrity.

Professionalism is essential to career success.

How can you practice Professionalism?

  1. Show up on time. Showing up on time to meetings, lunches, phone calls, video chats, and appointments shows that you respect others and value their time. Of course, you can’t always control your circumstances. If you’re going to be late, let the other parties know. When you do arrive, be ready. If you find yourself perpetually late, allow for more time between appointments, leave earlier, or change the habits that make you late.
  2. Maintain a professional image. Many modern workplaces have adopted more casual dress codes, offer remote work options, and encourage employees to be authentic. None of this should compromise your professional image. Dress appropriately for your situation, use respectful language, maintain eye contact, and actively listen regardless of where you are.
  3. Be present. Get rid of distractions. Put your phone or watch on “do not disturb” and do not check messages while you’re in a meeting with others. Checking messages, looking around, or allowing your phone or watch to buzz over and over doesn’t make you look important, it makes you look unprofessional. If you’re too busy to be present in a meeting, you should reschedule it for another time.
  4. Show integrity. Be accountable for your actions, take pride in your work, admit when you’ve made a mistake, and commit to fixing it.
  5. Take ownership. Don’t ask questions you could easily look up. Think of possible solutions to a problem before you present it. Don’t turn in unfinished or sloppy work. Be honest with yourself and others about your capabilities and timeline.
  6. Treat others the way you like to be treated. If you don’t like waiting on people when they’re late, not being listened to, sending emails or voicemails that don’t get a response, or being let down when you’re counting on someone, don’t do it to other people. Following this rule takes care of 95 percent of being professional.

Why does Professionalism matter more than performance?

  1. It’s rare. Unfortunately, professionalism is becoming increasingly harder to find among job candidates. Especially in entry level positions, many people can do the work. Finding someone who will show up on time, treat others with respect, be present, take initiative, and act with integrity is much harder. But in the long run, it matters more. Professionalism is an attitude and a mindset. Performance requires skills and training that are easier to teach.
  2. It’s transferable. Professionalism matters in every job, across every industry, in every location. Your performance and results may vary based on your tenure, position, and outside factors, but you can maintain professionalism in everything you do. It follows you throughout your career and sets you up for success.
  3. It’s memorable. A truth (often attributed to Maya Angelou): “People will forget what you said. They’ll forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel.” Your professionalism or lack thereof in any work situation is more memorable than how you performed. Because it’s about treating yourself and others with respect. It communicates that they matter, and what you’re doing matters to you.

Your performance and results pale in comparison to your professionalism. Failing with professionalism will serve you better than succeeding without it. Your level of professionalism builds credibility, trust, and relationships or damages them. Great performances don’t require professionalism, great careers do.


Beyond the Interview: Negotiating A Job Offer

Beyond the Interview: Negotiating A Job Offer

Author: Cliff Mintz

One of the trickiest parts of the job seeking process is negotiating an employment offer if one is extended. Generally speaking, there is a lot of anxiety, trepidation and misinformation surrounding the entire job negotiation process. This is because jobseekers, for the most part, spend much of their energy and focus on researching would be employers, resume writing, and preparing for face-to-face interviews. Little or no attention is paid to the art of negotiating an actual job offer. To that point, the following article is intended to demystify the job offer negotiation process.

Perhaps THE MOST important aspect of the job offer negotiation process is starting salaries. While many people tend to downplay its importance, at the end of the day, it is always about money. And, there is no reason why a jobseeker ought not try to get the best possible salary from a prospective employer. Therefore, it is incumbent upon jobseekers to gather as much salary intelligence about a possible position before the interview and after an offer is extended. Websites like Salary.com, Glassdoor.com and PayScale.com, which list salary ranges based on industry and geography, are a great place to start. However, because these are self-reporting websites, a better option may be to talk with employees working at the company that extended the offer or with others who work for its competitors.

Other things to consider besides salaries include healthcare benefits, vacation time, financial benefits, bonus structure and corporate culture. However, most of these benefits are standardized for new entry level employees so there is little to negotiation that can take place surrounding them. This means that salary is perhaps the only place where real negotiation can take place.

Let me give you an example. Your research suggests that a person with your job title at a particular company ought to make between $70,000 to $75,000 per year as a starting salary. Your would-be employer makes you an offer with a starting salary of $70,000. If you think $70,000 is a fair salary—then take the offer. However, you likely may be “leaving money on the table” For this reason, I advise persons who receive an initial job offer to not immediately accept it!

In the above example, I would make a counter offer of $75,000 as a starting salary. Once the company receives and considers the counter offer, several things can happen. First, the company can simply say no to your counteroffer (they will not rescind the original offer as urban legend suggests simply because you are asking for a higher starting salary). Second, the company may agree to the $75,000 as a starting salary. Third, more often than not, the company is likely to counteroffer with a starting salary of $72,000 or there about. This is because companies spend a lot of time, effort and money to get to the point to extend an offer to the “right fit” candidate. The prospect of starting the job search process all over again or settling for the “second best” candidate is usually not a viable option for most employers. Put simply, the company wants you and will in good faith negotiate a deal to induce you to join them.

Finally, negotiating a job offer as a jobseeker can be very emotional and stressful. Perhaps the best way to avoid the stress is to work with a professional recruiter during your job search. If you work with a recruiter, he/she not you, will negotiate the offer if one is extended.



The Job Search: Are Cover Letters Still a Thing?

The Job Search: Are Cover Letters Still a Thing?

Author: Cliff Mintz

Before the advent of the internet, a cover letter was an essential requirement when applying for a job. These days, however, some companies may require a cover letter while others do not. Interestingly, in some instances, companies do not specify whether or not a cover letter is required; leaving the decision to include one (or not) up to you! That said, if a cover letter is optional in the job search, I highly recommend that you upload one with your resume when applying for a job. After all, it is just one more click to upload it to your online job application and it may make the difference between an interview or not.

Purpose of a Cover Letter

Cover letters offer jobseekers an opportunity (or an edge) to get noticed by employers. Typically, a cover letter is a written version of an “elevator pitch” that is used by jobseekers to extoll their skills, qualities, experiences and strengths that make them stand out from other job applicants. Put simply, it is a way for a job seeker to convince a hiring manager that he/she is the “right fit” candidate for a particular job. While the job market is currently a great one for job seekers in many disciplines, there are certain jobs (like the biotech and pharmaceutical jobs) that remain highly competitive and where a cover letter may be helpful to get your “foot in the door.”

Cover Letter Organization in the Job Search

First, it is not a bad idea to create a template cover letter. This will eliminate the need to rewrite one every time that you apply for a new job. However, it is important to note that the cover letter must be tweaked and tailored to each job that you apply for. This is because the requirements, expertise and qualifications may vary from job to job and your cover letter must reflect these differences.

Second, it is not unreasonable to address the cover letter to: “Whom it May Concern” or “Dear Hiring Manager.” That said, if you have the name of the hiring manager addressing the cover letter to them is a must.

Third, the first paragraph of a cover letter is intended to capture your career highlights. These include your top skills, past relevant work experience and achievements as an employee. The goal here is to convince the hiring manager that you would be a good fit for the job and what value you might bring to a company if hired. Also, when crafting this paragraph, it is advisable to include key words and phrases from the job description. This demonstrates attention to detail and mindfulness and may help to pique the interest of the hiring manager to consider you (rather than other job applicants) as a possible interview candidate. Finally, if you have an executive summary as part of your resume, you can simply incorporate it as part of the first paragraph of your cover letter.

Fourth, a second paragraph is optional but may include when you may be available to start, whether or not you are interested in onsite or remote work and any other information (additional skills, fluency in a foreign language, volunteer activities etc.) that you think would help you stand out from other job applicants.

Finally, close the cover letter by thanking them for their consideration and that you are looking forward to hearing from them soon regarding your candidacy.

Before You Hit Send

It is vitally important that the cover letter be spelled checked and read several times before uploading it and hitting the send button. Spelling, grammatical errors and poor sentence structure can doom a job application even though you may be a well-qualified candidate for a particular job.