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.
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.
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.
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.
Author: Claire Jarvis
With the biotech market hungry for candidates, and the average employee changing jobs every few years, recruiters cannot never assume that the end of a job search is the last time they’ll work with a particular applicant. Both recruiters and candidates may worry about the etiquette of reconnecting after an unsuccessful job match or application when another opportunity arises, but the process does not have to be awkward or unproductive. This is how to reconnect with previous candidates.
Laying the Groundwork
These days, biotech recruiters should plan their sourcing and recruitment process with the understanding that they may need to reconnect with screened candidates at a later date. This means personalizing the recruitment process to the candidate, so they are more likely to remember you and respond positively to your future overtures.
To personalize the experience, take extensive notes during initial screening calls that you can keep on file. Record the candidate’s work preferences, career goals and technical skills, even if all of those aren’t relevant to the opening in question.
Be reliable and trustworthy in all your dealings – reach out to the candidate when you said you would, give feedback on the interview performance or application process. As discussed elsewhere [link to Hiring in a Candidate’s market/Meet the Recruiters Meg and Laura], candidates value honesty over hype.
If a particular candidate isn’t a fit for your current opening, thank them for their time and explain you’ll be back in touch if and when other suitable opportunities come up. That way they’ll not be surprised when you reach out several months’ later – in fact they may even check in with you first.
Consider checking in with the most promising candidate a few months after your initial interaction: are they still looking for opportunities, do they have new skills or experiences, are they still looking for the same type of jobs?
The Art of the Email
When another opportunity arises, a tailored email from the recruiter will increase the likelihood of a successful and productive reconnection with the candidate in question. Start your email by reminding the candidate who you are, when and how you connected with them in the past. It might be helpful to add a sentence about the candidate’s skills or preferences you think connects them to this new opening.
After giving a brief overview of the opportunity that’s now available, conclude the message with a call to action that makes it clear how you’d like the candidate to respond (e.g. email, phone call). Suggest the time and method of reconnecting. Of course, not every former candidate will be looking for new opportunities, but with a careful approach you’ve increased the likelihood that they will respond to your email.
Lastly, remember that any information on file about the candidate can turn stale within 6 months. If possible, check LinkedIn to see if the candidate is listing new skills or employment before reaching out.
Author: Cliff Mintz
The first step in any job search is to ensure that your resume or curriculum vitae (CV) are ready for submission to prospective employers. The following can help make resume writing simple. For those of you who may still be struggling with the difference between a resume and a CV, a resume is usually a 1-2 page synopsis of who you are, where you have been and what you have done. In contrast, a CV is a much longer document that does the same thing as a resume but in much greater and granular detail. For most scientific positions a CV is the preferred document style. However, in some cases, employers may request a resume so pay attention before you submit your application.
While most people believe that a resume or CV is simply a list of your education, skill sets and experience, there is a preferred style, format and way to write these documents that will enhance the possibility of securing an interview for the position. That said, it takes many years of writing and editing to perfect the process-something that many of you may not have time to do. If you are unsure about how to write a resume/CV or have not updated your “paper” in many years, the quickest way to begin applying for jobs is to hire a professional resume/CV writer to do it for you. Generally speaking, this will cost anywhere from $200-$500. Sadly, many graduate students and postdocs don’t have the money to invest in resume writing and in many cases are unable to craft a job winning resume/CV.
If you are unable to hire a resume writing professional, I came across a DIY solution called Scientific Resumes. This service company exclusively caters to graduate students and postdocs looking for resume/CV writing help. In addition to their automated self-help products, they offer resume proofreading services and likely customized resume/CV writing too. I have not used or carefully evaluated their products but it may be worth a visit to their website.
Author: Cliff Mintz
Most human resource professionals contend that some form of online networking with colleagues and peers is probably the best way to land a new job. To that point, online networking offers several advantages over live networking and other traditional ways of keeping in touch with others.
First, online networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn make it easy for people to find you. Unlike live networking where information flow is painstakingly slow, online networking allows users to provide prospective employers with large amounts of professional information. Moreover, online network users can control the information that employers and others can access. Effectively controlling online information may mean the difference between employment or not.
Second, membership in online networks allows users to easily keep tabs on others and visa versa. Also, users can configure online networking platforms to automatically receive news, updates and alerts in real time. Being the first to learn about a job opening may give a jobseeker a competitive advantage.
Finally, online networking sites allow users to quickly connect with one another (or access the knowledge base of a network) without investing much time or effort. In contrast with live networking, small talk and casual conversation is not required to get the information that you or a prospective employer may be seeking.
An important first step is to create a professional profile. This should contain a candidate’s career path including educational background, past places of employment, awards and honors, and his/her current position and job responsibilities. Sites that are designed for professional networking usually provide new users with templates that allow them to quickly create a profile.
Personal information should not be present in a professional profile. Things like age, marital status, political persuasion or sexual orientation should not appear anywhere in a user profile. User profiles MUST be devoid of compromising photos, inappropriate remarks or political or religious diatribes
Ensure that the information is publicly available so that it will appear in Google searches. Also, keep the profile current and remember to add things like recent speaking engagements, new publications etc. to remain competitive.
Expand Your Network
The next step is to find people at the site to connect with. Connecting with people who work at companies or institution where you may want to work is a great idea! Don’t be afraid to connect with others who may be more senior or even junior to you. However, only connect with others who you think may be important or valuable to your job search. Connecting for connections sake may overwhelm your network with irrelevant or inappropriate information.
Finally, invite professional friends and colleagues to join your network. Having a Nobel Laureate or a member of the National Academy of Sciences in a personal network can really do wonders for a job search! Again, this is a professional network; so only invite people to join who you can trust to keep it that way.
Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn?
Despite its massive size, Facebook has yet to prove its value for jobseekers. Twitter is better than Facebook, but like Facebook, its value as a job seeking tool remains to be determined. At present, the largest and perhaps best online networking site for professionals is LinkedIn. It boasts free job boards, paid advertising and is regularly scrutinized by professional recruiters. One of the more valuable LinkedIn features, are the LinkedIn groups where it is easy to start conversations with prospective employers and hiring managers
Keep it Professional
These days hiring managers routinely scrutinize candidates’ online presence or personas before moving forward with the job application process. Therefore, it is a good idea to Google yourself from time-to-time to manage the information that is available to prospective employers. Any damaging information may mean the difference between employment or not. Finally, online networking, if appropriately used, can be an extremely effective job seeking tool for those seeking employment in the life sciences industry.