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: 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.
It’s the million-dollar question among job applicants everywhere…. “I have good qualifications and work history. I think I meet the minimum requirements… Why haven’t I gotten a response to my application?” Or worse, “Why haven’t I heard back after my interview?”
The silent treatment after an application or interview isn’t all that uncommon. Some sources cite that up to 75% of applicants never hear back from employers after applying; even if it’s actually less than that, it seems there’s still a lot of applicants getting no response. So why exactly does this happen? And is there a way to prevent it?
The Application Black Hole
As it turns out, there may not be an easy answer to this. There may not be one specific reason you haven’t heard back; it could be a mix of factors, some within your control and some not. And there’s a good chance it’s nothing personal.
According to research conducted by both Glassdoor and FlexJobs, there are a variety of reasons for non-response to an application. Some of the more common include:
Most online job postings generate a considerable response with a substantial number of applicants submitting their qualifications. The larger and more well-known the company, and the larger the radius from which they are recruiting (think remote vs. geography-specific), that response could multiply exponentially. But even smaller companies with a more limited recruiting radius could be overwhelmed by applicants depending on the appeal of the role and the resources available to screen applications. It just may not be possible to respond to each applicant who expresses interest. “Ideally,” explains Sci.bio’s Director of HR Allison Ellsworth, “the ATS (applicant tracking system) used by a company will at least send a confirmation email that your application has been received so you know it successfully went through. Beyond that, the volume of candidates does not usually allow for personal follow up unless you have moved along in the interview process.” The volume of applications is not something that you as a candidate can control.
Recruiters/Hiring Managers Are Recruiting for More than One Role
It’s one thing to be focused on filling one role, but most recruiters are juggling multiple requisitions simultaneously. If the number of applicants for one opening can be overwhelming, imagine multiplying that by numerous openings that need to be filled as soon as possible. Add to that a full interview schedule and other recruiting-related tasks, and it quickly becomes very difficult to respond, even when recruiters/hiring managers have the best of intentions to do so.
Position Isn’t Actually Available
In some cases, it’s possible the position to which you applied isn’t available anymore, or something has shifted internally and the hiring team is reevaluating their needs. Maybe the role has already been filled, but the new hire hasn’t started yet and they don’t want to take the posting down prematurely in case it doesn’t work out, or maybe something budgetary changed and the position isn’t going to be filled, or maybe there is a new project taking priority and recruiting is on hold for now.
While all of these are out of a candidate’s control, they are still worth noting as they very well could be the reason for no response. But what about the things that candidates can control? Some of the most common in this category include:
Applying for Too Many Openings
Job searching is a numbers game to some extent; the more applications you put out into the world, the greater the chance you’ll hear back. But if you’re indiscriminate about what and where you apply, if you apply to jobs where your qualifications don’t really match, chances are you’re not going to hear back.
Resume Could Be To Blame
If you consistently don’t hear back but are fairly certain your background is a fit, it could be how your resume is crafted. Maybe it doesn’t effectively highlight your relevant experience and accomplishments, or isn’t using the right keywords and industry specific language.
How Do I Ensure I Get Noticed?
So, what can you do to increase your chances of being noticed and making it through the initial screening process? It comes down to three categories – your application/resume, your social media presence, and your networking efforts.
There are a number of things you can do to make sure your applications are more targeted and put you in the best possible light. As previously mentioned, although you want to get some volume of applications out, spend a little extra time at this phase and be selective and thoughtful about the applications you submit.
- Try to limit your applications to jobs that are truly a good fit for your background; it’s not necessary to meet all minimum qualifications, but make sure you meet some or most.
- Research the companies you’re considering applying to and make sure their goals and values align with your own. Then try to convey that through examples on your resume or in a cover letter.
- Craft your resume so that it’s not just a timeline of job titles and responsibilities, but also highlights specific projects and accomplishments, especially those that are relevant to the position. A good practice is to tweak your resume for each job you apply to.
- Include links to your online presence (more on that next).
Social Media Hacks
In today’s world, your job application incorporates more than just the resume you submit. Most people have some kind of online presence, and many employers will check into it. Make sure you’re using your online presence to your advantage.
- Although a professional headshot isn’t necessary, ensure any photos you use present you in a professional light.
- Similarly, do a scan of any photo tags that are publicly viewable and remove any that could be controversial or present you in a less than ideal light.
- Just like your resume, ensure that the language and keywords you’re using reflect the jobs and industries you are seeking and highlight any relevant projects or content; for instance, LinkedIn has a specific profile section where you can include information about projects, publications, or other work that may not be reflected on a resume.
- Ensure your social media bios are succinct, relevant, and targeted to the jobs you’re seeking.
This may be the most understated yet most important piece of advice: don’t necessarily rely only on applying for a digital posting without human contact. We live in a world driven by relationships; who you know can often make a difference, or at least give you an edge. Often available jobs aren’t even posted publicly; the only way to hear about them is by knowing someone involved. Some estimates cite that 70% of available jobs are never posted and up to 80% are filled through networking.
When recruiters or hiring managers are overwhelmed with applicants, those they have a connection with will often rise to the top. When looking at equally qualified candidates, being a “known entity” could be the deciding factor in who moves on; minimally it may help guarantee your resume moves to the top of the pile and gets a second look.
So where do you start networking? How can you best leverage your network? Here are a few ideas:
- Research the company and see who you might already know that works there. Ask those contacts for an introduction or at least a mention to those involved in the hiring process. Remind them to check the company’s employee referral policy–they may even get rewarded if you turn out to be a good fit!
- If you don’t directly know someone who works there, look for the mutual connection. Use your social media profiles to dig a little deeper; LinkedIn company pages will show you who works there and whether or not you have mutual connections. Then reach out to those mutual contacts that you already have a rapport with and ask for an intro, a mention, or ask to have your resume directly passed along.
- If you don’t have direct connections at a company or mutual connections that can facilitate an introduction, do your best to engage with recruiters. Seek them out on social networks such as LinkedIn or Twitter, and engage with or comment on their posts. By making yourself noticed, you’re more likely to be remembered when it comes to reviewing resumes. And if you engage enough and build an online relationship with them, you may even be able to ask them directly about available roles.
The key with networking is to be proactive. Build your networks before you need them and then they’ll be there to tap into when the opportunities arise.
But What If I Interviewed and Got “Ghosted?”
Let’s say you made it through the initial screening and interviewed for a role, but now you haven’t heard back from the employer. Or you were informed that you aren’t moving forward without any details about why. What’s a candidate to do in this situation?
Again, there could be a variety of reasons, many of which may be nothing personal. In the case of providing specific feedback, there could be legal implications in being too specific with candidates. Or maybe one person on the hiring team wanted you to move on, but someone else with more pull wanted someone else. Maybe the employer doesn’t have the time or resources to potentially open up a prolonged back-and-forth dialogue that providing feedback may initiate.
As for hearing nothing at all? That’s simply an unfortunate outcome of some hiring processes, and there’s not much you can do to control this. The best you can do is keep focused on the fact that it’s not you, it’s them. Many companies are now more focused on the candidate experience than in the past, and doing their best to ensure that even if it’s not specific feedback, candidates who interview at least receive a status update. However, the hard truth is that some companies just don’t or won’t do it for a variety of their own reasons. If a few weeks have gone by and you haven’t heard back, it is probably a safe assumption that you should move on to new possibilities.
The moral of the story here? There’s much that you can’t control, so focus your efforts on the parts you can. Revise and target your resume to the jobs you are seeking. Optimize your online presence to your advantage. Shore up your networking skills. And most of all… don’t give up!