Science Job Hunting – Part 2, Resumes

All right science readers, you’ve decided you want a new job (or like me, that decision was made for you). You’ve identified some positions you’re interested in. It is time to start writing your resumes. Here are a few of the tips that I have learned on how to write resumes for science jobs, from both a job hunter and as someone who has been a hiring manager.

Note: these are tips for getting an INDUSTRY position. I have never applied nor hired for academic positions so these tips are unlikely to help you get a job as a professor.

#1 – Your resume is the trailer, not the feature film

Ask yourself: what is your goal with your resume?

Did you answer “to get a job”? If so, you’re missing the purpose of the resume. Your resume will NOT get you a job. No hiring manager is going to read your resume and say, “let’s offer her the position.” They will, however, say, “call this person up, I would like to meet her. She has some of the skills we are looking for.” That’s your goal with your resume: to get that call back from the hiring manager.

The purpose of your resume is to introduce yourself. It should give a brief overview of relative experience and skills, but it should be NO MORE THAN 2 PAGES. Seriously. I should be able to print it out on single page.

You need to make sure that everything you include is relevant. This means that you should axe the “objective section”. I have yet to ever read an objective statement on a resume that gives me some meaningful piece of information about the candidate. They all say something to the effect of “gaining meaningful employment…” blah blah blah. Of course your  objective is to get a job, why else would you apply? This statement offers your potential employer no insight into who you are and takes up valuable space.

The other common section that you can do away with is the skills section. It tends to look like this:

  • GCMS
  • LCMS
  • NMR
  • IR
  • XRF
  • Microsoft office

Does that look like a list of techniques that any undergrad with a BSc in Chemistry would possess? Yes! It tells me nothing about your experience with those skills, or the depth to which you understand them. Did you learn how to operate an LCMS in an undergrad lab class or did you spend years studying the technique? (Also, it is 2018. You don’t need to state you understand Microsoft Office.) Cut this section – it doesn’t add anything.

You can whittle down your past jobs and publications etc. by stating things like “selected experience”, “related experience”, “selected publications”. You usually don’t need to include references on your resumes, you will likely be asked for this near the end of the hiring process. Most of my job offers were made contingent on employment reference checks. So well past the resume reading stage.

#2 – Resumes not resume

You need a different resume for every position that you apply for. The meat is likely to be the same, but there will be subtle changes in each application that demonstrate the skills that each posting requires. Keep in mind that many companies use HR software to screen through the hundreds of applications that they receive. This software is looking for key words that are used in the posting. Does the posting say “client” or “customer”? Do they use “KPI” or “key performance indicators”? Mirror the language in your resume to the language in the posting. This will likely ensure that you are hitting the key words the software is searching for. Also, do remember that if you’re successful, your resumes will be read by real, human people, so make sure that they still coherent to human not just a robot.

#3 – Achievements not duties

Remember, you are trying to sell yourself, and demonstrate why you are better than the 399 other folks that applied for the position. This is where you want to give examples and demonstrate you have the skills listed in the posting. You want to state “you did [x] which resulted in [really awesome thing] [y]”.

For example:

Business Development Representative, Environmental Laboratory
  • Sold multiple lines of environmental testing in accordance with Alberta Tier 1 and 2 regulations

This is a perfectly fine description of what a BDR would do for an environment chemistry laboratory, but it does really say anything valuable. Compare it with:

Business Development Representative, Environmental Laboratory
  • Built strong relationships with environmental consultants which resulted in a 300% increase in sales over 3 years.

The second case says a lot more about the skills. You have demonstrated that you have sales skills; you have demonstrated that you have relationship building skills.

By framing your skills and experience in this way, it will also help you really evaluate how your work contributed to the team and prepare you for your interview.

You can also adjust these accomplishments to match the job posting. I have 4 years of business development experience but I have applied for technical chemistry positions. I gained skills in business development that are applicable. I highlight those accomplishments rather than my cut-throat sales accomplishments. This will also allow you to apply for jobs where you know you have the skills, but maybe you didn’t have the specific job title they were looking for. For example: I applied for a position in a non-profit as a fund developer. There is a lot of overlap in necessary skills for business development and fund development. I was a top candidate for this job, up against someone who had worked for non-profits in the past because I focused on the what I achieved which demonstrated I had the necessary skills.

#4 – Read the instructions and spell check

It may seem minor to throw out resumes for spelling errors; however, when grabbing from a pile of hundreds, you need to cut out a lot of people, and this is one way to do so. Make sure you spell check. Have someone else read it to be sure. This is especially important if you are applying for a position in a language where you are not a native speaker. These spelling/grammatical errors won’t be a big deal once you’re interviewing or even in the job, but it can make a difference in the application stage.

For the instructions, do what the positing says. Do you need a cover letter? Should you apply directly to a hiring manager? Should it be one document or two? Word or PDF? Make sure you follow the instructions.

#5 – Some random things

This is my experience of what makes for a strong resume. There may be more details out there from other hiring managers and other scientists. I hope you find it useful. But I won’t be hurt if you don’t.

I can’t stress enough about making the resume short and obvious. I have had to sift through 200 applications. If I can’t find what I need, I toss your resume. I will not read past page 2. If what I need isn’t up front and centre, I am very unlikely to get to it. Short and sweet.

Put your education near the end – I want to see your relevant experience and skills before seeing your education.

If you’re a student, I caution you on applying for industry using your boss’s academic CV as a template. Just as I can’t help you get a job in academia, your graduate supervisor may not be the best resource for how to get a job in industry. What your graduate supervisor can do, however, is put you in touch with former students and other people in their network who can help you. I know that I will personally be happy to help any student that any of the professors from my alma mater put me in touch with. That’s what networking is about.

Good luck and happy job hunting!

 

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