Resume Writing for Scientists
Congratulations on getting ready to take the next step in your scientific career. While we are all trained (more or less) on how to switch academic positions, we are not as well-prepared to transition to industry. Some basics to keep in mind: PhD plus years of experience refers to the postdoctoral experience. Scientist positions are attainable after graduate school, senior scientist positions are possible after some postdoctoral experience, and assistant director positions are generally filled from within industry and rarely from academia, unless you already hold an independent faculty position.
In anticipation of making the transition out of academics, you will need to transform your curriculum vitae (CV) into a resume, with the ultimate goal of getting an interview. Don’t worry about listing all your articles and grants in detail as you would in an academic CV. Instead, a good resume focuses on providing information that will interest your potential hiring manager, such as how you developed collaborations and leveraged your skills, teams you worked on during your academic training, your contributions to your team’s success, and major accomplishments during that time.
The first stop for your resume will likely be a computer scan, which will check for keywords related to the job posting. For example, if a senior scientist position mentions a requirement of “PhD plus four years of experience,” then the software will look for the terms “education,” “PhD,” and “2014” or some year before that, within proximity to each other. Many companies use this technology to vet the initial deluge of applications. You may be asked to upload an unformatted text-only version that is easier for the software to understand.
After the software check, your formatted resume will make its way to either the human resources department or the actual hiring manager. Eye-tracking studies show most people spend 10 to 30 seconds scanning a resume in an F-shaped pattern: They read the top of the page, read across immediately below, and then down the left-hand margin. Put your most important information (name, education, skills, and experience) here. Illegible fonts, confusing jargon, abbreviations, grammatical errors, and misspelled words make your application harder to read and less likely to impress.
Your name and contact information should be featured prominently at the top of the page. Do not include a headshot. As for your contact address, while your institution email is an appropriate option, you may want to use a professional-sounding personal address to ensure privacy.
List key skills and education history in bulleted lists close to your name and contact information. Key skills should relate back to the language in the job posting. Consider listing the year you received your final degree; although no other dates are necessary, including undergraduate degree completion year will make it easier for potential employers to guess your age.
The heart of your resume is your previous work experience including positions/titles, institution(s), and dates. Try not to leave gaps in your work history. As for formatting this section, judicious use of bolding, underlining, and indentation are good ways to visually guide the reviewer through your most relevant positions. Bulleted lists with your responsibilities and accomplishments are preferable to paragraphs as they are easier to read or scan.
My biggest challenge in formatting my resume was determining what to do with my publications and conference presentations. After some experimentation (I am a scientist, after all), I landed on simply listing the journal title or conference and whether I was first author, coauthor, or invited to give a talk. For example: “co-authored manuscript in Blood” or “invited oral presentation at the 2017 ASH Annual Meeting.” Include any experience with software or coding language (Python, R, etc) or specialty hardware (microscopy, flow cytometry, etc).
The path to a great resume starts with a bad one. Keep revising your resume until you feel it presents you as the best candidate for the job, and always remember that persistence is key. Good luck!