April 2010

Functional Résumé Writing Tips for Life Scientists


Meet the author

Clifford S. Mintz will be at the ASBMB annual meeting, working as part of the FASEB careers team, giving talks and doing résumé critiques. Click here for more information.

Like it or not, writing a carefully constructed résumé or curriculum vitae is a vital part of any successful job search. Inexperienced job seekers hastily tend to craft résumés without paying much attention to format, style or content and then wonder why they can’t land interviews. The best way to approach résumé writing is to think of a résumé as a work of art— something that requires a lot of thought, creativity and attention to detail. As one well-known professional recruiter and job-search expert put it, “Trying to find a job without a smart, well-crafted résumé is like showing up for dinner at a fancy restaurant in a T-shirt and cutoffs. They won’t let you in.” 

It is important to think of a résumé as a personal marketing brochure that will either help land face-to-face interviews or turn a job search into a long and frustrating process.

The primary goal of a résumé is to show prospective employers how you are different from other applicants and why you should be considered a viable candidate. While I can’t guarantee that following these tips will result in a job interview, they will help you to craft a job-worthy CV.

Writing Tips

Hiring managers, professional recruiters and human-resource professionals quickly tend to scan résumés and make snap judgments about the viability of applicants. Therefore, an applicant’s qualifications, skills and personal attributes must jump off of the paper to catch a reader’s attention. This can be accomplished easily by using bold type, headings, underlining, bullets and varied font sizes. Avoid using paragraphs, because they are dense and difficult to navigate. However, overuse of visual callout techniques also can overwhelm readers, so be judicious about their placement and frequency of use.

Powerful, action-oriented, emotional words produce strong, positive impressions. Unfortunately, we scientists have been trained to write in passive voice. That being said, try to resist using passive voice, and sell yourself as much as possible!

Objective or Summary Statement

I am sure that somebody has told you at one time or another to include an “objective” or “goal” on your résumé. Objectives and goals tend to be boring, vague and passive. Instead, I recommend that you craft a vibrant, action-oriented, can-do “summary of qualifications” section that reflects and highlights why you are a right-fit candidate.

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