April 2010

Functional Résumé Writing Tips for Life Scientists

Professional Experience

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Résumés and CVs can be constructed either chronologically or functionally. Chronological résumés, which are most common, list content in temporal order and should be used for either lateral job moves or when looking for a new job to advance your career. When crafting a chronological résumé, list work experience from the most recent to past. In contrast, functional résumés offer content based on skills and are most effective for individuals seeking career changes. Functional résumés should present your skills in the order of importance for the new career you are pursuing. 

It is important to include only the information that is relevant to the position to which you are applying. Unrelated job titles or skills sometimes can confuse hiring managers and, in some instances, cause them to pass on qualified candidates. As mentioned above, most hiring managers are simply too busy to read all of the CVs that receive. Résumés that are chosen for further consideration typically are the ones that present pertinent, job-specific information presented in a straightforward manner.

If you have switched jobs frequently or have gaps in your experience, put the dates of employment in the far right-hand column of the résumé, or hide the job changing by combining or grouping jobs. Also, employment dates should be listed as years and not exact start and stop dates.

Tailoring Your Résumé

A résumé is not just a list of what you have done and where you have been. It is an opportunity to present and highlight your skills and how those skills translate into making you the right candidate. Quantifying or playing up achievements and using strong, definitive statements elevate and authenticate you.

For each position you apply for, it is important to list all experience (in the order of perceived importance) relevant to the hiring manager. Carefully reviewing job descriptions will allow you to quickly and easily identify those things that are most important. What is seen first usually means the most! 

When necessary, résumés should be tailored so that your skill sets and accomplishments match what was stated in the job description. This means it is highly unlikely that you will be able to use the same résumé/CV for all the jobs in which you are interested. To insure success, I highly recommend you take the time to tailor each résumé/CV that you submit.

Odds and Ends

Many people say résumés should be no longer than one or two pages. While this may be the convention for many fields, it is certainly not applicable to CVs or scientific résumés. However, it is a good idea to limit the length of your CV/résumé, because, outside of academic circles, nobody has the time nor the inclination to read a CV that is half an inch thick! When I was working as a professional recruiter, it typically took me a minute or less after scanning a résumé/CV to determine whether I had identified a right-fit candidate. Candidates whose CVs are too long, verbose or difficult to decipher rarely make it to the interview stage. I subscribe to the notion that less is more and simple is elegant!

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