Ruchi Masand: The first Impression – The Resume

The PhD/Postdoc blog series features scientists at different stages of career development as they explore and plan for their next steps. Over the course of six months, Edward van Opstal, Ruchi Masand, Corina White, and Darcie Cook will give monthly updates on their progress. Check back every Wednesday for new blog posts!

Current position: Postdoctoral Fellow studying obesity and fat metabolism at the Cardiovascular Research Institute; Chief Technology Officer for My Resolve Health, a bay area start-up.

Program start date: September 2015

Institution: University of California, San Francisco

Hey guys!

Hello people!

Today lets talk job hunt! Job searches can be tedious and really discouraging. I guess we have all been there. We see a promising job posting on a job board and wonder if it’s even worth applying to these. After all, most of the time you never hear back from these and to date almost all of interview calls have come through due to some sort of networking connection. So when I recently attended a MIND workshop on applying for non-academic positions, advice about ways to find hidden opportunities should have been the most interesting section. But while that part was certainly useful, what was surprisingly most enlightening was an exercise in resume writing. I know, I know! Resumes are the most basic part of a job search and application process. And at this point everyone knows the importance of resume tailoring to fit the job description.

Indeed, almost everyone I know has two different versions – one for academic positions and the other for non-academic ones. Most people also modify their resume to some extent for the different kinds of positions within those broader subsets. So then why do we rarely hear back when we apply to job postings outside of academia? I think being in academia; the subtleties of effective resume writing often elude us. This is mainly because for academic positions we usually require the much longer CV or NIH-style Biosketch, both of which can be a few pages long and list all of our many achievements without any selection filters. On the other hand, space is at a premium in a resume. It’s kind of like the difference between a suburban home and a downtown apartment! When space is at a premium, one cannot afford to waste any. So resumes require more tailoring and nuance to highlight job specific skills.

Another important difference that often gets overlooked is the fact that someone with a significant knowledge of the specific scientific area almost always screens academic CVs. That never happens in case of non-academic positions! So while we all tailor for the job to some extent, most of us often forget to tailor for the target readers. And this was painfully obvious during the MIND exercise that attempted to simulate the first hurdle faced by a resume – Human Resources! That’s right! Coming from the academic bubble we often forget that our resume usually encounters HR or hiring managers first. And due to the sheer volume of applications they must screen through, they rarely spend much time on each one.

So in this exercise we were the HR person, and we were each given 30 seconds to go over a job posting. We were then given a stack of resumes and given only 30 seconds per resume to mark yes or no for each one, without being allowed to go back. Only the ones marked yes would be chosen to advance to the next stage. The first thing I learnt from this exercise was that I never actually got past the first half of any of the resumes. When we were allowed to go back to the resumes after the exercise, we also realized that although candidate number 7 was actually the best fit for the position in terms of skill and experience, we had almost unanimously picked candidate number 3 for the next step. Nothing could have better stressed the importance of a well-written resume. So while we may all understand the importance of a good resume, here is the ugly truth.

Exercise takeaways

  • Every skill and experience required for the specific job posting needs to be in the first half of the resume, the top 3rd being prime real estate.
  • Headings, bullets, boldface highlights and numerical values are what stand out.
  • The number of publications you have will likely have no bearing on whether your resume gets picked out of a stack.
  • The order and clarity of your resume will.

See what I did there? The answer then is to think like the screener. Make a list of the keywords that you think need to be in an ideal resume for the job listing and make sure those are highlighted in your resume. Consider adding a profile section to the very top of your resume. This can highlight a few of the key requirements of the job that you can bring to the table. These must obviously then be supported in other parts of the resume, but the profile makes them pop in those crucial 30 seconds. Also, and I can’t stress this enough, get rid of any experience that clearly doesn’t add to the technical or soft skill requirements of the job. I know, coming from an academic background its difficult to do. But you must! And if you can’t do it yourself, ask someone for help. My brother’s opinion always gives me perspective in this regard. Being a game developer, he can be unbiased in a way I cannot. So I usually give him the job posting and my tailored resume to see what he thinks. I can then make changes accordingly.

So next time you are trying to tailor your resume to a job listing, think like the HR manager who will screen your resume. Who know? You just might get picked!

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