I have been doing some research lately that has involved talking to a number of hiring managers in various scientific industries. In doing so, I have collected a list of a few things they don’t like. In some cases, these small things are enough to knock you out of the running for a position, no matter how good your technical qualifications are. Here, in no particular order, are things that have been mentioned to me.
In the sciences, your “resume” is really more of a resume portfolio. It should include a cover letter, a resume customized for the particular recipient, a research summary, a patent/publication/presentation list, and perhaps other documents that the employer has requested. Depending on the type of employer, this may include a list of references, management philosophy (for senior industrial positions), teaching philosophy and research proposal (for academic positions), and so on. While the resume itself should only be 2 pages, all the supplemental material can bring the page count significantly higher.
For hiring managers, having all this information at the start of the process is a big plus. If they’re interested in you, they can dive right into the details instead of having to wait for more information. Having it electronically is also an asset – this makes it much easier to store and access from multiple places than paper copies.
However, if each piece is a separate document, this significantly increases the amount of overhead required to open and print each file, not to mention keeping them together and making sure each one has been read. Putting all the information in one file – with clear headers and delineations, makes it easier for the recipient to keep it together, not to mention being able to print and search the whole thing easily.
One hiring manager mentioned getting a resume in which the objective was a particular type of position in the pharmaceutical industry. That would be fine, except her organization is not in that industry – in fact, it’s a government agency and not an “industry” at all. She says she often gets resumes/cover letters that talk about wanting a position in “industry”, and those go directly into the trash can. After all, if you can’t be bothered to check the details on something as important as your resume, how can she expect you to be careful with details on the job?
I have often said that my claim to fame is that in the 15+ years I have been a volunteer consultant, I have never seen a resume in which I could not find at least one typo. Sometimes it’s just something that looks like a typo (for example, a strange formatting choice), but that’s almost as bad. Having a typographical error in your resume is another way to get a quick trip to the trash can…who wants to hire someone who does not pay attention to detail on something as important as their resume?
Always make sure to have someone other than yourself read your resume carefully. Pick someone who has an excellent command of the English language, whose opinion you trust, and who will give you honest feedback without worrying about hurting your feelings. Only that way can you make sure you are putting your absolute best effort forward, and have the best possible chance to obtain the job of your dreams.
This article was written by scientific communication consultant Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants, and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2006).