It can often feel like your resume is lost in a deep cyber abyss after clicking “submit”. That’s why many people seek advice on how to make their resume stand out. The problem is that people start following the same advice, so one resume begins to look like every other as trendy buzzwords are circulated. My advice is two-fold: 1) to get back to the basics and 2) go with your instincts.
To get back to the basics, think about what you look for when searching for job openings. Have you ever used search words like “confident” or “team player” when searching for jobs? Probably not. You may have used techniques to search for jobs, such as “chromatography” or “mass spectrometry”. By considering what you search for, you can compile a list of techniques that highlights your relevant skills and experience.
After completing graduate school, I carefully constructed my first resume. It included a long list of techniques that I had used during my research. I considered that list to be an essential component of the resume, demonstrating my technical capabilities. Shortly after submitting my resume to about 100 job openings, I read the following statement in an article advising people on what not to put on their resume: “Don’t put a list of techniques on your resume”. Based on that advice, I was beginning to doubt my resume, when I received a request for a phone interview, which later became my first job offer, based solely on one of the techniques listed on my resume.
While it is true that a list of techniques may sound boring, your primary goal should not be to entertain people with your resume – it should be to inform them about your skills. For a technical position, it makes sense to put a strong emphasis on your technical skills. It is safe to assume that every hiring manager is seeking someone who is confident, self-motivated, accomplished, a team player, etc… In fact, you can find hundreds of the trendiest resume buzzwords online in five seconds. Keep in mind that chemistry is a technical field, and hiring managers for chemistry-related positions are seeking someone who has relevant technical skills. That is what gets your foot in the door for a technical position, and that is what your resume is for – getting your foot in the door. The interview is your chance to demonstrate your interpersonal skills.
A list of techniques does more than you might think. It highlights three important areas that hiring managers want to know about: your knowledge, your skills, and your experience. Including a technique indicates that you posses some knowledge about what it is and how to use it, you have applied the technique and acquired some degree of skill, and in doing so, you have gained experience using that instrument or method and interpreting the data to resolve a problem. You don’t have to go into detail about exactly how you used each technique – save that for the interview.
Be careful not to exaggerate your technical capabilities on your resume. Remember, anything and everything you put on your resume can and will be discussed during an interview. Make sure that you can speak to every bullet point. Be prepared to back up your list of techniques with examples that demonstrate your problem-solving abilities. How did you use technique X, Y, or Z, and how does that experience relate to the job? It is your technical experience – whether it’s a previous chemistry job, graduate research, or coursework – that relates to your ability to perform the daily tasks of a technical position. The key is to connect the dots between your list of techniques and the job requirements.
Finally, go with your instincts. A highly technical resume has worked well for me. However, if my advice doesn’t resonate with you or contradicts what you think is important for your resume, don’t use it. After all, if I had followed the wrong advice at the wrong time, I might have removed my boring list of techniques and missed out on a great job opportunity.
This article was written by Sherrie Elzey, Ph.D., a chemical engineer and freelance technical writer/editor. Sherrie has a background in nanoscience and nanotechnology research, with experience in academia, government, and industry positions.