Customizing Your Resume

October 14, 2013

Reading a job description, you realize you meet all the requirements and your experience matches what the company is looking for-the ad could have been written for you. You attach your saved resume and cover letter-updated with the company’s name-to your application and wait to hear about an interview. You are disappointed to receive a form email saying you do not meet their needs right now.

What happened? Companies often use computer searches or have a human resources person to make a first pass over applications. If an application is missing key words from the job description, it may get sent to the reject pile.

Your resume may list experience with chromatographic method development for a pharmaceutical company and the job description may require GLP GC-MS method development and validation. You know that you developed GC-MS methods in a GLP environment and think your resume reflects that, however, your resume does not say that exactly and those facts should be stated plainly. Your resume should be updated to reflect how well you match the job description.

Make sure to keep a master resume that lists all the details from all of your positions, education, honors, publications, and so on. Five years from now it may be difficult to remember the details of everything you are doing in your current job. It’s easy to then copy this resume and edit it.

Some simple ways to customize your resume:

  • Keep a master resume saved with all your experience, education, skills, publications, etc…
  • Save a copy of your resume, the job ad, and relevant materials together.
  • Scan the job position for the experience or skills that you possess.
  • Update the copy of your resume to reflect key words in the job description that describe you.
  • Consider editing sections of your resume that are not relevant-keep your resume visually clean and uncluttered so that a reviewer can easily scan it and see important information. You may not need a lengthy description of your first job anymore. One brief bullet point could be sufficient.
  • Update your cover letter beyond the company’s name. Include descriptions of relevant experience or education.

When I went from working in the lab to teaching, I shortened the descriptions of my lab experience to leave room to emphasize my experience in education. I made sure to discuss my experience teaching during graduate school in my cover letter. I kept copies of the resume, the cover letter, and pdf’s of my unofficial transcripts in a folder along with a copy of the ad for each position. I also kept a master resume separately so I do not lose any information over time. If I need to highlight my experience with chromatography later on, I can use the information saved in my master resume.

Customizing your resume for each position will make it easy for whoever or whatever is reading your resume to see how qualified you are for this particular job.


This article was written by Sara Stellfox. After working in contract and pharmaceutical laboratories, Sara changed her career path and is now a free lance writer and chemistry instructor at the City Colleges of Chicago.

Get Technical with Your Resume

September 30, 2013

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.


How To Ask For Help

June 10, 2013

These days, we all need a little help from our friends. If you’re unemployed or under-employed, chances are many of your friends have been there, empathize with you, and want to help.  But you need to let them know you need help – you need to ask.

Asking for help is not something everyone does well.  In fact, several people have recently asked me for help in interesting ways*, prompting me to think about you can effectively ask for help.  I decided there are really two parts – know what to ask for, and know people of whom you can ask things.

First, and most importantly, know what your goal is, and do a reality check on it.  If you tell me you “need a job”, i may point you to the Burger King down the street that is hiring.  Conversely, if you tell me you want a new job as a medicinal chemist working on oncology targets for an international pharmaceutical company in St. Louis, I’m going to tell you those jobs don’t exist anymore.  Make sure your career goal is specific enough that others will recognize it when they see it, but also realistic.

If you don’t know exactly what kind of job you want, that’s okay.  Your first goal may be to identify some possible career paths that will let you do more teamwork and less leadership, for example.  In that case, you are not looking for a job (yet), but ideas, information, and introductions to others in those new areas.  For example, a friend recently told me she’s unhappy with her employer of 10 years, as she has been reorganized into a group she does not enjoy, and she’s realized the company is rewarding people for things she does not enjoy doing.  Her personal life has also changed over the years, and she now needs more flexibility in her work life.  We were able to come up with a few possible career paths that would take advantage of abilities she has and does enjoy using, and I was able to give her contact info for several people in each of those fields, so she can investigate further.

One thing to remember is that when she asked me to help her brainstorm, I had known her for several years, and we have worked together on several volunteer projects.  She was did not find my name on the internet and send a resume out of the blue.  You need to build your network of professional relationships BEFORE you ask for help.  Those with whom you have a previous relationship will be much more willing to help you, and to go out of their way to identify resources they have that might be of value to you.

One of the best resources they can give you is a lead on someone they know, who has information about your target field.  In this case, you are using your friend’s reputation to gain entry to someone you may not have been able to reach on your own.  Ideally, you want to get the lead’s name and contact information, then contact them yourself while mentioning the name of the person who put you in touch with each other.  That way you make sure to present yourself to your best advantage, and you can start your own professional relationship with the new person.

Building your own professional network, one person at a time, will hold you in good stead when you next need to ask for help.  And knowing what to ask for will make it easy for them to help you find it.

*  One person, whom I had never met, found my home phone number and called me one evening to complain that I had not answered their email asking for a resume review quickly enough. Another person came to a talk I gave on how to write a better resume, then afterwards told me they were looking for a job, handed me a copy of their less-than-perfect resume, and ran out of the room.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press.

What’s in Your Skills Box and How Can You Use It?

April 15, 2013

When employers ask about your employment history what they really want to know is what is in your skills toolbox –technical skills, soft skills and interpersonal skills. Hold tight to this mindset when writing your résumé and discussing your accomplishments during employment interviews.  Guide your career by consciously adding to your skills toolbox. Below I will discuss two ways to do this.

Identify your core capabilities

These are the skills you build on to develop a capability-driven career. To identify these begin with a self-appraisal. Look for distinctive Talents, Skills, and Knowledge (TSK) that will make you highly competitive for certain lines of work. These are the reasons an employer would hire or promote you rather than someone else. Help identify these core capabilities by consulting with mentors and trusted colleagues. Recalling your past performance appraisals can also help identify your TSKs and where you need to improve.

Suppose you are a product development chemist or manage a group of product development chemists. Empathy, the ability to understand the needs of customers, is probably the origin of your biggest success. This means understanding the customer’s technology needs, and how the customer’s profitability can be improved. Empathy will help you imagine new products, create business relationships, and build productive teams – including joint teams with customers. Empathy is supported by technical skills in the relevant areas important to the customer and good listening skills.

Consider Charles McLaughlin, a product development chemist for Halliburton Services before his retirement. His knowledge of the behavior of subterranean rock behavior in the presence of flowing oil, natural gas and aqueous fluids led to the design of chemical treatments that maintained the permeability of oil-bearing rock and thus oil well production rates. He demonstrated empathy when discussing permeability – related oil and gas production problems with customers. This led to increased sales for his employer. (How did he demonstrate this skill?)

When seeking a new job or a promotion, emphasize what makes you distinctive and how this leads to your success. If Mr. McLaughlin had been job hunting, he could demonstrate customer empathy in his résumé, cover letter, and during interview discussions. It is unusual for a chemist to do this and would help make him a memorable job candidate.  (Why unusual?)

Identify capabilities you need to strengthen

Having identified the capabilities you already have, consider what you need to develop. Possible targeted new capabilities can be expertise in a technical field or in a function such as management. You can build new capabilities or strengthen current ones by taking short courses or working in a new area.

Adding new capabilities can shift your career direction. For example, strengthening my technical writing skills enabled me to write more technical papers while strengthening my management skills.  It also enabled me to shift the core of my job assignments to management.

When making this kind of switch, people sometimes abandon their existing capability base. This is a dangerous course to take because careers often take unexpected turns. Often you may want to shift back or leverage what you already know to do something new. For instance, an extended period of low oil prices led me to change my focus from oil production to paper recycling technology. However, after about ten years I refocused on oil production and refining technology when these businesses recovered.

Sometimes the skills you need may be obvious. For instance, an April 2012 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) compared the skills gap between older employees (not just chemists) nearing retirement and younger colleagues just starting their careers. More than half of the organizations surveyed reported that basic grammar and spelling were the top “basic” skills among older workers in which their younger coworkers were deficient.

Career development through capability growth is a way to build a career that’s right for you. Are you building your career path based on what’s in your skills box?

John Borchardt was a chemist, freelance writer and devoted ACS career consultant for over 15 years, until his sudden passing in January 2013. He was the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers,” and had more than 1500 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he held 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents, and was the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers. John’s advice, insights and articles helped hundreds of scientists improve their professional lives, and he will be truly missed.

What Are You Saying – Or Not Saying?

February 4, 2013

We all know that communication skills are crucial for success in your career (and in life).  In the employment world, one of your most important communications is your resume – the document that describes your professional history, and (hopefully) opens the door to new career possibilities.

But as important as your resume is, it’s only a small piece of your whole picture.  It’s that next step – the interview – that actually determines whether or not you get the job.  Face to face communication allows you to use not only words, but enriches the communication by adding appearance, voice inflection and body language.  Research supports the power of even small changes in body language for effective communication and relationship building.


The next time you meet someone new, make sure to smile.  Research shows that smiling promotes trust among strangers (, and smiling faces are actually easier to remember ($=relatedarticles&logdbfrom=pubmed).

Slouching Makes You Sad

Body posture is important for multiple reasons.  Not only do others assume things about you from your posture, but it can actually affect both your mood and your energy level. For example, slouching makes you look less important to others, and can actually increase your feelings of depression.  Whether sitting down or walking, keeping your chin held high and your shoulders back will improve your look and your mood, as well as increasing your energy levels.  (

Confidence is Catching

It’s important to project competence and confidence in your own abilities, and a recent study suggests there’s no need to worry about appearing too confident – in fact you can actually gain social status that way ( People who are highly confident speak more often and more confidently, provide more information and answers, and appear more calm and relaxed when working with their peers. Displays of competence are sometimes given more weight than actual competence, so don’t be afraid to let your abilities shine through.

Power and Pride

People with power, from either position or circumstances, tend to make themselves physically bigger and more expansive. (Why is the speaker at and event on a raised platform?  Why does the boss have a bigger desk?).  When you emulate the posture of power, you actually make yourself feel more powerful. For example, having people privately assume a high-power pose (standing up straight, hands on hips, chin up, and feet apart) for 2 minutes before going into a stressful situation actually changed their hormone levels and made them more risk tolerant, more likeable, and more likely to be hired. (

Read Body Language in Others

Finally, when making inferences about other people, make sure you are not misreading their body language.  For example, is your co-worker really angry with you, or is she crossing her arms because she is cold? Pay attention to the body language of others (, and you’ll be able to ensure your listeners understand your message.

By paying more attention to nonverbal signals, you can change the way you are perceived by others, as well as changing the way you perceive yourself.

Get involved in the discussion

The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (—brought to you by ACS Careers.

Persistence Pays Off

December 10, 2012

The job market is gradually improving. With the improvement in business conditions, companies’ hiring needs may have changed. Thus it may be worthwhile to resend your résumé to companies that previously ignored it months or even years ago. The hiring manager who worked for the firm a year or more ago may do so no longer. Indeed, many companies have experienced great turnover and there may not be much institutional memory left according to New York City career coach Roy Cohen. Moreover, even if the right fit still isn’t there on your second try, don’t rule out a third.

If you do apply again, Annie Stevens, managing partner at Boston-based executive coaching firm ClearRock, a Boston-based coaching and outplacement firm, suggests five strategies to present yourself to the employer.

Emphasize what’s different about you now

When applying to a company again, emphasize what is new and different about you since your previous application. You might look at your previous application and determine if you need to streamline the new one to be more job specific if the position(s) you are applying for are different than your last application.  This is especially important if you end up meeting with the same interviewers you met with last time. In all your interactions highlight specific new experiences and skills gained since applying the first time.

If you are in school, you can emphasize new courses taken and the benefits they provide relative to each employer you contact. Graduate students and post-docs can also emphasize progress they’ve made in their research. Unemployed chemists can discuss short courses they’ve taken and professional society activities that bolstered their communication and management skills.

Try reverse networking

Reverse networking means starting with the job description and finding people who can help you get it. For example, company insiders can lead you to people who can help you get the job and tell you what aspects of your experience to stress on your résumé and in interviews. Industry experts can also provide useful advice on the most important skills to develop and emphasize in your job applications. Often it is not the most senior people who provide the best advice in this area but younger individuals who got their jobs in the last several years.

Join the same professional or volunteer groups as the hiring manager

Attend events where you might run into this person and other company employees. These organizations can provide a relaxed way to get to know each other better.

Stay in touch with people you meet

Use social sites such as LinkedIn™ to stay in touch with people you met during your previous application processes at each firm. Join groups within LinkedIn™ which are likely to interest hiring managers at your target employers. Share news that adds new dimensions to your qualifications. This means sharing information with employees of the company, updating your LinkedIn™ profile and posting notes about your new accomplishments on social media sites such as Facebook™ or Twitter™.

Participate constructively in on-line discussions but do not be aggressively self-promotional or overly critical of others. For example, when I was asked recently about a job candidate who mentioned my name I did not praise him but also did not note that he harshly criticized others “flaming” them in on-line discussions. Employers searching for the individual’s name online can discover this for themselves.

You can use e-mail to inform some of your contacts about interesting research papers or industry news they may have missed. Even if they are already aware of the information you provide, they often appreciate you thinking of them and sending it. This contributes to a good impression conveying an image of congeniality. You are perceived as a helpful coworker should they hire you later.

Be persistent but not so aggressive you become annoying. By providing people with information, you have an ostensible reason to contact them besides reminding these individuals that you are job hunting.

John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers. As an ACS Councilor, he serves on the Joint Board – Council Committee Patents and Related Matters.


Is Your Resume Out of Style?

November 5, 2012

Just as clothing styles change over time, so do other styles.  While your resume still details your professional history, the overall look and specific content that employers expect to see changes over time.  If your resume style is outdated, that implies that you are out of touch with the current employment market.  Below are a few trends that have been observed in the chemical employment marketplace to test to see if your resume is “in style”.

Contact information

The first thing on your resume is your name and contact information, and that is probably never going to change.  However, as most communication is now electronic, including a physical mailing address has become less important.  All resumes should include an email address, but it is no longer necessary to include a street address, rather only the city and state which you reside. The email address does not have be your current employer’s (and probably should not be), but the username should not be flippant. Including the URL to your LinkedIn profile can provide more detailed information.

Executive Summary or Highlights

Instead of job objective describing the position you are seeking, more and more people are using an executive summary or highlights section.  This describes what you have done and what you can do, and will match a wider variety of possible openings.

Nouns and Verbs

People scan resumes for verbs, but computer keyword searches look for nouns, so include both.  For example, a person might skim for someone who has “managed”, while a human resources request might require a “manager”.  Including both words is better, and using them in context is even better for search engine optimization.  For example, “Manager Quality Assurance – ensured documentation, sample testing and calibration was conducted according to protocol and ISO/IEC 17025 standards as appropriate.”


In order to include all possible keywords, many candidates used a “Keywords” section where they listed 25 or so additional words that did not appear elsewhere in their document.  Since humans never read that section, and computers read the whole thing, it’s no longer a good use of space.  Keywords should be worked into the body of the resume.  For example, “NMR spectroscopist specializing in multi-dimensional analysis of protein structures” is better than, “NMR, proteins, structure”.

Paper is Out, PDF is In

The vast majority of resumes are sent electronically, read online, and never printed.  Therefore, how your resume looks when printed is not nearly as important as how the electronic version looks.  Sending an Adobe portable document format (pdf) version of your resume ensures that anyone will be able to read it, the formatting will remain as you wanted it, and no one will be able to accidentally edit it.

Keeping your personal data format (resume or CV) current is one way to show potential employers that you keep up with the changing requirements of the employment marketplace.  Making sure your style, as well as your content, is as current as possible, is an easy way to make a great first impression, and start you on the road to a new chapter in your professional life.

Get Involved In The Discussion.

The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (—Brought to you by ACS Careers.