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  If your resume style is outdated, that implies that you are out of touch with the current employment market.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.


Get Rid of Excessive Clutter in your Résumé and Cover Letter

September 10, 2012

There is a common phrase, “you can’t see the forest through the trees.” This applies to résumés. In job hunting, this phrase means that, by loading your résumé with information of secondary importance, your most critical skills and accomplishments – those most important in winning you an on-site interview trip – become obscured in the welter of information filling your résumé. The same is true for your cover letter.

How can you be sure this doesn’t happen?  Editing your résumé and cover letter

To identify your most relevant skills and accomplishments, carefully read all the information describing the job opening. If you don’t have a job description, define one of your own but make sure it is relevant for each employer to which you send your résumé. This requires reading information about the business unit of the employer to which you are applying.

After you identify this information and make sure it is in your résumé, you need to ruthlessly edit your résumé to remove each piece of information that doesn’t advance your prospects of receiving a job offer. Doing so reduces the résumé clutter that obscures your accomplishments and skills most relevant to the job opening. However, this is usually emotionally difficult. Everyone is proud of their achievements and you will be tempted to leave this information in your résumé in the hopes that it will be relevant to some readers.

If you are writing a chronological résumé describing your accomplishments in each job or position you held starting with the most recent first, you need to be ruthless in editing job information more than several years old. For example, in doing hundreds of résumé reviews for mid-career job hunters as an ACS Career Consultant, I have noticed a strong tendency for these job hunters to devote as much detail (a high word count) to jobs, post-docs and graduate research early in their career as to their most recent two or three jobs. And I was doing same thing!

If information from substantially earlier in your career is highly relevant to your job-hunting goal, then a chronological résumé probably is not the best format to use. A functional résumé format will let you group similar and highly relevant achievements and skills together regardless of when they actually occurred. The functional résumé format allows you to emphasize your skills and accomplishments most pertinent to the job opening. By grouping similar skills together rather than scattering them through your résumé in a chronological order, you can increase your focus on these skills and shorten your résumé by reducing repetition.

Information to definitely remove

Included in the information you need to remove from your résumé are: details about your personal life, details about jobs you held many years ago, photographs of yourself, confidential information about previous jobs, salary expectations, why you were laid off or terminated from a previous position, exaggeration of previous accomplishments and job responsibilities. Omit an Objective statement unless you are a new graduate or post-doc and instead replace it with a summary of your qualifications.  It is important to note all the above discussions were written from a U.S. perspective. Certain things such as including a photograph in your résumé or describing hobbies and outside interests is common in other countries but not in the U.S.

Your cover letter

Your cover letter should provide added information and not just repeat what is in your résumé. A good strategy is to take some information in your résumé that you think is highly relevant to the employer and discuss it in more detail. By using complete sentences rather than the phrases employed in your résumé, you may also be able to do a better job of setting your information in context.


All this sounds like a lot of work, and it is. However, this work enables you to customize your résumé for each employer and each job opening. In today’s job market, it is well worth the effort to make sure the vehicle that is your personal marketing tool helps you land the best job matching the skills you have worked so hard to achieve.

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.

Résumé Diagnostics

January 1, 2008

We advise chemists and chemical professionals daily on job search strategies, formatting of résumés, interview techniques and other career change topics. One of the most frequent problems we see is a résumé that does not showcase the candidate to their best advantage.

If your listing in the ACS Careers Jobs Database is not resulting in any inquiries, the problem is most likely your résumé. It may be the format, the content, or you might not be highlighting your accomplishments in the right way.

If you have a long work history, don’t think of the résumé as a chronicle of your life journey. It is a marketing tool to highlight your accomplishments. It should be a quick read in bulleted format – no more than two pages. Most recruiters will spend no more than 30 seconds skimming your résumé. If they aren’t instantly hooked, they will be on to the next.

If you are just entering the job market, you will most likely use a reverse chronological listing of your accomplishments, but don’t limit it to a listing of classes you attended. Think hard about the things that make you special. Think about what sets you apart from your peers. Have you shown leadership through the ACS Student Affiliates program? Were you innovative in the lab or in your studies? Did you score higher or go further in a particular area than your classmates? If so, call out these achievements up front.

Make sure you cover the basics.

  • Create a Highlights section at the top with 3 bullets describing your most relevant achievements, skills or attributes.
  • Keep it short – two pages maximum.
  • Use bulleted text with action verbs to describe your accomplishments.
  • Keep it simple. Fancy formatting may interfere with computer prescreening of your résumé.
  • Have someone else proof your résumé for misspellings and other grammatical errors.

When highlighting your achievements use action verbs that imply an outcome. For example, “determined” is a better verb choice than “studied”. Anyone can study something, but it does not mean that they reached a conclusion. On the other hand, if you determine something, you have made an analysis and come to a conclusion.

Where possible you should also use quantitative or qualitative measures in your arguments.

  • Identified and optimized new synthetic route for aminated oligosacherides resulting in 10-fold greater yields with less waste.
  • Created new automated method for the analysis of sulfur in solids capable of running 24/7 with a 10 sample per hour throughput.

These examples are obviously made up to illustrate this concept, but you should notice that they are written to promote a person’s ability to produce results.

When you are being evaluated by a company, they are looking for what you will be able to do for their business. They will not necessarily be interested in a listing of things that you have done. This is a subtle but important distinction. Take a moment to put yourself in the shoes of a recruiter and re-read your résumé. Does it sell your abilities?

ACS members qualify for free career advice and résumé reviews through the Career Consultant Program. Our consultants are ACS members, many of them former recruiters. Add your ACS membership number to your profile to gain access to this program.

Visit for additional career advice, resources and information from the American Chemical Society.

This article was written by David Harwell, Ph.D., Assistant Director of the ACS Department of Career Management and Development.