Searching for a job can be overwhelming and it is often difficult to know where or how to begin. To get you over the activation energy threshold for starting your job search, here are a few general tips for designing a non-academic resume.



Let’s start with the basics – how a resume should look. In contrast to lengthy academic CVs, most resumes are 1-2 pages in length. In general, the length of the resume is dependent upon the amount of relevant work experience you have. That being said, it is still important to check the job posting or electronic application system for specific limitations in length. If you are unable to find anything specific about the length and still feel uncertain, you can consult with professionals working within the field or even check with the Human Resources representative managing the application process. If you find yourself concerned with the space constraints, remember a good place to elaborate further on your relevant skills or experience is LinkedIn. Individuals involved in the hiring process will most likely check your LinkedIn profile.

It is important to make your resume clear and easy to read. Don’t try to squeeze more text in by using a small font. Unless you’re a typography expert, stick to 10 to 12-point size of a standard typeface like Times New Roman or Arial. It is also important to leave some white space so your resume does not appear overwhelmingly dense. Some of that white space will be in the margins, which should be no less than half an inch.

Use a structured layout with bold headings to keep the reader focused. Be careful to not embed images, logos, or blocks of color – many companies and organizations use software to pre-screen resumes and these visual elements can lead to your application being eliminated by the screening system.


Key Content

In 2012, Ladders, a career resource company, conducted a study where they tracked the eye movement of recruiters as they were reviewing resumes. The results showed they focus on three main areas: the applicant summary, experience and education. The remaining sections depend on the information listed in the job posting. You should tailor the sections to emphasize the required and preferred experiences listed by the employer. Other sections might include:

  • leadership
  • teaching & mentoring
  • licensure & certifications
  • service
  • publications & presentations
  • awards & recognition

The summary is located at the top of your resume and is 3-4 sentences in length. It should be thought of as your professional elevator pitch. This area is an ideal place to customize your resume for the position. For each position that you apply, you should create a new summary that frames the resume with the employer’s interests in mind. Before you begin writing, and using the job posting as a guide, identify accomplishments you could use to highlight your fit for the position. Also identify the skills you have learned in your research setting that are transferable to this particular position. Once you have done that, you can begin drafting the summary.

The first sentence will describe what defines you as a professional.

“Demonstrated leader in academic and industry settings with extensive experience in scientific modeling”

Sentence two is a good place to highlight your transferable skills.

Provides expertise in computational analysis and data visualization to communicate complex data sets”

The final sentences should highlight your accomplishments.

“Known for effective project management and diverse assay development”

In the summary, be sure to connect the dots for the reader. Be specific and make your case for why they should continue reading your resume. Use evidence to back your major claims. For example, if you say in the summary you are “known for effective management” you should support this later in the resume – for example describing an award or an achievement that illustrates your management skills.

The experience section should highlight your experience that is relevant to the specific position for which you are applying. When reading through the job posting, look for words like “required” and “preferred”. These words will indicate the relative importance of that particular qualification for the employer. You should first list experience relevant to the employer’s “required” qualifications, followed by the preferred, as space permits. This can be surprisingly difficult because we all have achievements we are really proud of that don’t necessarily speak to the needs of the position. It is difficult to deprioritize these accomplishments in place of something we may perceive as being less meaningful. Use only 3-5 bullets under each position and ensure that each is one complete sentence. These sentences should begin with an action verb and describe what you have achieved, focusing on the results of your work.

Provided science communication training and research mentoring to 3 undergraduate researchers; resulting in 4 poster awards, 1 undergraduate research award, and a publication in GENETICS”

You do not want to simply list a bunch of job duties. Take the time to make these sentences specific and meaningful. When possible, quantify any outcomes.

The education section can either come before or after the experience section, this depends on the importance of education for the specific position. If your degree is required for the position, you may want to put it before the experience section. More and more, applicants are placing their education further towards the end of their resume. Doing this allows you to place the most relevant information for the position first, speaking to the interests of the reader.


Crucial last steps

Finally, don’t forget to proofread your resume. Envision your reader making their way through a huge stack of qualified applicants. You don’t want to give them a trivial reason to set your application aside. Share your resume with a trusted colleague or mentor working in the field. Ask for their feedback and use their comments to guide your revisions. If you are working at an institution that has a career office, schedule an appointment to have your resume reviewed. The professionals working in these offices have dedicated their careers to guiding others through the career process and can often provide great insight and guidance.

Most importantly, be proud of what you have accomplished. There are always gaps in our skills and experience that can be filled with just a little more training. But, chances are you can learn much of this once you are working in the position. Afterall, your scientific training demonstrates that you are able to problem solve and learn quickly!

GSA's Director for Engagement and Development – Committed to supporting career and professional development of graduate students and postdocs as they navigate careers in the scientific enterprise.

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