It was a great experience for me, because after a few years of concentrating on the résumés of senior engineers, board members, and vice presidents, I needed a refresher in what entry-level marketing materials look like today from those who are seeking positions on the firing line in biotech and pharma companies. My interviewees were from every discipline you can think of in science and engineering.
I had one major issue with the resumés I reviewed. Almost all of them lacked focus. Without that vital ingredient, your CV or resumé won't have the sharp edge that it needs in this kind of job market. No one will take the time to determine what you are capable of doing if you don't make that point yourself.
Resumé Real Estate
Focus means preparing your CV so that it resonates with the needs of the employer. There needs to be concordance between the job description and your application. Many scientists and engineers are used to defining themselves with respect to a particular niche or field of science; they're not used to tying their capabilities directly to an employer's requirements. This tie-in is essential for the job market, and it needs to occur in a place where it will be noticed immediately.
The term "resumé real estate" has been used for decades by recruiters and resumé-writing firms. Just like 'real' real estate, the value of the "real estate" on your resumé or CV depends on the same three things: location, location, and location. The high value area - the really prime location - is the top half of the front page of the document, while the "slums" are found on the last page. The value of resumé real estate is determined by the chances of something being seen during the typical 30-second review your document gets during the initial screening.
I demonstrated to these attendees how their CV is typically scanned by an HR staffer or a busy hiring manager, as I felt it was necessary to make obvious how little time is spent reviewing what the applicant has taken days or weeks to put together. One guy, an electrical engineer, was upset that I didn't go over each page in detail. "I believe you might have missed my 'awards and recognition' section, and possibly even my presentations," he noted with concern.
Of course I missed it; it wasn't right in front of my nose! HR staff will miss it too and, unless you make it onto HR's short list, the hiring manager will probably miss it. After all the work and time spent preparing that document, it's hard to believe that a reader could skim right over an important section, or fail to get that far. But that is what happens every day.
The overwhelming question on the mind of the hiring manager as she scans your material is, "What's In it For Me?" Let's call it "WIFM" for short. Addressing the hiring manager's "WIFM" - as well as the actual job requirements - should be your focus as you prepare the document. For those of you having difficulty with this concept, yes, I'm talking about customizing your material for each job application.
The aforementioned engineer had this part covered; he had a lot of information about his fit to the job opportunity - but it was hidden back in the slums of his CV while my attention stayed mainly on the high-end, oceanfront condos on the front page (and on his cover letter). He made it a lot worse by squandering that high-value CV real estate with one of the biggest space-wasters there is, the "Objective Statement."
Many books and articles erroneously suggest that one of the best uses of the top of your document is this "Objective Statement." But times change and so does resumé advice. The old-style "Objective Statement" ends up being a piece of utter BS imprinted blindly and without modification on the top of every resumé that goes out. Here's an example:
Objective: Experienced microbiologist seeks to move from bench research to applied process sciences for a therapeutics or animal health division of a dynamic Fortune 1000 company. Creative, fast learner with a past record of success.
The example above isn't all bad, as it interests the reader, at least a little, in learning more. The problem is that "objectives" like this never change. No matter where the application is going, the statement is always the same. Objective statements are also famous for tired phrases, such as "seeking a fast-growing and dynamic organization," or, "seeking stimulating work where I can put my creative abilities and interpersonal skills to good use."
Of course, the single biggest issue with the old-fashioned objective statement is that no one really cares what your objective is. Employers would like you to think they care, but their sole concern is whether you fit the opening and have the six items on their checklist. They are in too big of a hurry for much else. So why not give them what they want?
A Statement of Qualifications
What needs to go in this extraordinarily valuable piece of resumé real estate is something that grabs the reader's attention and tells them how you fit the job - in other words, the answer to the WIFM question. Particularly in the Wild West job market of 2009-10, you have to spell it out for them.
But can't you just cover that turf in the cover letter? You can and you must. But cover letters and CVs or resumés often part ways, so the cover letter doesn't completely meet your concern. Replace that tired "Objective Statement" with a "Statement of Qualifications" -- a short paragraph that can be modified to fit each and every job you apply for. Something like this:
Qualified By: Five years of post-Ph.D. microbiology experience in classical mutation and recombinant strain development. Fermentation process development expertise, with hands-on experience using benchtop to 20-liter fermenters. Microbial physiology skills include analytical biochemistry, nutritional analysis, and process debugging.
See how much more "punch" the second version has? The differences are even more important than it might seem, however, since much of what he wrote in that statement was drawn directly from the job description. Better still, other parts were based on information he got by picking my brain about unstated work requirements and talking to others about the opening.
Given the number of people looking for jobs today, you need to look like a "must call" in just 30 seconds. Don't make the reader go beyond the first page. At the top comes your contact information, followed by this statement of qualifications. After that comes a brief account of your education and professional or research experience, all on the front page. It may be that you don't have room on page one for all your experience. In that case, make certain you have at least your current position on the front page, along with a description that brings up points from your summary of qualifications.
Nowhere in the field of job seeking will you find more conflicting and confusing advice than on the topic of resumés and CVs. This issue is compounded by the fact that today's job market seems to require a more aggressive stance than in previous recessions. As always, a lot of advice in numerous books and articles is directed to those who have chosen different careers than science. A two-page resumé may be perfectly fine for an experienced accountant, but not for an experienced scientist or engineer. That's CV country.
I'll close with an aside: I don't advocate two-page resumés for most people, unless they are seeking a business position. But I certainly do recommend succinct writing - and, in particular, a recognition that anything important had better be spelled out in prime resumé real estate. If your CV extends out to 3-5 pages or more, that may be fine, but just make certain you answer employers' WIFM question while you have their attention.