If you read the most recent blog, you’ll know that I moved recently to the Biology Department at UT Arlington. As part of the process of setting up the lab at UTA, I’m reviewing applications for various positions in the department and in my lab. Many of the candidates are very well qualified for the positions, but it is not always obvious in their resume. So, in the interest of helping candidates improve their chances of passing the first stage of review, I offer the following comments, noting that some of the information might also be helpful to faculty candidates, with a blog coming later on that aspect of growing the department.
Make sure your skills match the job description.
If the job description requests expertise in molecular biology, then don’t describe your experience in designing synthesis schemes for small organic drug compounds. If I want to hire someone who can perform site-directed mutagenesis and has expertise in cell culture, then your skills may not fit the job description. You may be an outstanding organic chemist, but I’m looking for someone who can step into the position and make an immediate impact while learning the other techniques with which you may have less knowledge.
If you have any experience with the skills listed in the job description, then highlight them in your resume. Sending a resume that doesn’t match the required skills tells me that you will take any job available and that you are hoping that your vast experience in your field will get you an interview. That may be true in some cases, but if you live in a large Metroplex such as the Dallas-Fort Worth area, then there is usually a well-educated and highly skilled pool of applicants with which you will be competing.
If you don’t have the required skills, then don’t apply for the job.
Make sure it’s easy to read your resume and to find your skills.
It would be a rare occurrence for an applicant to have ALL of the required skills listed in the job description. If you have any of the skills, then you should highlight them in your resume. Be aware that hiring managers read a lot of resumes, so you need to write yours so that I can find the relevant information very quickly. Can I read your resume and find the information I need within one minute? If so, can you make it stand out in the first 30 seconds?
I don’t know how others read resumes, but I first make a “Yes” pile and a “No” pile, where the resumes are sorted based on a quick read. Those in the “Yes” pile get more scrutiny, and some in this pile will be called for an interview. Those in the “No” pile usually don’t get a second look.
You should be able to summarize your Education, Work Experience, and Skills in one page. If you want to include a second page with additional sections on research projects, publication lists, presentations, or other explanations, then that would be OK. You could also include a section that expands on how your experience matches the skills of the job description.
Limit “Flags” and endeavor to have no “Red Flags.”
Sometimes an applicant has the required skills, but there are aspects of the resume that make me wonder if they will be a good fit for the position. Here are a few examples that I’ve noticed.
- You attended a graduate program (usually PhD) but didn’t finish AND you include no explanation.
- You change jobs frequently.
- There is an unexplained gap in your work/education history.
- You attended a graduate program (usually PhD), finished, but did not list your thesis committee (or thesis advisor) as a reference.
- For references, you list people who are “lab supervisor,” “post-doctoral associate,” “fellow graduate student,” “lecturer.” Your reference list should match the job for which you are applying. If you are applying for a job in an academic lab, and you have previously worked in a lab, either as a graduate student or as an employee, then you should list faculty who can discuss your research skills. If you are applying for a lecturer position, then you should include referees who can discuss your teaching skills. It is OK to mix the two lists, but your referees should be vertical to your position (and higher), not horizontal. I want to hear from the person you report to, not from people in a position similar to your current position.
Try to limit these “Flags” because they eventually add up to a “Red Flag.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’ t be asked to interview, but it might. If you are asked to interview, then you should be prepared to discuss these aspects of your application.
Include references when asked.
“References Available Upon Request.” If I requested references as part of the job application, then why do you think that I will request them again?
I understand that it in some cases you may not want your current employer to know that you are looking for another position. If that is the case, then use referees outside of your current employer, and explain why you are doing this.
Tailor your resume.
It’s clear that some applicants submit the same resume to every open position. I want to know whether you are a good fit for THIS job, so it would benefit you to tailor your resume so that I feel like you’ve spent some time on MY position. This makes me think that you want to work for me, not just any job that is available.
Tailoring your resume also helps me to find the relevant information quickly. It helps me to know that you are willing to revisit a project that other applicants consider finished, that is, it tells me that you are willing to persevere.