Ramp Up Your Resume

Having a well-crafted CV is the first step through the door to a desired job; here are four tips to help you put together a polished one.

AsianScientist (Dec. 4, 2017) – There are some things in life that are impossible to avoid, the ones we know we have to do and yet still drag our feet over. Things like filing income tax returns, scheduling that annual appointment with the dentist… or updating and polishing our CVs.

We know they are necessary evils—it’s what is expected of a responsible member of the workforce, a mature adult who takes care of herself, a person looking to better his future job prospects—but that doesn’t lessen the pain of actually doing them. This month, Asian Scientist Magazine tries to alleviate some of that misery. We tapped the brains of three senior scientists to find out what they look out for when hiring lab members, and what to put in your CV to make it pop.

  1. Publish or perish—the old adage is true
  2. Without hesitation and without exception, all three scientists I spoke to gave the same reply when asked what’s the first thing they look at on a resume.

    “I start with the publication record, and see if the person is a lead author, whether he has written high-quality papers, etc,” says Professor Lee Jim Yang, director of the Centre for Energy Research & Technology (CERT) at the National University of Singapore (NUS). “When I recruit for a post-doc position, it’s extremely important to have a first-author paper.”

    The best candidates will have good first-author papers, says Assistant Professor Edward Chow from the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore (CSI), who studies cancer stem cells.

    “If they don’t, I immediately pass on them.” The bar may sound high, but the requirements naturally differ depending on the position. “For PhD or RA positions, publications aren’t necessary, but it’s nice to have,” says Chow.

    In addition to the publication list, he looks at the most recent school a candidate has attended. Together these two factors give a good first pass on where the person fits in terms of competence, according to Chow.

  3. Finding a fit
  4. A CV is also a quick first step to assessing if the person is right for the job advertised.

    “It’s very easy for me to see if the person matches our needs,” says Lee, who studies new storage materials for use in lithium-ion batteries. “They have to be from the right research field, for example, if I’m doing batteries, I don’t want someone dissecting cells.”

    For Lee, finding the right person for the job at hand also means hiring someone with the right skillset.

    “For example, if you’re applying to be a chemist in a lab, you need to mention you’re familiar with certain analytical techniques,” he says. But at the same, don’t state the obvious like you’re computer literate and competent in Microsoft Word and Excel. “It’s actually a weakness… as I think the person has nothing else to offer. Put it down only if it’s a high-level skill,” says Lee.

    Depending on the type of work, PIs can differ in their preferences. CSI’s Chow says he isn’t overly concerned about what experimental skills or techniques a candidate knows.

    “I don’t really look at all that,” he says. “Because a person should be competent enough to learn what he needs to do to start and finish a project.”

  5. Show off the right skills
  6. Apart from detailing your academic background and publications list, a CV typically lists your work history, teaching experience, skills, interests, awards and other accomplishments. Lee also likes to see what projects the person has been involved with, described in a way that a layperson can understand.

    “Tell me what’s so special about these projects, for example, ‘I made the most resilient plastic film.’”

    A candidate earns extra brownie points in Lee’s books if she engages the public with her work, such as through talks or panel discussions.

    “It shows you’re interested about science and want to promote it to the common people,” he says.

    As for including personal hobbies and the like on a resume, Lee says he doesn’t care too much about whether a person is “sporty or not.” But in some instances, how a candidate spends her free time can be telling of how interested they genuinely are in your research field, says Assistant Professor Darren Yeo from NUS, whose lab studies freshwater ecology and biodiversity.

    “For example, if they volunteer a lot with TeamSeagrass or National Parks and do environmental kind of work, that means they’re really into it,” he says.

    “Other things in a CV that I don’t necessarily look out for, but will catch my attention is if a person has led projects before, has been in a supervisory or leadership sort of role,” adds Yeo. “Things that reflect they have organizational, time management and leadership skills,” says Yeo.

  7. Think about the entire package
  8. A CV is usually accompanied by a cover letter, which most reviewers look at first.

    “The CV has everything, but it’s like an exam answer—you throw everything on the wall and see what sticks,” says Yeo.

    The cover letter helps to narrow things down by highlighting the parts of your CV that will be useful and relevant.

    “The cover letter is very important because it sets the tone,” says Yeo. “The CV is not going to tell the person hiring anything about you in relation to the job, but the cover letter will say how you came across the job and why you think you’re suitable for it… it reflects that you have done a bit of research on the job or the person’s lab, that you have done your homework.”

    It’s a first impression so make it count, says Lee.

    “It needs to be personal. If the addressee is wrong, starts with a ‘Dear Sir/Madam,’ isn’t formatted properly… this gives me the impression that the person has not invested sufficient time,” he says. “The first impression is important.”

    This article is from a monthly column called Beyond The Bench. Click here to see the other articles in this series.


    Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Shutterstock.
    Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Sandy holds a BSc in life sciences, and masters degrees in both forensic science and journalism.

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