I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but……

I have received several resumes from friends lately, many who are not chemists but are currently “investigating new opportunities”. I try to give them leads and other resources, but I can always at least provide a critical review of their resume. Here is some advice I’ve given some of them, which I also share with you.

Make sure to put your contact information (address, phone, email and web site) on your resume. Seriously. I got one yesterday that just had a name, no more. Even if I’d wanted to hire the guy, I would have to track him down.

If you are a “newbie”, don’t think using a bigger font will fool anyone. If you don’t have enough professional experience to fill 2 pages, don’t use a huge font thinking they won’t figure it out. 10 to 12 point font is good for everyone. Give some thought to volunteer activities that show transferrable skills, or other relevant information you can include.

If you are a more experienced professional, you don’t have to list jobs all the way back to high school. I saw a 4 page resume that listed 20 jobs, going back over 20 years. A skills-based format would have served this person much better – he could have highlighted recent, relevant accomplishments that would be of interest to the company to which he is applying. Very few hiring managers will have the time to wade through 4 pages of tiny font to see if you once had the skills for which they are looking. It’s also okay to group jobs that were further back in time, or just list the company name and date, without all the gory details.

Resume Transitions

I spent the past weekend in Florida, attending training for ACS career volunteers. One of the talks I attended was on writing resumes. Much of the discussion was things I’ve told people over and over:

Tailor each resume to the position for which you are applying
Create an objective even if you choose not to include it on the final version
Focus on skills and specific accomplishments
Spend the most time/space on the information that will be most important to the hiring manager
Check carefully for typos
Have others read – choose people who have an excellent command of English, and who will give you honest feedback

However, when you’re trying to transition into a new field, you have to write a resume that highlights your skills in the new area, and they may not have been the major focus of your current position. The best way to do this is to include accomplishments that prove that you have already done things that are exactly what they are looking for, or at least very close. Sometimes, this means you have to include things from various points in your career, maybe some from previous jobs, or from volunteer work.

If you are making a significant change, you probably want to use a functional resume, instead of a chronological format. In this format, you list your accomplishments in categories, instead under the job at which you did them. Here’s an example of a chronological format:

Company A, 2005 – present
wrote 14 papers
synthesized 8 compounds

Company B, 2002-2005
ran 300 NMRs
prepared 5 patents

Company C, 1997-2002
– built 1,000 member combinatorial library
– presented 4 talks at international conferences

This same information can be presented in a functional format as follows:

Technical Communication
– wrote 14 papers
prepared 5 patents
presented 4 talks at international conferences

Synthetic Organic Chemistry
synthesized 8 compounds
ran 300 NMRs
built 1,000 member combinatorial library

If you were looking for a position as a technical writer, which version do you think would get the hiring manager’s attention?

Just by organizing the information in a different way, you make it abundantly clear that you have significant experience as a technical communicator and synthetic organic chemist, even if some of your accomplishments come from jobs you had a long time ago. This is a great way to bring out all the experience you’ve had that’s related to a particular field, no matter where you got it. If you do choose to list your accomplishments in a functional format, you will need to include an employment history – a list of company names, job titles, and the dates you worked there – but this can go on the second page.

So what have you done lately?

If you don’t remember your own accomplishments, who will do it for you?

Keep your own “kudos file”. Write down times when you made valuable contributions to the company – impacted the bottom line, saved a failing project, learned a new skill, and so on. This list will prove invaluable at annual review time and resume review time. By watching how the list grows over time, you can see what track your career is on, and if that’s the direction you want to be going.

So start now! What have you accomplished recently? (And no, eating all the Christmas cookies does not count as an accomplishment.)

Year End Exercise – Review Yourself

Career coach Michael Melcher has written a great step-by-step guide to how to do a Year-End Review, With Yourself. As you’re enjoying time with family and friends over the holidays, you’re probably already reminiscing about the past year. Take the time to jot down some of those memories, and see what stands out for you over the past year. Taking the time to think about where you’ve been, and what you like and don’t like the past, can help you figure out where you want to go next.

And if you decide it’s time for a change, there’s another article that talks about how you can do that – “New Year’s Resolutions for Your Career“. Even if you’re not ready to jump ship immediately, this article offers some tips on how you can passively job hunt (make it easier for the right job to find you).

Resumes – Advice from the Experts

There’s an interesting discussion on LinkedIn.com now about “What makes a 5-star resume?” Some of the answers are from recruiters, who see lots of good, bad, and ugly resumes, and provide quite detailed preferences. While not specific for scientists, it’s worth reading. They remind you to customize, quantitate, and be concise – the golden rules of resume writing.

Another recent article on resumes talks about keyword spam – all those extra words that you hope will cause the search engine to pick your resume out of the pile. The final paragraph gives a very clever solution to the problem, a way to include keywords for search engines while not cluttering the visual appeal for human reviewers. I’d love to hear from anyone who uses this trick, to hear how it works.

Fix Your Resume and Find Your Dream Job

No, I don’t mean that if you tweak the working on your resume, it will magically attract the attention of your ideal boss.

What I do mean is that if you spend the time to think about what you’ve done in your professional career, and what you want to do in the future, you can not only create a better resume but can also identify the career path you’d like to take.

Before you take pencil to paper (or fingers to keyboard), stop and think about your history. What are your most significant accomplishments so far? What have you done that you are most proud of? When people ask you what you do, what examples do you give? Start listing these accomplishments, using a context-action-results (CAR) format. Under each, list the skills you had to use to make that happen.This may take several days or weeks of real thought to complete. You may also want to talk to collegues and close family/friends, to see what they remember that you have forgotten.

Example Accomplishment:
Published book entitled “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists” in 2006

Skills Used:
Networking – to identify 75+ chemists in nontraditional careers who would consent to be profiled
Interviewing – to find out about their career histories
Organization – to group them in logical chapters
Research – to investigate various career paths, to provide background information
Negotiation – with subjects on what to include and what to omit, with publisher on contract terms
Writing – to actually write the content
Time management – to keep all chapters moving forward, and get them done by the deadline

Once you have five or 10 accomplishments like this, look back over the list. What types of things are you listing? What skills did you use to achieve these accomplishments? Perhaps those skills that appear over and over are ones you might want to use as primary parts of your new career. If it turns out that everything in your list has negotiation as one component, you might look into career that would let you do more of that.

Accomplishments – Write them Down!

When working with a client, i often ask them to start by writing down some of their major accomplishments – the things of which they are most proud. It often takes a long time for them to think of something, but over the course of days (or even weeks), they are able to come up with a long list of great things they’ve achieved.

A recent post on LifeHacker entitled “Keep a File of Your Accomplishments” reminds me that the better idea is to write them down as they happen. Either in a separate file on your computer, or perhaps in the library version of your resume, make quantitative notes of significant accomplishments as they occur.

This will come in handy not only when you have to update your resume, but also at annual review time. Who remembers that brilliant idea 10 months later? By writing it down, you ensure you’ll be able to

This list can also come in handy when you’re thinking about changing careers. If you’re not sure what you want to do, look over the list and see what sorts of things you’ve done. You may be surprised to find that the activities that bring you the most satisfaction are peripheral parts of your current position. Perhaps you want to see about making those major parts of your next job…..

Education Is Only For the Young?

A recent incident got me thinking that maybe education is only for the young. As you get older, it’s your experiences that become more important in determining what opportunities are available to you.

Recently I was talking to a mid-career chemist who was being downsized from her position as a bench chemist. She was looking for another bench position, but also exploring non-traditional careers. She was interested in several avenues, including chemical information and patent searching, or regulatory affairs. As we talked about the various options, she kept asking me how much school she’d have to go back to get into each of these careers. I explained that in most cases she would not need to go back to school at all.

Instead, she should start talking to people who are currently in those types of jobs, especially those in her current company. By asking them about what they do on a daily basis, what they like and don’t like about it, and so on, she can get a better picture of what these types of jobs really involve. As she’s listening, she should think about what she has done in her own career that is similar to the job functions of these other careers. Maybe she’s had to search for prior patent art before starting her own project – that’s what a patent searcher would do. Maybe she’s assisted in the documentation for FDA approval of one of her own compounds – that’s regulatory affairs. By emphasizing what she’s already done, she can leverage her experience to move in a new direction without having to go back to school and start over. (Granted, continuing education and certificatiosns are often a good way to explore new fields, but actually doing something is always better than just learning about it.)

The older you are, the more things you have done, so the more likely it is you’ve done something similar to what you’d be doing in a new position. This is good news, because you can use that experience to convince a potential employer that you know what you are getting into, and you can handle it, because you’ve already done it. That’s what the company wants to know – what are you going to do for us? The best way to show you CAN DO it is to tell them how you HAVE DONE similar things already.

So think about it….what have you done? What do you like doing? And where might you be able to get paid for doing that?