With a computer program often a resumé's first reader, the inclusion of keywords to get you beyond such automated sentries has become a key part of effective resumé writing.

And with any luck, a real person will eventually see your resumé, too. The one thing that's changed in today's world, thanks to electronics, is that it's no longer necessary to torture yourself with formatting and spacing, as long as your spelling and grammar are up to snuff.

While fancy bond paper may not be so important these days, personalized attention is still vital to success, according to people who review hundreds – if not thousands – of life science resumés each year. These experts don't always agree on the details, but they are unanimous on some basic tips that matter in today's employment market.


"The challenge is to look at the job description objectively," says...


According to Stacy Allwein, of SAIC-Frederick, Inc., a federally funded center focused on cancer R&D, formatting isn't the priority it once was. "Resumés don't come out of a resumé database the way they come in. Hiring managers understand that the resumé they see probably doesn't look the way the candidate intended it to. Content has become much more important than formatting in everyone's mind."

This said, do you need to have a formatted resumé? Absolutely. You'll need your resumé to take to interviews and to send to small companies that don't have resumé databases. But, cautions Todd, simplicity is the name of the game. "Don't be too cute. Make it easy to find your name, address, and contact information, and what you did, for whom, and when."


On their first pass through a "stack" of electronic resumés for a position, many recruiters don't read. Instead they search on keywords for that position. "If you want your resumé to get through the first pass," explains Allwein, "you need to make sure that it contains critical words from the job description."

But, according to Todd, keywords aren't a panacea. "You can search lots of different ways – and I personally almost never search on keywords. But candidates still need to look at the job description and write to it. A resumé that doesn't relate closely to the job won't get far on anyone's list."


Life science businesses are built on details. That's why the president of a small medical devices company says he tosses resumés with typos. "I'm a terrible speller myself, but I know it's a problem, so I always have someone else proof my work. I expect other people to do the same. If you can't get it right on your resumé, I don't want you working for me."


"It used to be that you really needed to stick to that one-page resumé, but that's not as important anymore," says Richard Kneece, CEO of Massachusetts Technology Corporation, which runs the career and talent Web sites http://www.HireRx.com and http://www.HireBio.com. Because posting your resumé on a job board often just means cutting and pasting text into a space, he explains, the one-page rule has become more guideline than law.


"Employers will accept holes in your resumé," says Todd, "but only if you can account for them. There are all kinds of terrible reasons that you didn't work for two years – you need to let us know that your reason was a good one. Put those years on your resumé, and tell us what you did: traveling, taking a class, starting a family. As long as you can explain it, the gap shouldn't be a problem."


You really, really want to work for a certain company. So you apply for every job you are even remotely qualified for, right? Wrong, says Allwein. "You might make it through the search, but it won't take us long to figure out that you're just bluffing. And if we start seeing your name over and over again in our database for a wide range of pretty unrelated jobs, we'll start discounting you. So if you take a shotgun approach, you run the risk of not being taken seriously even for positions that you'd be great in."

On the other hand, a smaller company may be more lenient. "In a small company, we need people to be flexible," explains one executive, "so we look for people who can demonstrate the ability to learn. Jobs can change quickly in our environment. If you can show me you're able to take on new challenges, then I'm interested."


"Ultimately, your resumé should tell a clear story," says Todd. "Where you worked, when you worked there, what you did. Make it easy for me to figure out what you've done, because that will tell me what you can do. And clearly convey what you want to do next. Show me how your skills can transfer to the next position. If the reader has to guess or fill in the blanks, then your resumé isn't doing what you need it to do."

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