Dec 26
2011

Tips for writing keyword-rich resumes for scientific and engineering jobs in biotechnology and biopharmaceuticals

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In the bioscience sector, the words “resume” and “curriculum vitae” are now used almost interchangeably. In the past, a resume was a one-page document summarizing an applicant’s skills and experience, while a CV was a multi-page synopsis of education, experience, publications, leadership roles, etc.  Unless you have a PhD with numerous publications under your belt or have been in the industry for 10 years or more, a one-page resume should be submitted for a job application.  For the purposes of this article, the word “resume” will be used, but the following tips are applicable to both documents. 

The primary take-home message for effective resume writing is to make the document concise, yet keyword dense.  Increasing numbers of companies are scanning resumes into electronic databases, which pull them for particular job openings based on keyword matches.  These keywords can vary from action verbs (e.g. managed, developed), to experience (e.g. GMP, manufacturing), to equipment names (e.g. fermenter, Braun); therefore, it is best to describe your experience and skills using as many different keywords as possible.  Before beginning your resume, brainstorm and create an exhaustive list of keywords relating to the type of position you are targeting.  Narrow these down into “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves” and check them off the list as you create your resume.


Resume layouts are not one-size-fits-all; you should tailor your resume to play-up your strengths. Use section headings to draw attention to a set of skills or experiences that makes you stand out from the crowd. The following is a list of possible section headers for your resume, pick only the ones most applicable:

Objective – An objective statement is not necessary, although it is recommended since it provides a space for placing keywords related to the job you’re targeting (e.g. formulation development, biofuels)

Employment – Unless you are writing a resume for a college internship, do not list any jobs prior to or during college unless they are directly applicable to the targeted job, such as part-time jobs in a laboratory or tutoring.  Listing unrelated jobs wastes valuable space and does not provide useful information to the employer.  Action verbs are important, but avoid repeating the same action verb throughout the resume (a thesaurus or action verb list from the internet can help change things up).  More critical than action verbs is to include variety of keywords and give quantitative evidence of your impact in each position.  The following examples use action verbs, plenty of keywords, and a measurable result:

1.    Developed a disposable bioreactor transient transfection platform process for a mammalian cell line; reduced antibody production cycle time by 75%
2.    Led initiative to evaluate emerging market CMOs and negotiate cost structure; resulted in switch to 100% outsourcing and a 45% reduced reagent spend

Education – List all university degrees and any certifications that allow you to put letters after your name, any other type of education should fall under a skills section further down.  Only include your GPA if it was exceptional.

Publications – Include only relevant publications for which you were one of the primary authors.  If you have more than three publications, you may want to consider using a multi-page CV format.  Use of an abbreviated title is acceptable, as is use of an abbreviated journal name or publisher.

Presentations – Include only presentations given outside the workplace, such as at a technical conference.  The same formatting rules apply as for publications.

Awards – Include this section only if you have received several distinctive awards that set you apart from the crowd.  Do not list “employee of the month”, high-school, or community awards unless you are applying for a college internship or are looking for your first job out of the university (and have too much blank space on your resume). 

Leadership – As for the awards section above, only include this section if you have leadership experiences that are truly unusual compared to your peers.  This could include winning a national engineering competition, holding an office position in a science or engineering society, or being invited to sit on a scientific committee.  Scientific and engineering firms do want well-rounded candidates with good communication skills, but those softer skills are typically gleaned from the interview process.  Conveying technical aptitude is of primary importance on a resume.

Skills – This header could come in a variety of names including “key skills”, “knowledge areas”, “technology”, “software”, etc.  Which and how many of these headers you use depends on your strengths. If you know multiple languages, for example, you may want to include a separate section entitled “languages”, since it will draw attention to that aspect.  If you are computer-savvy and are intimately familiar with many types of software, include a separate “software” section listing those programs applicable to the targeted job (do not include gratuitous mentions of obscure programs since it only wastes space).  Like most candidates, if you have a few skills in each of a number of categories, a single “skills” section is ideal.  You can include languages, software and equipment expertise, relevant training, etc.  Do not overindulge in an exhaustive list; provide only the skills that are both applicable to the targeted job and could be used in a keyword search. Other skills can be discussed during the interview process.  Presenting a concise and to-the-point resume speaks volumes in demonstrating that you are an organized and professional candidate. 

The format of a resume is forgiving for scientific and engineering positions, since creativity takes a backseat to content.  The ideal resume is succinct, well-organized, and easy to read.  To that end, a size 12 font such as Arial or Times New Roman is ideal, as well as 1 inch margins and enough white space to differentiate sections. Since uploading resumes to employer websites is steadily becoming the norm, do not use tabs, bullets, or font enhancements such as bold or underline, which may not transfer and disrupt the layout.  Remember, it is better to get creative with the wording you use to portray your skills, rather than the look of your resume.  For format, simpler is often better.

Many new job seekers benefit from resume-writing assistance, since an outside party can lend an objective eye and help select the details that will impart the most strength to a resume.  An experienced resume-writer is familiar with the keywords du jour for a particular position and can incorporate them into an existing resume or build a new one from scratch.

For more information on resume, curriculum vitae (CV), and cover letter assistance, please contact Bioedge Consulting for a free consultation.