By Sudhir Rai, PhD
Presenting yourself in a competitive world is a tough challenge for anyone. It requires a lot of time, energy, and attention to be crystal clear. The best way to describe your professional credentials is to use a simplified format—usually referred to as a resume.
The NICHD Office of Education organized a resume-writing workshop for postdocs on January 28, 2014. Dr. Lori Conlan, director of the Office of Postdoctoral Services in OITE, provided important tips and suggestions on how to develop a resume and cover letter for academic and industrial positions.
Components of Resumes
In the first 30 minutes, Dr. Conlan discussed resume components. Remember, a resume is different than a curriculum vitae (CV). While a CV can stretch in length to incorporate all of your academic achievements, a resume is a marketing tool meant to convey relevant experience, accomplishments, and education in a succinct format. Resumes—unlike CVs—are adapted to each job position or employment sector.
A resume will have several sections that highlight your education, work experience, and general skill set. For each section, be specific using actual examples from your work history and be sure to describe what you have done in a way that’s relevant to where you’re applying. The resume should be one to three pages, with subcategories such as:
- Contact information
- Research/Employment history
- Summary of Qualifications
- Honors and awards
- Grant support
- Relevant Coursework
- Major invited speeches
Exactly what terms you include in your resume will differ between an academic and industry application. Resumes for industry jobs benefit from a specific set of descriptors. On an industrial resume, you might find words and phrases like:
- Problem solving
- Self- motivation
- Logical thinking
- Ability to work under pressure
- Time management
- Work ethic
Next, Dr. Conlan introduced us to a very important concept, called a “computer filter.” Various companies automatically screen applications by terms used in the job advertisement. Therefore, the resume should be very specific in word choice and use terms presented in the advertisement so that it can pass through the preliminary processing. Also, you should keep in mind that there are key terms that are job-specific. For example, you may use the word “mentor” in academia, but you should use words like “supervise” and “employee feedback” for industry positions.
Cover letters: design and components
The resume writing workshop also highlighted key components of cover letters. Dr. Conlan described the three major components of a cover letter:
The starting paragraph of a cover letter must contain the advertisement number, the website where they released the advertisement, and a description about where you are working and how long you’ve been there.
This is the main body of the cover letter. You should describe your skills, how you are fit for this position, and how your skills are going to boost their organization.
In the last section of a cover letter, end with a thank you.
Overall, the Resume Writing Workshop was an excellent session for the NICHD postdoc community, made even better with cover letter writing tips. Postdocs should take advantage of these services provided by the NICHD Office of Education and the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education to improve their visibility in a competitive environment.