Scientific Resume Writing Strategies: Perspective from a Hiring Manager

Resume Writing StrategiesA follower asked me to write a blog on what I look for on resumes, since I’m a hiring manager in the field of geology. The thought was that I could provide a different perspective than the general resume information currently available on the internet. At first I doubted I could because, to be honest, I just skim resumes. But after thinking about it more, I realized that this is exactly the problem. I’m skimming resumes, because they are not as useful as they could be. Therefore, I’ve thought of some strategies to help you with getting your resume noticed when applying for a job in the sciences.

First, some background. For my employer, a candidate is required to fill out an application online which is submitted to the Human Resources department who screens them for inclusion into a pile for me to review. Including a resume is optional. Only those who have the relevant education and experience are forwarded to me. Once I receive the pile, I primarily focus on the application. If there is an accompanying resume, I will glance at it. This is not to say that I do not advocate sending in a resume with the application. Candidates who take the time to include resumes are usually a stand out to me. It’s just that most of the information on the resume is just a repeat from the application, so there isn’t much to learn.

This leads me to the first strategy: Use the application to succinctly highlight experience or education directly asked for in the job posting and use the resume to reinforce them and provide other interesting or relevant information. The resume should tell your story, not just repeat the information in the application. For example, if the job posting requires groundwater sampling experience, list this in the application but expand on it in the resume. You can do this by describing the types of equipment used, methods of sampling, rules and regulations followed, sampling location, and analytical preparation techniques. If you keep my attention through the application AND resume, I’m going to want to talk with you.

Nothing can kill your chances for an interview more than showing no similar requested experience or education. Unfortunately, by not filling out the application in its entirety or not describing experience or education well enough you could be left in the “only if I can’t find another candidate” pile. You don’t want to be there. Or worse yet, your application could be excluded from reaching me at all by Human Resources. So, include as much relevant experience on the application and resume as possible. In fact, as you’re typing both, have a copy of the job posting at your side and make sure to include as many of the listed job requirement terms as possible. Remember – when I advertise for a position and list the requirements, I’m looking for these on the application and resume. This is free information for you! Take advantage of it. Use the words in the application to form your documents, then support your experience with examples to show you truly have the experience. For example, if I’m requesting a hydrogeologist with field experience for a job in Florida, and you have listed your experience while at field camp in Montana, explain how your experience relates to the job in Florida. Did you describe the lithology of limestone and fossils, study a certain area that included evaporites, or visit a cave system with karst topography on your way back? If so, describe it and tell me what you learned. The bottom line is to relate your experience to the job and tell me how your experience benefits me.

I can have a stack of over 100 candidates for a position. This makes going through the paperwork a challenge, and I could easily miss important information buried in text. Don’t let that happen! Make sure all relevant and directly related experience and education is towards the front of your resume. If chronology is a problem, then bold the information or key terms requested in the job posting on your resume and include a list of technical expertise tasks towards the top of the first page. Making your information easier to find will help you from being overlooked.

The structure of the resume or style of the font is not important to me. A professional-looking resume with no spelling or grammatical errors is important, especially if the position requires report writing. But the most important is the content. This is your opportunity to sell yourself (yes, I intentionally wrote that). Those outside the world of sales or marketing are not used to this concept, especially scientists. As with any job, you must persuade me to look at your talent. What makes your experience unique? What sets you apart? What can I learn from you? Where do you want to go? What’s your specialty or favorite area of study? Again, grab my attention. It’s okay to show a little personality in the resume – just don’t overdo it. And keep personal information such as snow-skiing in Colorado out of it – keep it strictly related to the job.

A resume can be a useful tool to enhance your job application. Take advantage of the opportunity to show your talents. The more I can learn about you, the less I will want to skim!

Good luck on your career endeavors. –Sandie


  1. Dave Eden (@tarwathie)

    Sandie, good overview and consistent with my experience as well. Is “application” the same as cover letter in your context? I’m used to seeing processes where resumes are mandatory and cover letters are optional, but a serious applicant wouldn’t omit the letter unless the market was really booming in the candidate’s favour. Anyway, I usually advise people to keep the resume brief, but with concrete details, nothing vague. The cover letter is used to highlight how the qualifications and experiences listed in the resume make the candidate an excellent fit for the job. So, additional detail on certain experiences might be described in the cover letter, but it would have been too long for the resume.

    1. Sandie Will (Post author)

      Hi Dave! No, we have an application that is filled out and then staff can attach a cover letter and resume. All three are important in our case. Great additional advice – thanks! Sandie

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