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Tips on how to write a compelling biotech resume

As hundreds of resumes make their way to a recruiter’s office, only a handful of the candidates get past an interview. Although acing interviews and networking can boost your chances of getting a job, sending out your resume is the first step, and particularly a doorway to a career in the biotech industry. So, what does a good resume look like?

Table of contents

    Biotech resume essentials: capturing attention in seconds

    First and foremost, a resume, also known as a curriculum vitae (CV) in the U.K., which is slightly more elaborate, must capture a reader’s attention. And more often than not, the person who receives your CV has to go through a number of resumes in a short span of time.

    “It is a marketing exercise to allow the reader to see you as a great candidate.”

    Greg Wyatt, founder of Bircham Wyatt Recruitment

    “The point of the CV is to get them to contact you, and hopefully arrange an interview. And if you can’t capture their attention, you’re going to struggle to do that,” said Greg Wyatt, founder of Bircham Wyatt Recruitment.

    To do this, it helps to put the important elements of your career first, which is why a resume is written in a reverse chronological format. The contents of the first half of the first page of your resume is what really matters. Wyatt explained that putting the “most relevant, punchy information” at the top of the resume can be impactful. 

    “If you’ve got a great career, but it’s all hidden on page two, that’s a definite don’t,” he said.

    Tailoring content for your audience

    While it is important to mention what you’ve done that makes you qualified for the position, it is equally important to show what you achieved from the experience and how it added value to the previous employer’s goal. For example, a research associate could mention how their work in a clinical setting, be it identifying participants or ensuring safety and quality checks in a lab or collecting data, led to a successful clinical trial, which in turn helped treat patients as well as advance a drug candidate to the next phase.

    Besides, just like reading a convincing blurb of a book before you make up your mind to purchase it, a good resume can influence an employer to turn your way, and shortlist you for an interview.

    “It is a marketing exercise to allow the reader to see you as a great candidate,” said Wyatt. 

    When drafting your resume, knowing who your audience is and catering to them, is crucial. Suppose a person who has a PhD, and experience in academia wants to step into the commercial side of the industry. As many people would be quite keen to move out of academia into a commercial environment, according to Wyatt, what would make you stick out in the crowd is how your past experience as a researcher can benefit a biotech that is focused on a niche technology.

    “It boils down to what you’ve done. So, you have to think about what it is that this employer needs from you to see you as a great candidate,” said Wyatt. “Think about the essential criteria that you read on the advert and make sure that you show how you meet those in your CV.”

    What’s in a job title?

    This could also mean fine-tuning your previous experience to make you a worthy candidate for the role. But this doesn’t mean lying on your resume. Charles Spence, founder and recruitment partner of Discera Search, believes that if your job title doesn’t properly define your role at a previous company, then you can tweak it to describe it better. 

    “If you’ve got a weird job title, or your job title is way more junior than it should be just because your firm just lays out like that, then just change the job title. You don’t need to follow the job title that your company has given you. That doesn’t mean you call yourself the chief executive officer (CEO), it doesn’t mean you lie. It means giving yourself the best chance to lead instead of causing confusion in people,” said Spence.

    Asking yourself whether your current job title reflects the seniority of your position can help. For instance, if your job title assigned by the company you work for is a ‘PV systems manager,’ whose role is to evaluate the safety profile of products and make sure they meet regulatory standards, you could modify the title to suit the role you’re applying for. As ‘PV systems manager’ – where PV stands for pharmacovigilance – may not be a term known to many recruiters and human resources (HR), switching it to something like ‘safety manager’ on your resume might be a safer bet. 

    Moreover, using acronyms like in ‘PV systems manager’ would not help your case, as most recruiters don’t have the time to google full forms on your resume. That’s why spelling out acronyms and simplifying jargon can improve the chances of your biotech resume getting picked, assuming your reader is not well-versed on technical terms and is quite busy.

    “I’m sure in any scientific career, there’s going to be terms which you can’t simplify. But if you can simplify it without losing meaning, you should,” said Wyatt.

    Optimizing your biotech resume with strategic keyword selection

    Another point to keep in mind when writing your biotech resume is making sure you’ve got the right keywords in place. For example, if you have experience running clinical trials in oncology, Spence pointed out that unless a recruiter searches the term ‘oncology,’ they’re not going to find your application. So, instead a more commonly-used word like ‘cancer’ in this scenario would be more attention-grabbing when recruiters skim through your resume.

    “You’ve got to be really packing your CV with these keyword indicators, which is going to immediately signal to whoever’s reading a CV that this person’s relevant,” said Spence.

    However, if you’re looking to switch fields within the life science sector, then stuffing your resume with these keywords may not be a good idea. Suppose you have a background in cardiology and are looking to transition to oncology, according to Spence, listing all the cardiology trials that you have been a part of may be futile because it may not seem relevant to the role you are applying for.  

    In this case, what you’ve got to consider is overlapping therapy areas that you have experience working in, maybe that’s immunotherapy or managing cardiac toxicity; essentially indicating that your skills are transferable.

    “It goes back to the target audience,” said Spence. “So, in those cases where you’re actually trying to switch, you want to reduce the amount of your indications, and then make your CV a bit more vague because then the hiring manager might think, oh, okay, I wonder what this person has been doing? Let me speak to them and find out.”

    Mastering resume formatting

    Like tailoring your experience to best suit the biotech job that you are applying for, a good resume also has the right formatting in place. Cramming text in a really dense format doesn’t do a job applicant any good. And while using a snazzy template with pictures may seem like the right choice, keeping the format simple is the best way to go, explained Wyatt.

    This is because when applying through a company website, your resume should be applicant tracking system (ATS) friendly. While most modern ATS don’t have too many issues, older ones tend to reformat the content, if the template is not a basic one. So, avoiding tables, columns and images would make your resume more ATS compliant.

    Echoing Wyatt’s thoughts, Spence added that the resumes that are not well-formatted, stand out, but for the wrong reasons.

    Spence said: “The CVs that don’t stand out are the ones that are just doing everything. They’re just relevant, they’re cleanly formatted, they’re not job hoppy. They list out the relevant five to 10 bullet points of description and they just tick all the boxes and don’t cause any problems.”

    “Anyone who’s been trying to earn money to support their studies shows a recruiter that you can work under a formal context and get paid for it. So, it’s just really thinking about how you can position yourself.”

    Greg Wyatt, founder of Bircham Wyatt Recruitment

    Despite the fact that having up-to-date contact information on your resume goes without saying, many times, people forget to add these details. 

    Adding references can also steer employers your way. Especially when embarking on your biotech career, if you can get lab or university heads to vouch for your performance, Spence suggests that you put their references in your CV.

    If you’re struggling to get started on creating your resume, according to Wyatt, artificial intelligence (AI) generative models can help. But while that’s a great way to ideate, Wyatt advises to be “very cautious about using all of the content that you might generate from it because it comes across as very artificial and very generic.”

    How can graduates go about creating a resume?

    However, unlike job seekers with years of experience, graduates don’t have as much experience to add to their resume, and they make up a large portion of those applying for jobs, including in biotech. But that doesn’t mean that a resume can’t help them get their foot in the door.

    Showcasing voluntary work, summer internships and part time jobs can build on the little experience that you have, even if these roles aren’t directly related to the role you’re applying for in the life science industry. 

    “Anyone who’s been trying to earn money to support their studies shows a recruiter that you can work under a formal context and get paid for it. So, it’s just really thinking about how you can position yourself,” said Wyatt.

    And if you’re unsure about what the job you’re applying for entails, Wyatt added that talking to people who are currently in that role can offer more insight, and help you tailor your resume accordingly. This could mean connecting with alumni from your university who’ve moved on to a similar career to have a better sense of what transferable skills you possess as an industry novice. 

    While these aren’t the best of times for graduates in the biotech industry, Spence suggested that sending out as many applications as you can that you find on life science job boards, could prove useful. Moreover, while many hesitate to do this, sending tailored, short emails with your resumes to CEOs of companies directly, could be worthwhile.

    “If you send an email that is tailored, short, personal and authentic, to 10 companies a week, you’ll get a lot of good responses. But that’s what a lot of people are a little bit afraid of doing,” said Spence.

    Although your resume may just be a small part of bagging a biotech job, it is the first step. And, as it is currently difficult for people with years of experience in the biotech sector, let alone those coming in for the first time, the bottom line is to keep applying and look out for as many opportunities as possible.