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Regrettable Resumes, Part 2

CREDIT: Photo by Dan Koestler

In last month's column, we explored the craggy, often arbitrarily boldface landscape of the scientific resume. Then we stopped because we hit our word limit. Remember? You read it a month ago while eating Chipotle at your laptop. Don't you remember everything you read on the computer a month ago?

Anyway, it's time to continue dispensing sage advice for the remaining sections of your resume.

Conferences attended
It's great to list conferences at which you presented. It's good to list conferences at which you displayed a poster. It's neutral to list conferences that you only attended. It's bad to list conferences that you intended to attend. It's very bad to list conferences that you staged in your bedroom for your more scientifically literate stuffed animals.

In a rush to fill your resume with publications, avoid listing things like:

  • "Snowflakes in Provence." Hamilton County Microcollege Literary Journal, Fall 1986.
  • "The Cat and the Froggies." By me, age 7. Self-published.
  • "Good chicken sandwiches, but avoid the coleslaw." Yelp review, 2/20/11.
  • "Harry Potter and Battlestar Galactica Play Kingdom Hearts."
  • "Test Page." HP PhotoSmart 7520 e-All-in-One Inkjet Printer.

If you have no publications to speak of, you should honestly write, "I have chosen instead to perish."

CREDIT: Hal Mayforth

Do not claim that you always get accurate results in the lab. No one can claim that. It's like saying, "Hire me! I falsify data!"

Do not apply for a job that you can't take soon. If your resume says "Expected Graduation: May 2016," maybe hold off on sending it for now. I applied for a job at a pharmaceutical company during my fifth year of grad school, and when they asked when I could theoretically start, I told them, "As soon as I graduate! And since this is my fifth year, I assume that's soon!" You can guess where I still was 2 years later. I should have written, "Expected Graduation: When my adviser experiences a whim."

Do not include the name of your father or husband. That's weird and a little creepy.

Don't list physical attributes like height or weight, and don't include a photo. We already know you're sexy: You're a scientist.

Finally, if something is unimpressive, maybe, oh, I don't know, freaking omit it. Why say "My GPA was 1.6"? Anyone stupid enough to volunteer that piece of information is—oh, I get it.

We already know you're sexy: You're a scientist.

There's no delicate way to say this, so I'll say it indelicately: Proofread everything, you lazy schlump. I mean it. Or I'll use your contact information to find you and beat you with a copy of Strunk and White.

Really? You're very exited about wokring in this feild? Not in my lab, bicth.

And if you misspell the name of your degree, your field, or your institution (mmm … Carnegie Melon …), you can at least enjoy the knowledge that you've made me, a total stranger, smack myself in the forehead with a ceramic coffee mug.

Double-check the name of the resume file you're going to attach and send to your prospective employer. Something like "Old_Resume_Criminal_History_Removed" may be great for helping you remember which version of your resume you're sending where, but, uh, yeah.

E-mail address
And while you're at it, make sure your e-mail address sounds sufficiently professional.


The rest of your online self
Employers do Google you, so now's the time to go take down your Instagram feed of drunken hooliganism at the municipal zoo. "Look how many marmosets I can fit in my pants!" your photos gleefully proclaim. For potential employers, as the old saying goes, one marmoset is one marmoset too many.

Phone interview
Congratulations! You're one of 30 candidates we've chosen to call on the phone. We give you about a week between when we schedule your call and when we call you, and we do that for one reason: to see whether, during the course of several days, you take the initiative to learn at least 10 seconds' worth of information about what our lab does. At least glance at our freaking Web page, because we won't believe you when you say, "I'm really interested in working on … uh … you know, the stuff you do."

INTERVIEWER: So, what do you know about our lab?

GOOD ANSWER: I know your focus has shifted to industrial applications since your Cell Bio paper in 2008. By the way, in the methods section of that paper, you wrote that you use 5% NaOH. Did you mean 0.5%?

BAD ANSWER: Nothing. But if you hire me, I totally promise I'll figure it out.

WORSE ANSWER: Everything but where you keep the good chemicals. Where are the good chemicals?

Thank you notes
They say it's always nice to receive a handwritten thank you note after an interview. I don't know why. I think that's a myth perpetuated by the underfunded U.S. Postal Service, like mail-in rebates, or birthdays.

Advice on advice
If you want to drive yourself bat-snoggingly insane, try to follow every resume-related guideline you find on the Web. Not only do they mutually conflict, but they are also all so very emphatic that their advice is unassailable. "It is unprofessional to include your postal address," one will warn, while another declares, "Be sure to include your postal address!" The Web also assures you that you must provide contact information for your references—but according to another source, it's crucial to write no more than, "References available upon request"—except that the sentence, "References available upon request," a third source says, is so redundant that any good employer will immediately reject all resumes containing the offending phrase.

Like people in every other profession, resume people love to establish their own pet peeves and then share them as though the world must agree. And it doesn't. When in doubt, trust whatever doesn't seem ridiculous. To you.

Finally, when packaging your resume, think about it from the viewpoint of the company hiring you. This is not an opportunity they hope to grant to a deserving individual. It's not an award for which they need to locate the most promising candidate. It's a practical problem they're looking to solve: They have work that needs to be done, questions to be asked, research to be conducted, and not enough people to do it. Their goal is to find someone who can do the work, cause few problems, need little training, be a friendly companion during long nights in the lab, and occasionally have a flash of brilliance. Think about how you can fill their need, not the other way around. Communicate that in your resume—and your cover letter, if you persist in the delusion that people read those.

And if any prospective employers are reading this, hi. I'm looking for a position in HR. If you're interested, you can contact me at:

I mean, .edu.