How to Build Your Experiences Towards a Resume

March 15, 2019

A good resume needs to show that you already have the skills needed to be successful in a target job.  A resume needs a lot of planning, regular input from experts and flexibility on your part. The most important step to building a strong resume is to start early. We explain how to successfully build resumes at various stages of your career.

As an Undergrad, Focus on Grades and Internships

In your early years, it’s normal to not have a clear idea about the job you want. However, you need to show proficiency in science and math by picking relevant courses and getting strong grades. Also, you need to start thinking about how you will show essential non-technical skills to be a successful scientist. These include effective communication and the ability to work well with others. Fortunately, most undergraduate universities provide a great place to build these skills. Participation in Greek organizations, intramural sports, or other group activities can help show that you have the skills needed for a job but also personality. For example, being active in a club requires you to regularly work with club members and report to university leadership. Starting a fraternity food drive to benefit a local charity shows creativity, initiative, leadership, the ability to coordinate groups of people, and account for resources. And don’t disregard the importance of social activities! Part of working well with others is showing that you’re more than just a textbook.

As an undergraduate, one of the fastest resume-builders is a paying job. Ideally, you should find a position where you use your science knowledge and learn new things. For example, if you are interested in medical microbiology, hospitals and clinics hire undergraduate-age workers to help in labs. If you are interested in environmental sciences, there are many state and local conservation groups to work for. These types of jobs demonstrate that you have first-hand experience in a relevant field. And if you are re-hired at the same place, you are showing that you were dependable. These types of jobs also facilitate great networking opportunities that build strong relationships and can serve as references. Finally, maintaining a part-time research job during the school year demonstrates that you can successfully manage your time by handling multiple significant responsibilities.

Regular talks with your academic advisor and other mentors (including those you have met through summer jobs) will help you focus on a few science careers. The frequency of talks should increase as you prepare to transition into the job market or graduate school. Also, as you progress through undergrad, your resume should contain activities that relate to future jobs or graduate programs. Your resume can then be easily customized when a specific job or graduate opportunity arises.

As a Graduate Student, Focus on Getting High-Level Non-Technical Skills

If you go to graduate school, you choose a thesis/dissertation topic of interest. However, you’re not done building your resume. Most graduate research will require you to master not only classroom knowledge, but also high-level lab skills such as working with various analytical instruments. Just like undergrad, you need to continue to build your non-technical skills. If you want a career in an academic environment, get teaching experience through a Teaching Assistantship (TA) position in your department, or consider teaching a night class at a local community college. Even if you don’t enjoy it, your public speaking and time management skills will skyrocket and these skills can be used in any career.

If you know that you want to enter industry, look for ways to build on existing leadership skills. For example, work with your chair to set up a department-wide collection and disposal event for outdated or unwanted chemicals, help select and organize a guest lecturer for the department, or initiate a laboratory safety campaign. In short, if you see a need, take the initiative to come up with a solution and then work with your chain of command to get it done. You will gain experience and hiring managers will notice it on resumes.

The ability to effectively communicate with others is a key skill in any career, and thus presentations at conferences and peer-reviewed publications are very important. In industry, it’s critical to effectively communicate with non-specialists and even non-scientists, so consider writing short science articles for newspapers or magazines that are accessible to the general public. If your university hosts a science fair for students, volunteer to be a mentor – you’ll be amazed at how many times you have to give your elevator pitch for kids and also their parents.

Every 6 months, talk with your advisor or another mentor about the type of career you are looking for. Start identifying the details of what you want in your career such as geographical location or particular companies/universities you want to target. Specifically ask for names of people outside of your current professional circle who you need to network with. Find opportunities at conferences or meetings to build public speaking and networking experience. Although your area of specialty will become more focused over time in graduate school, your resume should have both scientific and non-technical skills that can be applied to different job opportunities in your desired career area.

In summary, it is critical to take advantage of opportunities at every level of your academic experience and to include it on your resume. Actively build a resume that demonstrates:

  • Proficiency in science and math through strong grades and research.
  • Effective communication.
  • An ability to work well with others.
  • Being able to juggle multiple important tasks.
  • Initiative, creativity, leadership, and dependability.

Regularly meet with your trusted mentors to discuss what type of career you want. Your career focus should narrow as you progress through college, and you should be in a situation where you have scientific and non-technical skills that help you obtain a job you enjoy.

Contributor: As a Principal Microbiologist/Biogeochemist for Parsons Corporation, I built my resume in several ways. As an undergraduate, I worked at a pediatric medical facility, helping directly with patients and conducting laboratory analyses. I participated in a number of academic honor societies and the campus Greek system. As a graduate student and post-doc, I shifted toward environmental microbiology. I spent many years holding a leadership position in a high-school science camp as well as campus government, taught microbiology at a local community college, organized departmental guest lecturers and taught a university geomicrobiology course while maintaining research, publications, and presentations at more than a dozen national and international meetings. I continue to publish and present at meetings and at universities. I help organize a national conference and serve on an ASM Board and Committees. I act as a Subject Matter Expert for the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Science Advisor to the Natural Science and Environmental Research Council of Canada.

Author: Eleanor Jennings, Ph.D.

Eleanor Jennings, Ph.D.
Eleanor Jennings, Ph.D. is a principal microbiologist at Parsons Corporation.