A Biology Lecturer’s Pro-Tips on Updating or Creating Your CV / Resume

The other day, a good friend and Masters student at Imperial College London asked me to look over her CV. It was already killer, but I did have a few tips. It then dawned on me that my students and perhaps others might be looking for a little advice as well – so I made this.

As someone who has personally hired over 100 people in the last ten years to work on my team at SJSU, I have seen a lot of resumes and Curriculum Vitaes (CV). My video above details some of my top tips that go above and beyond the wonderful basics article by Rachel Gillett for Insider.

Always remember that a CV or resume (referred to from now on in the article as CV for convenience) is a tool. In order for this tool to continue to work for you, it must be constantly shaped and polished.

Things to keep in mind that I, and most people who are hiring, have in common:

  • I hate looking at CVs.
  • I’m busy and hiring is a pain, but necessary.
  • I want the best possible team with the least amount of effort on my part, so the easier you make it for me to choose you, the better.
  • I hire for skill AND personality. Nearly everyone in today’s market works in a team and if I think your personality will be a problem to work with, I don’t care if you have the best degrees or all the skills. I don’t want to deal with the potential headaches you will bring. I can teach skill. I can’t teach you how to be a kind, open, flexible, and professional person.
  • In all communications, including the interview, being humble and respectful are essential qualities. I know this seems obvious, but trust me, it’s not always obvious. This is absolutely not begging or groveling. It’s also not about the ego trip of the hiring agent. This is about having respect for the sacrifice and hard work the hiring agent put into getting to the position where they’re looking to hire you. Giving someone respect and showing you feel honored to have this opportunity, will go leaps in bounds in a world where we all have become so accustomed to getting what we want, quickly. Trust me, I know I’m guilty of this from time to time too, because instant gratification has become deeply ingrained in Western culture. But to be successful, we all need to be mindful of how we’re communicating and how we’re being perceived. Myself included!
  • Things have & will continue to change in the pandemic/post-pandemic world. Here are a few good tips on navigating these new waters.

5 Quick Pro-Tips

  1. Update your CV every time you do something cool. Yes you will forget (I know I do), so make a habit of it. The worst time to update your CV is when someone is asking for it. I keep a little running list in my phone of things I want to include in my CV when they happen so I can easily refer back to it when I’m back at my computer. Trello, Wunderlist, and Evernote are my main go-to apps for notes.

  2. Write for the job you want, not the job you have/had. This doesn’t mean lie (never lie! The internet always knows), but how can you word your accomplishments in a way that supports where you want to go? Even if the job itself is not relevant, how did your experience teach you new skills? (Think leadership, customer experience, actionable skills or valuable lessons learned). Unless you want to continue bussing tables and serving drinks, don’t highlight those skills in your resume. This I know from experience as I spent my entire undergrad and much of my graduate years serving tables. Shout out to Elephant Bar Fremont!

  3. To one page or not? Well, this depends on what they’re asking for. Generally as a newbie, one page is good. If you are in industry or academia, a full CV can be multiple pages. Mine is around five pages right now. It really depends, so always ask what is appropriate.

  4. Use efficient language (less words are more valuable), active voice, and action verbs.

  5. Have someone else look it over. Within 5 to 10 seconds of looking at it, can they repeat back what you’re about and what you want? If not, then continue to hone it until you’re communicating these things clearly and easily. Please note, this doesn’t mean just write an objective. In fact, don’t include an objective. It’s an outdated form. But through framing and wording of your volunteering, internships, course work, and work experience, showcase what is unique and valuable about you. It’s helpful to first decide what you want to say with your CV before you begin. Don’t worry if this is hard, this will most likely be one of the most difficult parts!

My Last Parting Words on Job Searching

Don’t sweat it if people aren’t getting back to you. Follow up with them one to two more times, but try not to take it personally if you don’t get the job or even a response. I know this one is a hard one, but just keep knocking on more doors. Feel the sting of rejection, but don’t let it stop you.

Also remember that doors exist both in the digital world and in real life. Don’t just rely on electronically submitted CVs to posted opportunities. Personally, I have gotten every job I’ve ever had (except Elephant Bar) through networking and my personal connections. I am a first generation college student and the only one in my family, except for my mom, to graduate high school. So I know you can create all the professional contacts you need starting right now, from wherever you are in life.

Research your target industry. Make a list of companies that are doing great things and people (a.k.a. influencers) in the field – both top level and rising stars. Go to see these people speak. Find meetups in your area to connect to people already in the field. Do the scary work of shaking hands with strangers, because you will absolutely get the most value of your time by creating and maintaining personal connections with people in real life – especially while you’re still a student. Most people want to help students! Take advantage of that good will now. You can even reach out to an influencer and blame it on me 🙂 – Tell them I encouraged you to do it.

Last, but not least, think about what is the fuel that drives you to do this thing you want to do. Is it the feeling of excitement you get from solving a problem? Is the fulfillment of knowing you helped someone? Is it the gratification of knowing you are contributing to a greater good? Getting to know this about yourself will help to sustain you as you continue to strive for your greatness. The world needs your story, go out and write it!