I remember a panel discussion at a Career Day event being held at an East Coast university. We were there to speak about our career reflections and advice; everyone in that group came from a different industry job category, and it was interesting to see how each of the presentations reinforced the advice of the others. We were all thinking alike—until the Q&A session when someone asked about CVs. At that point, our common thinking diverged into five distinct opinions.

I’m sure they didn’t have that issue when the academic jobs panel came around. The academic CV is formulaic: Just include everything you've ever done professionally. Discussing that type of CV doesn’t arouse much emotion. It's a document with a long history and culture behind it. You don’t mess with such things.

But industry is different. Yes, CVs are used in industry, for many kinds of jobs, and always for science positions. And in industry, the CV is a different animal. Everyone has a preferred style, with disagreements surrounding what to include and how the components are arranged.

Who's right and who's wrong? Anyone suggesting a formula would be wrong, because unlike that academic document, an industry CV—today—needs to be customized to suit the opportunity. The choices you make in preparing your CV depend on the job you're applying for. Like your cover letter, every CV you send out should be different. This is the biggest area of change for CV writing in the last decade, and it stems from the scientific workforce oversupply coupled with the ease of modification and delivery of documents.

In contrast to academia, in industry your job search success depends much more on you and less on the appearance of your CV. It's your actions and the strength of your networking and interviewing skills that set you apart. Still, as a part of your marketing materials discussed in my last two Tooling Up columns, a good CV is important. This month I will describe what people in industry look for.

Components of the industry CV

You won’t learn about this stuff in the job search guides you find at the bookstore; those will just tell you to prepare a short resume, which is bad advice for someone with a graduate degree in science.

For science-based jobs, industry hiring managers expect to see a CV that concisely presents your fit with the job. Your CV is the main part of your personal dossier, tweaked to present yourself to a particular employer in the best possible light. Hence, your job when writing the CV is to organize the details of your professional experience so that they strike a chord with the employer.

Here's a description of what needs to be on your CV, with some commentary about how to optimize for maximum impact.

1. Contact Information: Include your name, a physical address, both a work and a cell number, and your personal e-mail address. If you’re concerned about leaving a lab number on your CV it would be fine to drop the work number as long as you pay close attention to your cell phone calls.

2. Summary Statement: This brief paragraph summarizes your qualifications for the job you are applying for. It’s not a description of your professional goals as in the old-fashioned "objective" statement. No one cares that you want to work for a "dynamic organization," or that you are seeking to "be fulfilled in your work." Instead, this paragraph ties your knowledge and experience directly to the position at hand. Every job has four to six “hot buttons” corresponding to critical elements of the employer requirements. You need to hit all of those in your summary statement.

For examples and more information on this important element, see my earlier column, "Tooling Up: Focus Your Industry CV."

3. Education: Start with your most advanced degree and work backward, always showing full data, including dates. If you are applying to a position that requires a biochemistry degree, and you have a degree in biology, make sure that your biochemical emphasis is shown in parenthesis next to the degree. Don’t let a reader in Human Resources stop here just because they don’t see how your training jibes with the job requirements. You have about thirty seconds to show you are at least a prospect, so make the big issues, like educational fit, obvious.

  • Use an "Additional Training" line for coursework that might be relevant to the job you are applying to. For example, you can point out that you took an outside course on project management or Good Laboratory Practices.
  • If you have an additional graduate degree like an MBA, place it above or below your highest science degree, depending upon the position you're applying for. Do you want to present yourself as a scientist with impressive business credentials or as a businessperson with an impressive science background?

4. Employment History: At some future date, you will move postdoc positions into your Education section, but most Science Careers readers will want to include them in the employment section so that their work history seems more substantial. Each listing in this section is an opportunity to reinforce your fit for a specific job.

  • Show the employer name, your title, and a full date range (not just the year).
  • Below that, describe the aspects of the position that link the work experience with the job requirements. For example, if you are applying to a position that requires a working knowledge of Pichia pastoris, describe work that you have done with yeast, especially with that species.
  • Start with your most recent work experience and work backward. Leave out nonprofessional work (McDonald's, Starbucks, etc.) unless it illustrates something that may be of interest to the employer. In that case you should make the connection clear.
  • Don’t be afraid to put in concurrent work or volunteer experiences, even if they're outside your field. Maybe you are the president of the homeowner's association for your 52-unit condominium building. It isn't a paid gig, but it’s a serious job requiring organizational and people skills. If it's relevant to the job, you should include it and make the connection.

5. Professional Affiliations and Awards: When you're on a committee or have an ad-hoc reviewer position on a journal, put it in here. At first this section may include only your association memberships: "American Society of Plant Biologists, Mycological Society of America, American Phytopathological Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science." You can also use this section to brag about an award you received or a special recognition you earned.

6. Participation in Scientific Conferences and Symposia: In this section, you’ll highlight your presentations at workshops and events. If you’d like a place to put a few select posters, this is it. Posters have little value on a CV, but if you "tune" them to resonate with the job, you’ll get more bang from their mention. Don’t focus on simply attending a meeting, but if you gave a poster presentation that was on target with the job requirements, it is OK to list it. And I would list every single speaking engagement, even if it was off-topic for the job, because companies are all looking for communication experience.

7. Publications: Conclude with your list of publications. If you have the ability to discriminate—that is, if you have more than a couple of publications—use "Relevant Publications" as your subhead. Keeping with the theme of fine-tuning your CV to the opportunity, choose those publications that reinforce your fit with the company’s area of need.

What to leave out

You may have planned to include a "Skills and Techniques" section because you’ve read that resume robots scan the incoming CVs to look for certain abilities. But if you write the employment history section skillfully, you can include enough about your skills that you don't need a separate section. (Anyway, that whole business about robots reading  resumes is a bit overblown.)

"Personal Interests" on the CV is a sore point for many. Some people think there's an advantage in showing their passion for bowling or hiking in the great outdoors. I don’t think that’s the case, but add it if you want to. But please understand that there’s an at least equal chance it will be a turn off. Personal interests can cross into territory that is none of an employer’s business, and so, in my view, is better left out.

The big change that I see happening right now is that those who succeed in the job market have spent a lot of time identifying and targeting specific jobs instead of blanketing employers with CVs and Web applications. Today, focus, customization, and followup will earn you big rewards.

A writer and speaker on career issues worldwide, David Jensen is the founder of CareerTrax Inc. and managing director of Kincannon & Reed Global Executive Search.

10.1126/science.caredit.a1300228