Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ask CJ: how long should a resume/CV be?

From the inbox, a good question from a experienced early-career medicinal chemist:
I was curious what the appropriate CV/resume length is as well as if references should be included on the resume or just sent as a second document for other industry employment. Now that I think of it a follow up - how about publication list?  I have always assumed include it but it is getting a bit long.
Seems to me that the answer to this is that if you get a request for a resume, you go for 2 pages, and include your best publications. If you get the CV, you give 'em everything. I dunno, though I should. Readers? 


  1. Depends so strongly on country. My obsessed-over European 2-page CV was tagged with by American friends in the field. This did not include a publication list.

    Can't speak for the US, but the wisdom I've always heard is that unless your publication list is particularly long, include all of them. Otherwise, write 'selected publications' and list particularly good/useful/interesting ones, with a URL to the complete list if you have a website.

    1. No, not 'tagged with'... treated with incredulity, I was trying to say! Damn you, autocorrect!

  2. CoulombicExplosionMarch 25, 2014 at 7:29 PM

    I agree with CJ. Hard/fast rule of 2-page max for a resume, and tailor your publications (and possibly work experience, to the degree that it is ethical) to the position you are applying.

  3. Standard advice I hear everywhere, all fields is that a resume should be 1 page per 10 years of experience. You can go under but never over.

  4. Quick note, that these rules are good, but totally wrong for applying to government jobs. You still need the 2 page resume for your hiring manager, but you also need an extended version for the application process.
    The way the govt job application system works with usajobs means that you have to include a description of all of your duties with each job (to get credit for claiming to be an "expert" in a particular duty from the self-evaluation application questions). This includes listing things that "everyone knows" are part of the job. But if you don't list them, usajobs doesn't know they are common duties. This means that my wife (an administrator) has a 14 page govt resume (with no publications on it), which was necessary to get past the usajobs filter.
    For example, saying "Group Leader" for X years would require that you add bullets of explicit descriptions of your responsibilities and duties such as "hire/fire authority" "budgeting roles" if any; and more info such as the answers to: number of direct reports?, did you assign duties?, purchasing authorization?, did you provide leadership in scientific direction of your group?, and every little committee/working group/etc could add to the ability to pass the filter.
    Unfortunately, for govt jobs, you are up against the Dunning-Kruger effect in regards to self-evaluation of skills. People, who are completely incompetent for a position and can't understand that they are incompetent, will rank themselves highly in all fields; while those who are truly experts in an area will mark expert on some and lower their own scores on others (knowing that they are not true experts). This leads to a system that discriminates against the most highly qualified.

  5. For industry jobs, the lead paragraph of the CV should capture your "essence" (barf) as this may be all that is actually read. Don't shy away from buzzwords (again, barf) as your CV may be triaged by a computer program.
    Definitely keep the Experience/Skills/Education part of the CV within two pages. I use an addendum (with contact info at the top) to list patents & publications (which, gods willing, can be lengthy).
    Absolutely emphasize/reorder traits/skills/accomplishments in your CV (& cover letter) to fit the position.
    Sadly, I have a lot of experience at this......

  6. I've always used a 2-page resume, even when a CV was requested. Never had a problem, although there probably were instances where my resume went in the trash and people commenting about me not knowing what a CV is. Anon9:39 is right, make sure your pertinent skills are at the top and use buzzwords. I don't include references, but it doesn't hurt in my opinion. I do filter my publications to just show the best/most relevant. For an industrial position, this might mean highlighting patents. For academic, I'd probably lean towards highest tier journals (although I have no interest in academic so I don't know if this is effective).

  7. As a long-time hiring manager (for the past 14 years or so) I don't mind longer resumes so long as the experience listed is relevant. One page every ten years above and beyond the prefunctory two pages seems reasonable. I do look at the goal statement, if just to confirm that the candidate has actually read the job description and has tried to come to at least a vague understanding of the position.

    Several things that are immediate red flags for me include the following (ie, this is my personal list of "don't do"):

    (1) Publication padding - I could care less which meetings you've attended to give talks and or posters. I only want to see peer-reviewed publications and patents.
    (2) Misspellings and grammar errors - communication is essential in business. If you can't properly communicate in your resume, which I assume has been closely checked by yourself and possibly others, how can I depend on you to properly communicate on the job. If you can't properly communicate, then you will make more work for me and that is not why I am looking to hire another employee.
    (3) Irrelevant work experience - If this is your first job, feel free to include your experience as a barrista or working as a lifeguard at the pool last summer. However, if you've been working in industry even a little while I really don't care about how many shirts you've folded at Macys. I want to know if you can do the job I need you to do.
    (4) Padded experience and / or awards - Are you a 4-H sheep breeding champion? I don't care. Did you win an award for your debate society performance? Tell me how that's relevant in your view, or don't include it (and yes, I realize it may be relevant). If you list all the grants you've been awarded, I'm going to be asking you detailed questions about how much of the grant proposals were actually written by you, and that includes details about the science behind the proposals so you'd better be prepared.


    (5) Personal information - I don't want to know things like your hobbies or your married life. In fact, it's illegal for me to ask, and I'd rather you didn't tell me. I do want to know if you are authorized to work in the US, so if green card status is relevant, please let me know.

    Keep in mind that the cover letter gets included with your resume. I look to see how well you tie your individual experience into what I've provided you in the job description. A one-page cover letter should do it, although I'll look at an additional half page. Beyond that, I'm looking at a stack of 20 more resumes to get through this afternoon on top of my usual work, so please avoid wasting my time.

    Sounds harsh, but in the end I've got to quickly winnow out the candidates I want to call for a follow-up phone interview from those who just don't fit what I'm looking for. So that's the screening rubric I use. YMMV

    1. Thanks for your opinion, Anon. Feel free to opine (confidentially, of course) to my inbox. chemjobber -at- gmail /dot/ com

    2. re point #2. The resume that always irks me is when the application with errors is for an open position in the QA/QC departments. I expect those people to pay more attention to details!

    3. Another anonymous reader here who has participated in hiring activities:

      Regarding Point #1: I suppose you mean "I couldn't care less..."

      If you're going to use idioms...

    4. "I could care less" and "I couldn't care less" are effectively interchangeable, especially in American English:


    5. Effectively interchangeable if you're a half wit.

    6. Interchangeability: The genesis of grammatical gems such as "irregardless", "intensive purposes", and my favorite verbal contractions "your" and "their".

      Although chemists aren't expected to be literary masters, our language should still be succinct and unambiguous,

      "I could care less." = Wait! You have some shred of interest in my extracurricular activities. My application has hope!
      "I couldn't care less." = Not buying. Zero interest level. Not going to string you along. Try your luck somewhere else!

      Besides, The Chicago Tribune ain't no Queen's English!

  8. Agree with Anon11:16. You covered all of my pet peeves in the hiring process!

    As a hiring manager (10+ years) in a manufacturing environment I have a few things to add.

    1. Although I am very involved in the hiring process most hiring managers are not. Therefore the resumes go through HR first and then to you. HR doesn't always know technical lingo and look for the buzzwords instead of the experience needed for the job I'm hiring for. So you have to cater to both HR and the hiring manager.

    Putting buzzwords in helps in this case but please make sure you know and are experienced with the buzzwords you put in! If you list six sigma experience in I'm going to ask you about that. I want to know that you've done continuous improvement not just know about it! I have had several candidates with professionally made resumes and six sigma always shows up. Then as I ask specifics about six sigma it then comes out that they know what it means, not how to execute.

    2. I hire both non PhDs and PhDs. For the non PhDs like Anon11:16 mentioned I need to know that you have the experience that fits the job I'm hiring for. A two page resume is sufficient for that along with a cover letter explaining why you fit my job. Please include a cover letter! It helps me figure out why you think you are a good fit instead of reading your resume and seeing if you fit.

    For PhDs I will ask for a CV at the interview stage to see what they've done especially if they are fresh out of school. I don't have job descriptions that fit your PhD work but need to see if you can learn about the field I'm hiring in quickly. I expect PhDs to come into the field and quickly become experts if they have the fundamental understanding of the technology. I like to see first vs contributing author papers to see if you can lead and handle a project on your own. Also seeing the list of conference talks to give me a sense of public speaking experience.

    So I think it depends on the candidate and the job you are applying to. If you are a PhD applying to a heavy research position submit a CV. If not supply a concise two page resume highlighting jobs that make you a candidate for the position.

    1. Thanks for your opinion, Maggie. Feel free to opine (confidentially, of course) to my inbox. chemjobber -at- gmail /dot/ com

    2. Keep in mind that first authorship doesn't always indicate leadership. Post-docs can lead a project and not be the first author.

  9. Hi All,

    I am a postdoc applying for my first industry job and clueless about industry CV. I was wondering if adding a separate skills section is preferable to mentioning them under research experience and conserving space. If a separate section is added how detailed does it need to be ? For instance, for assay development skill should the specific spectroscopic methods also be mentioned.


  10. For a research scientist job in industry, is there really a difference between a resume and a CV? I usually just change the title of my document to reflect what they asked for. I always include all publications and patents because I feel that these are concrete examples that I have scientific accomplishments, as opposed to just telling people that I do and asking them to take it on faith (and yes, I realize that a lot of good work is never published for a variety of reasons, and that a lot of crap does get published, but still, it's the system we have).

    I've never been involved in hiring, but I figure that if I were looking at candidates for a science job, and one highlighted only a couple high-profile publications, and someone else has a long list (which includes high-profile publications), I think I'd be swayed, if only subconsciously, toward favoring the second applicant


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20