Criteria for Success

  1. It takes less than 60 seconds for your resume to convince a targeted employer that you are qualified for the target job.
  2. A resume is no more than 2 pages (1 sheet of paper).
  3. You show a select group of skills and experiences that match those required by the job.
  4. The organization and formatting help the reader find the information that shows you are qualified.
  5. Your experiences are concrete and quantified.
  6. There are absolutely no typos or errors.


Just to clarify: A CV is a kind of resume

A curriculum vitae (CV) is a special kind of resume intended for academic or research positions. In this article, we say “resume” to mean “resume or CV” except when we contrast the two.

Resume CV
Goal Shows how your experiences and skills qualify you for the target job Shows your academic achievements and research qualifications
Length Strict 2-page (1 sheet of paper) limit 2-3 pages for a graduate student; gets longer through a career
Typical sections include…
  • Name & contact information
  • Education
  • Work experience
  • Skills
  • Name & contact information
  • Education
  • Research experience
  • Career objectives/research interests
  • Publications & presentations
  • Awards & grants
  • Professional societies
  • Teaching experience
  • References

Resumes must quickly convince readers that you are qualified

Your resume and cover letter are the first parts of your application that your potential employers will read. Your resume is designed to make the person reading your resume move your application forward in the recruiting process by, say, inviting you for an interview. Your resume should quickly convince your potential employer that you are a well-qualified candidate for the specific job for which you applied.

Analyze your audience

Your resume should be tailored to the job for which you’re applying and—if possible—to the specific people who will be reading it. Do research to find out who will be reading your resume and what they hope to see in it. If the job has explicit job requirements, make sure your resume makes it obvious that you meet all those requirements. Customize the content so it will excite your specific readers.

Your resume shouldn’t tell your whole story. In many cases, the people who read your resume will be reading a whole pile of them. Make it easy for them to put you in the “yes” pile. You can share your life story during the interview.


Make a custom resume for every application

First, read each job posting carefully. Make a list of what qualifications are required for the specific role you for which are applying. For example, a job posting that says you will “drive independent research” might require very different skills from one that says you will “work closely with an interdisciplinary team”.

Next, highlight the skills and accomplishments that demonstrate that you have those qualifications. To do this, you can:

  • include different experiences in your resume
  • put more bullet points under the most relevant experiences
  • move important experiences earlier in the document.

Resumes in particular have limited space, so you should be critical about what experiences you should include and which you should leave out.

Concretize and quantify

Give concrete—preferably quantitative—evidence that you are a qualified match for the organization you want to work in and the specific role you are applying for.

Vaguely-worded experience Concrete, quantified experience
Researched chemotherapy targets in the Jones Lab
  • Designed two assays for screening chemotherapy targets
  • Screened 900 drug targets
  • Contributing author on two papers
Teaching Assistant for Bio 101
  • Provided one-on-one instruction for 20 students
  • Developed content for weekly recitations
Treasurer for Young Biologist Society
  • Managed $6K budget and raised $500
Sports editor for school newspaper
  • Provided feedback to 12 writers
  • Managed a team of three supporting editors
Increased club membership
  • Expanded club from 5 to 35 members
Developed relationships with new sponsors
  • Recruited $10k in new sponsorship
Worked weekly with team
  • Organized and led 6 practices per week

Use verbs that illustrate impact over verbs that make you sound passive and are more specific to the actual contribution you made.

Weak verbs Action verbs
  • Participated
  • Researched
  • Designed
  • Managed
  • Led
  • Developed

When describing research experiences, it’s okay to include a brief overview of the lab, but it’s critical to characterize your individual contributions.

If you are applying for a research position, include your PI’s name. Your academic pedigree is important currency in the scientific community.

Make your document easy to skim

Recruiters will skim your resume in 30 to 60 seconds. You need to make relevant information easily identifiable.

Use headers that package your experiences in a way that best shows you are qualified for the job. For example, if the job involves teaching or entrepreneurship, make sure to include the relevant header to highlight your experience in these areas.

Order your headers so that the sections that have the experiences that are most relevant to this job come first.

Use white space to make it easy for a hiring manager to read your resume. Use indentation and bullet points to partition information. A dense resume has more information in it but is hard to read. A spacious resume might have less information, but your reader will understand more of it.

Bold important words so the reader can quickly find the important content.

Proofread! Spell check!

A single mistake can be enough to get you put in the “no” pile. Have a detail-oriented friend help you catch things you missed.

This content was adapted from from an article originally created by the MIT Biological Engineering Communication Lab.

Resources and Annotated Examples

Annotated Example 1

Annotated Example 1

Example Job Posting 49 KB

Annotated Example 2

Annotated Example 2

Example Resume 53 KB