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What Biotech Recruiters Look For In A Good CV

What do biotech recruiters expect in a good CV (Curriculum Vitae) of a life science professional? How do they tell a good CV from a bad one? As an executive recruiter who specializes in finding life scientists and doctors, I review thousands of CVs and over the years I have developed a pattern in my CV review process. I  search for specific items in a certain order and if the item is unacceptable or missing, the CV and hence candidate will be rejected. Below is what I seek in a good CV to quickly pinpoint strong candidates for my current pharma and biotech jobs as well as for any future positions I might have. Each item is listed in the order of what is most important to me as an executive recruiter for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Most of the first few steps in my process only take seconds. A candidate’s CV holds my interest depending on:

1. Educational Experience: I only recruit PhD or MD candidates and if someone does not have at least one of these degrees I have no interest in the person and he will be rejected. Next I look to see where the person got his PhD or MD. I hate to be a snob when it comes to schools, but the fact of the matter is a client will react more favorably to a candidate from a top school. Of course work experience counts too and someone who has risen well through the ranks and done well for himself will not be penalized for not attending the best schools. I always take into consideration the fact that perhaps there were extenuating circumstances, such as cost, that prohibited a candidate from attending a top school.

Next I check when the PhD was received. Although I am not allowed to discriminate for age, I do need to quickly get a handle as to the approximate amount of experience I am dealing with. Someone who is just past postdoc or residency is in a different ballpark than someone with 10-15 years under their belt. By looking at the year of graduation I can quickly ascertain whether someone has the right level of experience for the position I am working on.

Then there are a few other items I scan in the educational section of a CV. I like to see if an MD candidate is Board Certified and if so in what specialty. I note where a medical doctor did his training and for how many years. Likewise, I look to see where a PhD candidate did his postdoctoral work. I check to see if there were large gaps during the educational process and try to figure out what this means (perhaps the person had to work his way through school and could only attend part time).

Candidates take note: Since education and training are so critical for a scientist in the pharma and biotech industries I like to see this information at the beginning portion of a CV and not buried further down. Please don’t make me go flipping through pages of information about committees you are on or conferences where you have spoken. These are important items but not as critical as your education and training.

2. Current Employer: After educational background the next important thing to me in a good CV is where a candidate is currently employed. A person who was hired by a quality pharmaceutical company like Merck, or biotechnology company, like Genentech, goes higher up on the list than someone from a company I never heard of. Of course I do not know all the life sciences companies, especially new ones, and if I don’t recognize a company I will scroll down to see where else the candidate has worked before passing judgment.

And generally it is a negative if I see a candidate is consulting because clients want currently employed candidates and ideally ones from their competitors. However I recognize there are circumstances when a person might have to consult in order to make a living until they find their next job. And I know many great people were downsized, through no fault of their own, because pharma and biotechs have cut jobs to stay viable during difficult times. All this gets mentally calculated when I do a quick scan of a CV. But if a person has been a consultant for many years I usually will bypass the person. Clients and recruiters are afraid consultants are not a team players and are too independent to stay on at their company. Some consultants use recruiters and say they want a full time job when in fact they just want the opportunity to sell their consulting company to the client.

3. Current Title: Titles say a lot about the candidate. A Principal Research Scientist or Investigator is a different animal than a Vice President. One is on the technical track and one is on the management track. The title will quickly pinpoint whether a candidate is right for a life science job I am working on.

4. Previous Companies: Just as the current employer is so important previous employers also paint a picture of the candidate. Did the person recently leave academia to go to industry? Did the person start in biotech and then migrate to big pharma? Or the more normal track would be to work many years in big pharma and then test the waters in biotech. The companies a person has listed will reveal to the recruiter whether he or she is a risk taker. If I see a person has spent his entire career in big pharma, it might be a hard sell to convince the candidate to go to my tiny startup client.

5. Career Progression: Closely connected with current and previous employment is how a candidate has progressed from job to job. Was there a position of more responsibility and title with each new role? Did the person go backwards (not good), say from a VP to a Director? Did the candidate strive for increasingly better quality companies?

 6. Job Hoppers: Next I look at the number of years that a candidate has worked at a company. Did he leave after only one or two years from several companies? Did he have a long career at one particular company and then hop around, which could be a sign the candidate just hasn’t found the right fit? Perhaps the candidate is in biotech and hence moved from job to job as individual companies were sold or shut their doors. When dealing with biotech candidates this has to be taken into consideration when it comes to a CV with frequent moves listed. Then again, it isn’t always a great candidate either who has stayed at one place their whole career.  Such a person might be inflexible and fear changes. He or she might be a dinosaur and certainly hasn’t gained from the experience of trying new corporate cultures.

 7. Publications and Patents: Before a more thorough check of publications and patents, I do a quick review of the quantity and quality of the publications listed by the candidate. A good CV will have many publications with many or at least one at top journals, like Science. I check to see if the candidate in question was a first author on some of the papers. Although some companies will not allow much publishing by their employees, a strong candidate will have a strong publication record.

8. Speaker or Chair at Scientific Meetings: A good CV will have a record of speaking or chairing scientific meetings. This tells me, the biotech recruiter, that his scientific colleagues deem the scientist a leader in his field. On the opposite extreme someone with a padded speaker list begs the question, “when does this guy get any real work done?” Another point I note is which meetings are listed on a CV as this is as important as having the right journals for publications.

 9. Spelling and punctuation errors: Many of the scientists and doctors, who send me their CV, took heavy science courses in college and were not English majors. So an eloquently written CV is not to be expected. Mistakes can occur since so many scientific words end up underlined in red by spell checkers allowing a common misspelled word to be overlooked. And really in this day and age of spell checkers and autocorrect, who hasn’t had the wrong spelling for a word included in written work? (I for one often type “fro” instead of “for” and my computer does not pick this up. Sorry readers if you spot this in my posts.) However, blatant and consistent errors should not happen and the candidates should always have another person, preferably someone who writes English well, proof read the CV.

 

 10. Keywords and Descriptive Text: I know keywords are important so recruitment software can spot qualifications etc., but at the higher level I recruit for, I don’t like to see a lot of keywords or skills listed. By the time someone has worked the number of years I need for my positions, most necessary keywords are embedded just in the natural flow of writing about the various roles the candidate has accomplished. Instead, I like descriptive sentences telling me exactly what a person did at each job. Remember a two page short CV is not expected of scientists when they have such technical positions to describe. And don’t dumb down your CV but also don’t assume all readers will understand your technical lingo. Again it pays to have a non- scientist proof read the CV to be sure it is readable by a lay person as well as to the scientific hiring manager.

Another interesting post titled, “What Recruiters look At During The 6 Seconds They Spend on Your Resume” by Vivian Giang came to my attention after I wrote this post. But it has some very good advice. For one, it mentions what recruiters look for most and these are exactly what I mentioned above: “In the short time that they spend with your resume, the study showed recruiters will look at your name, current title and company, current position start and end dates, previous title and company, previous position start and end dates, and education.” The post also states  that you should  create a CV with a “clear visual hierarchy” as these get greater attention from recruiters.

As someone who only recruits scientists, I know how to spot the “real deal” quickly while reviewing a CV.  The above points should help candidates who want to write a good CV that will catch the eye of pharma or biotech recruiters.

Related posts: on Writing a CV

Refreshing your Resume” from ACS

01/22/14 Recruiters spend about 6 seconds reviewing a resume or CV. But as a life science recruiter, I spend a few more seconds. I also check out the quantity and quality of scientific publications. Remember the number of publications isn’t as important if they are not in top tier science journals like Science