Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Job Application Tips for Field Biologists (Part 2)

Resume and CV tips:

1. I was always told to keep resumes to one page. This is no longer the case, at least not in wildlife biology. Don’t worry about cramming everything into one page, but shoot for two pages, and add references to the end (on a third page). If you have trouble keeping it short get rid of unnecessary words, throw out old (e.g. high school) information, or toss other unrelated experience (aka getting rid of small mammal trapping for a avian nest searching position if you need to). Keep what’s most important to the position you are applying to. Its usually ok if its long unless it filled with a bunch of useless information. A CV can be much longer (see #3).

2. If you don’t have a ton of experience, listing activities and involvements from college/highschool is fine, but make sure it’s still relevant. For example, if you list courses taken only list those that apply to the position, such as ornithology or mammalogy— not everything from chemistry to basket weaving 101. I usually feel that RELATED (or semi-related) study abroad experiences, volunteer work, and club involvement show commitment and enthusiasm for learning and these things will help, especially for newbies.  If you want to list all your non-related jobs do so AFTER the important stuff and give it a title of "Other Work Experience" or something.  Don't mix it all together.

3. Don’t send both a CV and a resume, they are different but fulfill the same requirement, so pick one. I prefer a resume, which is usually shorter and more to the point. CV is better for applying to graduate school, longer term positions, etc. Make sure you understand the differences (google it!) and when to use which.

4. Emphasize field experience, but education and undergraduate research are also very important. A degree in a related field and undergraduate research obviously both show your interest in the field—which is particularly important when working for graduate students. We want to know you will take our work seriously.

5. List the most recent job first, and keep things in order so it is easy to follow exactly what you did over time. Include the dates that you conducted the work, the where, who for, etc.

6. Keep job descriptions short and to the point, but with important details (study species, major responsibilities, the techniques you used, etc.). Basically you want to explain exactly what you did in as few words as possible. If you only have one related job and need to stretch it a little bit you can stay what the purpose of the study was.  As your resume gets longer you can cut things like that out.

7. I think a summary of skills in the beginning is often helpful—especially if you have had a lot of jobs. Reading through job after job and all the responsibilities can get boring and confusing. If the employer wants someone with supervisory experience and banding experience and you have that--make sure its the first thing they see and emphasize HOW MUCH experience.  Usually you can list this by # of seasons, months, hours, or even animals (aka banded +1,000 birds).  Sometimes this is called a “statement of purpose” for federal job applications—but I’m not going to get into this right now, there are entire books written on how to apply for federal jobs and write federal resumes.

8. Keep the tense the same throughout—Most people prefer past tense unless you are presently working a job, in which case you should make this clear with dates. Some say just use past tense throughout.

9. Keep the formatting basic, clean, and easy to read and work with. Emphasize important things using bold, italics, etc., but don’t go overboard. If it’s too complicated it often gets messed up in translation somewhere, and then it just looks bad. I especially hate columns and tables and stuff like that.

10. I prefer word documents over PDFs because I think they are easier to work with, you can make track changes, insert comments, etc. but this may just be my preference. (This goes for cover letters too) PDFs are very clean and neat so they are my second choice. Just make sure you don’t attach some funky new word file that mac users or people with old versions can’t access yet—you’ll probably be asked to send it again—if you are lucky. And follow directions if someone wants it a certain way.

11. Do NOT add transcripts, reference letters, or any extra attachments unless it is requested. This is just annoying.

12. I think one file is better than 3 separate ones for cover, resume, and references. I hate having to download them all in order to get the whole picture—when someone reads your application they ask one thing—are you qualified or not? And they want to answer this as quickly as possible.


1. List 2-3 people to be contacted, depending on what’s asked for in the job post. If they ask for two, an extra doesn’t hurt, but don’t list everyone you’ve ever worked for.

2. List only the people who will give you a positive reference. I know this sounds obvious—but I’ve seen negative references a lot. Ask references specifically if they will give you a GOOD reference. They might say no. And they could lie—but hopefully they will be honest with you. No one is perfect so a reference wont be either—but most people should at least be able to put a positive spin on some of your weaknesses.

3. List the people that will be able to best answer specific questions about you. If you apply to a telemetry and mammal trapping position, list someone who can tell the employer that you have experience with it. Don’t list all professors who’ve only had you in class. List people who’ve worked directly in the field with you doing the tasks that pertain to the position you want. (I know this isn’t always possible, so do the best you can.)

4. Also list people who have known you for a long time, or know you very well. (But not your best friend or your mom, of course)

5. It’s usually important to list a reference from the most recent job you’ve had, unless it doesn’t apply as well to the job you are applying to (see # 2 above, but also #6 below).

6. Make sure its clear which person is associated with which job you had. And at least include email and phone contact info for each person.

7. Sometimes NOT listing someone looks kind of weird. For example, not listing your most recent nest searching job employer for a nest searching position usually implies they were not listed because they didn’t like you! And here’s a secret: this field is not very big. Everyone knows everyone. It’s not uncommon for someone to contact a reference you didn’t list (especially if it’s a friend)—just to see what they say about you.

8. Make sure you let your references know they will be contacted; keep them up to date with your whereabouts and a current resume so that they will be prepared. Again, ask them if they are willing to give you a GOOD reference first, give them plenty of time. Provide them with information on the positions you are applying to. And don’t forget to thank them! It takes a lot of time to write references—and most likely they are doing it for several people.

Other comments:

1. Do not accept a position and quit several days later because you got a “better” offer or you didn’t really want it or your cat died. This stuff could come back to bite you in the ass eventually. I realize in some cases this is necessary, such as getting the permanent job you’ve always been waiting for or a graduate school opportunity-- so in this case at least explain yourself to the person you just bailed on. Employers put a lot of time and effort into reviewing materials, contacting references, and conducting interviews. Make sure you want the job if you are putting them through all of this, and don’t take it if you are unsure.

2. Basic communication skills are key: don’t leave an employer hanging for days without a response. At least tell them you received the offer and need time to think about it. Thank them for their time and consideration. Make sure they know when and how to contact you. If you are out in the field and unable to respond quickly, tell them. (Hopfully they will communicate well with you too.)

3. It’s ok to ask where (i.e. at what stage) the employer is in the hiring process but don’t be too pushy. If they are taking their sweet old time to get back to you it’s probably because other people are being slow, or funding issues, etc. It happens. Keep in mind that they are often also busy with many other things. And hiring a crew for field work is never as easy and straightforward as it may sound. We all know it sucks to wait around and not hear back from a job—and I think all employers should at least respond to all applicants at least with a yes or no, no matter how far they made it in the application process. It also doesn't hurt to check and make sure they got your application--I had one go to someone's junk mailbox and I waited too long to ask and they had already hired someone. 

4. If you know someone in the field with more experience ask to see their resume.  Or look up samples online. It really helps to see what other's write--especially people with more experience. Or ask them to review your resume and give feedback. Sometimes having someone read it who hasn't read it 100 times like you have helps a lot. I've gotten a lot of advice from other people and lots of ideas from their resumes on how to make mine better.

Got it?! It is as simple at that. Ha. I’m happy to look over resumes for people and give advice. Email me if you need some help. Seriously!

Good luck!


anw said...

Alternative viewpoint to yours: I actually submit all my job application materials as pdf's because it ensures that the formatting and spacing won't get all wonky or anything.

Jessica said...

Under Resume & CV tips: If you do not have a professional-sounding e-mail (i.e. firstname_lastname@whatever.com) then by all means CREATE ONE AND USE IT. If your e-mail address is tequilalover69@yahoo.com, I will not hire you. I can think of at least 2 occasions where an inappropriate e-mail address has resulted in someone being dropped from my consideration.

syeds said...

Its better to find one onw..

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