I’ve been working at Rho for 10 years and at CROs for more than 15 years, and in that time, I’ve reviewed a lot of resumes for job seekers in many different positions. Here are some resume and CV tips to help you stand out with the recruiters, hiring managers, and interview teams that make the difference between getting an interview or a rejection letter for the clinical research job you really want.
Note: The tips I’m sharing here are for job seekers in the US. International standards can differ.
In most cases, the first look at your resume won’t be a thorough one. During that first pass, a recruiter is probably looking for a handful of keywords that they associate with the position. What terms are you using to search for jobs? Those same terms should show up prominently on your resume.
Does that mean you can’t get a job if you haven’t held that job before? No. You just need to make sure that it is clear how your experience is applicable. For example, if you are seeking a job as a CRA but haven’t had CRA as your title, you can still make sure that words like monitoring and site visit show up in the accomplishments and descriptions of your roles. For competitive positions, most candidates are screened out during this step. Make sure you’re not one of them.
Proofread, Proofread, Proofread
I’m always surprised by the number of resumes I see that have basic spelling, grammar and formatting errors. Generally, I wouldn’t consider hiring someone with these sorts of errors. This may sound picky, but clinical research requires close attention to detail for nearly every position at every level.
You should carefully proofread your resume. Then, ask someone with strong writing and editing skills to do the same. Don’t have access to someone that’s up to the job? Check out Grammarly. It is a free online tool that will eliminate most of these errors. Make sure you list the correct company and job title for which you are applyi
ng. Listing either one incorrectly shows a lack of attention to detail and tells the recruiter you aren’t committed to their company.
Tailor Your Resume to the Position
Start by carefully reading the posted job description. What specific skills and experience does the job require? Make sure you highlight these skills on your resume and that it is obvious how your experience aligns with the required experience for the job. What are the primary job duties and responsibilities? Call-out how you have accomplished similar tasks in your previous work. Finally, review the company’s website to see what values they highlight. Quality? Teamwork? Fast-paced environment? Think about how you can demonstrate the attributes they are looking for in the materials you are submitting. This may seem daunting, but submitting 10 tailored resumes will produce better results than submitting 100 generic ones. List your applicable skills at the beginning of your resume, not the end. You want to capture the attention of the resume reviewer quickly.
Demonstrate Knowledge of the Industry
Whether you are a clinical research veteran with 20 years of experience or are seeking an entry level position, your resume should reflect awareness of what is happening in the industry. If you are new to the industry or returning to the industry, there are a number of great free news sources that can help you with this. A few of my favorites are FierceCRO and FierceBiotech, Clinical Leader, and Applied Clinical Trials.
Consider how to work in key trends. Searching for a clinical operations role? Highlight your experience with risk-based monitoring. Looking for a job in clinical project management? Mention your experience working with patient advocacy groups to improve patient recruitment. Obviously, the depth of knowledge and awareness expected will differ based on your role and experience level, but these are the kinds of things that can be differentiators in a competitive field. One thing to note – make sure you can speak to every item on your resume if asked about your experience – no fabrications. If you can’t articulate that particular skill or ability during an interview, don’t list it on your resume or CV.
This is not a creative or design-focused industry. Your resume does not need to be a work of art, but basic proper formatting is expected. Use an easy to read font and font size with a light background color and a dark font color. Have reasonable margins. Use bullets. Limit your resume to 2-3 pages maximum. Focus on making it easy to read and easy to find desired information. There are plenty of good free templates out there, so consider using one of those if you aren’t sure what good formatting looks like.
Cover Letter—Yes or No?
Whether or not to include a cover letter depends both on your resume and the position for which you are applying. In some cases, it will be obvious how your skills and experience are transferable to the posted position. For example, you currently are a clinical data manager with experience in EDC system x and skills y and z applying for a job as a clinical data manager with experience in EDC system x and skills y and z. In this case, a cover letter isn’t necessary, although it would provide an opportunity for you to explain why you are interested in that company or that position.
In some cases, there isn’t a straight line between your work experience and the position you’re applying for. Or, maybe there is something on your resume that you would like to explain like a gap in your work history. Or, maybe the position is in another location and you want to voice your willingness to relocate. A cover letter can help you with any of these situations. If you do include a cover letter, make sure it is concise, well-written, and offers something more than what would be obvious from reading your resume. And don’t forget to ask a friend to proofread your cover letter! A great resume will be overlooked by a poorly written and grammatically incorrect cover letter.
Accomplishments Not Duties
For each position, you should include a brief summary of the responsibilities followed by a couple of core accomplishments. It should not be a bulleted list of the twenty duties in the job description. Finally, accomplishments should be specific and should include metrics where possible. For example, a clinical project manager might list an accomplishment like “For a global phase 3 study, completed enrollment 6 weeks early and delivered topline results 3 days after database lock.” This resume will get a lot further than one with a list that says managed global phase 3 studies, oversaw data management and statistical deliverables, and managed timelines.
Recruiters and hiring managers are often looking for specific technology skills and even experience with specific software systems. Ideally, these would be listed in the job posting, but that isn’t always the case. Include both industry system types like CTMS, EDC, IRT, and statistical programming languages as well as specific system names like Medidata Rave and SAS. Also include industry agnostic technologies that may be applicable to your role like MS Project, HTML, or Java. If you have experience in clinical research, you should also list the therapeutic areas where you have experience. Also make sure to list any certifications like the Regulatory Affairs Certification (RAC), Project Management Professional (PMP), or Certified Clinical Research Associate (CCRA).
How Long Should My Resume Be?
The answer to how long your resume should be depends on how much work experience you have and the type of job you are seeking. For recent graduates and early career candidates, about a page is a good rule of thumb. For experienced candidates in most roles, 2-3 pages is an appropriate length. For scientific roles where publications are expected to be included, CV length is highly variable and should be driven by career length, number of professional positions, and number of publications; however, you still want your biggest selling points on the first couple of pages.
Things You Don’t Need to Include on Your Resume
There are also a number of things you shouldn’t include on your resume:
- Personal or demographic information like age, race, gender, religious preference, social security number, or marital status.
- Salary history or salary requirements.
- “References available on request”—this is assumed, takes up space, and can make your resume seem dated.
- Objective—I’ve never seen an objective that has made a difference in my decision for the positive. However, an objective that isn’t well written or doesn’t align with what I’m looking for has caused me to rule candidates out.
Advice for Recent Graduates
Many recent college graduates struggle with what to include on their resumes besides their education if they don’t have professional work experience. That is totally fine—when we are hiring entry level candidates we don’t expect them to have professional work experience. Some beneficial things you can include are:
- Volunteer experience
- Non-professional work experience from restaurant jobs to dog walking to mowing lawns in the summer
- Study abroad programs
- Extracurricular activities, especially leadership positions
- Class projects that are relevant to the position
Each of these provides valuable information about you.
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