Top 10 Early-Career Résumé Mistakes

Last updated 1/30/2024

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As an ACS Career Consultant, I see a lot of mistakes on résumés for industry jobs, and some of them are quite common. The industrial culture is very different from the academic world, and it’s easy for students to make missteps when transitioning to the workforce, beginning with the way they craft a résumé. The job resume is the most important window into a candidate’s professional experience and achievements. Here are the top 10 mistakes that could cost you a really great opportunity.

1. Having too many pages

It’s totally normal for undergraduates to have one-page résumés. Depending on your research experience, summer jobs, and internships, you may need two pages. That’s OK, but any more than two pages is overkill. If you need two pages, make sure that your name, phone number, and e-mail address appear on both pages. You never know whether a hiring manager will actually print out your résumé. They receive a lot of applications, and pages could get mixed up in the shuffle.

2. Relying on spellcheck to catch grammatical and spelling mistakes

If you depend on your computer's spellcheck tool to correct grammatical and spelling mistakes, you are in big trouble! Spellcheck doesn’t understand context, homonyms, or acronyms. So, that amide structure you identified using NMR could become an amino structure identified by MNR.

Your résumé is the first demonstration of your ability to communicate well in writing and to pay attention to detail. That’s why it’s important that you carefully comb through each and every word, line, and paragraph, and that you have a fresh pair of eyes (a friend or mentor) do the same. Don’t risk losing out on that dream job because of overlooked typos.

3. Writing everything you've done in the introductory summary

If you're a high-level executive, an executive summary is appropriate and expected. But for an undergraduate who is just finishing a bachelor’s degree, a laser-focused summary or objective is sufficient; some consultants even advise omitting the summary. Your summary should specifically and exclusively hone in on the type of job that you’re seeking. If you are too vague, a company may not readily see you in the job.

Customize your résumé

Be sure to tailor your résumé—and not just the summary—to the position you are seeking. If you are applying for a position as a synthetic chemist, include your success with manipulating Grignard reagents in a Schlenk line. If you are going for an analytical position, start with the high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and gas chromatography (GC) techniques you mastered independently. This shows how you will excel in the job and bring value to your employer.

4. Including your GPA

If you are seeking an industrial laboratory job, your scientific experience and accomplishments will speak more for you than your grade point average (GPA) will. If you have a GPA of 3.5 or higher, you should list it. GPAs are one way to distinguish between candidates with similar research experiences and successes. Otherwise, it is safe to omit your GPA. Remember, too, that a hiring manager will ultimately discover your GPA, because companies typically ask for college transcripts to verify your education.

5. Omitting your senior thesis, research project, or research advisor

If you worked on a senior thesis or a summer research project, you need to include that information in the education section of your résumé. List your thesis title or project title and the name of your research advisor. Remember that chemistry is a profession driven by academic pedigree. There is a possibility that the hiring manager knows your research advisor. Also, if you do not list your research advisor’s name, most hiring managers will see this as a red flag that you didn’t get along with your advisor—and that means that the hiring manager may not get along with you. So do yourself a favor and list your advisor’s name.

6. Listing only work duties

Let’s say that you’re an organic chemist. You carry out synthetic reactions in the laboratory, monitor them by thin-layer chromatography (TLC), perform crystallizations or flash column chromatography to purify them, and characterize the final product by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). Do you know how many organic chemists perform these duties? Every single one. There is no way that a standard list of duties will help you stand out from the competition.

Instead, spotlight your accomplishments. In a series of short sentences, explain the synthetic challenge you faced (e.g., “needed to synthesize an array of precursors for a Grignard reaction”), the action that you took to overcome that challenge (e.g., “devised a microscale method to generate precursors in inert atmosphere”), and the result (e.g., “generated 20 precursors to support a 12-step natural product synthesis”). The more tangible the result, the better. This will give you a bullet point on your résumé that is measurable and will show the hiring manager the value that you bring to the job.

7. Including a word bank on your résumé

Yes, a computer program will scan your résumé before an actual person does, but remember that the computer can pick up words anywhere in your résumé. To a reviewer, a word bank is a meaningless block that takes up valuable real estate. Instead, incorporate key words into your accomplishment-driven bullet points of technical and professional experiences.

8. Listing irrelevant extracurricular activities

You absolutely should list extracurricular activities (sports, clubs, volunteer work, mentoring, art, activism, etc.) that contribute to your growth and your potential, but make sure there is an obvious relevance to the position. Including extracurricular activities is an opportunity to showcase professional skills you’ve gained, such as collaboration, independence, teamwork, and communication. It’s also a way to elevate your résumé above those that list only technical skills.

9. Stating that you speak the local language

If you are applying for a job, it is assumed that you are fluent in the language of the country regardless of your first language. However, if you are fluent in other languages, be sure to list them.

10. Including a “References available upon request” statement  

In the past, this was standard operating procedure. Times have changed, and now it’s customary to supply references to the hiring manager when requested to do so. Therefore, there is no need to write this phrase on your résumé. 

Do you have questions about résumés?

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