5 Strategies for Building a Strong Engineering & Science Resume

When you’re targeting an engineering and science position, you have the added challenge of balancing your technical skills, knowledge, and key achievements in a way that resonates with HR and technical decision-makers. This post will cover common mistakes in engineering and science resumes and strategies for strengthening your candidacy. Let’s begin!

The most common mistake I see when working with scientists and engineering professionals is information overload. Information overload shows up as confusing industry jargon, unfamiliar acronyms, or overly detailed job descriptions while neglecting the impact you delivered.

So how can you present your technical skills, knowledge, and achievements in a way that leaves a positive impression on your 3 readers: ATS, frontline recruiter or HR professional, and hiring decision-maker?

Highlight distinguishing features that set you apart

You only have a short window, an average of 6-10 seconds, and as little as 4 seconds to capture the reader’s attention. Don’t lead with a terrible objective about self-realization that you’re hoping the company will help you achieve. Instead, think about your career and look at the job posting requirements.

What were your proudest achievements?

  • Do you have an advanced degree, such as a Ph.D., MS, or certified EIT?
  • Do you have a track record of thought leadership, such as publications or patents?
  • What are your proudest career milestones (i.e., awards, leadership roles, etc.)?
  • Can you speak other languages at a basic, conversational, or professional level?
  • Are you pursuing relevant professional training?

Be selective about your technical skills

Due to these industries’ constant progression and evolution, most scientists and engineers possess deep technical skill sets. Many job seekers are tempted to include every skill on their resume.

If your background is in science, you likely have the knowledge and hands-on experience designing experiments, running various laboratory tests, and using specialty instrumentation and other unique equipment.

I recently worked with a scientist with a diverse chemistry background specializing in polymer science, organic chemistry, and biochemistry. He wanted to target multiple positions in each of those disciplines. Together, we crafted 3 resumes for each career path that emphasized specific knowledge and technical skills related to each career target.

For example, a Polymer Chemist will use different lab techniques to synthesize and characterize new materials than an analytical chemist, whose role is more instrumentation-based and aims to develop methods to identify and quantify other substances and compounds. In that case, we emphasized the technical skills most relevant for the polymer chemistry role and left out the more organic and biochemistry-focused ones.

Often, there is overlap between scientific disciplines. In that case, if your role is going to be more interdisciplinary, it may be helpful to include similar or related skills. Use the job posting as your guide. Job postings, if decently written, will include details on the laboratory skills, instrumentation, and other core knowledge essential for the position. You will want to emphasize those keywords and weave them throughout your resume as appropriate.

You can also create a separate section on your resume. Call it “Technical Skills,” “Laboratory Skills,” or something that denotes the purpose of that section.

For example:

  • If you’re an Engineer, you may possess extensive technical skills, including professional certifications, computer modeling and simulation programs, cGMP manufacturing, and process performance qualifications standards.

  • If you’re a Scientist, the employer will be interested in what laboratory skills and technical instrumentation you are most familiar with.

Minimize the technical jargon

But Kate, how the hell do you do that?! The nature of my job is technical.

True. I would never advise any of my clients to avoid technical terms completely. Doing that will work against you in keyword optimization and ATS readability.

Think of it this way. In your day-to-day, depending on your background and who you work with, you are likely used to talking shop with fellow researchers, scientists, and engineers. While working in the specialty chemicals industry, I had technical conversations with people in different technical roles.

Now, imagine you have to explain these concepts to a layperson, in this case, a frontline recruiter or HR professional. You need to take a different communication approach and provide a frame of reference that focuses on how you used your technical skills and knowledge to help the company achieve its business goals.

First, start by thinking of the types of problems you solved.

  • Did you make a new research discovery?
  • Did you develop a new product or technology?
  • Did you improve an existing process or implement a new one?
  • Did you design new technology or optimize its performance?

Then, lead with the results.

  • How did your discovery advance R&D initiatives?
  • How did this new product set the company apart from its competitors?
  • Did this new process improve efficiency, enhance safety, reduce costs, etc.?
  • Did you publish or patent any of your work?

Emphasize your most relevant projects and initiatives

Most experienced engineers and scientists have worked on various projects. If you have a long list of projects, you may be tempted to include each on your resume. This approach will make your resume go on for multiple pages and overwhelm the reader.

While being proud of your work is important, you need to consider its relevance. Projects from 10 years ago may not be as interesting to prospective employers as more recent ones. If this applies to you, I advise limiting the number of projects you display to the most recent ones, primarily those most relevant to the job target. You can also create a supplementary file that lists your projects and modify them as needed.

You can apply this same approach when listing other professional recognition, including publications, patents, speaking engagements, board membership, etc.

Don’t forget your transferable skills

Many scientists and engineers make this mistake. While technical skills are important for performing the job effectively, transferable skills govern human interaction.

Think of times when you:

  • Led and collaborated with teams to meet a specific goal?
  • Planned and executed projects from start to finish?
  • Identified and solved problems and implemented solutions?
  • Evaluated and interpreted information to make decisions?
  • Shared ideas and information clearly and concisely?
  • Learned new skills to achieve the desired results?
  • Built relationships between departments and with clients?
  • Delegated tasks and ensured people had the required resources?

Why do employers seek transferable skills?

Generally, employees with strong transferable skills can surpass the job description, meet various challenges, and demonstrate adaptability and versatility.

A 2019 survey of more than 2,000 people conducted online by the Harris Poll on behalf of Yoh suggested that 75% of Americans would be more likely to hire candidates who have soft skills versus those having the right technical qualifications or experience.

This tactic makes sense because someone who is coachable and motivated to learn while having decent interpersonal, communication, and teamwork skills will be easier to work with than someone who may be an accomplished expert in their field but lacks emotional intelligence, an even temperament, or coachability.

The key to preparing a targeted science or engineering resume comes down to balancing your technical qualifications, experience, and transferable skills while, most importantly, demonstrating how you made an impact. This intention makes the difference in whether your resume will lead to an interview. As just one of a few Certified Resume Specialists in Engineering & Science (CRS+ES), I can help you put the focus where it belongs.

Scientech Resumes is dedicated to helping science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals find fulfilling work through targeted, branded, and keyword-optimized resumes, LinkedIn profiles, and other career marketing documents. Schedule a FREE 20-minute discovery session to get real-time feedback on your current resume and job search strategy, or connect with me on LinkedIn. Let’s get you where you want to go with greater results!

Kate Williamson

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