Experience

STEM Resume Breakdown, Part 5 of 6 – How to Write the Experience Section

INTRODUCTION
When it comes to highlighting experience, most job seekers undersell themselves and bore the reader with task-based information. Part 5 in our 6-part STEM resume writing series will cover how to write an achievement-oriented resume experience section that engages the reader and moves them to call you for an interview. Let’s get started!

We will specifically examine the following topics:

  • How to structure your experience section
  • Uncovering, quantifying, and framing achievements
  • Dig-deep questions for STEM professionals
  • Additional resume experience FAQs

This article will also include links to other informative blog posts that you may find helpful to build out your experience section.


What’s the purpose of the experience section?

The primary goal of the experience section is to provide examples of how you used your experience, knowledge, and skills to make an impact. Think relevancy.

How much experience should you list on your resume?

ExperienceUnless you’re applying for a specific role, such as a government position, college professor, or academic researcher, you don’t need to include your entire work history on your resume.

Most employers are interested in the last 10 years of experience, 15-20 years if you target senior executive or c-suite positions. This approach keeps your resume from going on for multiple pages.

There are 2 exceptions to this rule:

  • You’ve worked at the same company for your entire career.
  • You’re returning to the workforce after a hiatus.

How do you write the experience section?

Most job seekers tend to use dense, text-heavy paragraphs and/or lengthy lists of bulleted statements when presenting their experience, focusing on tasks rather than achievements and contributions.

We are going to break this down into 2 parts:

1) Summarizing your job duties.

Keep this short. Employers aren’t interested in reading about the day-to-day minutiae. That gets boring quickly, especially if you’ve held similar roles throughout your career. Companies want to hire people who get results.

The following questions may help you summarize your job duties:

  • Why were you hired for this position? Were you promoted to this role?
  • What was going on at the company (i.e. merger, acquisition, restructuring, etc.)?
  • Who did you work with regularly (i.e. departments, company leaders, etc.)?
  • Did you have budgetary responsibilities? If so, can it be quantified?
  • Did you supervise or manage any staff directly or indirectly? If so, how many?
  • What types of problems were you hired to solve?

Let’s look at some examples written for previous STEM clients:

Science – R&D Chemist

Applied polymer science background to support R&D and production teams in developing and commercializing UV and LED curable acrylic and silane-based epoxy coating for the ophthalmology market.

 

 

Technology – Sr. Systems Administrator

Recruited to work with a 15-member Linux and Database Administrators team to maintain a 24/7 Cisco unified computing environment with 200+ application environments on 80 physical servers and 60 virtual machines.

 

Engineering – Chief Engineer

Advanced after 1 year to lead 16 staff in integrating customer feedback into the novel concept, design, and commercial launch of turbocharger products and industry-first testing methodologies. $4M R&D budget.

 

 

Mathematics – Quantitative Modeler

Created and ran quantitative models that analyzed large sets of credit data and risk metrics and supported the development of risk management and mitigation strategies to streamline credit and loan approval processes.


2) Emphasizing and communicating achievements.

Once you’ve provided the reader with some context behind your general responsibilities, you can use bulleted statements to offset your achievements, contributions, and other examples of how you went above and beyond.

Start by asking yourself what accomplishments you felt most proud of in each role. I recommend using the following framework for outlining your achievements: Challenge(s) – Action(s) – Result(s), aka the CAR framework.

Here’s an example of the CAR framework in action for an engineering professional:

  • Challenge: Revamp the entire production and manufacturing process
  • Action: Implemented machine checks, SOPs, and quality management systems
  • Result: Increased machine uptime by 27% and decreased waste levels by 33%

Bringing it all together, we produce the following resume bullet:

Boosted machine uptime by 27% and decreased waste levels by 33% after introducing regular machine checks, SOPs, and robust quality management systems that ensured consistency across the production process.

Key Takeaway? Always lead with the results and illustrate how you demonstrated growth.


Below, I have included some sample questions to help you extract your key achievements.

For science professionals:

  • Did you discover or create any new R&D technology?
  • Did these discoveries or technologies get published? Patented?
  • Did you develop/improve new laboratory protocols or SOPs?

For engineering professionals:

  • What new engineering systems did you design and develop?
  • In what ways did you improve productivity and efficiency?
  • What modeling programs did you use for simulation and testing?

For information technology (IT) professionals:

  • How did you use IT to save time and money?
  • How did you improve business process efficiency?
  • Did you help the business engage with its clients?

For accounting & finance professionals:

  • How did you use financial analysis to solve problems?
  • How did you improve revenues, profits, cash flow?
  • What business systems and financial software did you use?

For healthcare & medical professionals:

  • Did you lower readmission rates, healthcare delivery costs, pharmacy expenses?
  • Did you lead quality improvement or regulatory compliance programs?
  • Did you develop and implement any training curriculums?

Other things to consider:

  • Did you help build increase business revenues?
  • Did you lead or support a major project?
  • Did you have to build strong customer-facing relationships?
  • How did you make peoples’ jobs (and lives) easier?
  • Did you consistently meet all of your deadlines?
  • What did your colleagues compliment you for?
  • Were you known for expertise in a particular area?
  • Did you develop a technical skill or transferable quality?

Additional Resume Experience FAQs

  • How much experience should I list on my resume?

It depends. If you’re a new graduate or young professional, with less than 5 years of experience,  include all of it and cite any job-specific experience related to your role or relevant skills you developed from other seemingly unrelated fields. For experienced professionals, it’s acceptable to include 10-15 years of work history, although most employers focus on the most recent 5-10 years of experience. Use the job posting as a guide.

  • What if I don’t have any quantifiable achievements?

It’s true that numbers add impact to a resume and help hiring professionals justify interviewing and hiring you over someone with a similar background. That being said, not all achievements are quantifiable. Many of my STEM clients, specifically those in science and medical fields, work in roles that are not very numbers-driven. The key is to provide the reader with some context around your efforts so they can understand and appreciate your achievements even more.

Additionally, don’t get hung up on using exact numbers. One way to overcome this is to use a range:

=> Process between 250-300+ blood, bone marrow, tumor, and other human tissue samples weekly.

=> Wrote and circulated 4-5 technical reports to senior management, production, and product development teams.

=> Led project teams of up to 25 staff in daily standups, sprint reviews, retrospectives, demos, and release/deploy activities. 

  • Do I need to list every job I’ve ever held?

No. Your resume should focus on the most relevant experience you bring to the position. If you’re an experienced professional, 20-30+ years, your resume is going to go on for multiple pages and set you up for potential age discrimination. Be consistent about the positions you leave off, and don’t leave off random ones. For example, if you held a relevant position 16 years ago, including all the positions you held in the last 16 years, even if you held unrelated ones in between.

  • Should I include my military experience?

Military experience is typically viewed positively by employers. If this applies to you, you can list it the way you would a position in the civilian job market, and include the branch of service, highest rank achieved, honors and recognition earned, honorable discharge status. If your military experience directly links to your goal, sharing 1-2 highlights is fine unless it makes up the bulk of your career.

  • How can I list older experience on my resume?

Do you have older work experience, 15+ years, at prestigious organizations that you want to feature on your new resume? Create an “Early Career Experience” section and list your job titles, company names, and, possibly the years in those roles. This way, you can easily get the information onto a page without taking up a lot of space. You could also list them in a short paragraph, 1-2 lines, without dates.

Earlier career experiences include progressive advancement into R&D engineering, technology transfer, and management positions in cGMP manufacturing environments, including ABC Company, XYZ Inc., etc.


CONCLUSION
These strategies will help you get started on thinking about your experience section differently. Remember, the goal is to show the employer how you used your skills, knowledge, and expertise to make an impact. In the 6th and final part of our STEM resume series, we will cover the final 5% of your resume.


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 some 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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