T H E   N I H    C A T A L Y S T P T R -  O C T O B E R    1 9 9 8 

  H  O  T   M  E  T  H  O  D  S


by Doug Loftus, NCI

Barry Hoffer and Story Landis

If you've submitted papers for critical peer review, you know that it can be humbling and not a little anxiety provoking. What could be exponentially worse, however, is submitting not just a single paper, but yourself, in your job-seeking postdoc entirety, to the same kind of scrutinyin other words, submitting your relevant life story to the powers that be as you vie with other candidates for plum positions in academic and corporate job markets.

Crafting a curriculum vitae (vital stats; an outline of accomplishments) and résumé (a more descriptive elaboration of that outline) that stand up to a rigorous, competitive review process can be daunting. To help NIH postdocs improve their chances of success, the NIH Fellows Committee, the Office of Education, and the Office of Research on Women's Health held a CV and Résumé Writing Workshop July 10 in the Lipsett Amphitheatre.

A capacity crowd heard the workshop leadersNIDA Scientific Director Barry Hoffer, NINDS SD Story Landis, and Randall Kincaid of Veritas, Inc., a Rockville biotech companyhammer out their best advice on how to "make the short list"be one of the handful of people, often among hundreds of applicants, to survive the first cut and be called in for an interview.

Nothing succeeds like success, so if your postdoctoral career has been legendary, you might have employers clamoring for you. But for the average, or "merely" above-average, candidate, a finely crafted application package is the key to getting your foot in the door. Even if you've done some high-profile work within your field, your application may be reviewed by several people who've never heard of you. As Hoffer suggested, "You sort of have to pretend you've come from Mars, and [all] they're going to know about you is what's in your résumé."

Although specific application requirements vary with the position, an application should conform to the general format below. And unless an e-mail or HTML format is requested, materials always should be sent by regular U.S. mail.

Your package should include:

  • A one-page cover letter, briefly stating why you are writing and what you have enclosed. Avoid redundancy with other enclosed material.

  • A CV, consisting of: education (beginning with college degree), research and teaching experience, any administrative experience, awards, professional society memberships, and grants (if any; postdocs early in their careers might consider applying for a K22 award; see <http://www.nih.gov/grants/guide/rfa-files/RFA-ES-98 -001.html > for more details). Only professionally relevant items should be included. As Hoffer noted, "The clock starts ticking in graduate school." Thus, all awards and positions listed should be from graduate school onward. Be certain that honors or fellowships listed reflect competitive awards (the IRTA is not a competitive award; a FARE award is).

Landis also brought up the matter of "taste." Using an example of an unnecessarily embellished CV, she pointed out elements that could be a turn-off to a committee member. For example, "Who's Who"-type listings are a bit on the "cheesy" side, she implied, and indiscriminate parading of awards may, to a reviewer, reflect an undesirable trait. Some audience members were dismayed that anyone should incur a penalty for receiving honors, highlighting the fact that there is an arbitrary element to the application review processsubjective judgments.

In general, Landis suggested, your CV is a high-maintenance item, requiring continual updating and shaping, so that it reflects only your most important accomplisments. "You have to think of your CV as a living organism, as a tree that you have to trim," she advised.

  • List of publications. Putting your name in boldface type in your bibliography helps committee members quickly assess if your name is in the "right" placefirst or last. Hoffer urged postdocs and their mentors to discuss authorship issues and, ideally, establish that one or two peer-reviewed papers will carry the postdoc as the first author. If you feel you may be deficient in this area, be sure to point out any papers in which you were a corresponding author or perhaps a second author but given an "equal credit shared with first author" footnote.

  • Résumé. This is an item on which opinions diverged. Hoffer suggested including a narrative, up to three pages, of your research experience that brings out additional elements that may not be apparent from your CV. This might include administrative duties, supervision of less experienced personnel, supplemental training, and perhaps engagements as a ple
    nary speaker at symposia. For an industry position, this type of narrative can be helpful to the employer and should be included. However, especially for academic positions, Landis advocated a more economical approach: Give them precisely what they ask for
    no more, no less.

  • Research statement. (for academic jobs) and/or a description of technical skills (for industry). Again, what you send depends on what is requested. Usually this consists of a brief summary of your current work and plans for the future, including plans for funding if possible. Companies frequently do not ask for research statements, because they already have an agenda. According to Kincaid, biotech companies often are interested in what skills or expertise you bring to their efforts, including computer-related experience, and it helps to highlight these capabilities separately. Also, for any research position, include reprints of two or three salient publications.

  • References. If letters are requested, have them enclosed or sent under separate cover by referees as soon as possible. If names only are requested, three to five individuals should be listed, ideally including both thesis and postdoctoral mentors.

    Finally, attention to production values is criticaleliminate typographical errors, and make sure that grammar and syntax are impeccable. With as many as 200­300 applications flooding academic departments each recruiting season, give search committee members the slightest excuse to can your application, and they will. They have to. For the sake of time and money,employers must limit the number of candidates they interview.

    With a good record of research, some attention to detail, and perhaps a bit of luck, your application could end up in the small stack of five or six invitees. Then, all you have to worry about is your job interview. But that's another workshop (let's hope).

Need a Job? a Grant?

All NIH fellows are invited to attend a series of workshops on "What They Never Taught You in Graduate/Medical School." All workshops will be held in Building 10, Lipsett Amphitheater from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m.

September 28, 1998: Job Hunting, Part 1

October 19, 1998: Job Hunting, Part 2

January 11, 1999: Oral Presentations

February 8, 1999: Writing Research Articles

March 8, 1999: Grantspersonship

May 10, 1999: Personnel Skills

Return to Table of Contents