Funny things I’ve seen in resumes

I’ve probably blogged about this somewhere before, a LONG LONG time ago.  I had a sheet of paper on my desk with some of the funny things I’ve seen people write in resumes, and as I’m cleaning out my desk, I thought this would be a good time to just write some of them out so that I don’t lose them.  Every time I see these, they crack me up. This is also a good list of things you shouldn’t put into your resume.  Some of them were brilliant, others were devastating.

1.  Aiming high.

We were looking to hire a co-op student, junior programmer, and he had this to say in his cover letter:

“I have ideas about how to organize staff, optimize hardware, improve software & eliminate any inefficiency you might have.  All my new ideas bring profit.”

Alas, we already had an executive team – and the company was only a year old so our inefficiencies were pretty limited at the time.  However, we were never convinced that he would be a great programmer that could focus on the task at hand – and not be side tracked into trying to find news ways to bring us profit.

2. A little too short

Another applicant for a similar position took a completely different approach.  Instead of writing a cover letter, the applicant simply wrote out a couple of points on his resume, with the whole thing taking up less than half a page – and with pretty much no formatting. My favorite part of the resume was the final two lines:

“After work
Skydiving, rock climing, bungee jumping, animation, RC airplanes”

Aside from the complete lack of punctuation (there was not a single period in the entire resume), all I really got out of this was that the applicant liked putting his life in jeopardy and couldn’t write full sentences.  He didn’t merit an interview either.

3. Who wrote the resume?

How you present yourself is pretty important, and worth thinking about as well.  One of my all time favorites was from an applicant that referred to him/herself in the third person periodically – in bold typeface – throughout the resume.  Every section would look something like this:

“FIT: Jane Doe Likes People, and People Seem to Like Her”

It was creative, but just a little creepy. I have to give them credit for trying, and even more so for the footnote at the bottom of the resume:

“Don’t worry, Jane Doe doesn’t speak in the third person in interviews.”

I really hope not – but I don’t seem to recall having put that to the test.  In hindsight, I wish I had.

4. Mission accomplished.

Cover letter writing can be a hard job.  Not everyone really gets how to do it well – after all, it really has two parts to it: selling yourself and responding to the job post.  Getting that done well is a true skill – and an under appreciated one at that.

However, sometimes people aim a little low and make the mistake of writing things like:

“My objective is to apply for a job at your company.”

Needless to say, by the time someone at the company has received your resume, you deserve a pat on the back for having accomplished exactly what you set out to do.  I hope that the applicant aimed higher the next time and had the objective of getting the interview at least.

5. Hobbies

The hobbies section can back fire on a resume.  When it works, you can create an instant connection or provide interesting bits and pieces to discuss during an interview.  For instance, I found myself discussing music once with someone who had made a point of mentioning their interest in classical music.  An instant bond can sometimes be as simple as that.

However, beware the person who puts down obscure, or somewhat embarrassing hobbies. My all time favorite was the person who emphasized:

“Making Kung-Fu Movies”

I always wonder what adventures we might have had, if we’d have hired that applicant.

6. Linguistic/Cultural issues

It’s difficult enough to apply for jobs when you speak the same language as the employer, but it must be something even more difficult when it’s in a language you don’t speak fluently.  However, sometimes the barriers are beyond a simple language barrier – which can themselves be hard enough to overcome.

One in particular stands out with a bold header that started off with something like:

“I am the author of a discovery.”

It was a strange enough way to start, but the rest of the resume was a mashup of emails the applicant had exchanged from renowned people in his field, as well as a narrative story of the trials he/she had faced in their career.  The whole thing was entirely unprofessional and I have always wondered if it was a cultural thing, a linguistic thing, or just simply someone who just really marched to the beat of their own drum.

I do suspect that the applicant could have benefited from an hour or two with an English speaker, and maybe someone who had written or edited resumes for applicants who had achieved some success in their job hunt.

7. Follow up

My last note note to end this post is an email I received after we’d been accepting resumes for a couple of weeks.  I’ve kept this email because it’s a stark reminder to me that you don’t always know what’s going on at the other end – and you can seriously shoot yourself in the foot if you’re not paying attention to details.

“Dear Sir/Madam,

I have called [your company] a couple of times and also i had send my CV and covering letter for the position [title].  As i didn’t hear from you for a long time should i consider as not eligible for this position.

Thank you very much for not showing any interest inspite of my telephone calls.

[signed]”

I do remember the phone calls – which were mercifully not sent to me, but to another colleague.  I don’t think the applicant actually made any friends by repeatedly calling and harassing people at the company about when his interview would be scheduled – and I actually don’t remember the guy’s resume at all.  However, the email he sent put the nail in the coffin in any hopes he had of being hired.

And, naturally, he sent the email about a week before the cut off date that was clearly displayed in the job posting to which he’d applied.  His resume was undoubtedly in the stack that we were going to look through, but It most certainly didn’t make it into the short listed set.

Summary

There are a million ways to make yourself look good – and likely a few million more to make yourself look bad.  Take the time to get outside opinions on what you’re putting into your resume, and make sure it showcases your skills and talents, rather than highlighting what could be considered flaws.

While I’m no longer going to carry my little paper around with these jewels on it, I will always remember the fantastic people I got to meet during the interview process.  Being part of a growing company can be a wonderful experience, and the credit always belongs with the applicants – and, of course, the successful new employees.

Preparing for “the After”

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about “the after”. That is, the post-PhD period. Personally, I’ve got a job lined up and the details are generally falling into place. While I’ll save the talk about moving for later, I thought it would still be a good opportunity for reflection, as things could have turned out quite differently.  I searched for other posts on the topic, but mostly found advice on how to become an academic, or how to find industry jobs – not quite the same thing as how to gracefully exit a PhD.  (Of course, it could be argued that I’m not exactly exiting gracefully and shouldn’t be giving advice, but that’s a matter of opinion.)

Several things stood out for me in the process. Right from the start, I probably shouldn’t have started thinking about “the after” until closer to my defense. This was a major mistake on my part.  Without a defense date in hand, I was simply operating on someone else’s assurances that I’d be done at a given time. Regardless of who it was that said it was possible, dates WILL slip until a defense date has been filed with the university.  As a grad student, you are dependent on other people setting aside time to edit, comment and process your thesis.  Your tuition does not pay their salaries.  Well, actually, it does, but they’re still not a service industry.  (ie, if your university gives someone 6 weeks to respond to your thesis, they’ll take 5.999999 weeks, if not 7 weeks.)

Anyhow, given that I messed that part up, there were other valuable lessons that I learned.

First, take the time to work out what you want to be doing “after”.  There’s no point in hunting for your dream job, if you don’t know what that dream job is.  Easier said than done, but an important first step – and gets my longest rant.  (feel free to skip down, if you want the tl;dr version)

Personally, I had spent a lot of time on this one issue, but even so, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted. One of my committee members took the time to promote the academic career to me about a year ago, and it left an impression on me.  I had to re-evaluate if that was something that would fit – and for nearly a year I seriously contemplated an academic track. A more ruthless consideration of whether I was happy with the actual job would probably have helped.  (Readers of my blog might remember a few posts when I was seriously debating the two possible courses.  In the end, I came to the conclusion that i just can’t see myself pursuing grants… but I would be happy to talk with investors again.)

In fact, I even went so far as to visit a highly respected academic institution who’s researchers work in the field in which I was most interested only to discover that I just didn’t fit there.  It wasn’t something I knew before going, but it became incredibly apparent after visiting.  While there, I gathered a lot of information that I needed in order to do some serious soul searching to figure it out. To have saved everyone the time and effort, I should have spoken to more people before – and filtered some of that advice much more rigorously.

I also had an opportunity to do something that would have given me a lot of responsibility, to work with a great team (ok, it was really an exceptional team) and to stay in Vancouver – and in the end, I had to turn it down for the simple reason that I really wanted to stay “hands on” in bioinformatics a little longer.  Once I figured out what it was I wanted to be doing, the choice became clear – even though the decision was still hard to make.  (I might kick myself for it later, but that remains to be seen.)

Second, while I don’t think you should be working on your “after” plans from the start of your graduate degree, remember that networking starts long before you’re ready to graduate.  As it turns out, I met the contact that led to my position several years ago, well before I was even close to finishing.

Actually, that itself is probably worthy of it’s own post.  However, the short version of how I found my “after” plan involves meeting and talking with someone over several years at AGBT, where I would spend 12 hours a day taking notes, 6 hours trying to network at parties, and maybe 5 hours sleeping, all while jetlagged.  The last time I met him in person I was working through a 9 hour jetlag.  The fact that I was able to hold coherent conversations at all, and that the people I met didn’t write me off because of it should be considered a miracle! You never know who will lead to a great position – or who might point you in the right direction – and there’s no reason to think that only contacts you meet at the end will be the ones that can help you find your dream job.

There are two minor points that should be apparent from my example: 1. even when you’re not at your best, try to be at your best!  You never know who will lead you to a job, a contact or a collaboration.  Networking is important, and I can’t stress that enough – even for a nerd like myself – even when you don’t think you’re networking.  2) Keep an open mind – but don’t waste other people’s time. I’ve interviewed people for positions before who had no real interest in taking it, once it was offered.  It doesn’t help anyone out, and doesn’t reflect well on you either.

Third, set a time line.  This may be the one thing I did right – Once I had an offer, I set a time limit on when I wanted to make a final decision. This had several effects:  It made me invest the time that went into the search up front, it also forced me to stop looking at some point and, of course, it leveled the playing field, so to speak – everyone I spoke to knew when I expected to have a decision so that the process wouldn’t be dragged out.  Admittedly, it felt dragged out, but that’s probably the time dilation that comes from working on a thesis.

A few things could have gone more smoothly, however: I should have had a time line that matched up with my defense date, rather than with my anticipated time of completion.  However badly off the time line was, it forced the process to be relatively transparent both for my self and for the people I spoke with.  I certainly didn’t want to leave anyone waiting for an answer.

The time line also had the effect of clearing off my desk.  Once the process was done, at least I could focus back on the task at hand: finishing my thesis.

Fourth, use your time wisely.  That might sound like a silly warning, but I could have done better.  There will come a time during your thesis writing when you realize you have nothing to do. You’ll be waiting on people to get back to you, or waiting on revisions, or something of the sort.  It is a great time to start your job search.

Having jumped the gun on this one, I’m instead using the time to plan an inter-continental move, so I guess I’m not doing too badly.  Yet, it did make the writing period a bit more stressful as I was setting aside time to meet/phone people while trying to hash out the drafts and chapters.  Deciding your career path does have a strange tendency to distract you from writing about your work.

Also, and as a complete aside, airplanes and laptops are a great combination.  You can write an awful lot without any distractions when you have a total of ~1.5 cubic meters of space – and no where to go.

Finally, talk to everyone you can.  If you’re not dead set on one specific job, it can really help to have sounding boards with whom you can discuss your options.  The more you know about things, the better.  Of course, that’s not to say that you should let people convince you not to do something you’d like to – but the more you know, the better prepared you will be for deciding where you want your life to do.

And, the corollary is, naturally, to listen to what they have to say.

So – recap time:

  • Work out your schedule so you know when you’ll be available to start the “after” part of your life.
  • Try to figure out what it is you want to be doing and get a clear picture of what you want and need.
  • Talk to people about what’s available that matches your dream job – or find out if your mental picture is real.
  • Build a realistic time line that includes deadlines for when you’ll have decisions.
  • Manage your time wisely
  • Talk with your friends to find out what they know – and to work through the tough choices.

If you manage to do all of that, you should be in good shape.

The next question, however, is: did I miss anything? What other advice should you give for planning your exit from your grad school degree?

Letting the Cat out of the Bag.

It is finally official – I’ll be leaving Canada and going to Europe (Denmark) in December – joining the team at CLC bio in just over a month. You’ll have to excuse my holding off on letting everyone know.  Of course, things have been in the works for some time yet, but the last few pieces have only clicked into place this week.  And, of course, one doesn’t want to jump the gun by announcing these things before everything is in place.

Of course, this doesn’t mean I’ve finished my PhD yet.  There are a still a few more hurdles – my thesis has to go through my committee and the external examiner, and I still need to officially defend it – but it was looking like the soonest that could happen would be February, and with everything going on, my wife and I decided it would be better to just start the process of settling in to Denmark as soon as possible.

So, consequently, if you read my blog, you’ll probably hear a little bit more about some topics that are currently on my mind: learning Danish (lære Dansk), traveling, maybe some cultural collisions (Danish people don’t have closets?)  and possibly some photography, depending on how busy I am.  (Yes, now that I’m not actively writing my thesis for 6-8 hours a day, I seem to have more time.)

But don’t worry – in the next month, I still have a few things I want to blog about, and likely a few papers to review.  Even though I’m leaving Grad School, I’m not leaving science behind.

To be candid, I’m looking forward to starting up at CLC partly because of the job, which already sounds pretty awesome, and because of the people.  I’ve met some of the people I’ll be working with – albeit briefly – and I’m excited to have the chance to work with them.  I can honestly say that they one one of the nicest groups of people I’ve ever met.  Must be something in the water. (-;

Anyhow, to complete the circular nature of this post (like all good fugues, which is the way to write a good post, particularly if you’ve read Gödel, Escher Bach, if that’s not getting way to involved) I have one last point to clarify. As foreshadowed lightly by the title of this post, yes, my pets will be coming with me – and undoubtedly my cat will be thrilled to be let out of the bag once we’ve arrived in Denmark… so the moving process will be bookended, effectively, by letting cats (figurative and literal) out of their respective bags.

Ollie - My wife says we have the same nose.

Why should one become an academic?

You know what?  No one ever bothers to sell the academic path.  In all the time I’ve been in school, and even during my time in industry, no one has ever tried to tell me why I should want to become an academic.

There are a hell of a lot of blogs saying why one should abandon the path to academia, but not a single one that I could find saying “hey everyone, this is why I think academia is great”.  It’s as though everyone is born wanting to be an academic, and you only have to hear the other side to be convinced away from the natural academic leanings.

Of course, there’s a huge amount of competition for academic positions, so it isn’t exactly like people want to encourage incoming students to go down that path.  All that I see in searching the web is the balanced approach about weighing the two options – and that even assumes that all academia is the same, and all industry is the same.  (A blatant lie, if I ever heard one!)

Anyhow, the best I could do in putting together my list of why one should go into academia is in the following set of links.

If there are any academics out there who want to sell the academic path, this would be a great topic for future posts.  I’d love to read it.

As best as I can glean, the only reasons for it are “better working hours, once you become tenured” and “you can be your own boss”.   Seriously, there must be more to it than that!  Anyone?

Looking for advice on moving to Europe

My wife and I have seriously been contemplating the future.  With the figurative grad school light at the end of the tunnel being visible, if not quite in focus yet, we’ve been seriously considering an opportunity to move to northern Europe.  (Yes, I’m being as generic as possible.)  However, neither one of us have lived outside of North America –  and have only visited Europe a couple of times on vacation.  That makes it pretty hard for us to critically evaluate the opportunity.

Thus, crowd-sourcing!   I was wondering if anyone had any advice they might be able to share with us on what we can do to make that move successfully – both things we should or shouldn’t do.  Or, if people think it’s a great idea, or a bad idea.  Really, we’re trying to cast the net as wide as possible on whatever advice people can give us because it’s really hard to make a decision like that without talking with people who have done it.

Some of the outstanding questions we have:

  • How did you find the language learning curve when moving to a non-English country?
  • How much of your stuff did you take with you?  What did you do with the stuff you left behind?
  • How did you find solutions to the “2-body” problem?
  • How long does the culture shock last?
  • Was it a hassle bringing pets?
  • What are the big “gottchas” that you didn’t see coming?
  • How long did it take to organize your move?  How hard was it?
  • Would you suggest that other people do it?
  • How long did you stay? (yes, not leaving ever is also an acceptable answer.)

And, of course, are we even asking the right questions?

Any advice you can give would be helpful for us, and of course, for other people who are faced with this decision in the future.

Thanks!

Working with Jackie Chan.

Since I’ve been posting jobs, I figured I may as well point people to another set of open positions.  Of course, again, I have no relationship with the people posting it… however, I just couldn’t not say anything about this set.

Apparently, if you work in the Pallen Group, you get to work on next gen sequencing pipelines in the lab with Jackie Chan. (Research Fellow in Microbial Bioinformatics)

How cool is that?Jackie Chan

Anyhow, The other position (Research Technician in Bioinformatics), doesn’t (apparently) involve martial arts.

Some open positions at Complete Genomics

In case anyone is looking for a bioinformatics position, Complete Genomics is currently looking to fill at least three positions:

Senior Computational Biologist, Assembly

Complete Genomics is seeking a senior Computational Biologist to develop methods and tools for its sequence assembly pipeline and genomics analysis toolset. The role will require conceiving of analysis approaches to solve key problems in a next-generation DNA sequencing pipeline, then designing, developing, testing, and deploying pragmatic solutions. The new hire will work on a pipeline that each day transforms trillions of sequenced bases into high quality human genome analyses.

Senior Software Engineer, Assembly

Senior Bioinformatician, Pipeline Validation

The assembly pipeline team is an amalgam of exceptional bioinformaticians and software engineers of diverse backgrounds, with an active and lively cross-pollination of ideas and approaches. The team is actively investigating improvements to aid in a wide variety of genomics research applications including cancer, Mendelian diseases, and large scale association studies.

They have also provided the following note:

We are especially interested in seeking out individuals who have had experience in one or more of the following:

  • Developing or modifying algorithms for the analysis of next-generation sequence read data (on the lines of GATK, Firehose, or similar)
  • Developing sets of relevant functional annotations to associate with DNA sequence variations, and analyses of annotated data for the detection of disease-associated variants in pedigrees, tumor-normal pairs, or unrelated genome sets.
  • Analyses of sequenced genomes against standard data (internal and external) to estimate errors, calibrate scores, identify signals of interest, etc…
  • We’re open to people who have spent time in academic or research settings.

If you’d like more information, the have more details at the complete genomics careers page.

Disclosure: I am not in any way affiliated with Complete Genomics – I just happen to think they’re a really interesting company and am always impressed with how accepting they are of social media.