Susan E Caldwell

Susan E Caldwell, PhD

If you’re a medical writer or in a related profession, how can you make sure that you still have work in these tough economic times? Important for staff and freelancers alike, marketing your name and abilities can be done in many ways. In the tips below, we’re going to look at ways to create a resume that opens new job opportunities. Based on my years of revewing medical writers’ resumes, here are my thoughts:

1. Resume Format. Your resume’s format should be simple and pleasing to the eye. Because resumes are often put in databases, the simpler the format, the better. Using a simple format should avoid the need to reformat before your resume is uploaded into a database. If the organization and formatting are simple, this makes it easier for readers to find information in the resume. When you submit your resume to a recruiter or job board, submit it as a Microsoft Word file, but don’t use special formatting. In other words, avoid bullets, bolding, italics, indents, and other formatting that are lost when you save your file in plain text format (.txt). If you do use special formatting, your resume may look like alphabet soup after it’s put in a database.

Your resume should be divided into sections, each with a heading that tells the reader what is in that section. Here are some sections typically found in resumes and their approximate order:

a. Summary
b. Introduction and/or Career Goals Statement
c. Work History or Professional Accomplishments (if candidate has work history)
d. Academic Background
e. Skills
f. Honors and Awards
g. Publications
h. Licenses and Certifications
i.  References

There are many variations of the organization shown above, so use what’s appropriate for your line of work and career stage. Leave out the sections that don’t apply to you–for example, don’t include the last section if you have no licenses or certifications.

When you’re ready to format your resume, consider looking at the many examples of resumes online. Seeing the structure of other resumes may help you decide on your own resume’s format and organization. Finally, review the comments below about specific sections of the resume and what information to include in them.

2. Targeting the Job. Decide what your target job or assignment is, and custom-tailor your resume to it. How do you do that? You should use in your resume the key concepts, terms, and abbreviations for your target field, which shows that you know its language. Examples might include the terms FDA, investigator brochure (IB), and style guide. Another way to target your resume is to be even more specific: rewrite portions of your resume to match the job description, including the keywords for that job. This strategy sounds like a lot of work, but it can pay huge dividends. When you submit a targeted resume, it’s more likely you will be considered a great match for the position.

3. Emphasis. Emphasize your best accomplishments (for example, an approved eCTD submission that you worked on). Make it clear that you got the job done in an effective way, particularly if it saved time or money. You can do this by positioning these stellar achievements toward the front, writing more about them, and/or including specific comments about them in your resume Summary section. If there’s a web site that illustrates or supplements information about your accomplishment, link that information to your resume.

4. Lying on Your Resume. This one is simple: don’t lie on your resume. It’s a bad idea for several reasons. Not only is it wrong, but if you exaggerate or lie, you may be in over your head if you do get the job. In addition, employers do check resume facts, and they are likely to identify any lies or inconsistencies.

5. Errors in Your Resume. If you’re seeking a job or new contract assignment, your resume should be flawless. That is, it should have no typos, misspellings, incorrect grammar, or other writing errors. If you want to open the door to a job interview, show the reader that you are careful about your writing. As a medical writer, the writing that appears in your resume will be the first writing sample an employer sees. Make sure that it will stand up to scrutiny.

6. Resume as a Living Document. The resume’s purpose is to get your foot in the door for an interview. Ensure that your resume is always current and well crafted; it should be a living document. Update it every time you have new material to add to it. If you don’t keep your resume updated, you may forget to include important new information that can strengthen your profile. On the other hand, if your resume is always current, you’ll be able to send it to recruiters or potential employers on a moment’s notice.  The ability to respond quickly with your resume is just another advantage in a competitive job market.

Here are some tips that relate to specific resume sections:

7. Summary. At the start of your resume, include a short (usually 1 to 2 paragraphs) thumbnail summary of your work experience and academic background. It’s also appropriate to have a statement that tells the reader what your want to do in your next job.

8. Academic Background and Continuing Education Section. The academic background section should include your earned degrees, the name of the institution where you earned the degree, and the dates when they were conferred. If you have earned an advanced degree, this section may be a good place to list the title of your thesis or dissertation, if any. Another section can include the continuing education and training courses you’ve taken, listing the subject matter or title and dates. And here’s an important tip: whenever possible, include specific dates for educational accomplishments. The dates add to your credibility, and their absence can be conspicuous.

As you advance in your career, your academic background becomes less important than your work history. After you have a work history, especially if it’s in medical writing, consider moving the academic background information in your resume to a location that follows your work history.

9. Work History or Professional Achievements Section. In a separate section of your resume, include specific details about your work history. The reverse chronological work history format, with the most recent job first, often works well—but do what’s appropriate for your industry. The work history section should describe your milestone accomplishments for each job or contract assignment.

As with the academic background section, include the start and stop dates for the jobs and/or contract work that you’ve done. The dates will give you added credibility. However, be aware that any gaps in your work history will show when you include dates, so be prepared to explain in an interview why the gaps occurred.

10. Publications Section. If you’ve authored any publications, put a list of them in your resume with the full citations in a consistent reference format. For publications with multiple authors, you should include all of the authors’ names. Finally, if you have access to electronic copies of your publications, consider hyperlinking those citations in your resume to the actual articles. In so doing, your reader can easily find and read examples of your work.

Done well, your resume will open many doors for you, including some you may want to walk through. There are many resources on the internet that will help you create an excellent resume. Take the time to use them, too! You’ll be glad you did.

11.  Licenses and Certifications Section.  This section may not apply to some folks, but if you have a license or are certified in a relevant skill (eg, an MD who is board-certified in plastic surgery), you should include that information in this section.

12. References Section. This section could be included in your resume or not. I like to make a statement in this section on my own resume that simply says that my references will be provided on request. This means that I can wait to request the favor of a reference from my colleagues until I know there is a good chance the employer/client will seriously want to review my references.

About the Author

After 10 years of laboratory research, Susan Caldwell did a major career course correction and never looked back. She found she could make a career of doing what she loves—writing—and applied it to her background in biomedical research. Since 1995, she has directed medical writers at five life-science companies, including the company she founded in 2005, Biotech Ink, LLC. Her specialty is writing regulatory documents for clinical, preclinical, and manufacturing activities that support the development of biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and medical device products. She also has considerable experience writing book chapters, newsletters, brochures, white papers, web content, and many other document types.

Susan’s weekly medical writing newsletter, the Biotech Ink Insider, provides career information and listings of open staff and contract medical writing jobs. Archives are available for downloading.

You can email Susan at, phone her (650-286-9300), see her LinkedIn profile, follow her on Twitter, or, if you’re interested in medical writing, join her Medical Writers Twibe. You can also check out her videos about the craft of writing on her YouTube channel.

Copyright 2009-2011 Biotech Ink, LLC. All rights reserved.

24 responses »

  1. I like the article on resume writing. It was very informative. Thanks!

  2. Sriram says:

    The article was very informative and useful. Thank you so much!

  3. Nice article that covers the basics of resume writing. In regards to the references section, the general consensus is that it should not be included in the resume. Hiring managers know that you will provide references if you are serious about wanting the job.

    • Joshua,

      I completely agree with you. I wouldn’t want the folks who are helping me by providing a reference to be asked for one, unless the issue of a job is at a very serious stage of consideration. Thanks for bringing this point out.

      Best regards,


  4. […] continue to include Susan Caldwell’s nicely written article “10 Tips for Creating a Door-Opening Resume” in this section. Even if you’re not a medical writer, you can find useful tips in this […]

  5. Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering if you knew of any widgets
    I could add to my blog that automatically
    tweet my newest twitter updates. I’ve been looking for a plug-in like this for quite some time and was hoping maybe you would have some experience with something like this. Please let me know if you run into anything. I truly enjoy reading your blog and I look forward to your new updates.

    • Thanks for the compliment, but I’m sorry, I don’t have any suggestions for a widget that will automatically tweet your Twitter updates. Suggest checking some blogs or other sites that focus on Twitter-related software.

  6. great post, very informative. I wonder why the opposite experts of
    this sector do not understand this. You must continue your writing.
    I am confident, you have a huge readers’ base already!

  7. Hi Susan,

    This post is really informative 🙂

    Do you consider that writing a letter describing background of the applicant and why he/she would like to take up medical writing job (for entry level applicants) would be of any help? A kind of motivation letter or statement of purpose.
    Because for entry level medical writer it could be a way to show an eye for English, accuracy in writing and; logical flow and synthesis of content.
    I am working as a medical advisor in a pharma consultancy service and considering further carrier as medical writer.


    Keep posting nice writing stuff!

    • Generally, the hiring manager wants information on the job candidate quickly, which is why the resume works well. You could try a cover letter, but the topics of your background and reasons for taking up medical writing are usually covered in the interview, if there is one. For this reason, I suggest you use your resume to summarize your background, putting any information toward the front that supports the idea of your working as a medical writer (eg, any publications, posters, medical writing course work). Unless the target employer specifically asks for a letter, I think it is likely to be a waste of your time and possibly annoying to the hiring manager.

  8. Great article. I will be experiencing some of these
    issues as well..

  9. law jobs says:

    Hello! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I truly enjoy reading your posts.
    Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that cover
    the same topics? Appreciate it!

    • Thanks–I’m glad you like my blog. I’m sure there are other medical writing blogs available, but perhaps with a slightly different focus than mine. I’ve tried to shine a light on medical writing as a career for a variety of reasons. It’s a fabulous career, it’s little known or understood, lots of people seem to want to transition into it from other careers, and I keep getting asked questions about it! Hope the articles are helpful to you.



  10. Dhananjay says:

    This is really useful information. Thank you very much for blogging on this subject. Would you recommend any particular length for the resume, as how many pages, font size and spacing? I have about 10-12 publications and that itself occupies about half a page. I understand that hiring managers often ignore long resumes (more than two pages)? I am having a tough time fitting all these details in two pages!

    • When you have a list of publications to include in a resume, the resume becomes pretty long. Here’s what I do: I include my most recent 2-3 publications in the resume, but include a sentence in that section that tells the reader that I have X number of publications, and that the complete list is available on request.

      In addition, if you can provide hyperlinks in your resume to some of your publications in Pubmed, it looks really great in PDF format.



  11. sad says:

    hi susan
    your blog is really helpful and attention grasping. i need your sincere advice. i want to start my career in medical writing. what should i do.i have a background knowledge of pharmacy being a medicinal chemist by profession and 2 years of teaching experience in relevant can i get experience in this field without being employed as writer.
    i look forward to hear from you.
    thanking you.

  12. I’m not tɦat much of a іnternet reader to be honest but your sites really niϲe,
    keep it up! I’ll gο ahead and bookmarқ your website to come back later.

  13. Sandra S says:

    Hi Susan,
    I just found this blog and so far it has been very informative. I have a PhD in biology and after two years as a postdoc, I realize that I would rather be a science writer working with creatives to create visual content for education or for the general public. I have no experience, so I am not sure what to write on my cover letter to a prospective employer. I have several publications, but prefer to write in layman’s terms. I have no idea what they need to know given that I do not have experience.

    Thanks for your help!

    • Sandra,

      Glad you like my blog. I can’t provide advice on the area of writing you want to pursue, as this isn’t something that I’ve done. Your education and postdoc training are also clearly important credentials.

      My guess is that your publications will be important and should be presented in some form in your resume; despite the technical content, they do speak to your ability to write well in the life sciences. You might want to make a list of publications and also provide a sample of them as a PDF, with all or part of the publications concatenated in one file. This sample of your publications would provide compelling, visible evidence that you are a published author.

      Regarding how to write the cover letter, you can certainly cite your publications as evidence of your productivity. Suggest you study some job descriptions from such employers to get an idea of what they’re looking for and tailor your letter as much as possible toward addressing those traits.

      Best of luck in your career,


  14. This is very useful. Thank you for this article.

  15. STEPHEN PAM says:

    very good article

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