“Highlights” in your CV (for scientists)

Highlights, also known as “Profile”, “Summary”, or “Key Attributes”, is a list of 3-5 bullet points (ok, for academic positions 6 at the very most) with your key skills, achievements, and experiences relevant for the position you are applying for. Although “Highlights” is an optional section, many modern CVs have them. Personally, I believe Highlights are a great feature which allow you to emphasise experiences and skills in a prominent position of your CV that might otherwise be deeply buried in other sections.

For example: a company is looking for someone with experience in qPCR and you didn’t do a single qPCR in the last five years. However, during your BSc project you did plenty of qPCRs. In your CV your qPCR experience is hidden somewhere in the middle of your “Education” section. You can try to give it extra visibility by moving it to the very top of your skills section, but still, a reader might simply miss it. Using a Highlights Section, you can write as one of your bullet points, “Experience in qPCR, CRISPR-Cas9, and tri-parental mating.” And…. abracadabra… qPCR will catch the eye of the reader!

Where to put it in your CV?

Usually, Highlights are the first section of your CV and is placed at the top of the first page, just below your personal details… (the personal data you provide differs between countries, see my article in Chemistry World). Alternatively, if you use a cover page (still common in e.g. Germany), you can place the Highlights Section here.

How (not) to write it?

Your Highlights Section should be tailored to each job and employer you apply at. It should show your core strengths relevant for the employer and grab their attention so your CV doesn’t get ignored. You should avoid generic statements that everyone could use, such as “Excellent communication skills, team player and a positive attitude.” Some buzzwords are overused and if possible to be avoided, such as “dynamic”, “problem solver”, “motivated”, “innovative”, “team player”, “hardworking” and “results-oriented.”

A few examples

Highlights for an academic research position

  • Internationally-oriented DNA chemist with 9 years of experience in well-known universities (UK, Germany, and Belgium)
  • 4 successful grant applications worth a total of 140 000 €
  • 40 publications, 1000 citations, h-Index = 10, most prestigious 1st author journal is Angewandte Chemie
  • Successfully supervised 6 PhD students, 12 MSc students, 13 BSc students
  • Curriculum development and teaching of a wide range of organic chemistry classes using modern media techniques

You Must Be Very Intelligent – The PhD Delusion by Karin Bodewits

Fresh PhD graduate highlights for a project manager position in a global industry

  • Life scientist (virologist/ epidemiologist) with good organisational skills developed during projects with tight deadlines.
  • Comprehensive intercultural and international experiences (UK, the Netherlands, Spain)., worked in global teams.
  • Excellent communicator of complex data and science.
  • Guitar player, blues fanatic, and rock climber.

Senior scientist highlights for an R&D position in industry

  • Chemist with 5 years postdoctoral experience in XXX research.
  • Background in XXX and XXX, XXX and XXX.
  • Successful supervision and motivation of laboratory technicians and students.
  • Set-up of documentation system for instrument SOPs in research group.

Highlights for a management consultancy position

  • Natural scientists and critical thinker with strong persuading and negotiation skills.
  • Fast adaptation to new challenges and surroundings: Marie-Curie PhD programme with eight collaboration partners who were all visited in person.
  • Global mindset and a passion for traveling, showcased by a wide range of international experiences.
  • Excellent communicator of complex problems to people with diverse backgrounds (winner of Science Slam, Munich 2017).

Highlights for a patent law position

  • Broad scientific background and interest in chemistry and biotechnology.
  • Intercultural competence (lived and worked in France, UK, and Sweden) and multi-lingual (fluent in French, German and English)
  • Experience in writing scientific texts in two languages (English and French)
  • Commercial mind-set and business awareness, exemplified by two industry internships and freelance work

Instead of ‘Highlights’ in the form of bullet points (as above), you could also write a personal statement. A personal statement is a short blurb of 3-4 sentences about your career, showing who you are, a carefully picked selection of your strengths and skills relevant for the job and your professional goals. Though a personal statement has some charm, the challenge is to not have overlap between your cover letter and the statement. As many people already struggle to write an engaging, targeted cover letter, the bullet points (as above) might be easier to write. But no matter what format you pick, it should catch the attention and make sure your CV doesn’t get ignored.

Written by Karin Bodewits

Karin is co-founder of NaturalScience.Careers and works as an author, speaker and seminar leader for a range of communication topics, and is the author of ‘You Must Be Very Intelligent — The PhD Delusion’. 


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