Written by Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.
It was 9PM and I finally finished my last experiment for the day. I made a deal with myself that I would stop working at this time and start sending out résumés. I wanted to get a PhD-level job in industry and figured all I needed to do was spend the last hour of each day uploading my résumé to job postings online. So, I sat down, polished my résumé and cover letter, and sent them out to a handful of companies.
I really thought it was as simple as that. Get your PhD, fill out a résumé or CV, get a great job …the end. I was wrong. I never heard back from any of the industry positions I applied to. In some cases I got an automatically generated email but that was it. I was really confused. And, if I’m being completely honest, I was hurt and angry. How could someone download my résumé and read through it without at least having the courtesy to email me back a simple “no thanks” or similar? I found out much later that I never received a personal email back because no one was reading my résumé. Well, no person was reading it—a machine was reading it.
Wait …No One Is Even Reading My Résumé?
Most companies will never look at your résumé. That is to say, most companies will never have a human being look at your résumé. Instead, your résumé will go through an automatic filtering system. Once you upload your résumé to a job posting online, the company’s computer program will scan it for keywords. If your résumé does not have the right type, number, combination, sequence, or density of keywords, it will get archived. Which is as good as having it thrown into the trash. Many large companies get up to 2,000 résumés a day. 2,000! Of course they’re not going to hire over 100 people just to read and organize those résumés.
3 Ways To Differentiate Yourself From Other PhDs
If you’re just doing what everyone else is doing, you’ll never get your résumé read. You’ll never get an interview or an actual job either. There’s too much competition. The only way to get industry employers to notice you is to do things differently. Instead of trying to be the best needle in a haystack, try to get as far away from the haystack as possible. Stop trying to force your way through the crowd to get noticed. This strategy will never work. A better strategy is to completely differentiate you from your peers. Here are 7 things you can do to differentiate yourself from other PhDs and industry employers will hand pick you for open positions:
1. Personally deliver your résumé to strategic targets.
The average PhD sits behind their computer and fills out their résumé or CV, uploads it to a company’s website, clicks send, and then goes home. Maybe they take a minute to feel good about themselves for accomplishing something. But they shouldn’t feel good about themselves because all they did is throw both their résumé and an hour of their time in the garbage. These PhDs are not going to get high-level jobs. Even if they’re smart and stuff their résumé full of keywords that they pulled from the job posting’s text—it’s not enough.
The hard truth is most industry jobs are filled through internal promotions or outside referrals. In fact, almost half of all job hires at top tier companies are from referrals. This is why it’s so important to connect to the right people. You have to get associated with professional groups who know the names and details of executives, hiring managers, recruiters, and headhunters. Never send your resume to a company until you have a name—a referral—that you can include with it. Once you get a name, use it to personally deliver it to that person’s inbox, or use it in the first sentence of your cover letter to grab the hiring manager’s attention.
2. Consult with experts to make your résumé or CV a work of art.
If you’re just downloading résumé templates online and hoping the one you choose will get you noticed, you’re in trouble. For starters, résumé designs, styles, and formats quickly go out of style. What worked 6 months ago will not work now. And, if you’re downloading a particular résumé online—guess what—so is everyone else. The only way to stay ahead of the curve is to get professional advice from an exclusive source. Insider tips, like how to design a visual center, will go a long way in getting your résumé and your experience noticed.
The visual center of your résumé starts at 2″ from the top of the page, ends 2″ below that, and is your main selling focus. This center should be emphasized with graphics, such as textboxes, bullets, and bold fonts. Just by glancing at the visual center, the reader should be able to tell what position you are aiming for. Load the visual center of your résumé with the value that you offer to potential clients, such as across-the-board accomplishments, industry-specific skills, a summary of a highly successful project you led, or even a clipping from a recommendation letter (if you are a recent PhD with minimal professional experience) or news article about your work (if you’ve been recognized for your work). If your visual center is interesting and catches the reader’s eye, your résumé will be read a lot more carefully. Whatever you do, don’t just start your résumé with a list of your education history and professional experience.
You should also add something to your résumé that no one else has. Try to see yourself from an interviewers point of view. During the hiring process, most interviewers meet with dozens of PhDs just like you. And, believe it or not, most of them have the same experience level as you. This makes it almost impossible to stand out. The only way to really differentiate yourself is to include something unexpected. Whether it’s joining an elite group of industry professionals, going through a interpersonal skills training program, or attending webinars with MBAs to improve your business acumen, take on something that will differentiate you from all of the other PhDs who have nothing else but publications and grants on their résumés and CVs.
3. Get high-level training in the fields of communication and interpersonal relationships.
Too many PhDs spend 20-30 years of their lives (not to mention thousands of dollars) perfecting their scientific skills, research skills, and writing skills. But very few of these PhDs will ever spend any time perfecting their communication or interpersonal skills. The truth is interpersonal skills are more important than any other skill set you have, especially when it comes to getting a job in industry. This is true no matter the industry—all PhD jobs included. In the book, Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success, Dan Schawbel polled hundreds of industry employers asking “What are the most important traits you look for when hiring?” 98% responded, “communication skills.” A large-scale survey performed by the Center for Creative Leadership found that poor “interpersonal skills” are the number one reason promising industry careers go off course. Another survey by the Workforce Solutions Group found that 60% of all applicants to high-level industry jobs lack adequate communication and interpersonal skills.
As a PhD, the best and most straight forward way to differentiate yourself for an industry job is to show that you’ve received high-level training in both communication and interpersonal relationships. The only way to sharpen these skills is by associating yourself with other high-level professionals and engaging with them on a long-term basis. The key is to not limit yourself to just engaging with other PhDs. Try to engage with high-level academics of all kinds, especially MBAs. The more diverse your training, the more you will stand out.
Don’t be tempted to think that this kind of networking is a waste of time. It’s not. Studies show that successful industry professionals spend 70% more time networking than their less successful counterparts. Other studies have shown that networking in the right circles of people is positively associated with salary growth, number of promotions, perceived career success, and job satisfaction. If you’ve put off improving your interpersonal skills and have yet to join any high-level industry networks, it’s not too late. Start differentiating yourself now.
To learn more about transitioning into a non-academic career, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, join the Cheeky Scientist Association.
Isaiah believes that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life right now, you should make a change. Don’t sit still and wait for the world to tell you what to do. Start a new project. Build your own business. Take action. Experimentation is the best teacher.