3 Keys To Writing Perfect Resume Bullet Points For Your Job Search
Written By: Jeanette McConnell, Ph.D.
I’ve never really been a ‘traditional’ person.
So, it should have come as no surprise when, in the second year of my PhD, I rejected the traditional academic path.
By that I mean, I rejected the “PhD → academic postdoc → hope and pray → professorship” path.
I knew that I wanted something different.
But, I had no idea what was out there or how to get a job that wasn’t a postdoc.
I wondered if the years I spent doing my PhD would become worthless if I left academia.
Outside the university, would my PhD be valuable, and would I be able to find a job?
I was plagued by questions, and the people around me didn’t really have any good answers.
So, I began to talk with people outside academia, to see if they knew where PhDs worked, besides a university.
I discovered that PhDs transition into a huge variety of industry jobs.
Education, manufacturing, consulting, writing, research, sales, product development… the options were endless.
But, I still wasn’t sure if I was qualified for these jobs, or how to get them.
The last time I had written a resume was when I applied for a job at Starbucks, as an undergraduate.
I gave it a try, anyway.
I packed every detail of all the things I did as a PhD student into my resume. It was several pages long.
Then, I submitted my resume to job advertisements for positions that I was interested in, and waited.
I heard nothing but crickets. Not even a rejection. Nothing.
The disappointment and frustration of this experience led me to seek help. Clearly, I was doing something wrong.
Oh boy, was I doing something wrong.
I didn’t know it at the time, but my resume probably never even got looked at by a human.
Resume tracking software would have immediately rejected my verbose and pointless resume.
So, I changed my strategy and began networking so that I could give my resume to a person, not a computer program.
And, when I did make a connection and hand off my resume, I made sure it was a well-crafted, results-driven, industry resume.
When Does Your Resume Matter?
Your resume is one of the least important factors in transitioning into industry.
The real keys to getting out of academia are networking, building rapport, and getting job referrals.
According to Business Insider, at several large companies, nearly 50% of new hires come directly from employee referrals, and the only way to get a referral is to network and build rapport.
But, there comes a time when you will have to hand over your resume, and it’s important that you have a well-crafted industry resume.
Even with a referral, it’s likely that the hiring manager will spend, on average, 6 seconds looking at your resume, as reported in a study by The Ladders.
Just 6 seconds to scan your resume and make the final decision about whether to bring you in for an interview.
To make the decision, that hiring manager is looking to see what you have accomplished.
They are not interested in what you did, but rather, they are interested in the results you achieved.
A referral gets you placed on the top of the pile, but if you have a terrible resume full of mistakes, all the work you put in to get the referral won’t matter.
Your resume matters after you network, add value, and get a referral.
Your resume should be concise, well-formatted, and free from any spelling or grammatical errors.
But, the real substance of your resume is your bullet points.
Each section, from the summary to your hobbies, will have bullet points.
These bullet points are where you tell your persuasive story about why you are the right candidate for the job.
And there is a clear, winning formula for writing the perfect bullet point.
3 Steps To Writing Perfect Resume Bullet Points
Transitioning from academia to industry is a multi-step process.
From identifying your core values and deciding what industry position is right for you, to networking and interviewing, each part is important.
And, along that process, you will have to create a resume.
Your resume will only matter after you get a referral and have to hand over your resume, or at an interview when the person who is interviewing you will ask questions off your resume.
But, you must be prepared with a well-crafted, results-driven industry resume with concise and persuasive bullet points.
Each bullet point is a chance to show the hiring manager that you are the perfect fit for the job.
Here are the 3 key parts of the ultimate resume bullet point that will help you write an excellent resume and get the industry job you deserve…
1. The beginning: highlight a transferable skill.
As a PhD, you have high level technical skills.
You are an expert.
But, there are lots of experts out there, especially if you are applying for a position that requires a PhD.
Somehow, you need to set yourself apart from the other candidates, and demonstrate that you are the best option.
The best way to stand out is by highlighting your transferable skills.
Each bullet point should start with a transferable skill that is relevant to the position you are applying for.
Your bullet point will start with the transferable skill because, to a hiring manager, they are more important than your technical skills.
To figure out what transferable skills the position requires, look through the job posting, or think back to the informational interview you had.
What were some of the skills they mentioned would be important?
It could be things like leadership, conflict resolution, product and market knowledge, business acumen, project management, people management, and so on.
(Not sure what transferable skills you have? Check out this free ebook describing 20 transferable skills for PhDs.)
Naming these skills is how you will begin your bullet points.
A few examples of how to start your bullet point by highlighting a transferable skill are shown below:
- Excellent teamwork and collaboration skills…
- High-level strategic planner…
- Knowledge of current industry trends…
2. The middle: include key technical experience.
After beginning your bullet point with a transferable skill that shows your value, you should follow it with your technical experience.
Your transferable skill is the hook — it is how you catch the attention of the hiring manager.
But, you need to back this up with substance — that’s your technical experience.
Mentioning your technical experience assures the hiring manager that you have the skills needed to get the job done.
But, as a PhD, you have lots and lots of technical skills.
You need to know what skills to include.
To figure this out, go back again to the job posting or think about the conversations you’ve had with the person referring you.
What are the technical skills required for this job?
Use keywords here and be succinct.
Don’t ramble on and on about all the technical things you can do.
They just want to know that you have the skills they are looking for.
Below, are a few examples of how to include your relevant technical experience into your bullet points:
- Excellent teamwork and collaboration skills demonstrated by managing a multifaceted biochemical research project…
- High-level strategic planner with experience analyzing large scientific datasets…
- Knowledge of current industry trends and experience clearly communicating complex topics to diverse audiences…
3. The end: provide a clear, industry-relevant result.
The result is the most important part of your bullet point.
In industry, they care about results, outcomes, and accomplishments — and you need to demonstrate that you understand this.
By placing your bullet points in a results-driven format, you show your potential employer that you can speak the language of industry: results.
Each bullet point should end with a clear, concise, and quantitative result.
You can use simple transitional language at the end of the bullet point like, “resulting in…”, “as demonstrated by…”, or “as evidenced by…” to make the result very clear.
And, the result should be quantitative, meaning it should contain numbers.
A hiring manager is only going to quickly scan your resume, and numbers stand out.
Add the amount of grant funding you helped secure, how many collaborations you built, how many methodologies you created, how many publications were written, how many new technologies you developed, etc.
The actual result doesn’t really matter that much. What matters is that you understand that results are important.
In industry, results make money, and you want to demonstrate that by investing in you, they will make money.
Below are a few examples of bullet points that end with a strong, tangible result:
- Excellent teamwork and collaboration skills demonstrated by managing a multifaceted biochemical research project, resulting in the development of 3 international collaborations and $1.2 million in grant funding.
- High-level strategic planner with experience analyzing large scientific datasets as demonstrated by the optimization of 5 high-throughput methodologies, resulting in 2 new medical treatments.
- Knowledge of current industry trends and experience clearly communicating complex topics to diverse audiences, as evidenced by 3 award-winning scientific presentations and the publication of a microbiology textbook.
Once you have built your professional network and gotten yourself a job referral, there will come a time when you hand over your resume to a hiring manager. Don’t waste all the effort of networking and building rapport by having a poorly written resume. Make the most of each bullet point by including the 3 key parts of a winning bullet point. Start by highlighting your transferable skills, follow with your technical skills, and end the bullet point with a clear industry-relevant result. Coupled with high-level networking, your results-driven resume bullet points will help you transition out of academia and into the industry position of your choice.
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