7 Resume Tips That Are Giving PhDs An Unfair Advantage Over Other Job Candidates

Resume is your marketing document.

PhDs often think that their academic credentials and technical skills should be enough to get them hired in a top industry job. 

They underestimate the importance of learning industry etiquette and focus on uploading resumes filled with scientific jargon and technical skills to every job posting that comes their way.

As a consequence, they end up in a vicious circle of uploading resumes and never hearing back from employers. Most of these PhDs don’t even know that their resumes are getting rejected by Applicant Tracking System Software before they even reach the hands of a real person.

So, how can you break that vicious circle? You need to understand what employers are looking for and add this to your resumes to show them the impact you can have.

This is what one of our Cheeky Scientist Associates had to say about their job search process upon successfully transitioning into industry – “Hard skills are essential but so are soft skills. Employers like candidates who can disseminate ideas clearly. The key is understanding their requirements and communicating how our research background can help solve their problems.

Why Separating Yourself From Other Job Candidates Is To Your Advantage

Over the last months, we have seen record numbers of PhDs getting hired into their dream jobs. However, this doesn’t mean that PhD-level industry positions are easy to get. 

The crisis in academia is getting worse by the minute. This became increasingly clear last year when universities worldwide had to implement hiring freezes and budget cuts across all departments.

As a consequence, PhDs, postdocs, and adjunct professors are massively leaving academia and looking for industry positions, which has made the competition for PhD-level positions harder than ever. 

In order to stand out from this crowd, you need to show from the very beginning that you understand industry etiquette, that you understand what hiring managers are looking for right now, not last year.

Your resume is your first line of communication with a hiring manager. Based on it, they will decide whether or not to call you for a phone screen. 

A good resume is not enough to get you a job but a bad resume is definitely enough to disqualify you from a job application.

So, how do you stand out from the crowd?

First, you need to create optimized resumes with all the right keywords to ensure you get past the Applicant Tracking Software System. Second, you need to show the impact you can make so that employers can tell that you are exactly what they need after a quick glance. 


How To Target Your Industry Resume To Get An Unfair Advantage

Recruiters and hiring managers review hundreds if not thousands of resumes every day. So, they disqualify resumes that doesn’t have all the information they are looking for clearly displayed.

If your industry resume is full of scientific jargon and you are highlighting technical skills, it will end up in the trash pile. 

Hiring managers and recruiters don’t have PhDs so they don’t get scientific jargon. On top of that, they are looking for transferable skills. These are the skills that make you valuable in industry.

As you can see, you need to follow specific rules to ensure you convenience employers and recruiters to give you a chance.

Follow the 7 steps below to ensure your resume gets ahead of other PhDs even if you don’t have a referral.

1. Prioritize function over chronology

The reverse chronological order resume is great If you have some previous industry experience. And we strongly recommend that you use your gold standard resume after spending some months on your first industry role. 

However, if you are a PhD without industry experience, it is better to use a functional resume instead. 

The advantage of a functional resume is that it allows you to clearly illustrate how your academic experience is relevant to an industry position. 

Instead of bolding academic titles, like “graduate research assistant” or “postdoctoral fellow,” you will bold the skills that you gained at those positions (project management, microRNA experience, etc.) that are relevant for the job. You will add the position where you gained that experience underneath.

Another positive aspect of the functional resume is that it allows you to better showcase the array of skills that you gain by completing a PhD.

2. Add ‘PhD’ after your name

There is a myth saying that if you are PhD without industry experience, you are either underqualified for jobs that require a PhD or overqualified for jobs that don’t.

This leads them to believe that they cannot get into positions that require a PhD and that leaving their title out of their resume is the only way to get into a position that doesn’t require a PhD.

We have curated data from different companies and found the complete opposite, putting ‘PhD’ on your resume actually increases your chances of getting hired.

But PhDs tend to not believe that because they have imposter syndrome. Don’t let imposter syndrome get the best of you. You can get hired into a PhD-level position without previous industry experience.

You just need to execute a proper job search strategy and follow industry etiquette to show your value in industry.

If the job posting doesn’t require a PhD, this means that they will consider candidates with a master’s or a bachelor’s, but they will prefer candidates with a PhD and industry knowledge.

Employers want the best talent possible. None of them is going to say ‘I just really don’t want this smarter, more educated person’ and disqualify you for putting PhD in your resume. And if they do, this means that you are applying to positions that are beneath your level anyway. 

3. Start every bullet point with a non-technical skill

I’ve been in many hiring committees, evaluating PhD resumes for industry positions and they almost always follow the same format. They start with the education section and only list technical skills. 

The sad thing is, these technical skills are so far behind what’s being done in industry. No industry employers will hire you for your technical skills.

PhDs are valuable in industry because of their transferable skills, and you have many of those. Comprehension, innovation, research and analysis, project management, time management, product knowledge, market knowledge, even the ability to quickly learn new technical skills, are examples of transferable skills. 

Every one of your bullet points should start with one of those skills. It Should be the first thing employers see while going through your experience. 


4. Show that you can communicate results

Your industry resume is a marketing document. As such, it should clearly show the impact you can make. You will achieve this by adding results to your resumes. 

And you want to quantify those results – this means adding actual numbers to your resume – because eye-tracking studies show that people’s eyes stop on numerical values.

You have achieved so many results in grad school and/or during your postdoc, any and all of them can become quantified results for your resume: number of figures, number of reports, number of lab notebook entries, number of publications, number of collaborations, number of presentations, number of conferences that you’ve gone to, number of people you have trained, etc.

You might think that your results are not impressive. This is, once again, your imposter syndrome talking. Your results are relevant and impressive in industry. But even if they weren’t, employers just want to see that you understand the importance of getting results and know how to communicate your results.

5. Use 3-part bullet points and use “transitory” language

Every bullet point you add to your resume should have three parts; it should start with a transferable skill and end with a quantified result, both of which should be connected by a technical skill. To bring these three elements together, you need to use transitory language. 

A full bullet point look something like this: “[Transferable skill] with expertise in [technical skills], as evidenced by [quantified result]”.

What if your transferable skill doesn’t perfectly match your technical skill or your result? The match doesn’t have to be perfect. As long as the three of them are associated, it’s fine.

What if the job posting asks for a specific skill that you don’t have hand-on experience in? You can use expressions like “with the ability to do…” or “which is relevant to…” to show that you can excel at the job even if you don’t have direct experience. 

Having complete bullet points and mastering the transition language will allow you to demonstrate why you are the best candidate for the role. 

6. Use at least 50 keywords from the job posting in your resume

Job postings are packed with keywords that hiring managers want to see in your resumes, not a single word in a job posting is there by accident. 

A standard job posting has at least 50 relevant keywords that you can add to your resume. Putting the effort to identify them and add them to your resume will give you an unfair advantage because most PhD add less than 10 relevant keywords.

To ramp up your resume, look at the job posting and extract all the skills – transferable and technical, as well as the terms that are capitalized. You can also use a wordcloud to better identify the relevant keywords. Then, use the previous steps covered in this article to incorporate each of those words into your resume. 

7. Embed a conversation starter at the end of your resume

As we already mentioned, the first people who will read your resume and decide whether or not to call you for an interview are not likely to have a PhD.

Therefore, it is important to incentivize them to call you by giving them a conversation starter. This is what the last section of your resume – awards, honors, and hobbies – is there for. 

Adding this last section will make you look approachable. This is especially true for the last bullet. It should reference a hobby or a sport your practice, something not at all related to your PhD background.


It might not seem like much. But trust me. Adding this final bullet providing an ice breaker will make recruiters and hiring managers more likely to call you.

Concluding Remarks

There are now more PhDs than ever before looking for industry positions. This means that you need to stand out from the crowd from the very beginning. Upgrade your resume by using the functional format. Add ‘PhD’ after your name. Ensure that each bullet point starts with a transferable skill, followed by a technical skill, and finishes with a quantified result. Master the transitory language to make your bullets more relevant. Study the job posting to identify at least 50 relevant keywords. Add these to your resume and finish with a conversation starter to convince employers to give you a call.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

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Isaiah Hankel, PhD is the Founder and CEO of the largest career training platform for PhDs in the world - Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by 3 million PhDs in 152 different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, DOW Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Isaiah Hankel received his doctorate in Anatomy & Cell Biology with a focus in immunology and is an expert on biotechnology recruitment and career development.

Isaiah has published two bestselling books with Wiley and his methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

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