Create The Perfect PhD Resume With These 5 Strategies
Written By: Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.
When I was about to finish my PhD, I felt frantic.
I had spent the last several years of my life overwhelmed, stressed, and depressed.
And now, as my PhD was nearly completed, I knew that I did not want to spend one more moment in academia.
I wanted to get out of academia as soon as possible, but wasn’t sure how to do this.
In my frantic state, I began submitting my resume online, to any job that I seemed qualified for.
This went on for longer than I care to remember and I never heard anything back!
I started thinking that I wasn’t qualified for a job in industry.
Maybe all I was capable of was doing a postdoc?
I was so frustrated and completely unsure as to how to move forward.
Thankfully, I spoke with a mentor about my situation.
She explained to me that I was going about it all wrong.
My resume was written in an academic style that industry employers hate seeing.
Plus, I hadn’t been networking.
I was just submitting my resume into the job portal online black hole.
I knew I had to make a change in my job search.
I also knew this change was going to require more work.
I was going to have to put in more effort if I was going to achieve the results I wanted.
So, I began networking, getting referrals, and writing a tailored industry-style resume for each job I applied to.
This was much harder than just submitting my one-size-fits-all resume online.
But, this hard work paid off and ultimately, it is what helped me get my first industry position.
Why Your Resume Is Important, But Not The Most Important Part Of Your Job Search
Many PhDs spend countless hours on their resume, adding in all of their accomplishments, responsibilities, publications, presentations, and other information that industry employers do not care about.
Then, they mass upload their academic-style resume to online job postings and wait for the job offers to roll in.
These PhDs are shocked when they never hear anything back.
It may be hard to hear, but when you upload your resume in this way, you resume is probably never even getting seen by a person.
Your resume is being rejected by a computer program.
According to JobScan, more than 90% of Fortune 500 companies are using Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) to screen candidates’ resumes.
And, The Financial Post reported that ATS systems reject up to 80% of resumes in a matter of seconds.
It’s no wonder your non-tailored academic-style resume is not getting any response.
But, that being said, even the best resume could be rejected by ATS.
Even a resume tailored to a specific job and written in an industry format, can be rejected by ATS.
You have no idea what the employer has told the ATS to look for in resumes.
This is why your resume is not the most important part of your job search.
Even a perfect resume is not enough to get you a job.
You need to network and generate referrals so that you can send your resume directly to a person.
Only once you have a connection to the company you are interested in does your resume become important.
As reported by Quartz, candidates with a referral have a 40% better chance of getting hired.
But, even with a referral, a terrible resume will lead to a rejection.
Bottom line, a perfect resume is not enough to get you a job, but a terrible resume is more than enough to get you a rejection.
Your resume is an integral part of your job search strategy, but it’s not the most important part.
5 Concepts That Will Kickstart Your Job Search
A job search involves much, much more than just submitting a resume.
You must know what employers are looking for, and how they are choosing candidates, if you want to be successful in your job search.
Here are 5 key concepts that will jumpstart your job search and set you on the path to landing the industry job you want…
1. The 80/20/10 principle.
The only way to access the majority of job openings is through networking.
The 80/20/10 principle makes this very clear.
First, 80% of jobs are never advertised on online.
Most of these unadvertised jobs are for small and medium-sized companies.
Now, as a PhD, you probably think you don’t want to work for a small company, but in industry, small means anywhere from 100 to 1,000 employees.
And, mid-sized can mean anything from 1,000 to several thousand employees.
These are good-sized companies.
But, they are often growing so quickly that jobs are filled before they can even be posted online.
By looking solely online for jobs, you are missing out on this huge market of job opportunities.
Bottom line, only 20% of jobs are visible online.
This is extremely limiting.
But, it gets worse.
Of those 20% that are advertised online, half of those jobs are already filled.
The online posting is a formality.
Publicly traded companies, the very large companies, are required by the government to post open positions even if they have already filled them internally.
So, if you’re just applying to jobs online, you’re wasting your time.
Ultimately, only 10% of available jobs are posted online.
When you look online to see what jobs are available, you are only seeing the very tip of the iceberg.
Understanding the 80/20/10 principle is essential to realizing that networking MUST be a cornerstone of your job search strategy.
2. Recruiters have a 10-25% stopping point for reading resumes.
The timing of your resume submission matters.
The longer a job has been available, the less likely your resume is even going to be looked at.
According to recruiters from the world’s largest companies, they stop looking at resumes after they have read the first 10 to 25% of submitted resumes.
Usually closer to 10%.
They simply cannot read all the resumes that come in.
At large companies, a single position can get around 2,000 resume submissions.
Recruiters and talent acquisition specialists are going to read a couple hundred resumes and then be done with it.
So, even if your resume is perfect and you have all the qualifications, if you’re not one of the first people to submit their resume, it’s not going to be looked at.
This highlights not only the importance of having a great resume, but shows how important it is to get your resume into the hands of somebody through networking and generating referrals.
With a referral, your resume goes straight to the top of the pile.
3. The 3 essential parts of a resume bullet point.
Your bullet points are the core of your resume.
They need to be structured correctly.
Every bullet point has three parts.
First, your bullet points each need to start with a transferable skill.
Forget about using action words, like maximized, conveyed etc., these words don’t matter.
Instead, focus on your transferable skills.
Employers want to know that you have more than just technical expertise.
As a PhD, you have many highly sought after transferable skills, such as product and market knowledge, knowledge of industry trends, time management skills, budgeting skills, conflict resolution skills, client-facing skills, project management skills, and people management skills.
You should make it very clear that you have these important transferable skills.
You also want to end each bullet point with something that industry employers place a lot of value on: results.
Your bullet points should each end with a quantified result.
Quantified, meaning it contains a number.
People’s eyes stop on numbers.
Eye tracking studies show that if you put numbers in quantified results on your resume, the employers’ eyes will stop on them.
Getting the reader to stop and pause on your resume is important because on average, employers only spend 6 seconds scanning resumes.
So, even if a person does look at your resume, they are only going to spend 6 seconds skimming it.
Are worried that you don’t have any results? Don’t be. As a PhD, you definitely have results.
Your discoveries, your publications, grant funding, methodologies you’ve improved or optimized… these are all results.
Finally, you should tie your transferable skills and your quantified results together with your technical expertise.
Every single bullet point should have these 3 components: transferable skills, technical expertise, and result.
This allows you to clearly highlight your skills in a way that demonstrates you know what matters in industry.
4. Why job postings went down 2% in 2017, yet hiring for STEM jobs went up 5.6%.
The state of Massachusetts has more PhDs than anywhere else in the world, and the hiring in that area greatly impacts PhDs.
The recent MassBioEd report shows that the number of overall job postings for Massachusetts is down by 14.7%.
However, the report also showed that despite this decrease in job postings, there was actually a 5.6% increase in hiring for STEM jobs.
The STEM fields include physical sciences, engineering, social sciences, and any discipline that utilizes the scientific method.
How is it possible that there are less job postings but more hirings?
Because the majority of job openings are not advertised.
The number of job advertisements is not indicative of the actual number of job openings.
Companies are hiring through referral all the time.
The only way to access these positions is through networking.
The foundation of your job search should be networking with industry professionals with the goal of generating referrals.
Attending PhD-only or university networking events is not a good strategy.
You need to seek out new networking environments where you can meet people working in industry who will be able to provide you with referrals.
5. How to organize the sections of your industry resume.
Your resume should be structured with 4 key areas.
The first section is your professional summary.
Your professional summary needs to have 3 bullet points, demonstrating your biggest career highlights.
Each of those bullet points should be structured with the 3 key parts of a bullet point: transferable skill, technical expertise, and results.
The second section is your work experience, not education.
Even if your experience is as a postdoctoral research fellow or graduate research assistant, this should go under work experience.
Under each experience that you have, write 3 to 5 bullet points highlighting your key results in that role.
Do not just list your job duties or spout technical jargon — you must include results.
Next, you can add your education.
But, this section is small.
Just list what your PhD is in and where you got your degree from, that’s it.
The third section is a bulleted list of your technical skills.
This is very important, especially if you’re giving your resume to a recruiter.
Recruiters often get a list of technical skills or technical wants from an employer, and they will look through your resume to see if you have these skills.
Things such as the instruments that you’ve used, the methodologies you know, the reagents, software, etc. is what you will put into this list of technical skills.
The final section is your honors, awards, and hobbies.
It’s important not to just delete this section.
You should add a couple of bullet points here highlighting something that humanizes you.
Any sort of volunteering that you’ve done, arts and crafts, hiking, or playing a sport.
You want this section to have something that the reader can relate to.
In most cases, the first person to see your resume does not have a PhD and certainly is not a specialist in your field.
Showing something on your resume that demonstrates you are human and that you have interests outside of just your STEM career is very important.
This section will often come up in conversation on a phone screen, giving you a great talking point to demonstrate that you are a well-rounded candidate.
As a PhD. you deserve more than the negative academic environment that vastly under-values your skills. In industry, your PhD expertise is in demand. You just have to make the transition from academia to industry a reality. These 5 concepts will get your job search off to a great start. You need to understand the 80/20/10 principle, recognize that recruiters have a 10-25% stopping point for reading resumes, know the 3 essential parts of a resume bullet point, understand why job postings went down 2% in 2017 while hiring for STEM jobs went up 5.6% and know how to organize the sections of your industry resume. Outside academia, you can do meaningful work and be well paid for it. Don’t settle for anything less.
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