5 Crucial Resume Facts That Will Boost Your Job Search
Contributing Author: Karthik Pandalaneni, PhD
As I closed in on the end of my PhD program, I knew it was coming.
I had spent the last 4 months searching for industry jobs to no avail.
I wanted to get out of academia as soon as possible, but nothing seemed to work.
I submitted resume after resume, and the search went on for longer than I care to remember.
Wasn’t I qualified for a job in industry?
I was so frustrated, not to mention completely unsure how to move forward.
I know now that the problem was pretty simple – my resume was targeting the wrong readers.
If you are making the same mistake I was, stop for a moment to appreciate the simplicity of this revelation:
You need to write to your target audience – in this case, I’m talking about industry recruiters and hiring managers.
Using a Cheeky Scientist Association resume template, I began tailoring my resume to each individual company where I sought employment.
This was much harder than just going online and submitting some one-size-fits-all resume.
But my hard work paid off, and I am confident this was a major factor in my own industry transition.
Now, here comes the twist: A perfect resume is not enough to get you a job.
Putting it another way, my properly built resume was a necessary–not sufficient–condition for moving forward in my new career.
And most importantly of all, a terrible resume is more than enough to get you a rejection.
Here’s Why Resumes Are Important (Just Not As Important As Referrals).
Many PhDs spend countless hours on their resume, listing endless accomplishments, responsibilities, publications, presentations, and other information that practically bore industry employers to death.
They mass-upload this ridiculous document to online job postings and wait for the job offers to roll in like red carpet on their way to industry success.
These PhDs–otherwise sharp and creative people–are shocked when they never hear anything back.
The reality is that your resume is probably never even seen by another human being, let alone rejected.
Your resume is being rejected by a computer program.
JobScan reports that more than 90% of Fortune 500 companies are using Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) to screen candidates’ resumes.
And according to The Financial Post, ATS systems reject up to 80% of resumes in a matter of seconds.
By now, you have probably begun to realize why your non-tailored, academic-style resume is not getting any response.
That being said, even the best resume could be rejected by ATS.
To be clear, a great resume, tailored to a specific job and written in an industry format, can still end up getting rejected by ATS.
Unfortunately, you cannot say for certain what an employer has told their ATS to look for in a resume.
This is why your resume is not actually 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.
Yet even with a referral, a terrible resume will lead to a rejection.
5 Crucial Resume Facts That Help PhDs Catch An Employer’s Attention
A job search involves much, much more than just submitting a resume.
If you want to be successful in your job search, you must know what employers are looking for and how they are choosing candidates.
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 – how good networking outweighs a strong resume every single time.
The majority of job openings must be accessed through networking.
The 80/20/10 principle makes this very clear.
First, 80% of jobs are never advertised online.
Most of these unadvertised jobs are for small and medium-sized companies.
A 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.
Mid-sized can mean anything from 1,000 to several thousand employees.
Companies like these 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.
The bottom line is this: Only 20% of all jobs are visible online.
But it gets worse.
Of those 20% that are advertised online, half of those jobs are already filled.
The online posting is a mere formality.
Publicly traded companies (the very large companies) are required by the government to post open positions – even if they have already filled these positions internally.
So if you’re just applying to jobs online, you’re wasting your time.
Ultimately, only 10% of all 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. Understand this from the start: recruiters are not devoted to completely reading your resume.
The timing of your resume submission matters, and it matters a lot.
The longer a job has been available, the less likely your resume will even be looked at.
Recruiters from the world’s largest companies stop reading after they have read the first 10-to-25% of a submitted resume.
Usually, it’s 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 at the most.
So even if your resume is perfect and you have all the qualifications, if you’re not one of the first people to submit a resume, it’s not going to be looked at.
This highlights not only the importance of having a great resume, but the importance of getting it into the hands of somebody through networking, and then working to generate referrals.
With a referral, your resume goes straight to the top of the pile.
3. The right way (and the wrong way) to organize a PhD resume.
Your resume should be structured around these key areas…
The 1st 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 (see point #4 below).
The 2nd 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.
The 3rd area is your education, and this is tricky for a lot of PhDs.
It’s tricky because you need to keep the section small.
It probably seems counterintuitive to shorten this section when you spent so many years pursuing your advanced degrees.
After all, isn’t it the advanced degree that qualifies you for so many lucrative industry roles?
Short answer: yes.
However, academia is largely mysterious and strange to a lot of successful industry minds – including those of hiring managers.
They want to know you have your PhD, and that’s about all they want to know in terms of education.
On your resume, list what your PhD is in and where you got your degree from.
The 4th section will be 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 required technical skills from an employer, and they will look through your resume to see if you have these skills.
They will look for things like 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 simply delete this section.
You should actually add a couple of bullet points here to highlight something that “humanizes” you.
Any sort of volunteering that you’ve done, arts and crafts, hiking, etc.
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 they are likely not a specialist in your field.
Showing this person something on your resume that demonstrates you are human–and that you have interests outside of just your STEM career–is very important.
As a bonus, the hobbies section will often come up in conversation during interviews – these are a great opportunity to demonstrate that you are a well-rounded candidate.
4. Resume bullet points have an essential structure – here’s what that looks like.
Bullet points are the core of almost all good resumes.
They need to be structured correctly, which means they’ll have 3 parts…
1st, 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 possess highly sought-after transferable skills like:
- Product & market knowledge
- Time management skills
- Budgeting skills
- Conflict resolution skills
- Client-facing skills
- Project management skills
- 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.
People’s eyes stop on numbers, so your bullet points should each end with a quantified result.
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.
Are worried that you don’t have any results?
As a PhD, you definitely have results, including discoveries, publications, grant funding, methodologies you’ve improved or optimized, etc.
All of these represent 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 a quantified result of some kind.
This allows you to clearly highlight your skills in a way that demonstrates you know what matters in industry.
5. Make your resume clean and neat – leave plenty of white space.
PhDs are at no loss for accomplishments.
They can typically boast volumes of well-earned credentials and publications.
Yes, you obviously have many advantages over other job candidates, but that does not mean your resume will benefit from listing your every last accolade.
Quite the reverse – if you think employers want to sit around memorizing your numerous achievements, you are mistaken.
Don’t try to squeeze too much information into your short industry resume – that will just make it look crowded.
Your industry resume should be short and sweet.
It should highlight the accomplishments that your potential employer will care about the most.
Without enough white space, your resume will look messy and crowded (i.e. unprofessional).
So maintain lots of white space and a clean, crisp layout.
These will make your resume look professional and increase your chance of getting an interview.
But no matter how much work you put into a clean, sharp resume, don’t forget the 80/20/10 principle – good networking outweighs a strong resume every single time. And understand this from the start: recruiters are not devoted to completely reading your resume. They’ll usually absorb about 10-25% of it before deciding whether they want to contact you about the job. And if you want them to appreciate your resume at all, you need to know the right way (and the wrong way) to organize a PhD resume. As you conduct your job search, remember that resume bullet points have an essential structure. And always make your resume clean and neat – leave plenty of white space. A strong resume is a necessary–not sufficient–component of a successful job search. Success takes good networking – plain and simple.
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