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5-Step Guide To Writing A Professional Resume In 2019

Written by: Cathy Sorbara, Ph.D.

I spent so much time writing my CV.

I spent weeks perfecting it and making sure every single tiny detail of all my academic accomplishments was reflected in the document.

It was a work of art.

So I started sending this 5 page CV to companies that had job openings.

I uploaded my CV to all the job boards and online job advertisements that seemed relevant to my skills set.

I felt accomplished!

And then, there was silence.

I got a few automated responses from the job postings, but other than that no one called me or emailed me about my CV.

My hopes were crushed and I started thinking that maybe I just wasn’t cut out for a job in industry.

Maybe I just wasn’t good enough?

But, I didn’t give up completely. Instead, I started looking for help.

I found an alternative career mentor who began teaching me all about what industry employers looked for in a job applicant.

Turns out they had absolutely no interest in my CV.

They didn’t really care about my publications or the titles of all the academic presentations I had ever given.

They cared about results.

They cared that I would fit in with the team and that I could do the job.

They wanted to see my resume, not my CV.

I learned that a resume and a CV a very, very different.

As soon as I started using an industry style resume I started getting responses. I started getting phone interviews, and eventually I started getting job offers.

Why PhDs Must Know How To Write An Industry Resume

The career path for PhDs has changed dramatically over the past few decades.

Long gone are the days where securing a postdoc means you will likely become a professor.

Instead, we are facing the “postdoc pile up.”

Nature reported that in just 2 years the number of science postdocs alone grew by 150%.

Universities are graduating huge numbers of PhDs every year, and these highly trained PhDs end up taking postdoc positions because that is what they are ‘supposed to do’ next.

But instead of the postdoc leading to a professorship or some other faculty position, PhDs are getting stuck in the postdoc phase.

The study referenced above found that 10% of all postdocs have been a postdoc for more than 6 years.

And recently, Phys.org reported that this is a trend that has been going on for the past 50 years.

From 1960 to 2010 the number of people who spent their ENTIRE academic career as a supporting scientist, rather than a lead scientist, rose from 25% to 60%.

That means the majority of PhDs in academia are getting stuck in the support role and are unable to secure a faculty position as a lead scientist.

As such, PhDs are looking outside of academia for a career where they can have an impact.

Where they can lead.

But you have to know how to write a resume that an industry employer wants, otherwise you will get stuck in this “postdoc pile up.”

A PhD’s 5-Step Guide To Writing A Resume In 2019

Your resume is a key part of your job search.

It’s not the most important part, but having a good one is essential.

Having a bad resume can cost you the job.

So how can you make sure that your resume is not subpar?

Here is a 5-step resume writing guide for PhDs looking to transition into industry…

1. Do not spend all your time writing a ‘perfect’ resume.

Yes, the first step in writing your industry resume is to realize that this is not the most important part of your industry job search.

Sure, you will need to have a high quality resume, but your resume alone is not going to get you the job.

Instead, the most important part of your job search is actually networking.

Networking, with the goal of generating referrals, is where you should spend the majority of your time and effort.

Go to events outside of your university, set up informational interviews with people working in industry, and interact with people in your industry on LinkedIn.

These things are more important than your resume.

Only after you secure a referral does your resume become important.

Then you will need to have a fantastic resume to hand over.

But, the key here is that you will not have one resume, you will have many resumes.

Each time you give your resume over to someone it should be tailored to the specific job that you are applying for.

You need to evaluate the experiences and skills you have through the lens of each employer.

Which of your skills are most relevant to the job? Highlight them.

What outcomes matter most to this employer? Focus your results on those outcomes.

Ask yourself what the employers ideal job candidate would be and do your best to mould your skills and experiences to fit that description.

2. Leave out your publications.

The vast majority of industry jobs do not need to see your publication list.

Most hiring managers are not PhDs and they do not want to see a massive citation list of all your publications and presentations.

This is off-putting for employers.

Recruiters and hiring managers spend just a few seconds looking at your resume, and your publications are a waste of space.

Another reason that you need to ditch your publications in your resume is because your industry resume should only be 2 pages long.

And for some specific positions it should only be one page long.

That leaves no room for a publication list.

Now, if you are worried that the position you are applying for needs you to write down all your publications – stop.

First, if an employer wants your publications they will just ask you for them.

Second, if you are doing informational interviews you can ask employees at the company if including your publications is something you should do.

But your default should be to not include publications.

This is especially true if you are submitting your resume online, because the applicant tracking software will probably just automatically reject your resume for being too long.

3. Strategically include keywords relevant to the position you are applying for.

Instead of focusing on the academic accolades you have accumulated, you need to shift your focus to the employer.

They want to know how you will help them.

This means you need to read the job description carefully and find out what the key skills for the position are.

What words are they using over and over in the job description?

What concepts or skills did you learn were most important when you spoke with people from the company?

What are the key values of the company?

Once you have the answers to those questions, make sure those words appear prominently in your resume.

This is different than stuffing as many keywords as possible into your resume.

You should think about your skills and then highlight those keywords only where it is relevant.

If ‘drug discovery’ is a keyword then it should appear in your resume, but it should not appear 20 times.

You can use keyword finding software to help you identify the words that appear most in a job posting.

It’s even a good idea to compile several job postings together and find out what the main keywords are for the group.

This will give you a really good idea of what employers are looking for when they are a recruiter for a certain position.

And then you can use those words in your resume and LinkedIn profile.

4. Leverage the fact that people read in the “F” pattern.

No one is going to read your entire resume.

They are going to skim your resume.

And eye tracking studies have shown that there is a specific pattern that people follow when ‘skimming’ something, they follow the pattern of an F.

This means that they start at the top left and will read across the top.

Then they skip down a bit and will read across again, but not as far across and not as thoroughly as they read for the top of the F.

Then the person will read down the left hand side of the page, rarely reading across.

What does this mean for your resume?

It means you need to think about where you put your keywords and what skills you highlight where.

For example, your professional summary that appears at the very top of your resume is the part of your resume that a person is going to read the most of.

Taking it one step further, the first bullet point of your professional summary is going to be the most read part of your resume.

Make it count.

This doesn’t mean to put your most impressive accomplishment there, but rather to put your most relevant accomplishment or skill there.

Additionally, for the second horizontal section of the F, this will probably be where the ‘Experience’ section of your resume falls.

So, if the person reading your resume is only going to skim this part, make sure that your most relevant experience is highlighted at the top of the section.

But beyond that, instead of putting your academic title at the top left, replace this with a key skill required for the job.

For example, instead of writing “Postdoc at xyz university” as the heading, write “Project Management Experience.”

Then in the bullet points you can write about how, as a postdoc at xyz university, you developed project management skills.

By making the key skill the header, you ensure that the person reading your resume will see the words ‘project management’ and know that this is something you can do.

Basically, don’t bury the lead.

Make it as clear as possible that you are the right candidate.

5. Include quantifiable results as much as possible.

Finally, you must include the outcome or results that your experiences have led to in your resume.

Do not just list your skills.

Do not just list the tasks you completed.

Frame all the experience you have as leading towards specific results.

A study in the Harvard Business Review found that 89% of companies have a culture that places high value on results.

To show that you will be a good fit you must demonstrate that you understand the importance of results, and to do that you need to have results in your resume.

When writing the results, as often as possible, make these results tangible and numerical.

People’s eyes are drawn to numbers, so including a number in your resume will be more engaging and encourage the reader to keep reading.

The best way to include results is to fit them into the 3 part bullet point formula.

There is a whole article about this formula here, but basically the formula is: transferable skill + technical skill + result = a winning bullet point.

Each of your bullet points should follow this formula, always ending with a powerful result.

Is a bad resume keeping you from getting hired? If you are still using the academic style to write your industry resumes you are not going to get job offers. Instead, take a step back and learn what an industry resume should look like. 5 things that PhDs need to remember when writing an industry resume are, do not spend all your time writing a ‘perfect’ resume, leave out your publications, strategically include keywords relevant to the position you are applying for, leverage the fact that people read in the ‘F’ pattern, and include quantifiable results as much as possible.

To learn more about the 5-Step Guide To Writing A Professional Resume In 2019, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.

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Cathy Sorbara, Ph.D.

Cathy Sorbara, Ph.D.

Cathy has a PhD in Medical Life Science and Technology and is COO of the Cheeky Scientist Association. Cathy is passionate about science communication including translating science to lay audiences and helping PhDs transition into industry positions. She is Chair of Cambridge AWiSE, a regional network for women in science, engineering and technology. She has also been selected to take part in Homeward Bound 2018, an all-female voyage to Antarctica aimed to heighten the influence of women in leadership positions and bring awareness to climate change.
Cathy Sorbara, Ph.D.