I Trash Any PhD Resume That Has These 5 Mistakes (A Savage Lesson From Recruiters)

The first interview I did with a recruiter from industry regarding PhD resume was extremely eye-opening.

A recruiter told me that they typically receive 3000 resumes a month. She said that: 

Humans’ eyes don’t see the first round of submissions; they are filtered through the ATS. Applicants have to make sure that their resumes are specifically written per the job description with all the relevant keywords. This will cause them to be reviewed by human eyes as opposed to the computer. 

Typically, there is a recruiter who is assigned to a particular area and after he finds potential candidate/s he tries to get the attention of the hiring manager. The best-suited candidates would then be called for a phone interview to assess that the information they have on the PhD resume matches their profile. It is a very long process before the candidate hears back. 

Another recruiter said: 

Recruiters cannot spend a lot of time reaching out to the candidates as there are several behind the scene tasks that they need to focus on as well. So they might just spend 15-20% of their time reaching out to the candidates in a week. When it comes to being seen or recognized in such a small time, it’s a major responsibility on behalf of the candidate. Recruiters are typically looking for 3 keyword-based points: instruments, techniques, and methods: years of relevant experience, what capacity have you used these instruments in –  R&D capacity or intern. It is important to clearly list all these in the resume.

The recruiters I talked to were very bottom-line oriented. Many of the recruiters were on a race against time to try to fill open positions at companies before the best candidates were all taken by competitors. They were interested in gaining fast information even if it meant sacrificing relationship-building with job candidates, at least initially. Their primary goal was to match keywords mentioned on the job posting to the candidate’s profile on LinkedIn or their PhD resume.

They would spend merely 5-7 seconds reading these professional profiles, scanning for relevant industry experience, preferably similar job titles on a PhD resume that they have advertised for. Lack of relevant experience was a big reason to move on to the next candidate immediately.

This is why so many PhDs have the following experience with recruiters:

Do you have industry experience?

No. Goodbye.

Do you need a work visa?

Yes. Goodbye.

Do you have XYZ skills?

No, but…

Goodbye.

There are different recruiter types. Large companies often hire “Talent acquisition specialists“internally. Then, there are hiring managers and HR professionals who work internally as well. There are several external recruitment firms that have big contracts with companies, as well as solo recruiting sharks that just surf LinkedIn looking for open jobs the same way a job candidate would. When they see an open job, they contact the company and reach out to candidates to try to fill these jobs individually for a commission based on a percentage of the job candidates first year’s salary. 

The truth is some of the recruiters I interviewed were very savage. It is in your best interest to operate as though your mission is to make hiring you as easy as possible for all the involved parties. Assume that the recruiters don’t have time for you and adjust your efforts accordingly to save them time. Here’s how…      

5 Mistakes That Cost A Fortune

The resume is your first line of communication with c the recruiter. Therefore, it should be clear and super-organized so that the recruiter can find the relevant information quickly, assess it, and get back to you. You have to make it easier for the recruiter to find the information in your resume, or you end up hurting your own chances. 

The five savage points raised by recruiters and the quintessential modifications for making the right impression:

1. If your PhD resume isn’t easy to skim and has more text than white space, it’s going in the garbage

Visualization: Less is more: 

In academia, more content is generally appreciated but in industry, one needs to set priorities; You should only present crucial, job-relevant information. This sends a clear message to the recruiter that you are a professional instead of coming across as an amateur or an academic. Know what information to include and which to exclude while tailoring your PhD resume in accordance with the job description.  

What you leave out of your PhD resume is equally important to what you put on it: White Space

What you decide to put on the resume is equally important as what you decide not to.  Narrow margins, less indent, less white space pave the way for more text but make the resume non-appealing to the recruiter. Only a super-organized resume with efficient whitespace will look appealing to the recruiter. 

White space is not a waste. Since the recruiters spend only 5-7 seconds per resume they can’t read the whole document. Instead, they skim. The visual center is shaped like the letter F, they skim from left to right then right down the vertical line and scroll a little horizontally. Therefore, the most crucial information relevant to the position you are applying to  should be included in this area.  

Well organized information, arranged in short, precise bullet points is visually engaging and easy to access. 

PhD resume format & keywords:

Recruiters generally don’t like resumes sent in a google doc. Often, candidates forget to give access to the recruiter. It is always safe to send a PhD resume either in docx or pdf format. The resume must also be free of grammatical/spelling errors and passive verbs. 

A recruiter survey conducted by TopResume found “spelling and/or grammatical errors” to be the No. 1 resume mistake that could cost you the job. Recruiters are more interested in what you did rather than what the team or the department achieved. 

2.  If your contact information is outdated, if you don’t answer my first call, or if I can’t find you on LinkedIn, I will forget about you forever:

Lack of contact information:

While writing a PhD resume, it’s important to include all of your contact information at the top of your resume. Employers may want to reach out to you immediately after viewing your resume but if you don’t add detailed contact information, or add incorrect contact information, employers will not be able to get in touch with you easily. This is one of the major reasons to reject a candidate. You need to make it as easy as possible for an employer or hiring manager to contact you about the job you’re applying for. The following information is mandated on the top of a resume

First Name Last Name

Address

City, State Zip Code

Phone Number

Email Address

LinkedIn / Personal Website URL

Unprofessional email address:

Your email address is part of your personal brand.  Therefore, it shouldn’t be suggestive or flirtatious, rather it must be professional, should include your name, preferably first name and last name, should be a personal email address, not one shared with a spouse or other family members. Try not to use numbers or underscores and avoid including the year of your birth. 

A recruiter once told me that “When I see an email address such as surferman86 or jacksmom12, I cringe,”. “Email addresses are free, so my assumption is that you are just too lazy to care about your professional image. Laziness is not a quality I look for in prospective candidates.”

Irrelevant LinkedIn profile:

Although your LinkedIn profile is not your resume, information on both the profile and the resume need to be updated simultaneously. Imagine a hiring manager sees that the candidate’s LinkedIn profile is obsolete or does not match the PhD resume, they will think that either the candidate is out of touch or not current with technology. This perception is not a good way to brand yourself in the marketplace. 

Most recruiters prefer to see the candidate’s LinkedIn profile after they have seen the PhD resume, to verify that the information mentioned on the resume actually matches their public profile without any glaring discrepancies. This is the intermediary step between a PhD resume review and a face-to-face interview. 

You need to have both your PhD resume and your LinkedIn profile up-to-date and supporting each other. All opposing or outdated information should be removed.

3.  I’m only going to read your professional summary and if those 3 bullet points don’t interest me, I’m going to move on to the next PhD resume

Professional summary in a PhD resume:

Employers spend 80% of their time on the top 1/3rd of the page and if they like it, they proceed further. Therefore, this area should exhibit the highlights of one’s career that are most aligned with the job requirements. 

A bulleted professional summary provides the hiring manager with a bird’s eye view of your skills and achievements without having to dive into the rest of your resume. It must sum up your top skills, experiences, and the biggest career achievements as they pertain to a job opening. Each of those bullet points should be structured with the 3 key parts of bullet points: transferable skill, technical expertise, and quantified results.

Responsibilities vs achievements:

A resume should be accomplishment-oriented, not responsibility-driven.

Presenting transferable skills, quantified results, and expertise is the best way to show an employer that you can talk the language of industry. Employers are not interested in gazing at a long list of the responsibilities associated with your past roles. Especially those without context. A list of responsibilities doesn’t grab anybody’s attention.

What recruiters and hiring managers want to know is how you have contributed to your previous workplaces and how you can add value to their organization. You need to mention all the initiatives you have taken on, and the positive impact triggered by those initiatives. It is a key decisive factor when several candidates with similar work experience are being considered. Therefore, transform your responsibilities into accomplishments. 

The STAR method often comes handy when going through such a transformation.

Paragraphs vs bullet points:

A hiring manager only spends 5-7 seconds looking at your resume. It’s your responsibility to make the information on your PhD resume quickly accessible. A professional summary in paragraphs makes it difficult to capture the attention of a hiring manager. Using paragraphs instead of bullet points for the professional summary may lead to dismissal of one’s candidature. 

4. Graduate Research Assistant, Postdoctoral Fellow, University XYZ mean nothing to me. I’m not a product of higher education. I’m looking for industry experience and skills to match

Academic titles vs transferable skills:

Your resume should highlight your skills, not your academic titles. Call their attention to a transferable skill a technical skill relevant to their job description and where you gained it instead of simply enlisting academic titles. 

Highlighting your skills greatly increases PhD resume readability and saves the recruiter a huge hassle of digging deeper into your resume. Since time is a luxury when it comes to hiring, you can’t expect a recruiter to spend extra time looking for buried information on your resume. 

The ATS is smart enough to comprehend that bold means emphasized. Therefore, when you add your academic titles in bold, you tell the ATS that you are not a good match because no industry employer will add an academic title to the words they feed the algorithm. Instead, bolding the skills mentioned in the job description will benefit your case. Besides, the line of education is different for the recruiter. So, a bunch of academic titles might just breed confusion. 

Functional PhD resume:

If you don’t have industry experience, use a functional PhD resume format where you highlight these skills instead of your academic job titles. The functional format resumes well for PhDs without any prior industry experience or short careers, those with career gaps, or those who have shifted industries. 

The functional format uses transferable or technical skill from the job posting. Therefore, instead of job titles as the section heading, how one acquired the skill is enlisted. All the deliverables in this kind of resume are organized by a transferable skill. Since this resume format downplays the work history, it proves to be extremely successful for those with no prior industry experience as it nullifies the need to put in a bunch of academic titles mostly foreign to ATS and the recruiter.

Technical skills in PhD resume:

Technical skills are much valued in the industry; those that are highly relevant to the JD. Recruiters want to know your technical expertise, instrument knowledge, and the capacity in which you have worked on those. Whether you wrote the SOP or followed it if you know how to troubleshoot instruments, what software proficiencies do you possess? These are important relevant technical skills that you should highlight. The recruiter gets a list of technical proficiencies that they are asked to match with the candidate profile. Your JD relevant technical expertise will ensure your success.

5. If you include a work cited section on your PhD resume instead of mentioning your publications as a quantified result, I will see you as an academic, not an industry professional:

Education:

Instead of listing transferable skills, and associated quantified results, if several levels of education starting from high school are mentioned, the resume is considered outdated. Just mention your highest degree because it is obvious that you must have gone through the bachelors and masters to attain a PhD. Don’t just mention where you got your degree. Instead, focus on what you learnt in the degree that makes you a great candidate for the job..

Publications:

Publications don’t matter in industry. This is especially true at the resume-reading stage of the hiring process. Smart PhDs know that putting their publication record on an industry resume is a waste of time. Industry employers want to see work experience and results, not publications or education history. 

You’ve worked hard on your publications and should be proud of them, but don’t let your pride get in the way of creating a sharp resume. Besides, you can discuss your publication record when you get to the interview stage, if a hiring manager wants to bring up the papers you’ve published, they will. The number of publications can be mentioned as a quantified result, it must never be put out as a focus.

Awards & hobbies in PhD resume:

The final section in an industry resume are your honors, awards, and hobbies. Often, recruiters don’t belong to the same background as us, so mentioning hobbies will humanize you. It also gives an employer insight into the kind of person you are. As a bonus, the hobbies section will generally come up in conversation during interviews – these are a great opportunity to demonstrate that you are a well-rounded candidate.

While mentioning awards, write down how you got them. What did you have to do to get the award? Other information that can be added are volunteering service, arts, crafts, hiking. 

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 mostly not a specialist in your field. Showing this person something on your resume that demonstrates you are human–that you have interests outside of your STEM career.

Concluding Remarks

Know your audience. Tailor your PhD resume accordingly. Maintain a balance between what information should be included in what should not be. Create a visually appealing resume with all the information relevant to the job description while keeping in mind the time crunch of the recruiter.

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Isaiah Hankel, PhD
Isaiah Hankel, PhD Chief Executive Officer at Cheeky Scientist

Isaiah Hankel holds a PhD in Anatomy and Cell Biology. An expert in the biotechnology industry, he specializes in helping other PhDs transition into cutting-edge industry career tracks.

Isaiah believes--from personal experience--that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life, it’s a clear sign that you need to make a change. Don’t sit still and wait for the world to tell you what to do. Start a new project. Build your own business. Take action. Experimentation is the best teacher.

Isaiah is an internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant, CEO of Cheeky Scientist, and author of the straight-talk bestsellers Black Hole Focus and The Science of Intelligent Achievement.

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