Cheeky Logo
Ready To Transition Into Industry?
Apply To Book A Free Call With Our Transition Specialist Team

Interested In The Top PhD Careers? Must-Use Keywords For Your 2021 Resume

If you think employers or job recruiters are going to read your resume word for word, you’re wrong.

The people reviewing your resumé are skimming at best. 

Eye tracking studies show that employers only spend 5-7 seconds on a resume (HRDive). 

Those same studies show that resumes are read in a F-shape, whereby employers skim the top one-third or so of the resume (the first horizontal bar of the F-shape), which is known as the Visual Center, then skim down the left-hand side of the first page and, if you’re lucky, the second page (the vertical bar of the F-shape). 

Finally, their eyes jump back up anywhere between midway down the first page to midway down the second page – usually somewhere in the Work Experience section, depending on the resume format you use – and skim across the page again from left to right (the second horizontal bar of the F-shape). 

But, where do their eyes stop? 

They stop on the keywords that they know best. The keywords that they wrote in the job posting itself. 

Employers are looking for these specific keywords so they can get an idea about whether you’re a good candidate for their specific position at their specific company …or not. 

So, the question becomes…

What are the top keywords for resumes in 2021?

Which keywords will help you stand out from other PhDs to land top jobs in industry and provide you with the best salary possible for a former PhD student and/or postdoc? 

Keywords For Your 2021 Resume: Tips To Impress Potential Employers

What do you see when you look through job listings online? 

Do you see bullet points outlining job duties and technical skills that do not apply to the job at hand? 

Or, do you see bullet points showcasing quantified results, specific capabilities, transferable skills, and core competencies PhD-level applicants like you need to qualify for a specific position? 

The latter is your key to success. 

As employers scan your resume (or use a software filter), what will they see? Adopt some of the following keyword tips in your 2021 PhD resume to make it stand out. 

1. Match Your Keywords To The Exact Job Description

You may have to spend some extra time rewording your resume for various positions. However, it will be worth it when your resume is selected from thousands of resumes that have been entered into a company’s Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) software. 

Start by reviewing the job descriptions of the positions you’re interested in. Below is a list of simple keywords that might show up in a job posting. Imagine you manually go through 10 job postings or use the Cheeky Scientist Word Cloud trick to hack the 10 job postings much faster, and you find the below words at the top of your list. What would you do next? How would you add them to your resume? 

  • Technical
  • Health
  • Certification 
  • Regulations
  • Database
  • Analytics
  • Testing
  • Consulting
  • Writing
  • R (or any other type of programming language used in your industry)

Remember that your resume will go through the ATS filtering software first. The recruiter/employer/manager will have entered the above specific keywords for the ATS program to flag. Again, the keywords you identified from the job description will be in the system, so make sure to identify and add them to your resume. 

Let’s make it even simpler and say the job you’re looking for requires project management skills. The keywords flagged will be “project management.” 

But, you might ask, what if your resume says that you’re experienced in “managing projects”? They’re similar, so your resume would likely get flagged, right? No, probably not. 

ATS software programs are very specific. They look for the exact keywords. 

Review your PhD resume before submitting it to make sure your keywords match the job posting and you’ll be in a better position to get calls for interviews to the top PhD jobs.

2. Change Words To Fit Your Industry 

Certain industries use different words for the same skills or positions. 

Jobscan gives the following example in their list for the top 500 keywords for resumes: 

For example, some employers look for a content creator, while others specify a content writer. The jobs might be identical, but the titles are different. 

Employers, managers, and job recruiters use keywords identifying specific qualifications in terms of transferable skills and quantified results to quickly sort through the plethora of resumes they receive. 

What are they doing? 

Your resumé is your first introduction to a potential employer. Make it count! We share the best keywords for your 2021 resumé that help PhDs get hired.

Remember, they’re looking for keywords that correspond exactly to the keywords on the job posting or the keywords recognized at their company, which means the words they use on a day-to-day basis. 

These words may include words related to their company culture, branding, products, or their proprietary way of doing business.

Change the keywords on your resume to reflect the exact title for the position you are applying to. 

3. Don’t Just Write For Bots

Although some companies use filtering software to look for specific keywords, remember that humans will read your resume, too. 

In fact, some resumes go through at least two people/departments before they call you for an interview. In these situations, your resume will likely go through HR personnel and a direct supervisor. Consider what each department is looking for. 

The HR department probably has a checklist of requirements that aren’t always obvious from simply looking at a job title. 

The department supervisor will sort through the resumes flagged by HR to find a candidate that fits their department’s needs. 

4. Identify The Top 5-10 Job Requirements Or Skills

Some job postings are extensive. By the time you’re finished reading it, you’re not sure if you’d be eligible even with your impressive PhD resume. 

Re-read the posting. You might find it helpful to print it out and review it with a highlighter. Find the skills or requirements that seem most important to the company, and also fit your knowledge and experience. 

Once you have your chosen words highlighted, go through your resume. See if those keywords are already on it. If not, find strategic ways to add them. 

This qualitative review will enhance your understanding of the role and help you choose keywords better. Don’t just trust a Word Cloud or other quantitative approach. 

5. Research The Most In-Demand Skills In Your Industry

Do extensive research online for the in-demand skills in your field. The results will provide you with some must-add keywords for your 2021 resume. 

For example, according to a 2019 Stack Overflow survey, the top in-demand qualifications for Data Scientists include: 

  • Knowledge of Python programming language
  • Knowledge of at least one other programming language (R, JavaScript, etc.)
  • Machine learning
  • Probability and statistics
  • Business knowledge

A PhD who wants to get hired as a Data Scientist and adds these keywords to their resume will increase their chances of making the “to interview” resume stack.  

6. Add Some Common Skills To Your Resume

Do you have transferable skills or transferable experience like the following examples?

  • Research
  • Documentation
  • Innovation
  • Information systems
  • Strategic planning
  • Technical literacy
  • Technical supportRisk management
  • Change management
  • Data analysis
  • Statistics
  • Coding
  • Quality assurance

Of course there are thousands of other valuable transferable skills like this. What’s important is that you don’t disregard these skills just because they sound simple. These are the core skills that give rise to nich technical skills. 

Don’t forget to include these transferable skills in your resume. Some of the more basic skills you’ve picked up through previous jobs, internships, or even life skills can attract potential employers. 

Make sure the keywords you add complement the position you’re applying for. 

Get Extra Help To Improve Your Confidence 

The Cheeky Scientist Association is committed to helping PhDs get hired into top positions. We offer PhDs everything from writing attention-grabbing resumes and improving their interview skills to negotiating job offers for top PhD jobs. 

Many graduates like you are happy they survived academia and have their degrees to show for it. But you need more. You need a job. One that adequately rewards the financial and mental efforts put into earning your PhD degree. 

We can help you navigate highly-paid PhD careers and find one that best suits your skills, knowledge, and talents. 

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.

Book a Transition Call
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly



Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by millions of PhDs and other professionals in hundreds of 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. Hankel has published 3X bestselling books and his latest book, The Power of a PhD, debuted on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list. 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.

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Similar Articles

White Collar Jobs For Degree Holders Contract Steeply

White Collar Jobs For Degree Holders Contract Steeply

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Robert has had 7 final stage interviews for R&D positions and been rejected every time.  He has a PhD and the exact skills these employers were looking for.  Sarah has a Masters and was looking forward to making a good paycheck to pay off her student loans.  But she’s been uploading resumes for 6 months without getting one single interview.  What’s happening?  The skilled, or white collar job market is contracting sharply and shows no signs of expanding again over the next decade.  A recent report in Forbes discussed news that UPS drivers can earn up to $170,000 annually and…

5 Tough But Common Interview Questions For Research-Based Jobs

5 Tough But Common Interview Questions For Research-Based Jobs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“I can’t get hired because of my technical skills.” “I’m nervous about the technical questions.” This is what many PhDs obsess over before interviewing for a research role.  The problem is that interviewers are rarely going to ask highly specific technical questions, even for research-based roles.  I had a PhD who was up for an interview at Baxter and told me that they appreciated the advice, but because it’s Baxter they know the interview will be mostly technical.  “Like what?” I asked. “Do you think you’re going to have to create a buffer in front of them?” “Are they going…

Adjunct, Postdoc, Or Amazon Warehouse Worker: Where PhDs With No Plan End Up

Adjunct, Postdoc, Or Amazon Warehouse Worker: Where PhDs With No Plan End Up

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

My PhD story is a cautionary tale.  I got my PhD against the backdrop of today’s contracting skilled, or “white-collar” job market.  Armed with my doctorate and an unwavering passion for research and academia, I had set my sights on a future brimming with intellectual pursuits.  Little did I know that the unpredictable twists of fate would lead me down a path I detested—donning the uniform of an Amazon warehouse worker. This is not a slight against those I currently work with. It’s just not what I thought my years and years of PhD-level training would bring me.  Sadly, after…

Scam Job Posts Versus Ghost Job Listings: A Guide For PhDs

Scam Job Posts Versus Ghost Job Listings: A Guide For PhDs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“I’ve applied to hundreds of job postings.” “Using the same resume?” I asked. “No, I targeted every resume. I’ve heard nothing back. In some cases I was sent a rejection email within the hour. What’s happening?!”“Ghost job listings.” I replied.  “Like fake jobs? Scams? I had a friend who applied to a job online and entered their private info and got hacked after. Like this?” “No, though that happens. Ghost job listings are from real companies but these companies have no intention of actually filling these jobs anytime soon …or at all.” “Why would they do this? What’s the point?”…

How To Get Hired In 3 Months Or Less When You Have A PhD (5 Action Steps)

How To Get Hired In 3 Months Or Less When You Have A PhD (5 Action Steps)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I had a client named Sarah years ago who needed to get hired in less than 60 days.  She was very concerned, and rightly so, that this wasn’t possible. She had her own reasons why she had to get hired so quickly, as everyone does. There were family obligations she had to pay off. She had been unemployed for a few months at this point. And she was about to lose her visa. This was an urgent, uncomfortable situation to say the least.  When I first talked to Sarah, she was frantic. She couldn’t keep a thought in her head…

How PhDs Can Find The Best Fit Company To Work For

How PhDs Can Find The Best Fit Company To Work For

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

When I started my job search, I was obsessed with finding the right job title. I wanted to make sure that I got into a job that was a good fit for me. So I scoured the internet for jobs that sounded interesting. By that I mean I would read a job posting, play out scenarios in my head of working in the role, and then based on what I imagined, would apply to the job, or not.  This was a disastrous strategy.  First, job titles are so variable and numerous that I was lost in a sea of phrases…

4 Ways To Give Your Social Selling Index A Big Boost

4 Ways To Give Your Social Selling Index A Big Boost

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Growing up, my parents had an adage for everything. And there was one I heard more than any other by far: Nothing worth having ever came easy. These words of wisdom were a lousy rebuttal for the injustices of childhood, but they became the mantra that got me through graduate school.  Maybe that’s why I regarded anything “easy” as weak, lazy, and average – all dirty words in my book. And, without knowing what LinkedIn was really about, I wrote it off as just that: an easy way for lazy people to try and find a job. It was, I…

10 Gotcha Interview Questions That Derail PhDs

10 Gotcha Interview Questions That Derail PhDs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

There are hundreds of interview questions I’ve heard in the last 10 years. Thousands, actually. PhDs report back to me from the business end of their industry interviews a dozen, two dozen times a day. They ask for coaching on standard questions that you’ve probably been asked yourself in industry interviews: “Tell me what makes you the best fit for this job?”  “Where do you see yourself in five years?”  “What’s your biggest weakness?” I’ve also met with PhDs post-interview who tell me they were stumped by some really off-the-wall questions. Head-scratchers like: “How would your greatest enemy describe you?”…

Does Your PhD Resume Spell A Bad Culture Fit?

Does Your PhD Resume Spell A Bad Culture Fit?

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

One of the biggest reasons that I left academia was the constant negativity.  Instead of collaboration, I was pitted against my fellow PhDs. The system forced us to compete against one another. I couldn’t look to my advisors for support either. It was more trouble than it was worth to even get them to make time, and in the end, their “advice” was little more than common sense. And that’s to say nothing of the wrath I’d face if I picked the wrong time to speak up or advocate for my research. I persisted, though, and looked forward to applying…

Top Industry Career eBooks

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the best 63 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, highest-paying jobs for PhDs – all of which will allow you to do meaningful work AND get paid well for it.

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.