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



Isaiah Hankel, PhD is the Founder and CEO of the largest career training platform for PhDs in the world - Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by 3 million PhDs in 152 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. Isaiah Hankel received his doctorate in Anatomy & Cell Biology with a focus in immunology and is an expert on biotechnology recruitment and career development.

Isaiah has published two bestselling books with Wiley and 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 About Photo

Similar Articles

5 Miscalculations That Are Holding You Hostage In Academia

5 Miscalculations That Are Holding You Hostage In Academia

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

As a PhD student, I felt more and more lost the closer I came to graduation. That’s because I had started to doubt that I knew what I wanted anymore. You could say I was torn, but that would be an understatement. I was absolutely wracked with indecision. My original plan had been to continue on in academia.  I was going to apply for a postdoc.  Then on to Assistant Professor.  And so on. However, I was starting to see a real pattern emerge among the PhD graduates I knew. I liked to check in periodically with those colleagues and…

Is Your Body Language Costing You The Job?

Is Your Body Language Costing You The Job?

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I ran into an old colleague a few days ago – literally. We actually collided going into the same coffee shop.  As luck would have it, we both had some time to kill, so we took a seat and started visiting. I told him all about the work I do, connecting PhDs with the strategies to get hired in industry.  He’d since gone on to work in human resources as a manager at one of the Global 500. We talked about things we wish we’d known after graduation – the importance of things like networking and creating a powerful resume…

Here's The Formula To Hack LinkedIn Recruiter's Algorithm

Here's The Formula To Hack LinkedIn Recruiter's Algorithm

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

LinkedIn is not for academics. This is what I heard over and over again in the latter stages of my PhD program.  If anything, you should have a personal website to share your published papers and research.  And it made sense to me. If I was going to go into academia, shouldn’t I be creating content for other academics? So that’s what I did. And then I dusted off my hands and kept working toward my PhD. I was so committed to the idea of succeeding in academia and becoming a professor. In my mind, there wasn’t really any other…

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies January 7, 2023

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies January 7, 2023

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

Clinch The Interview With 6 Can’t-Miss Cover Letter Strategies

Clinch The Interview With 6 Can’t-Miss Cover Letter Strategies

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

When I first started my job search, I was not a fan of cover letters.  I’d even go so far as to say that I hated them. But I ran into a friend of mine about a year after I got my PhD. We got to talking. I told him that it had been almost 12 months since I graduated and I had only had a few interviews.  He said to send him my resume and cover letter and he’d take a look for me. Cover letter? I didn’t have a cover letter, I told him. And he told me…

Is Cheeky Scientist A Scam? Who Shouldn't Join The Association

Is Cheeky Scientist A Scam? Who Shouldn't Join The Association

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Is Cheeky Scientist a scam?   Has anyone here had any experience with the Cheeky Scientist Association? Is Cheeky Scientist worth it?  What’s the deal with Cheeky Scientist? Is Cheeky Scientist legit? PhDs are trained to be critical.  In academia and in life, every decision they’re faced with is made with extreme prejudice. Examining facts, collecting resources, and determining what is a trustworthy source of information is one of their biggest strengths.  PhDs have superior critical thinking skills, so it makes sense for them to carefully consider any investment – even if it’s an investment in themselves. And in almost every…

4 Red-Hot Intellectual Property Positions For PhDs

4 Red-Hot Intellectual Property Positions For PhDs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I just got off the phone with an old friend of mine.  We were researchers at the same lab back in our university days. We had lost touch, but when he found me on LinkedIn I couldn’t wait to hear what he’s done since graduation.  He told me he had not wound up in chemistry, which had been his major. Biomolecular chemistry, he reminded me. Instead, he decided to pursue a career in patent law.  Here’s his transition story: I was in the process of earning my PhD in biomolecular chemistry. That’s where I learned that patents were unrecognized by…

Make A Future-Facing LinkedIn Profile That Employers Find Easily

Make A Future-Facing LinkedIn Profile That Employers Find Easily

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

When I began my job search, I was optimistic. I’d even go so far as to say I felt pretty confident.  Right off the bat, I found a job posting that seemed almost like it was written specifically for me. I met all the requirements for the role, and the work sounded genuinely interesting.  I’d heard that you should update your LinkedIn profile before applying to jobs, but I didn’t think that applied to me. Not without any job experience to add. I had worked on that right after graduation and felt like it was professional looking – pretty complete,…

Should You Delete Your PhD From Your Resume? The Answer May Surprise You

Should You Delete Your PhD From Your Resume? The Answer May Surprise You

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

If you have a PhD, you’re overqualified for an industry job. PhDs are lab rats and can’t understand business. You can’t get a job without industry experience. Do any of these sentences sound familiar to you? Have you been looking for an industry job unsuccessfully and have reached a point where you ask yourself if your PhD has any value whatsoever? These sentences are myths, commonly said by either academics who don’t understand anything about industry, or by other job candidates who don’t want to compete with PhDs. Hiring managers for PhD-level industry positions want the best candidates possible. After…

Top Industry Career eBooks

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.

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.

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.