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Is Your Resume Blacklisted? A PhD’s Guide to Navigating the AI-Driven Job Market

“I was hearing back from employers, Isaiah, but now I’m not.”

This is a confession I hear with alarming frequency from PhDs who are trying to navigate this contracting job market. 

One highly qualified candidate after another tells me they were receiving responses early in their job search. 

At first, they found themselves facing a wall of automated rejections with a few hopeful phone screens.

But at least that was something.

What followed after a few months of Thanks-but-no-thanks is the most anxiety-inducing sound, one that job seekers in this market are too familiar with: silence

The question this PhD asked me next is one that haunts many job seekers: 

“Do you think my resume is blacklisted?”

Just 10 years ago, that would have been a joke. 

Today it is a very real possibility. 

Whether or not your resume is actively “blacklisted” is a contentious topic, shrouded in legal gray areas. 

But the reality is that, in today’s AI-driven job market, your resume can become effectively  invisible to potential employers.  

This isn’t some conspiracy theory – it’s the result of powerful algorithms, machine learning, and data sharing within Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and across platforms like LinkedIn, Indeed, and ZipRecruiter.

That’s why, today, I’m going to delve into the phenomenon of resume suppression, exploring how it happens and what you can do about it. 

We’ll discuss the LinkedIn SSI score as a metric for tracking your visibility, reveal the true value of your PhD in the job market (backed by hard data), and equip you with time-saving hacks to streamline your search. 

Most importantly, we’ll expose the common resume mistakes that can sabotage your chances and provide actionable advice for optimizing your resume for the AI age.

If you’re a PhD who has been feeling frustrated and overlooked in their industry job search, this guide is for you. 

It’s time to introduce you to the new rules of the game and take control of your career trajectory.

The Rise of Resume Blacklisting

Resume blacklisting, in its simplest form, is the suppression of your resume by AI-driven hiring systems.

These Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and artificial intelligence algorithms learn from the data they collect, including which resumes get rejected by employers. 

If your resume is repeatedly passed over, the system may start to “hide” it from future employers, assuming it’s not a good fit. 

This can create a vicious cycle where a qualified candidate becomes increasingly invisible in the job market.

The legality and ethics of this practice are hotly debated. 

While outright blacklisting based on discriminatory factors like age or gender is illegal, the algorithms behind resume suppression are often opaque and difficult to challenge. 

Even if not explicitly illegal, it raises ethical concerns about fairness and transparency in the hiring process.

Regardless of the legal nuances, the practical implications for job seekers are undeniable.  

I recently spoke with a hiring manager who vehemently denied the existence of such practices, shouting into the phone, “What you’re describing is illegal, Isaiah!” 

Yet, the frustration expressed by countless PhDs, like the one who asked me, “Do you think my resume is blacklisted?”, suggests a disconnect between the idealized hiring process too many naive job seekers think they’re walking into and the reality many face.

The truth is, PhDs are not immune to this phenomenon. 

There are consequences to performing a job search poorly, and those consequences are greater today than they were because of advancements in AI and technology overall. 

If you’ve been meticulously applying for jobs with little to no response, it’s possible your resume is being suppressed by these systems. 

This can be particularly demoralizing for PhDs who are accustomed to academic success and may not be aware of the subtle ways in which the industry job market operates.

Understanding (and Elevating) Your LinkedIn SSI Score

In the quest to understand how AI is “scoring” you, one accessible metric is your LinkedIn Social Selling Index (SSI). 

This score, out of 100, evaluates your performance across four key areas:

  1. Profile Strength: How complete and compelling is your profile? Does it effectively communicate your skills and experience to potential employers?
  1. Establishing Your Professional Brand: Are you actively sharing insightful content related to your field? Do you engage in discussions and contribute to your network’s knowledge base?
  1. Finding the Right People: Are you expanding your network strategically, connecting with individuals in your target industry and roles?
  1. Building Relationships: Are you fostering meaningful connections by sending personalized messages, participating in groups, and offering support to your network?

For PhDs, the SSI score is particularly important. 

It serves as a tangible indicator of how you’re being perceived and ranked within LinkedIn’s ecosystem. 

LinkedIn is not just a social network; it’s a powerful tool used by recruiters and hiring managers to source candidates. 

A high SSI score can boost your visibility and increase your chances of appearing in relevant searches.

To improve your SSI score, you’ll want to:

Optimize Your Profile: Ensure your profile is 100% complete and keyword-rich, highlighting your most relevant skills and experiences for your desired roles.

Engage with Your Network: Post thoughtful content related to your field, comment on others’ posts, and participate in group discussions.

Expand Your Connections: Connect with industry professionals, alumni from your university, and individuals working in your target companies.

Build Relationships: Send personalized messages to new connections, offer help and support, and nurture ongoing conversations.

By actively working on these four areas, you can not only increase your SSI score but also establish yourself as a thought leader and desirable candidate in your field. Remember, LinkedIn is a dynamic platform, and your SSI score can fluctuate daily. Consistent effort is key to maintaining and improving your visibility in the eyes of potential employers.

The True Value of a PhD in Industry

You may have already realized on your own that we’re in the middle of a strange, paradoxical job market right now.

Financial analysts have dubbed this period a “richcession.” 

Wealthy and high-paid white-collar professionals – and that means you, PhDs – are experiencing a noticeable slowdown in recruitment.

Research from Indeed reveals a 55% decline in listings for tech, biotech and pharma roles compared to the year prior.

The same study revealed there is also a 40% decrease in finance, business development and project management related vacancies. 

Added to that, there are more and more PhDs entering the job market every year. 

This guarantees a steady increase in competition for positions that are specifically suited to PhDs.

These factors sound disheartening. 

It has led many PhDs to the doldrums of despair. 

However, I’m here to clear the air: 

The claim that “a PhD is not an advantage in the job market” is simply untrue. 

While it’s true that some PhDs struggle to transition into industry, this is often due to a lack of understanding of how to leverage their skills and qualifications, not a lack of value in their degree itself.

In fact, the opposite is true. 

Data overwhelmingly demonstrates the significant advantages PhDs hold in the job market:

Higher earning potential: A PhD can increase earnings by two to three times across various sectors. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median weekly pay for PhD holders is 45% higher than that of bachelor’s degree holders.

Exceptional starting salaries: In many fields, particularly STEM, PhDs command the highest starting salaries. Companies like Google and Amazon actively seek PhDs for their specialized knowledge and research expertise.

Qualification for senior roles: PhDs are often preferred for senior, director, and executive roles due to their advanced problem-solving skills, critical thinking abilities, and experience leading complex projects.

Higher employment rates: PhDs boast the highest employment rate of all education levels, at 92%, with lower unemployment rates compared to the general population.

These well-documented statistics collectively demonstrate the value of a PhD in a competitive employment landscape. 

If you’re a PhD struggling to find a job, don’t let anecdotal evidence discourage you. 

Focus on positioning yourself for roles that truly value your unique skills and expertise.

Don’t settle for entry-level positions where you’ll be underutilized and underpaid. 

Target PhD-level roles, senior positions, or even entrepreneurial ventures where your research background can be a significant asset.

Remember, your PhD is a testament to your intellectual rigor, perseverance, and ability to tackle complex challenges. 

These are qualities that are highly sought after in the industry. 

By recognizing your value and strategically positioning yourself, you can unlock a world of career opportunities that align with your qualifications and aspirations.

Time-Saving Hacks for a Successful Job Search

The PhD journey is demanding, often leaving little time for an extensive job search. 

Between research, teaching, family responsibilities, and other commitments, finding the time to dedicate to job applications can feel overwhelming. 

But even with limited time, a successful job search is entirely achievable.

By adopting smart productivity hacks, you can streamline your efforts and make the most of the time you have available. 

Here are a few strategies to consider:

Leverage Job Aggregator Websites: Instead of scouring individual company websites, utilize platforms like Indeed, LinkedIn, or ZipRecruiter. These aggregators gather job listings from multiple sources, saving you valuable time. Their advanced search filters allow you to quickly narrow down relevant opportunities based on your criteria.

Set Up Job Alerts: Automate your search by creating job alerts on these platforms. Specify your desired job titles, companies, or industries, and receive email notifications whenever new postings match your preferences. This ensures you never miss out on potential opportunities, even when you’re not actively searching.

Create Template-Based Resumes and Cover Letters: Craft a versatile resume and cover letter template that you can easily tailor to specific applications. This eliminates the need to start from scratch each time, significantly reducing the time spent on individual applications.

Use Digital Organization Tools: Stay organized by using tools like Trello, Asana, or even a simple spreadsheet to track your applications, follow-up dates, and any relevant notes. This structured approach prevents you from wasting time trying to remember details or retracing your steps.

Network Strategically: While networking is essential, it doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Use LinkedIn to connect with professionals in your field. Dedicate a small amount of time each day to engage with your network by commenting on posts, sharing articles, and reaching out to connections. Remember, quality interactions are more valuable than a large number of superficial connections.

These productivity hacks can transform your job search from a daunting task into a manageable and efficient process. 

Remember, consistency is key. Dedicating even a small amount of time regularly can lead to significant progress towards landing your ideal industry position.

Career-Killing Resume Resume Mistakes

Writing a compelling resume for industry positions is a challenge for many PhDs, and the rise of AI-powered Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) has only made it more complex.

To avoid having your resume lost in the digital abyss, it’s crucial to steer clear of these common mistakes:

  1. Ignoring Job Descriptions: Failing to tailor your resume to each specific job posting, neglecting to incorporate relevant keywords, is a major red flag for ATS systems.
  1. Too Much Information (TMI): Listing every publication, presentation, or project from your academic career overwhelms the reader and obscures your most relevant skills. Remember, a resume is not a CV.
  1. Failing to Translate Academic Experience: Your research skills are valuable, but you need to show how they translate to the industry. Reframe academic achievements into transferable skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, or project management.
  1. Overemphasizing the PhD: While your doctorate is a significant achievement, it’s not the only thing that defines you. Highlight your transferable skills and experience that align with the job requirements.
  1. Lack of Personalization: Generic resumes get lost in the shuffle. Tailor your resume and cover letter to each specific company and hiring manager, demonstrating your genuine interest and understanding of their needs.
  1. Weak Language: Avoid vague terms and clichés. Use strong, action-oriented verbs and quantify your achievements whenever possible.
  1. Burying the Lead: Don’t hide your most impressive accomplishments. Showcase them prominently at the beginning of your resume to capture attention.
  1. Underemphasizing Transferable Skills: Your PhD and niche skills show employers what you’re capable of learning, but your transferable skills show them that they can work with you and you can work with a team. Transferable skills also show them that you can thrive in business, not just research or academia. 

Keyword Optimization for the AI Age

Keyword optimization is absolutely crucial for resumes that go through AI-powered Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) because it directly impacts whether your resume will even be seen by a human recruiter.

ATS software is designed to scan resumes for specific keywords that match the job description. 

If your resume lacks these keywords, the ATS might automatically reject it, deeming you unqualified, even if you possess the necessary skills and experience.

Some ATS systems rank resumes based on keyword density and relevance. 

A well-optimized resume with strategically placed keywords can rank higher in search results, making it more likely to be noticed by recruiters.

  1. Matching Keywords: Carefully analyze job descriptions and incorporate relevant keywords throughout your resume. This helps your resume get noticed by ATS algorithms.
  1. Avoiding Keyword Stuffing: While keywords are important, avoid overusing them. This can make your resume appear spammy and difficult to read.
  1. Strategic Placement: Place keywords in high-impact areas like headings, subheadings, and the “Skills” or “Experience” sections.
  1. Ideal Keyword Density: Aim for a keyword density of 0.25% to 1%, ensuring the keyword appears at least twice per 600 words (average resume length).

Keyword optimization is not just a nice-to-have, it’s a necessity in today’s job market. 

You can significantly increase your chances of getting past the ATS by aligning your resume with the language used in job descriptions.

Remember, only by getting past the ATS bots can your resume ever land in the hands of a human recruiter –  someone that is able to truly assess the nuance and value of your qualifications.

By avoiding these pitfalls and strategically optimizing your resume for both human readers and AI algorithms, you’ll increase your chances of landing interviews and securing your dream industry position.

Conclusion

In this evolving job market, understanding the potential for resume blacklisting and the role of AI in the hiring process is crucial for PhDs. Optimizing your LinkedIn profile, engaging with your network, and building meaningful relationships can significantly boost your visibility and open doors to new opportunities. Utilize time-saving hacks we discussed to streamline your job search efforts and focus on quality interactions over quantity. By avoiding common resume mistakes that can sabotage your chances, you’ll finally be putting your best foot forward and increase your chances of landing the fulfilling career you deserve. Remember, your PhD holds immense value in the industry. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The data speaks for itself, showcasing the higher earning potential, career advancement opportunities, and employment rates that PhDs enjoy. Embrace your unique skill set and seek out roles that truly value your expertise.

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ABOUT ISAIAH HANKEL, PHD

CEO, CHEEKY SCIENTIST & SUCCESS MENTOR TO PHDS

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

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