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What Recruiters Want To See On A PhD’s Resume

Secret Recruiter Resume

Written by Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.

No one outside my lab knew I existed.

At least not professionally.

I had friends and family members of course but beyond that—no one. I’d spent over 20 years in an academic bubble.

The path laid out for me was difficult to climb but easy to follow.

The only problem was I had followed it all the way to a dead end. Now I was like a toddler jumping up and down trying to get someone to notice me. But no one did notice.

I asked my academic advisor for help even though we had developed a difficult relationship. He said that he didn’t know anyone in industry and couldn’t help me get a job. To be fair…

He really didn’t know anyone.

Like a lot of lifetime academics, all his connections were in one very small academic circle that revolved around the narrow fields he was writing grants and papers for at the time. I asked my thesis committee for help. Nothing.

I eventually talked to one of the Deans and he put me in touch with a hiring manager at a Fortune 500 company. I waited a month to call him though.

When I did call, I was terrified.

My heart was pounding and my hands were sweating. All because of one little phone call. The hiring manager picked up and I stuttered an introduction and started to tell him about myself. I blabbed on and on.

He said he’d be in touch and hung up. I never heard from him again. I was too embarrassed and uncomfortable to follow up. Forget this, I thought. Reaching out is too hard. I need to change my approach.

I know—I’ll just wait for recruiters to approach me!

Then they’ll do all the work for me. Brilliant. I took two minutes to spruce up my LinkedIn profile and quickly sent five different recruiters the same stock message with my industry resume attached.

The resumes I sent were the same ones  I had been uploading to different positions over the last few months. I sat back and waited for the job offers to pour in.

I knew all the facts.

Recruiters get bonuses for placing candidates. They’d find me a job in no time. After all, they’re called headhunters for a reason.

Not one single recruiter ever contacted me. I waited for the magic to happen but I never got a single reply. I thought about following up by decided not to because I didn’t want to seem annoying.

Welcome To The Real World Professor

No one is going to do any work for you.

Not ever.

If you want a job, you’re going to have to do everything yourself. If you’re lucky—extremely lucky—a recruiter or hiring manager might scan your resume for 5 seconds or pick up the phone and listen to you for two minutes.

That’s all the time you’re worth as an academic.

Once you have a healthy respect for this fact, you can start taking action to increase your value in these people’s eyes. You are, of course, very valuable. You’re a doctor with very high-level technical skills and have several strong advantages over other job candidates.

But your value is worthless if no one knows about it. One of the biggest reasons PhDs never transition successfully into industry is because they’re obsessed with themselves.

Like someone owes them a job.

They think their work should speak for itself and they shouldn’t have to lift a finger to progress their careers. Or, they’re too insecure and afraid of personal rejection to try.

Industry is the real world and it’s very different than the ivory tower. No one gives you anything in the real world. People don’t care about you. They care about themselves. And rightly so.

Why should anyone spend their valuable time helping you if you’re not even going to help yourself?

If you want something from someone, like a job, you’re going to have to start focusing on your audience, not just yourself.

This means carefully crafting your industry resume for each and every person you give it to.

Is Your Resume An Eye Stopper?

Your resume is not being read.

It’s being skimmed.

A study published by Ladders shows that the average hiring manager or recruiter will spend only 5-7 seconds on your resume or CV. That’s all you get. Seconds count. Which means…

Supreme organization is key.

Your resume’s content should be expertly curated to squeeze the most out of every single second and every single eye movement. The diagram below shows how simply reorganizing your resume can increase the amount of time recruiters spends on your resume.

Note that there are almost twice as many orange spots, which indicate eye lingering, on the well-organized resume to the right.

As a PhD, you should also notice that a surprising amount of time was spent lingering on the applicant’s education information when it was organized and located at the bottom of the page.

Eyes linger on organized headlines.

Overall, the study’s “gaze tracking” technology showed that recruiters spent almost 80% of their resume review time on only six data points, including the…

Applicant’s name, current title/company, previous title/company, previous position start and end dates, current position start and end dates, education.

Beyond these data, recruiters merely skimmed for keywords to match the open position. The rest of the resume’s explanatory content was completely ignored.

Recruiter Resume

(The Ladders, 2012)

What Top Recruiters Want

During our most recent Cheeky Scientist Association webinar, we interviewed one of the world’s top recruiters who clarified exactly how the average recruiter spends his or her week.

Most recruiters will go through 200 resumes a week, select 50 of those resumes for further review, and call only 15 for full screening. Only candidates who make it into this top 7.5% get a call.

Are you one of these candidates?

This top recruiters also said that PhDs should create a special, separate resume for recruiters only.

The biggest reason for doing this is because recruiters, unlike hiring managers who are largely concerned with hard results, want to know the methodologies, tests, and duties you’ve learned in the lab.

Again–this is very different from the outcome-oriented bullet points that most hiring managers want to see.

The keywords recruiters are scanning for, outside of the six data points mentioned in the above section, include the instruments you’ve learned how to use, any certifications you’ve achieved, tests you’ve passed, and all relevant methodologies you’ve mastered.

These keywords will help recruiters identify you as a fit for the open positions they have in their catalogues.

3 Keys To Connecting With Recruiters

Segment every part of your job search.

Each person you interact with–whether it be a reference, hiring manager, or recruiter–should be treated as a separate audience.

Your goal is to engage with these people in whichever way benefits them the best. If you want to get a job over other candidates, you must start tailoring your approach, messages, and resumes to make things as easy as possible for them. Here’s how:

1. Create two different resumes. 

To start, you need two different resumes.

Both should be concise and well-organized, starting with a strong visual center (or summary) moving to your experience and ending with your education.

Don’t be lazy.

Your first industry resume should be results oriented, listing all the concrete outcomes you’ve achieved in your current positions. This is your hiring manager resume.

The second should list all the methodologies you’ve mastered, focusing on keywords that recruiters, not hiring managers, want to see. This is your recruiter resume.

2. Change your resume for each position.

Once you’ve created the top two resumes, you need to start making copies and adapting the copies for each reference, recruiter, or hiring manager you give them to.

Ask yourself, what does your audience really want to see?

Remember they’re only going to spend 5-7 seconds on it so cut out all the filler content that no one but you cares about.

When giving your resume to a hiring manager, research the position you’re applying to and use the exact keywords that are mentioned in the job posting in your visual center, including the name of the position itself.

Focus on what they want to see, not you’re proud to show.

When giving your resume to a recruiter, research the company or companies the recruiter works with as well as the job positions the recruiter is looking to fill.

Stuff your visual center with all relevant certifications, degrees, job duties, and methodologies.

3. Ask recruiters the right questions.

If you’re too afraid to call a recruiter, you’re in trouble.

If you’re too arrogant or insecure to admit that you’re afraid, give up. You should just stay in academia.

Look—getting a job is uncomfortable.

You have to put yourself out there over and over again while doors are continually slammed in your face. This is normal. The only way to get past it is to admit that it’s hard and, most importantly, admit that you don’t know what you’re doing.

Quit pretending you’re above it all and get the help you need. No one ever got a job without asking for help. Like anything, calling recruiters will get easier the more you practice it. When you do call them, don’t spend ten minutes blabbing about how great you are. Instead, simply and politely ask them…

“Is this position still available?”

Then, let them talk and ask you questions. When they’re done talking, ask them what are the next best steps for applying to the position.

The best way to get the attention of a recruiter or hiring manager is to follow up with them. Following up is a critical skill that every PhD must develop if they want to get a non-academic job.

Don’t just send your resume to someone and do nothing.

The real work starts once you click send, or once you hang up the phone, or once you take someone’s business card. Now, it’s time to follow-up. Every time one of our Cheeky Scientist Associates gets a job, we do a post-hire interview.

One of the questions we always ask is, “What made the difference in getting hired for this position?” 96% of our recently hired Associates say that learning how to follow-up properly made the difference.

Are you following up?

To learn more about transitioning into industry, 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. 

Cheeky Scientist Association Learn More

Isaiah Hankel


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