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These 7 Resume Mistakes Are Keeping You From Getting Hired In Industry As A PhD

Written By: Catherine Sorbara, Ph.D.

I knew my resume was important.

I knew it was the first impression that I made on an employer.

I knew I needed to impress the reader with my resume.

So, as I got to work on my resume, I spent days writing a single bullet point.

I poured as much information about what I did as a PhD student into that resume.

Every single responsibility I had was in there.

Every publication.

Every presentation.

It was brilliant.

I was proud of all these accomplishments, and seeing them all described in such depth on this resume was satisfying.

It was 5 pages of gold.

Or so I thought.

I found a few job postings online and sent them my resume.

I figured they would look at that resume gold and call me right away for an interview.

But I heard nothing.

So I sent the resume to a few more job openings.

Again, silence.

I was stumped.

So, I started to search around for answers and found out that the ‘resume’ I was sending was nothing like what industry employers want to see.

It was too long, too focused on academia, missing important keywords, missing important skills… the list goes on.

Basically I had to start over.

But this time I shifted my focus to the position and company I was applying for.

What would they want to see on my resume?

Which of my skills and experiences are most important to them?

I based the resume on those fundamental questions.

And along with increasing my networking efforts, I began to move past radio silence and started to get calls back from employers.

Why Your Resume Could Be The Achilles Heel Of Your Job Search

A good resume is not going to get you a job – but a bad resume can prevent you from getting a job.

At the heart of your job search is networking.

Networking, not with the goal to meet as many people as possible, but with the goal of making real connections with industry professionals and learning about their careers.

Set up several informational interviews a week.

Ask for introductions.

Just keep adding value, stay on people’s radar.

And when the time comes have you resume ready to hand over.

According to Jobvite, a job referral is a 5 times more effective than all other forms of hiring an outside candidate.

Only 3% of job candidates have a referral, so you immediately become a more exclusive candidate if you have a referral.

But once you do hand over that resume it needs to be excellent.

It needs to engage the reader and keep them reading.

Because according to CareerBuilder, 40% of hiring managers spend less than 60 seconds looking at your resume.

By putting the right keywords and making your resume visually appealing, you can extend that reading time and increase your chance of getting an interview.

Don’t Make These 7 Mistakes When Writing Your PhD-Level Industry Resume

There is really no excuse for having a bad resume.

You are a PhD.

You can learn faster than most other people and you know how to find the answer to hard questions.

So do the research.

Learn about the position you are applying for and put together a winning resume.

And while you’re putting your resume together, make sure that you don’t make these 7 mistakes that could be preventing you from getting hired…

1. Writing way too much.

The problem: you’ve included every tiny detail of your life as a PhD or postdoc and honestly the hiring manager does not care at all about 90% of what you wrote down because it is not relevant to the position.

This makes you resume difficult to read and too long.

If you are decreasing the size of the margins because you know that your resume should only be 2 pages long, you are writing too much.

But you have so many accomplishments! Shouldn’t you be putting them all into your resume?

The answer is no, not unless they are relevant to the position.

The solution: look at your experiences through the lens of the company and job you are applying for.

What would they care about the most?

Use the job posting and the informational interview you have done to identify the skills that are most important for the job.

Then highlight the experiences and accomplishments you have that best exemplify those skills.

2. Using academic titles and jargon.

The problem: you’ve bolded your academic titles (eg Postdoctoral Fellow) and made them headers on your resume, but these titles don’t mean anything to industry employers.

The first person to see your resume probably does not have a PhD.

They are probably not an expert in your field.

They are likely a human resources employee who is looking for the best candidate for the job description they have been given.

Postdoc, grad student, visiting researcher, lecturer… these words are not going to be in the job description, so putting them on your resume does not make you seem like a qualified job candidate.

The solution: read the job description thoroughly and figure out what the key transferable skills are. Use these skills in the places where you were writing your academic titles.

This might seem odd.

But this is called a functional style resume and it is a great way to highlight the skills you gained in academia while presenting yourself as an industry professional.

3. Including generic keywords.

The problem: you started your bullet point with ‘Team player…’ or ‘Enthusiastic…’ These types of generic buzzwords will kill your resume.

Especially words like ‘team player.’ This gives the impression that you can’t get work done on your own.

Which, as a PhD, it totally false.

You can work independently and you can work in a team, don’t sell yourself short.

And saying enthusiastic is a filler word. It just looks like you didn’t have anything better to say.

The solution: focus on communicating your ‘team player-ness’ by talking about the results you achieved during collaborations, and instead of writing ‘enthusiastic,’ find out what keywords the company used in the job posting and write those down instead.

4. Including a list of your publications and presentations.

The problem: you are defined by your publications in academia, but in industry these matter very little and should not take up space on your resume.

Including a big citation list of all your publications and conference proceedings is not going to impress hiring managers.

Most likely, they will not understand the complex title of your research paper or know the prestigiousness of the journal it was published in.

The solution: use your publications as a tangible result in your bullet points.

Mention the number of publications you have as evidence of your ability to collaborate or as evidence of your written communication skills.

Include the number of your presentations as evidence that you can speak publicly or that you have a strong network of KOLs.

And if an employer really does want to see your publications list (which is very rare), they will ask you for it and then you can provide it.

5. Writing an objective statement.

The problem: an objective statement is an outdated resume component that does not tell the employer anything about you and why you are a good candidate.

It goes something like this, “My goal is to get hired into a position that challenges me where I can contribute to improving patient health.”

Don’t do this.

If you include this in your resume, employers will think you are an amature and it will decrease your chance of getting an interview by 30%.

The solution: start your resume with a professional summary.

Your professional summary is 3 bullet points that demonstrate to an employer why you are the right candidate.

The bullet points are structured with a transferable skill, technical skill, and result that clearly show the employer that you have what it takes to succeed in the position.

A professional summary allows you to map your skills to the skills that the employers wants in a new hire.

6. You write about your responsibilities instead of the results you achieved.

The problem: you described all the activities that you performed as a PhD student or postdoc without telling the reader why you did those things.

Let’s say, like most academic PhDs, you managed an entire project on your own including writing protocols and performing experiments.

Great, so what?

What was the point of your work?

What did you achieve?

Employers do not care about all the duties or responsibilities that you had, they care about the results you achieved.

The solution: using the following structure to write all of your bullet points: transferable skills → technical skills → numerical result.

Using this structure you will give the employer all the things they are looking for.

You will show your all important transferable (aka soft) skills, demonstrate that you have the right technical know-how, and then give a tangible result which allows employers to see that you know results matter.

Think about it, as a business, if there are no results there is no product and no profit and then no company.

Results are very, very important, so include them on your resume.

7. Only applying for jobs by uploading your resume to job sites and job postings.

The problem: automated job sites and postings use Applicant Tracking Software to screen out resumes that don’t meet certain requirements.

So by applying online, your resume is likely not even being seen by a human.

A computer is scanning your resume, not finding the right keywords, and then sending your resume to the trash.

All the hard work you have spent on your resume doesn’t matter at all if no one is ever reading it.

The solution: create a networking strategy.

Do everything you can to meet people at the companies you want to work for.

Reachout on LinkedIn, attend networking events, or even call people on the phone.

But if you can find out who the hiring manager is for a position and give your resume directly to them, your chances of getting an interview just skyrocketed.

Science and medical communication is a growing field and is a great option for PhDs looking to leave academia but maintain a connection to science. If you enjoy writing or speaking about science, take some time to explore the communication career options available to you, such as medical writer, science journalist, scientific journal editor, content marketing writer, and science education or outreach professional.

To learn more about These 7 Resume Mistakes Are Keeping You From Getting Hired In Industry As A PhD, 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.

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Cathy Sorbara, Ph.D.

Cathy Sorbara, Ph.D.

Cathy has a PhD in Medical Life Science and Technology and is COO of the Cheeky Scientist Association. Cathy is passionate about science communication including translating science to lay audiences and helping PhDs transition into industry positions. She is Chair of Cambridge AWiSE, a regional network for women in science, engineering and technology. She has also been selected to take part in Homeward Bound 2018, an all-female voyage to Antarctica aimed to heighten the influence of women in leadership positions and bring awareness to climate change.
Cathy Sorbara, Ph.D.