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

Follow These 5 Resume Rules For A Successful Job Search

I was unbelievably proud.

Finally, I could put those three coveted letters after my name: P-h-D.

On my resume, I was excited to list all of the accomplishments and publications I had landed during my time as a student.

Anyone who read this impressive document would know exactly what I was capable of – I was going to be an industry superstar.

The final product was a 5-page-long resume.

It was an imposing block of dense technical terms and academic titles with very little unused space (to emphasize the great volume of my accomplishments, of course).

This was a lot of work to put together!

I took that long resume and started sending digital copies to companies with job openings that piqued my interest.

Yet as the weeks passed, I heard nothing.

Weeks became months, and no companies were reaching out.

Was I really qualified for these industry positions after all?

Discouragement set in, and I started sending out fewer and fewer resumes.

Maybe I didn’t have the right skills – maybe my PhD was a total waste of time and effort.

If they weren’t hiring me, then who on earth were they hiring?

By now, I’ve learned the answer.

It’s even kind of funny to look back on how ridiculous my approach was.

Industry wasn’t ignoring me because I was unqualified – they were ignoring me because my resume was an unreadable bulk of wasted kilobytes.

In fact, I’m not even sure a human being ever saw my grand novel of a resume.

In most–if not all–cases, I was getting rejected by a computer!

It was time to take a new approach and refine my resume into the proper format.

I had to play the industry game, and if you want a job, you have to do it too.

So what exactly are the ingredients of a superb industry resume?

First, let’s talk about what they aren’t.

Why PhD Resumes Get Thrown Out

Getting your resume past tracking software can be a challenge

Are you submitting your resume to online job postings?

You might be surprised to learn that your resume is never even seen by a human being.

98% of Fortune 500 companies use applicant tracking software, according to Jobscan.

Companies (especially the really big ones like Google and Apple) receive many thousands of resumes every week.

The only way their hiring departments can be functional is by using tracking software to weed out unqualified candidates.

This puts applicants in kind of a tough spot – optimize your resume to get through the tracking software or get used to rejection.

Even highly qualified candidates face this issue.

Baruch College has reported that an unsettling 70% of all applications are never even seen by a person.

It can be as simple as not having the right keywords – the software doesn’t see what it needs to see, and your application is automatically rejected.

Here are a couple of key items to remember during your job search:

  1. If you submit a resume and don’t hear back from an employer, it does not mean that you aren’t qualified.
  2. You can bypass tracking software using one of the most powerful tools in networking: a referral.

Regardless of how you apply to a job, your resume absolutely must be optimized for passage through software screening and meet industry’s standards.

Follow these 5 Resume Rules to Land the Interview

In a certain sense, writing an industry resume is the same as writing an article or a novel…

You have to remember your audience.

You are not applying for a position in academia – you’re addressing an industry employer, and they don’t think in the same ways.

What does industry look for on a PhD’s resume?

How can you improve your chances of scoring an interview?

Let’s cover the 5 resume rules that get PhDs hired.

Rule # 1: Don’t overwhelm the employer – keep your resume clean and readable.

Are you a stickler for details?

Many PhDs are – they have to be in order to succeed in academia.

But have you ever minimized the font on your resume just to fit in that last bullet point?

If you want to land an interview, these inconsistencies have to stop.

PhDs like to put way too much information on a resume, making it virtually unreadable.

Your resume needs to be clean, inviting, and straightforward.

A hiring manager should have a very easy time skimming your resume – if it’s too dense, they won’t bother with it.

Think of this from the employer’s perspective…

How many resumes do they have to get through just to find worthy candidates?

Imagine you’re a manager reviewing the 37th resume of the day, and the first thing you see is a huge wall of text that will take you half an hour to parse through.

Do you know what the hiring manager does with that resume?

They get rid of it – they file it away, delete it, or toss it in the trash.

As a PhD, you probably have a massive range of skills and accomplishments to highlight, but you need to be more selective about what you include on your resume.

Which parts of your experience are most relevant to an employer?

Once you determine this, put those items on your resume.

Then you need to think about formatting.

Your resume should feature clear spaces between sections and lots of white space.

Use that white space to make your most important transferable skills stand out.

Otherwise, they get lost in a jungle of irrelevant text.

Rule #2: Get past the tracking software – use bullet points to emphasize results.

Bullet points will help get your resume past tracking software during your job search

Does your resume have bullet points?

It certainly should.

Not only that, but your bullet points should feature results of some kind.

Employers hire people who can achieve results – people who value outcomes and demonstrate a results-oriented attitude.

Too often, PhDs merely list things they’ve researched or projects they’ve pursued.

What does an industry employer think about that?

Nothing, because he or she has already moved on to the next resume.

How will your PhD or postdoc studies serve the employer?

Find ways to describe your experience that make you valuable to industry – make employers care.

And whenever possible, quantify any results you list.

Numbers will really make that resume pop, and they’ll demonstrate how much you value results.

Some PhDs hear this and protest, “I don’t have any results!”

But that’s not really true, is it?

As a PhD, you know all about how to move projects forward and create results.

This is a PhD’s “bread and butter,” so just look at your academic projects from an employer’s perspective and decide what would be important to them.

Employers want to know what you’ve accomplished, so list as many measurable achievements as you can.

Rule # 3: Forget about academic titles – highlight transferable skills.

One tactic is to discover which transferable skills an employer is looking for when building your resume

What words are you currently bolding on your resume?

A lot of PhDs bold terms like:

  • Postgraduate Researcher
  • Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Graduate Student

Everyone who reads your resume is going to see those cool titles that you worked so hard to achieve, and that creates a problem.

Tracking software likes to scan your resume and check whether it hits certain keywords – these keywords are not your academic titles.

Artificial intelligence doesn’t know what a “postdoctoral fellow” is, and that’s not the kind of text it’s programmed to seek.

But even if you make it past the software, it’s the employer’s turn to take a look.

That employer probably doesn’t have a PhD – they’re going to find your academic titles strange and mysterious.

Or worse: Pompous and irritating!

Your academic experience is transferable, but you have to prove it.

Do a little research and discover which transferable skills are important for the company or job opening you’re applying to.

Then write those skills on your resume and justify them in the context of your academic training.

Lastly, bold those skills – all of them.

These skill keywords will then be more heavily weighted by the software, upping your chances of getting noticed – and the employer’s eye will pick them out too.

Your bolded keywords should say things like:

  • Project Management
  • Leadership
  • Data Analysis

Underneath the keywords, you can add something like, “Experience gained as a Postdoctoral Fellow at [insert university here].”

This way, you’re putting your most important transferable skills front and center.

At the same time, an employer can read about where you were and what you were doing while you picked up those transferable skills.

Rule # 4. Don’t forget the “hobbies” section – use it to avoid getting stereotyped.

It’s easy to assume that the “hobbies” section of your resume is disposable, but don’t fall for this line of thinking.

And never delete this section for the sake of listing more technical skills/bullet points.

Hobbies are actually a very important part of a good resume.

Want to avoid being seen as a PhD stereotype?

The hobbies section is an effective way of doing just that.

A well-rounded hobbies section shows the employer you’re not the PhD stereotype – a dry, stuffy science robot.

Use your hobbies section to outline your most interesting personal pursuits, and emphasize those that have a social element.

Especially any hobbies that place you in a leadership role.

During interviews, hiring managers like to use this section as an ice breaker – it’s how they start a conversation and get a feel for your personality.

Community engagement or volunteer experience are especially valuable in this section.

But however you fill it out, keep in mind that it’s a tool for building rapport with your interviewers, and that can be a major asset in standing out as a candidate.

Rule # 5. Strike a balance – mind your keyword density.

Keywords aren’t just for tracking software – when a hiring manager is reading your resume, keywords will quickly indicate that you have the right skills for the job.

Employers don’t read and memorize every part of your resume – they have to read a ton of these things.

So if you’re not including keywords, you’re not showcasing yourself – the employer may not notice that you’re the right fit.

Make your most important skills stand out by writing them throughout your resume a few times.

This way, no matter where an employer is skimming in your resume, they’ll see the skills you’ve listed.

Which skills do you need to list?

You’ll learn that by thoroughly reading the job posting.

Locate any terms or skills that are used multiple times in the job description – these words you need to repeat throughout your resume.

You can even collect a few different job postings for the type of position you’re applying for, and use these to figure out what words the employer is looking for.

Now that you know the rules, building a top-notch resume should be simple! Don’t overwhelm the employer – keep your resume clean and readable. A block of text is too intense when the reader has so many resumes to look at. Get past the tracking software – use bullet points to emphasize results. Bullet points are a highly readable way to highlight what you’ve achieved. Forget about academic titles – highlight transferable skills instead. Employers and tracking software don’t know what to make of these “strange” terms. Don’t forget the “hobbies” section – use it to avoid getting stereotyped as some kind of PhD “robot.” And finally, strike a balance – mind your keyword density.

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


Aditya Sharma, PhD, earned his advanced degree at the University of Toronto, Canada. Now, he combines his passion for all things STEM with keen business acumen, and he works as a scientific consultant at a top Canadian consulting firm.

Aditya Sharma, PhD

Similar Articles

Robots Ate Your Precious Technical Skills. Focus On These Transferable Skills Instead

Robots Ate Your Precious Technical Skills. Focus On These Transferable Skills Instead

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I haven’t even graduated yet and my career is already being phased out by AI. Am I going to need a separate degree in machine learning to stand out from the competition?  How can I compete in a data-focused industry when software can do most of my job faster and for far less? Messages like these come to me every day. ChatGPT sent shockwaves through every industry when developer OpenAI unveiled the software to the general public in 2022. Within 5 days of launch, it had already seen 1 million users. I work closely with PhDs on a daily basis.…

The Power Of The Functional Resume: A Game-Changer for PhDs Seeking Industry Roles

The Power Of The Functional Resume: A Game-Changer for PhDs Seeking Industry Roles

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Sometimes you’re too close to a situation to really understand it. That was definitely the case for me when it came to my industry resume.  As a PhD leaving academia, it took me a long time to understand that I was wasting my time submitting an academic CV to industry employers. It wasn’t until I was hired in an industry role that I understood there was a specific resume format for people like me. When I had a chance to shadow an industry recruiter, that’s when I really understood the goal of a resume – the zoomed-out view that I…

Don’t Ignore These 6 Powerful PhD Job Search Trends

Don’t Ignore These 6 Powerful PhD Job Search Trends

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

What does your job search strategy look like?  If you had to describe it in 2 or 3 sentences, what would you say?  I ask because, if you’re reading this, you’re in the market for a job. Working with PhDs for more than 10 years, I’ve learned one thing is true above all others: The right job strategy is what’s going to get you hired. That’s right: I’m saying that a concrete job search methodology is more important than anything else in your job search.  It’s more important than your skills, your degree, your personality – more important than you,…

How Long Does It Take To Get Hired As A PhD?

How Long Does It Take To Get Hired As A PhD?

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I spent a lot of time being disappointed during my job search; things were taking longer than they should have.  At least, that’s what I thought. The longer I didn’t hear back from a recruiter or hiring manager for a job I really wanted, the more jobs I’d apply to and the more confused my job search would become.  I also didn’t realize that recruiters and hiring managers would trade notes and become confused by my frantic frequent applications to as many jobs as I could find.  What I didn’t know was that my impatience was costing me potential jobs…

A No-Excuses Look at Virtual Networking

A No-Excuses Look at Virtual Networking

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

A lot of PhDs ignore a crucial part of their job search – virtual networking. You may think that because you’re spending a lot of time going to conferences, attending lectures, setting up face-to-face meetings, and checking in with one or two connections when you need a reference or referral that you’ve established your professional network.  Virtual Networking Casts A Wider Net, Even After The Pandemic Nope, you’re networking by halves if you’re only networking in-person. I kept seeing a former colleague of mine at conferences really making the most out of his time networking in person. Everybody knew this…

What To Do When You Feel Invisible On LinkedIn

What To Do When You Feel Invisible On LinkedIn

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

LinkedIn is unlike any other social networking platform.  The similarities are hard to ignore: you post updates – sometimes pictures –  share your opinions and comment on posts others make. But at its core, LinkedIn is very different than Facebook or any other friend-finding, video-sharing, community-connecting network.  LinkedIn is designed specifically to introduce professionals to other professionals. The site’s primary mission is to remove the barriers that make it difficult to connect with peers, your target companies, and the right opportunities.  What kind of opportunities, you might ask? What’s so great about having connections? As a PhD transitioning into industry,…

A Pitch-Perfect Elevator Script For PhDs In Industry

A Pitch-Perfect Elevator Script For PhDs In Industry

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I had heard of the term “elevator script” before my first industry interview.  Was I sure what it meant? No. But I got the gist of it: introduce yourself in a compelling way during an interview or networking session. Don’t annoy someone in an elevator. I dismissed the idea of learning more about it than that If I remember correctly, I told myself that it was nothing more than a remedial gimmick. One of those unnecessary “life hacks” that clueless people gobble up to calm their nerves before an interview.  Definitely not something a PhD graduate with a background in…

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…

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…

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.