Cheeky Logo
Ready To Get Hired?
Apply To Book A Free Call With Our Transition Specialist Team

This Resume Format Gets PhDs Hired – 5 Steps To Writing A Functional Resume

Writing my first resume was so hard.

First of all, I felt like I had accomplished very little.

Most of the people I knew in academia went on to do a postdoc after their PhD, so as a newly minted PhD I felt unqualified for just about everything.

But I didn’t want to do a postdoc.

As I started to write my resume I only had one ‘experience’ my PhD studies.

It looked so lonely on the page.

I wondered if I should include the time I worked at Starbucks or when I was server during highschool…

I was lost and felt like this resume did not do justice to the years I had just spent getting my PhD.

I had about 10 bullet points all underneath the heading ‘Graduate Student’.

I submitted this resume to a few places, but I never heard anything back.

Finally, I started asking for help.

What I learned was incredible.

There was this thing called a functional resume where I could highlight the skills I learned as a graduate student rather than highlighting the fact that my only experience was as a graduate student.

Immediately I switched my resume to this ‘functional’ style.

Instead of one lonely experience I split my PhD studies into 3 sections, each of them highlighting a key skill I gained as a PhD student.

Since I was targeting science writing positions I choose, Written Communication, Project Management, and Scientist as my headers.

This was just the first draft. Overtime and for each new position I applied to those headers changed.

I knew that this type of resume represented me and my skillset much more fully than the traditionally chronological resume.

And it was this style resume that helped me land a job.

It was a much, much better way to represent the varied roles I played as a graduate student and show potential employers the value that I would being to their organization.

Why Functional Resumes Benefit Your PhD-Level Job Search

Why do you even need to have a resume in your job search? What’s the purpose?

Is the purpose to outline every detail of your past experience?


The purpose of your resume is to show an employer that you would make a great employee.

The purpose of your resume is to convince the hiring manager to hire you.

And those hiring managers are looking for specific skills, not for you to have a specific past experience.

According to LinkedIn there are 25 hard and 5 soft skills that employers are really looking for in candidates this year.

These in demand skills are what hiring managers will be looking for on your resume.

It doesn’t matter if you gained that skill as a postdoc or as a graduate student, that is not the important part.

The important part is your skill – and that’s why a functional resume is a great option for PhDs transitioning out of academia.

Additionally, the functional resume is great for getting past Applicant Tracking Software (ATS).

Jobscan reported that 98% of Fortune 500 companies use ATS, so if your resume isn’t written with ATS in mind it will probably be rejected before a human even looks at it.

These ATS systems are set up by hiring teams to scan resumes for the skills they want in job candidates.

So, to get past these filters your resume needs to be highlighting your skills in a way that the software understands.

A functional resume makes this easy.

The 5-Step Process For Writing An Excellent Functional Resume

Everyone knows you need a resume when searching for a job.

But not everyone knows how to write a good resume.

As a PhD making the transition from academia to industry you need to translate your academic experience into industry relevant results.

This can be done with the traditional chronological resume, but the functional style resume makes this translation even better.

A functional resume allows you to highlight your skills and accomplishments without using academic language that most people in industry don’t understand.

Here are 5 steps you should follow to create a functional resume that will support your transition from academia to industry…

1. Identify your target position.

Before writing your resume it’s essential that you narrow down the types of positions that you will be targeting.

Every resume that you write will be tailored to the exact position.

This is a must.

If you have been submitting stock resumes, it’s not surprising that you haven’t been getting called in for interviews.

However, you can start writing your resume before you have a specific job posting in mind.

To do that you just need to identify the type of position that you are interested in.

For example, your resume will highlight very different skills and results if you are targeting a medical writing position versus a user experience position.

So, before you start writing, look over the industry positions available to PhDs and reflect on your core values to decide what positions might be a good fit for you.

Additionally, when deciding what positions are a good fit for you, it’s wise to set up informational interviews with people who already have those jobs.

Ask them questions about their day-to-day, career trajectory, and overall satisfaction.

They have a perspective on the position that it would not be possible for you to gain by just doing online research.

2. Determine the key transferable and technical skills.

Once you have identified the position(s) that you are interested in (try to keep it to 2-3) you need to figure out what skills are important for those positions.

Employers know that for someone to be successful in a specific role they need specific skills.

To understand what skills are important for your target positions, there are a few strategies you can use.

First, ask during those informational interviews.

Ask experienced industry professionals what skills were key to their success in the role and ask them what skills were key to them getting hired in the first place.

Second, look up several different job postings for your target position type.

Gather at least 5 different job postings and then copy and paste the text from theses job descriptions into a word cloud.

The word cloud will then analyze that text and tell you what words appear most frequently.

These frequently appearing words are the keywords for your target position.

For example, a Data Science word cloud will likely have ‘data analysis’ as a frequently occurring keyword, and the word cloud allows you to figure out what the other, not as obvious, keywords are.

Write down these top key skills.

Start thinking about your own experience as a PhD and identify ways that you have demonstrated these skills.

If needed jot down some quick notes about each of the key skills that you can revisit when writing your bullet points.

3. Ditch your attachment to academic titles.

By now you’ve decided on your target position and identified the key skills for that position.

But next is the hardest part for many PhDs – you need to stop using your academic titles.

These academic titles do not mean anything to people outside of academia.

Postdoctoral Scholar, Graduate Researcher, Research Fellow, Graduate Assistant, Lecturer – huh?

In industry, these academic titles are going to work against you because they do not clearly describe the work that you did in those positions.

This is tough because in academia you are defined by these titles and you have worked hard to earn the title that you identify with.

But it’s time to look to the future.

Those academic titles are your past, industry focused keywords are your future.

If you are still uncertain about letting go of these titles, ask industry professionals about it in your informational interviews.

Ask the recruiters that you talk to.

They will tell you the same thing.

To get hired in industry, employers want to know that you have the skills required to get the job done, they do not care about your previous academic titles.

4. Make the key skills bolded headers in your experience section.

This is the step that really makes your functional resume different than a traditional resume.

It applies only to the ‘Work Experience’ or ‘Professional Experience’ section of your resume.

Instead of writing your academic titles as the bolded headers for this section, write the key technical and transferable skills.

Then underneath that bolded header you can add in the place where you gained that experience.

Here are a few examples of what that looks like:

Project Management

Postdoctoral Fellow at xyz University

  • Bullet point 1
  • Bullet point 2
  • Bullet point 3

Research & Development

Graduate Researcher at xyz University

  • Bullet point 1
  • Bullet point 2
  • Bullet point 3

This method places the focus onto the key skills that you have and that the employer wants to see.

It is important to do this when applying online to positions as well as when you have gotten a referral and are giving your resume directly to the hiring manager.

ATS systems rate the bolded words more heavily, so by bolding these keywords you are telling the ATS that you have what it required for the job.

And bolding these skills means that when a hiring manager skims your resume they will see right away that you have important skills.

Once it’s clear that you have these skills they can read further into your bullet points and find out how you gained and demonstrated these key skills.

5. Finish up the other sections of your resume in the traditional way.

The functional style mainly affects the experience section of your resume, the other sections should be written in the traditional industry resume style.

Here are a few broad guidelines for writing an industry resume:

  • Only 2 pages long
  • Lots of white space
  • Start with a 3 bullet summary section
  • Include your education
  • List relevant skills
  • Include a hobbies section
  • Don’t list your publications
  • Results oriented

When writing your resume it’s important to remember that this is a persuasive document.

You are not doing a peer review of your accomplishments, you are writing a resume that should convince someone to hire you.

Always keep the perspective of your potential employer in your mind as you write.

What are they looking for?

How can I show them I have what they are looking for?

Your resume is not a static document either.

As you apply for more positions it will change each time to be tailored to the position and each time you will make changes and improve it.

Your resume is a fundamental part of your industry job search. You can’t really get started without one. However, as a PhD making the transition from academia to industry, the traditional chronological resume may not be the best option for you. Instead, you can write a functional resume and to do that you should identify your target position, determine the key transferable and technical skills, ditch your attachment to academic titles, make the key skills bolded headers in your experience section and finish up the other sections of your resume in the traditional way. Having a solid, functional resume will set you up for a successful industry job search.

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


Jeanette is a chemistry PhD turned science communication enthusiast. During her PhD she realized that her favorite part about research wasn’t actually doing research, but rather talking and writing about it. So, she has channeled her passion for discovery into teaching and writing about science. When she isn’t talking someone’s ear off about her latest scientific obsession, you’ll find her on the soccer field or reading a good sci-fi novel.

Jeanette McConnell, PhD

Similar Articles

AI Is Replacing Recruiters. Here’s How PhD Job Seekers Should Adapt

AI Is Replacing Recruiters. Here’s How PhD Job Seekers Should Adapt

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“I had a recruiter reach out to me, Isaiah, and after I gave them my resume and answered their questions, they never got back to me. What should I do?”  I hear this a lot.  I also hear, “Isaiah, I was on the phone with a recruiter and as soon as they heard that I needed a visa, they hung up” …”or as soon as they heard I had no industry experience, they hung up.”  Man, I personally hate this. What a waste of time. The recruitment industry is broken.  The good news is its being devoured by Artificial Intelligence,…

Why PhDs Are Powerhouses Of Productivity (& How It Can Get Your Hired)

Why PhDs Are Powerhouses Of Productivity (& How It Can Get Your Hired)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“Nothing makes sense today in the job market”, a PhD expressed to me recently.  “No one is responding to my resumes. I don’t understand why they would ask for a scientist at the company and then not even want to talk to me”, they said. They went on: “I’ve even had some friends refer to me, but still didn’t get an interview. I feel like I made a mistake getting my PhD.”  It’s hard hearing this from PhDs who invested so much in their education and in advancing research for humanity.  Still, I hear it a lot.  My response is…

Employers Are Hiring PhDs Because They Learn Faster Than Other Job Candidates

Employers Are Hiring PhDs Because They Learn Faster Than Other Job Candidates

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“Why would any employers hire me… I don’t have industry experience, my skills don’t match the positions I want, and I’m not hearing back from any positions I’ve applied to… Plus, I don’t know anyone in industry.” I heard this from a PhD recently who was mentally broken from their job search.  They had been applying to jobs for months and either hearing nothing back or getting rejected very quickly.  When they asked their peers for insights as to why, they heard the usual stuff, “maybe you’re overqualified?” Or… “Actually, you’re underqualified because you don’t have industry experience.” “You can’t…

What Are Ghost Job Listings & How PhDs Should Handle Them

What Are Ghost Job Listings & How PhDs Should Handle Them

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“I’ve applied to hundreds of job postings” a PhD recently told me. “Using the same resume?” I asked.  “No.” they replied.  “I targeted every resume. I’ve heard nothing back. In some cases I was sent a rejection email within the hour. What’s happening?!”, they wailed.  “Ghost job listings.” I replied.  They asked me what a ghost job listing is and I explained that ghost job listings are jobs posted by real companies but they’re jobs that these companies have no intention of actually filling. Of course, this PhD wanted to know why and I told them that the answer is…

Does Your PhD Resume Spell A Bad Culture Fit?

Does Your PhD Resume Spell A Bad Culture Fit?

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

One of the biggest reasons that I left academia was the constant negativity.  Instead of collaboration, I was pitted against my fellow PhDs. The system forced us to compete against one another. I couldn’t look to my advisors for support either. It was more trouble than it was worth to even get them to make time, and in the end, their “advice” was little more than common sense. And that’s to say nothing of the wrath I’d face if I picked the wrong time to speak up or advocate for my research. I persisted, though, and looked forward to applying…

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…

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…

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.