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The Ideal Keyword Density For Targeting Your PhD Resume To An Industry Job Posting

Writing a resume for an industry job is one of the biggest sticking points I see with PhDs entering the job market. 

What worked even a year ago is not working today due to recent and rapidly accelerating advances in Applicant Tracking Systems. 

These systems, called ATS or just AI today, are software tools used by companies to filter resumes. 

They scan for specific keywords related to the job role, abilities, credentials, and qualities desired in a candidate. 

As a PhD seeking very competitive roles, including relevant keywords in your resume is essential to pass through these systems and get noticed by hiring managers​​​​​​. 

Unfortunately, most PhDs I talk to tell me that, at most, they take 5-10 keywords from a job posting and sprinkle them throughout their resume. 

“I targeted my resume, Isaiah” they say after doing this. 

That’s not targeting your resume. Not even close. 

A report by CNET found that industry companies are buying AI-driven ATS tools from third-party platforms and then customize the algorithms for their recruitment needs. 

This means that just adding a few words from the job posting to your resume is not going to cut it anymore. 

Today, you have to match your resume not just to the job posting, but also to the company’s About page and overall website. 

You also have to pull keywords from other job postings in the same department posted by that company. 

And, you have to make sure our LinkedIn profile matches your resume too. 

But how do you accomplish all of this and still have time to sleep and eat? 

Resume Mistakes PhDs Should Avoid Before Applying To A Job

Before we dive more deeply into the world of targeting your resume to a job posting, you need to make sure you’re avoiding the most obvious mistakes mistakes PhDs make. 

The first mistake PhDs make is ignoring the job description holistically. 

Many PhDs fail to tailor their resumes to the job description, overlooking the importance of keywords. It’s crucial to study job postings qualitatively and use the same prominent keywords in your resume​​. 

The second problem is TMI, or adding too much information, including the mistake of including a detailed list of every publication, presentation, and project – this is a very common mistake PhDs make. 

Remember, a resume is not an academic CV; it should be a concise and impactful document​​. The third mistake is failing to translate your academic experience, or previous entry level industry experience, into impactful industry experience for the role at hand. 

PhDs often struggle to translate their specialized academic experience into general skills applicable in the industry. It’s essential to reframe academic achievements into broader skills and knowledge​​. 

Another mistake is overemphasizing your status as a PhD. While being proud of your PhD is important, it’s crucial to remember that you’re not the only candidate with a PhD. Your resume should focus on skills beyond your academic degree, particularly transferable skills​​.

It’s also a mistake to lack personalization in your resume. Not personalizing your resume and cover letter to the specific company or hiring manager is a mistake. It can be perceived as laziness or disinterest​​. 

Yet another mistake PhDs make is using weak language. Weak as in nonspecific. You want to avoid using generic language. Instead, use specific, strong phrases and quantify your achievements​​. 

You also want to make sure you don’t bury the lead. In other words, make sure you highlight your most relevant and powerful contributions upfront. Tailor your resume for each job application, focusing on transferable skills​​. 

How To Optimize Keywords On Your Resume To Get Through Applicant Tracking Systems Software

Keyword usage on resumes is a topic of much confusion for PhDs. 

The most important thing to keep top of mind is to make sure you customize your resume for each position by including keywords from the job description. This is essential for passing through ATS filters​​. Overall, there are 5 keyword concepts you should consider when crafting your resume:

1. Build A List Of Keywords From The Job Posting

Start by carefully reading the job description. Note the keywords that appear frequently, especially those higher up in the ad, as they are likely more important​​. Next, and don’t skip this, because today’s AI is very restrictive – go to the Company’s Website. Mirror the language the company uses to describe itself. If they emphasize creativity, include words like ‘create’, ‘creativity’, and ‘creative’​​. 

2. Place Keywords Strategically And Avoid Keyword Stuffing 

While including relevant keywords is vital, avoid overusing them, as this can make your resume difficult to read and might be flagged as spam by ATS​​. 

Your placement of keywords should be strategic too. Place critical keywords in high-impact areas like headings, subheadings, and the “Skills” or “Experience” sections, as these are often weighted more heavily by ATS​​. 

You want to mind the ideal keyword density for today’s ATS systems too. Aim for a keyword density of about 0.5% to 2% in your resume. This means the keyword should appear one to two times per 100-200 words or so, enough to be recognized by ATS without being considered as keyword stuffing​​. 

3. Show Continuity Between Your Resume, LinkedIn Profile And Higher Level Job Ads

Next, go to the LinkedIn Skills Section and Use LinkedIn to find related skills. For instance, typing ‘social media’ in the skills search bar might yield related keywords like ‘social media outreach’​​. 

Then, search higher-level job ads. That’s right. Look at listings for positions above your current level to identify common skills and incorporate those you possess into your resume​​. 

4. Use Keywords Naturally, In Balance And Properly In A Sentence

Once your keyword research is complete, add them to your resume by focusing on what is called natural usage. Keywords should be integrated naturally throughout the resume. Overusing or clumping keywords can be counterproductive​​​​. 

Next, focus on contextual keywords. Real-world experience should be tied to keywords in your work experience and education sections​​.

You also want to create what is called keyword balance. Avoid overloading your resume with too many keywords. Instead, use them to highlight achievements in a meaningful way​​. 

Finally, focus on sentence integration. Incorporate keywords into sentences that showcase achievements, rather than just listing them​​​​.

In conclusion, the modern job market demands more than just qualifications; it requires strategic resume optimization for ATS. By understanding how ATS works and strategically incorporating keywords, you can significantly increase the chances of your resume passing through these systems and catching the attention of hiring managers. By avoiding common mistakes and strategically optimizing your resume with the appropriate keywords, you can increase your chances of securing interviews in the industry job market.

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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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