Don’t Write Your Resume For Yourself (& Who You Should Be Writing It For)

It took about a month for that fact to finally sink in. I was a PhD, no longer a PhD student. I was part of the 2% of society that now possessed that degree of education. But I had no idea how to write a resume. 

After you get your PhD, all you hear about is getting a job, making a decent salary, and finally enjoying life. 

This was not true for me. I was in some post-PhD fog, a depression unlike what I faced during my PhD. There were of course dark times in the lab, at the computer, redoing the analysis for the thousandth time, but there was always a well-defined light at the end of the tunnel. And now this light was nothing more than a piece of paper or three letters at the end of my name. It was not as bright as I thought it would be. 

So, I started looking for a job and submitting resumes. Here I was, having received the highest level of education and unable to get a job, or even a single call back. 

It was clear I needed a new strategy. I was in the wrong state of mind. I had this wrong idea that just because I had a PhD industry employers would come knocking to my door offering my prestigious positions. But I was invisible, industry employers didn’t know I existed.

My main mistake was writing my resume in a way that made sense to me, but it did nothing for hiring managers.  I needed to write a resume that could engage my audience. 

So, I revamped my resume; I took out a lot of jargon, simplified the theme, and added information that related to the job descriptions I was targeting. 

Soon enough, I had phone screens, interviews, and offers. My resume went from a mix of CV and generic resume to a results-driven, detailed oriented industry resume that eventually led to my transition into industry.

Why Your Resume Is Not For You

This may seem a little counterintuitive, a resume should be about you. It contains your history and your experience. But at the end of the day, your resume will be in a pile with hundreds of other resumes. It has to stand out to those who read it. 

So who’s your resume really about? It’s about a few people, the company, and a computer. The first thing you need to consider when writing your resume is applicant tracking software or ATS. 75% of recruiters and hiring professionals use ATS to whittle down the initial stack of resumes to the top candidates. ATS is a computer software that evaluates each resume based on whether or not it has the right format and contains the right keywords. You have to write your resume for ATS to get to the next stage of the hiring process. 

If you make it past ATS, your resume will go to the hiring manager. Most hiring managers don’t have a strong technical background like you, so they won’t feel impressed by a jargon riddled resume. 

If however, they see you’ve used the keywords they understand, have shown why you are a good fit, and you have referrals from people at the company, they will schedule a phone screen with you. 

This does not mean you should be untruthful on your resume, but you should curate your resume with the company and position in mind. 

Make sure you highlight key words from the job description. 

You also want to ensure you are always building your professional network. A well formatted resume is great but having a referral from the company is your fastest track to securing a job, particularly in times of economic hardships like a recession. 

How To Write Your Resume For Your Audience

Writing, even in a technical setting like resume building is very personal. You’ve always been told the resume must highlight your skills, creativity, and uniqueness. This is still true but you have to write for your audience. Here, your audience is the company you’d like to work for, more specifically, people making the hiring decisions for that position. 

This can be very challenging for a number of reasons: you don’t know the company, you don’t know the hiring manager, and you don’t know the culture. I will show you the top ways to get around this and write your resume for the company not for yourself. 

1. Write your resume with the company in mind

When you apply to a job, you may only have the job description and the company name on hand. But as a PhD you are trained to do research, to gather information and analyze this information rather quickly. 

In today’s society, there are virtually no companies without an online presence. If there is a company you would really like to work for, do a little internet searching. Find out what the company’s goals are. What words can you add to your resume that highlight your achievements and how they can help the company complete their mission? 

You might also find an employee directory in the company page. Who’s there that you can reach out to? Are you already connected with any of them on LinkedIn? Set up an informational interview. Ask questions about the company, the culture, and the expectations. 

If all goes well, this research and informational interview will provide you with the answers to many of the above problems. You will have a deeper understanding of the culture and how/if you will fit in.

By gathering this information and carefully analyzing it, you can target your resume to that company, producing a resume that is not about you but about how you fit. 

2. Show how you will help the company reduce risk

Companies don’t want to hire risky candidates, this is universal. No matter who you are writing your resume for, they want to see you are not going to be a risk, and this doesn’t just have to do with your professional behaviour but your whole demeanor. 

Their interest in you only goes so far as your ability to mitigate risk at the company. Are you stable? Do you seem genuinely interested in the company and excited about the position? Are you flexible? Does your online presence depict your professionalism?

Flexibility and versatility are some of the best transferable skills you can add to your resume because they convey that you won’t be a risk. When the pandemic hit, it completely shattered most work environments. Suddenly, the whole world had to work remotely. Showing that you are adaptable to situations and flexible during times of change is crucial to conveying you are a low risk candidate. 

You can also highlight that you are a low risk candidate by showcasing your management skills. Every PhD has developed project management and task delegation skills by juggling multiple projects at once during grad school. As a PhD, you also know quite a bit about stress management. 

PhDs already have so many transferable skills that reduce risk and provide certainty. When you write your resume, make sure to include these transferable skills and back them up with the results you achieved using them.

Keep current trends in mind when writing your resume 

The job market is not static. It is changing, sometimes more rapidly than others. Your resume has to reflect these changes. Fifty years ago, knowing how to type was a valuable skill. Twenty years ago it was important to put on your resume that you knew how to use Microsoft word. Six months ago it was important to know how to communicate virtually, but today this is a necessity. You have to be comfortable communicating and working remotely.

Knowing the trends in your current industry or target industry will make you a more valuable candidate. 

Not only are you keeping up with the times, but you are showing the dedication and enthusiasm to work in current conditions. 

Right now, the trend is virtual work and communication. Take advantage of this trend by highlighting your ability to work autonomously while still being able to collaborate in an effective way despite the decentralized workforce. 

Virtual training and chain of communication are also getting a lot of attention right now. It’s not a bad idea to put in your hobbies and interests sections some personal development you’ve done. Maybe you’ve completed an online course, or done some volunteering. Both of these highlight initiative and work ethic and your desire to continually improve.  

In Conclusion

While your resume is undoubtedly about your skills, interests, and experiences, it needs to be written for the company. You need to show the hiring manager that you are a dedicated and non-risky candidate. In a time of so much uncertainty, you can be certain on your career choice and convey that certainty to the company. Everytime you apply to a job, you should be creating a new resume that is written for the company, for the times, and for stability. 

Join Cheeky Scientist Association
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly
Elizabeth Deyett
Elizabeth Deyett

Elizabeth holds a PhD in genetics, genomics and bioinformatics. Now she combines her passion for science and writing as a consultant and freelance medical writer.

Similar Articles

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, January 23rd 2021

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, January 23rd 2021

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, January 16th, 2021

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, January 16th, 2021

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

How To Ignore Your Advisor & Get Hired In Industry In 2021

How To Ignore Your Advisor & Get Hired In Industry In 2021

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Job referrals lead to better jobs where both you and your employer will be happier with the fit. So, how do you get a job referral? You network. It’s that simple and it’s that hard. You must start forging reciprocal relationships with industry professionals. You need to show you are an open, giving and intelligent PhD, able to make a connection, add value, and then ask for a reference in the appropriate manner. But you can’t be lazy. You can’t be greedy or needy either. There’s a right way and wrong way to network and you need to know both.…

9 Most Emotionally Draining Parts Of A PhD Job Search (& How To Overcome Them)

9 Most Emotionally Draining Parts Of A PhD Job Search (& How To Overcome Them)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Job referrals lead to better jobs where both you and your employer will be happier with the fit. So, how do you get a job referral? You network. It’s that simple and it’s that hard. You must start forging reciprocal relationships with industry professionals. You need to show you are an open, giving and intelligent PhD, able to make a connection, add value, and then ask for a reference in the appropriate manner. But you can’t be lazy. You can’t be greedy or needy either. There’s a right way and wrong way to network and you need to know both.…

I Trash Any PhD Resume That Has These 5 Mistakes (A Savage Lesson From Recruiters)

I Trash Any PhD Resume That Has These 5 Mistakes (A Savage Lesson From Recruiters)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

The first interview I did with a recruiter from industry regarding PhD resume was extremely eye-opening. A recruiter told me that they typically receive 3000 resumes a month. She said that:  Humans’ eyes don’t see the first round of submissions; they are filtered through the ATS. Applicants have to make sure that their resumes are specifically written per the job description with all the relevant keywords. This will cause them to be reviewed by human eyes as opposed to the computer.  Typically, there is a recruiter who is assigned to a particular area and after he finds potential candidate/s he…

Your 2021 Job Search Strategy Is Probably Flawed. Here Are 8 Ways To Fix It

Your 2021 Job Search Strategy Is Probably Flawed. Here Are 8 Ways To Fix It

By: Meerambika Mishra

My job search strategy felt inadequate, it was a painful experience. I was perplexed. My frustration knew no bounds, self pity and doubt shrouded me. I could not understand where I was going wrong. I spent days fixing my resume. Then, applied for one job at a time and waited to hear back from hiring managers and recruiters for 2 weeks before starting with the next job application. I applied for every single job that came my way. The wait was painful, it was excruciating to bear the silence from the other end.  Every moment I questioned myself; why would such…

7 PhD Types Destined To Get Hired In 2021 (& 3 Types Certain To Fail)

7 PhD Types Destined To Get Hired In 2021 (& 3 Types Certain To Fail)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

What is a PhD supposed to do when you send hundreds of resumes out and get nothing back but a few automated responses? This is the question I was trying to answer in my last year of graduate school. I literally sent out hundreds of resumes. I posted my resume to Monster and other resume aggregation sites and waited for the tidal wave of industry PhD job offers to roll in. Of course, this didn’t happen. I polished up a generic resume and uploaded it to dozens of industry job websites. I remember getting on Pfizer and Shire’s websites, clicking…

Why Employers Hire Less PhDs In January And February (& How To Be The Exception)

Why Employers Hire Less PhDs In January And February (& How To Be The Exception)

By: Meerambika Mishra

The holidays were not so happy for my family as my husband was about to be laid off by his employer due to funding restraints at the lab. Employers hire but they truly do not care. We had finally come to realize that academia does not look after people. Even after dedicating our time and effort to writing grants, publishing papers, and tirelessly working for hours in the lab, we were expendable.  This was a wake-up call; the plight of a postdoc in academia. We started sending our resumes to every company in January with the hope of a miracle. Endless…

Why You Should Add A Sidebar Resume To Your PhD Job Search Arsenal

Why You Should Add A Sidebar Resume To Your PhD Job Search Arsenal

By: Sarah Smith, PhD

I couldn’t believe it.  After nearly 25 years of being a “student,” I had done it.  I had earned the right to put 3 letters at the end of my name: P-h-D.  After those 25 years, I felt it was time to leave academia behind, I no longer wanted to be on a college campus anymore, with undergrads, and lifetime academics.  I wanted something more. This was not for me.  So I brushed off my CV which I had used for so many grant proposals, changed a few things here and there, and started posting my ‘resume’ on every job…

Top Industry Career eBooks

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.

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the top 20 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.

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.