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. 

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Sarah Smith, PhD
Sarah Smith, PhD

Sarah Smith, PhD, holds a degree in Biochemistry. A tireless science consultant at large, her rigorous pursuit of pristine labwork is unflinching. Yet Sarah’s keenest passion--guiding emergent academics into the business world--stems from personal experience with the transitional struggles she would have no PhD face alone.

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