How to Transform Your Academic, Ph.D. CV into Industry Resume
Whether you are a recent Ph.D. graduate, a post-doc, or a university lecturer considering a career move, start by preparing your resume and cover letter in line with the expectations of your potential hiring managers outside of the academic world. To do this, research target roles and companies, create your networking strategy, and learn from individuals who made a similar transition.
This article answers some common questions about curriculum vitae, industry resumes, transferrable skills, and positioning your academic experience for industry or NGO roles.
I have not decided if I want to leave the academic world completely. What are the benefits of transitioning to industry roles?
You have a variety of opportunities in the non-profit sector, government, private companies, and universities. Start by identifying the top skills you love applying every day in your work so it does not always feel like work. Once you have a list of these skills, research your target industries. The best place to start may be to ask yourself what problems you want to be solving, on a daily basis, at work for the next 2-5+ years. Then, ask yourself a few questions about your personality and lifestyle: what are some of the tasks that energize and inspire you the most? What are the tasks that drain your energy the most? Based on these ideas, you will be able to brainstorm roles and types of organizations that are right for you at this stage.
This is also a good time to talk to your network. Current colleagues, professors, fellow colleagues at industry associations, friends, and your university’s alumni may provide insights into available opportunities. If you are a recent graduate, you may also consider identifying professionals on LinkedIn whose job you would like to do and ask them for informational interviews – 20-minute conversations (phone or video) about their role, key responsibilities, and the path they took to it.
I have made a firm decision to transition from my academic work and I have researched potential roles. How do I make sure that I speak their language when I apply?
Start by printing out the job description and highlighting the top requirements. Research the company carefully. Understand where your role fits in the company and who you will be reporting to. Identify the main problems this role/department will be working on. When preparing your career materials, strive to address the top 3-5 jobs requirements with specific examples. Qualify and quantify achievements and be precise about the outcomes of your work (positive student evaluations, publications, improvements to policies or programs, new teaching methods introduced, processes improved, costs saved, essential decisions initiated, etc.).
Once you have a firm (initial) understanding of the role and the environment, update your resume and cover letter to highlight the expertise they seek. Edit career summary section, areas of expertise, and your cover letter.
What are the best ways to research companies when job hunting after a Ph.D. or a post-doc?
Research the target company in detail: use their website, YouTube channel, other social media channels, brochures, and LinkedIn to view who works there, what their latest projects were, and how they have performed over the past few years. To find the company’s performance data, salary information, and past employee reviews, use the following resources: Glassdoor, PayScale, Salary.com, professional association member surveys, and/or Department of Labor.
Check the organizational structure for the levels of seniority and reporting. Research the company’s financial health: staff turnover rates, investment and growth data, debt, or merger plans. This information can be pieced together using the company’s annual reports, Better Business Bureau, LinkedIn, dnb.com, crunchbase.com, business journals and newspapers, Wikipedia, independent employer surveys, LexisNexis, PrivCo, or Bloomberg (via your library subscription). You can also use Boolean search to look up a specific topic of interest as related to this company’s activities.
Should I start with an entry-level position if I do not have any industry experience?
No. I have been asked this question by experienced researchers and recent graduates alike. The answer is: always target a career opportunity for your optimal growth and career progress. Only in some cases – and not by default – it may mean taking an entry-level role. Most of the time, you will be looking for a role where you can apply all/most of your skills and learn to do something new.
To find the best employer for you, create a list of 10-30 target organizations. Identify their problems and brainstorm how you can help solve those problems. List areas where your academic skills (research, presentations, committee work, and teaching/explaining complex concepts in clear terms) are most applicable. Find the decision-makers via LinkedIn or company websites and introduce yourself.
Does my Ph.D. degree make me overqualified?
Your degree in itself is a strong asset for any of the career paths you choose to take with it. If you are told by a recruiter that you may be “overqualified” for a certain role, the underlying message could be that your salary expectations may be higher than the budgeted range or that the growth to seniority in this role may be slower than you would expect. You can approach this comment by asking why the recruiter thinks that and if the salary is the concern.
Do you mind telling me a bit more about why I might be overqualified? Is this based on my perceived salary expectations or other areas of my experience?
You can also address this with a clear statement about your motivation for the role:
I have researched the company in detail, and I am very impressed with your mission to XYZ. Given that I have spent the last 5 years researching and practicing XYZ, I am positioned to make strong contributions as part of your team. I am sure we will be able to agree on the role responsibilities and the compensation package that will be right for both of us once we determine that I am the right candidate.
Otherwise, do not dwell on this idea and do not disqualify yourself from positions you are interested in. The starting point is to attract attention of the hiring managers and decision-makers, get an interview invitation, and start a collaborative discussion about their needs and goals.
What are the main differences between a CV and a resumes?
CVs are designed to highlight your research, academic awards, grants, service, and teaching experience. They are organized and formatted in a way that makes sense to your academic colleagues. CVs often span 3+ pages and include lists of presentations, publications, committee memberships, and specific academic projects.
A resume is an industry document for hiring managers and recruiters. An average job posting in the US receives about 300 applications. Think about a busy hiring professional who needs to sort through these resumes in a limited amount of time and identify the 3-5 top candidates for interviews.
During this first round, resumes are skimmed in a few seconds to determine if the candidate has the required experience and qualifications. Some companies use applicant tracking systems to scan resumes. Your interviewers then may spend a bit more time skimming your resume and reading some portions of it in more detail.
This is why professional resume writers focus on your specific, measurable achievements and add testimonials, areas of expertise, concise career summaries, and occasional visual elements. The goal is to offer your reader a structure that is easy to follow to quickly identify your skillset. Resumes are usually 2 full pages, with occasional exceptions.
Should I take or list courses I took in addition to my formal degree program?
Yes, everything that is relevant to the target role should be on your resume. Add your First Aid Certificate, Driver’s license, software training, project management tools, or association memberships if they are relevant.
What are the things that I should leave off when writing my resume?
✔ Academic jargon
✔ Long, dense blocks of text
✔ Detailed and lengthy project descriptions
✔ Objective statement at the top of the resume
✔ Hobbies, photos, and other personal information
✔ A list of your references or “References available upon request”
✔ Names of university-specific divisions, programs, and initiatives
✔ Extensive details of all awards, grants, and publications, presentations (You can list them in a separate document you can label “Addendum.”)
✔ Your full address. Use only City, State for privacy reasons and include your personal email address.
✔ Some clubs and extracurricular activities. Only keep the ones that are relevant to the target role or helped you develop leadership or other required skills. Be brief. Do not take up 5-6 lines simply listing these clubs.
What structure should I use for my industry resume?
Most resumes follow a chronological structure. Your industry resume should be, in most cases, 2 full pages. It should demonstrate examples of measurable achievements that would matter for the target employer: results and impact of the project, your process improvement initiatives, your ability to deliver work before deadlines or under budget, and your skills in organizing and guiding teams.
The key elements your resume needs are career summary, technical skills, areas of expertise, awards, 1-2 testimonials (textboxes), career entries, education and professional development.
How can I grow my network of industry connections?
Start by creating your networking plan: top 2-3 industry associations to join, 10-30 target employers to research, several people with your desired role titles to schedule informational interviews with, and several informal groups for join where you can combine leisure and professional networking.
Research people on LinkedIn using a list of role titles and your list of companies. Send personalized invitations to connect and ask for informational interviews. Review LinkedIn profiles and resumes of people whose jobs you would like to have. What are their top differentiators and skills? How do they position themselves?
Join professional industry associations. Pick 1-2 leading associations in the field and become a member. The affiliation will look good on your resume and you will learn from the association’s webinars, conferences, and other materials. As you watch webinars or attend conference presentations, connect with the presenters on LinkedIn and tell them what specifically you found useful about their presentation.
I am thinking about my transferrable skills. As a former teacher, I can organize processes and teams well. What phrases can I use to express this in business terms?
Focus on your skills in teamwork, communication, planning, organizing, guiding discussions, inspiring confidence, asking insightful questions, evaluating information for quality and credibility, and assessing performance. Read the job description carefully and identify where in the target role these skills are needed. Provide specific examples of your performance on the resume (bullet points) and/or on the cover letter.
I know that informational campaigns for the general public are one of the areas your company is focusing on. Using my skills in teaching complex concepts to university students, I can prepare brief educational materials and presentations on clean energy that you can use to engage more prospects.
As a researcher, I completed many successful projects. What phrases can I use to express this in business terms?
Focus on your project management skills, technical acuity, and the ability to draft project documents and present findings to groups of people. You may also have organized seminars and conferences to exchange ideas. List the technologies you used, the number of people on your team, and the impact of your research on the larger community. Mention your statistical analysis skills or any data modeling software you have used. For example:
Led a research team of 10 in completing a project to identify XYZ. Set schedules, chaired meetings, and presented the findings to 100+ attendees at ZYX conference. The project was completed before the deadline, and the research findings are currently used in the production of XYZ for the clean energy sector.
Once you identify your target employers and research them, it will be easier for you to match your skills with their needs. Always think strategically about your reader: their limited time and the questions they have. The way you phrase your achievements and messages to your potential employers is your primary tool in getting interview invitations and building professional connections.
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