How to craft an effective Ph.D. resume

Jun 27, 2023
Ph.D. Resume

Ph.D.s write hundreds of pages, yet struggle with one-page resumes.

Yes, it's hard to summarize years of work into a single page, but it's essential for industry jobs.

I've reviewed hundreds of resumes and gathered techniques and insights on how to create a great Ph.D. resume.

Here's my 6-step plan:


1. Understand the purpose of a Resume

The concept of a Resume is counterintuitive to the academic norm.

In academia, we are proud of our accomplishments; ‘I’m an expert in Neural Networks’, ‘I’m the leading voice globally on 19th British history,  ‘I’ve published 5 papers in Nature’, ‘I have 20 patents’, and so on. 

With this sense of pride, comes self-centricity, and with self-centricity, comes a very long CV. I recently came across an academic CV that was 42 pages long!

However, a lengthy list of accolades and accomplishments is not the goal of an industry resume. In fact, it’s the opposite.

Resumes are meant to be clear and concise communication of your value to a business.  An industry resume is not a CV and it is not about you.

The primary goal is a resume is to land an interview. To increase your chances of getting interviews, you need to revamp your resume to grab the employer's attention and show them what you can offer their team.


2. Do the Research

Once you understand the purpose of a resume, it’s time to exercise your expertise: Research!

Before you start your research, you should know which job family you want to pursue (for example, Project Management). If you don't have a specific job in mind, it's a good idea to have a clear idea of what you want to do before you start writing your resume.

After you have identified your target role, you should research 10 or so job postings and annotate the keywords, phrasing, and language that is common across similar roles. You want to ensure that these keywords and phrases are included in your resume.

The next step is to conduct a few informational interviews with people who work at companies you are interested in. This will give you insights into what you need to highlight on your resume to address the business problems of the companies you are applying to.


3. Create a ‘Shitty First Draft’ (SFD)

It’s now time to take your ideas from your head to write them out in a ‘shitty first draft’.

Most academics may have a CV, and the initial instinct may be to start ‘cutting down’ your CV to a page. I recommend against doing that, as the goals of a CV and resume are very different, and it would be better to start from scratch.

Anne Lamott's concept of "shitty first drafts" can be applied to resume writing. By writing a rough draft, you can find clarity and brilliance in later drafts.

So, start with a Shitty First Draft (SFD). You can simply start by writing a few bullets for each main section (i.e. Objective, Experience, Education,  Skills) in as little as 30 minutes. The goal here is to get things on paper, not perfection.

Alternatively, you could start with a Ph.D. resume template and fill out your relevant experiences.

If you want my template, explore the Resources section.


4. Understand the anatomy of a great bullet point 

This step is where science meets art.

A great bullet point should follow a clear structure. Google’s X-Y-Z structure is a great format to follow; for example: "Accomplished [X] as measured by [Y], by doing [Z]."  In addition, the bullet should also tell a story! 

Austin Belcak uses this great example to demonstrate a highly effective resume bullet point:

Credit: Austin Belcak

 An effective bullet point has to both have a clear quantifiable structure and at the same time tell a story relevant to that industry and particular role. Practice it!


5. Cut the fluff

With your first draft ready and bullets refined,  it's time to cut the fluff.

At this time, re-reading the job posting would make sense. Keep only the experience relevant to the role and ruthlessly eliminate anything that is not.

For instance,  if you’re applying for a research-based position, cut down or possibly eliminate your teaching experience. Similarly, if you’re applying to a position to lead teams, reframe teaching/mentoring experience and minimize or eliminate research experience. In all cases, summarize your list of publications and presentations, into a bullet point or two.

Overall, aim for 1 page. I’ve seen some folks use up to 2 pages but I strongly suggest cutting down to 1 page. I doubt anyone pays attention after page 1.


6. Polish and deliver

Lastly, it’s important to edit and polish your resume before submitting it.

Rember the folks you networked with earlier to uncover industry terms and business needs in Step 2? They would be ideal people to give your resume a quick look and see if it resonates. In most cases, they will also appreciate you following up with a meaningful action (i.e. incorporate their insights into a Resume).

Now with final edits done and reviewed by someone from your network, your resume is ready to go!

Pro Tip: Everyone should maintain a Master Resume and update it every month or two. Humans are terrible at recall, so a regularly updated resume will be of higher quality and will give you a head start when you start looking for a job.


In Summary: 

Writing an effective 1-page resume is not trivial, especially for academics, but with some research, drafting, and refinement, you’ll be one step closer to landing interviews with a well-written and effective resume.

If you’re job hunting, good luck out there!

P.S. I’m offering 1:1 coaching/resume review sessions! If you’re interested you can book here: 

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