Many Ph.D.s assume the first step in a nonfaculty job search is converting their academic CV into a résumé. Yet the strongest résumés are written from scratch and are carefully crafted to appeal to a particular audience: the hiring manager. The same principles apply to résumé writing as to all other forms of writing: reflect, research, then write.
Create Your Résumé From Scratch
Academic and nonacademic employers have different criteria for how they evaluate candidates. CVs and résumés are thus very different documents.
A CV is essentially a list of academic accomplishments. The reader of your academic CV understands the ins and outs of your discipline. They already know, if only implicitly, the skills required to work as a scientist, historian or literary scholar, so they don’t need you to spell that out for them. What the reader of your CV is interested in knowing is if you’re any good. To demonstrate that you are a successful teacher, researcher and scholar, list all of your relevant accomplishments in your CV -- the longer the better.
Hiring managers outside academe, in contrast, may review applications from people who come from a variety of educational backgrounds and career trajectories. They are looking for candidates who have the right experience and skills for the position they are filling, and who have a proven track record of getting the job done. They may not know much about what it takes to successfully teach a first-year lecture course with hundreds of students and multiple teaching assistants, or understand the process of scientific research from idea to grant funding to publication. CVs obscure competencies and skills by design. Make sure your résumé is explicit.
For example, you might want to use teaching experience to show that you are a skilled communicator, project manager, mentor and team leader. What tasks or achievements did you accomplish that show this? Put that information on your résumé. Do the same for other aspects of your work.
And remember to include experiences that never made it onto your academic CV. Did you volunteer with a local nonprofit organization, helping them plan and execute events? Or perhaps you produce podcasts or write as a freelancer in your spare time. Depending on the job, that information can be listed on your résumé as relevant experience. In fact, it might be your nonacademic activities that an employer finds most compelling.
Write a Marketing Document, Not Your Life Story
A résumé is, at heart, a marketing document. It is a form of persuasive writing, and that means audience is paramount. The questions to keep asking yourself as you write your draft are, “What information is most compelling to this employer?” and “What will it take for me to get an interview?”
That is why you’ll probably omit a list of publications from your résumé -- in and of themselves, they aren’t compelling. For many Ph.D.s, omitting publications and other academic achievements from a résumé is gut-wrenching. (There may be a place for a list of publications on some résumés. Most of the time, there isn’t.) The work that went into the publications is more important to employers.
When applying for positions beyond the professoriate, be careful not to make assumptions about how hiring managers might view your academic achievements. What scholars and researchers celebrate may not matter very much at all to other employers. The reverse is also true.
Your résumé should address the particular needs of the position. That’s it.
In academe or graduate school, when you earn a degree, teach a course, present at a conference or publish a paper, it’s time to update your CV. Those documents can seem like a chronology of your accomplishments -- all of them. But remember that they only list items that are relevant to your academic discipline. They omit as much as, or more than, they include. If you find it tough to exclude hard-won academic accomplishments from a résumé, take heart in now including skills and experiences that had no place on your CV.
Look to the Future
A lot of early résumé drafts we see from Ph.D.s talk about work experience in the language of academe. Using the language of an educator to talk about your time in the classroom brands you as a teacher in the eyes of the hiring manager, and you’ll likely end up in the rejection pile.
To convey project-management skills or science-communication experience, borrow language that employers in your new field use to reframe the work you did as an educator, scholar or scientist. That will make your résumé forward-looking and more persuasive to employers.
Do consider the work you did in academe relevant experience. But don’t use the language of higher education to talk about what you did as an academic.
Craft Many Résumés
It’s useful for every job seeker to have a penultimate or master résumé (or two or three) to use as a template. Every time you submit a job application, revise that document to match the particular requirements of the job and organization in question. If you meet someone who asks you to send them your résumé, research the organization and modify your résumé before sending it to them. Ideally, you wouldn’t ever submit a résumé without making at least minor modifications to it first. Take this advice to heart, and you’ll be more successful. We can’t emphasize that enough.
In drafting your penultimate résumé, do your research so that your template includes pertinent information -- that is, skills and competencies employers in your new field commonly look for, using the words they use to describe those skills. And when you’re conducting that research, remember to talk with professionals in your target industry.
David Lawlor, who holds a Ph.D. in applied mathematics, did informational interviews with people who worked at Google and Amazon. He did this even though he did not want to move to Silicon Valley or Seattle. During those conversations, he gleaned information that helped him write a persuasive cover letter and résumé that landed him an interview with a different company located in his preferred location of Chicago. David did not have a direct contact at that company, but he knew how to write documents tailored to the needs of employers of interest and how to ace the interview process.
Writing a résumé can give you confidence in your abilities and help you articulate why you’re a great fit for an exciting career opportunity. By talking with professionals, you’ll be able to see that you already have many of the skills employers are looking for. Just make sure to present that information to readers of your résumé in language they will understand.
And remember that a résumé is only one facet of the job search. It’s designed to get you an interview, not a job. And even the best résumé might not be compelling on its own. That is why it’s important to make connections and build a community of people who will support you in your job search.