Landing a Job with a PhD

Once you’ve decided that it’s time to break away from academia, things can get a little tough. You have probably spent years working in labs and interacting with very few people outside of your immediate circle in the university. Finding a job without any contacts isn’t as easy as it might seem.

You have the PhD, but that doesn’t automatically get you a position. You still have to prove yourself to potential employers and jump through the hoops, just like everyone else.  Spending 10 minutes fixing up your Linked In profile won’t get you very far, either.  If you’re serious about landing a job in the real world, you’re going to have to stop thinking like a professor.

That being said, you have a serious advantage over other candidates. Namely, you have plenty of education and practical experience behind your knowledge. You’re ideal for the jobs you apply for, but that won’t help you on whit if you don’t let recruiters know about these advantages.

There are two main reasons PhDs don’t get jobs.

1. They are afraid to speak up for themselves. Maybe you’re scared you’ll be rejected or are convinced that you just aren’t good enough for the job.

2. They feel that they are owed a job. You’ve done years of research and studying, so why wouldn’t someone hire you? The truth? No one knows or cares about your achievements.

While you might have been a big shot and a highly respected person in academia, that doesn’t count outside the university walls. You can basically assume that everyone is looking out for themselves and they just don’t care how amazing you might be. You’re going to have to show them how your past can be useful to them and their company.

How Impressive is Your Resume?

When you send your resume to a recruiter, they aren’t reading it. Instead, they’re skimming it. You have approximately five seconds to catch that hiring manager’s attention.

It actually is possible to turn a simple resume into something that will catch people’s eye and get them to pay more attention and perhaps even read your resume or CV through.

First, you need to organize the information on your resume so that it is easy to capture. This requires using headings and subheadings and short pieces of information, as well as plenty of white space.  Headings snag the eye as it moves down the page, so your important information should be in bold and slightly larger font size to ensure it is seen.

You will also want to make good use of your page space. If your resume goes on for five pages, it’s not likely to even be skimmed. Compact the information you need to share and make it very simple to read.

Recruiters tend to look at:

  • Applicant’s name
  • Current company and title
  • Previous company and title
  • Start and end dates for current position
  • Start and end dates for previous position
  • Education

Everything else is scanned for specific keywords that match the position they need to fill. You can use this information to your benefit, of course.

What Recruiters Really Look For

Remember that the majority of recruiters are sent hundreds of resumes every month. They will go through these, up to 200 a week, but only choose a handful to examine further. Out of all the resumes they see, only about 7.5% of applicants will be called for more in depth screening.

Recruiters have very different goals than a hiring manager at a company. Whereas a manger will be looking at hard results, a recruiter wants to know what methods you use and what strategies and techniques you have learned.

It’s well worth creating two different resumes. One will be for HR managers and the other for recruiters. When writing your resume for a recruiter, be sure to include information on the instruments and equipment you are accustomed to using, certifications you’ve earned, test and methodologies that you have completed. When you add these specific keywords, recruiters will be able to pick them out of your resume and quickly place you in a position they have open.

Getting the Job

Landing your dream position doesn’t just happen. You have to work to get what you want, which is something many people just aren’t willing to do. You have already come this far with your education and you’ve proven that you can work for what you want, so now you need to continue fighting and make sure you land that job.

1. Work up two resumes

Each resume will be specifically targeted to either a hiring manager or a recruiter.

For the Recruiter: Keep this resume focused on methodology. The reader wants to know exactly what you’ve learned in all your years at school.

For the Hiring Manager: This resume should focus on actual results that you have accomplished. The manager isn’t interested in what methods you used to get the results, just whether or not you are a good fit for the company based on what you have done previously.

2. Tweak your resumes with each application

When applying for a specific position, you need to make sure that your resume is optimized for that position. It may sound like a lot of extra work, but it’s worth it, since this is what will make you stand out from the crowd.

Research every position you are interested in. Use the same keywords that are used in the job listing in your resume and make them prominent. This will instantly clue the reader in that you are perfect for this particular job.  Obviously, this changes depending on the job, so you’ll need to rework your resume for each posting.

Knowing where recruiters tend to look on your resume, you can ensure that the most important information is front and center. Again, tailor this to the person and position you are applying to.

Use these visual hotspots to place relevant information such as your current duties, methodologies, degrees and certifications so they are easy to see and noted.

3. Act confident and ask questions

No one enjoys the process of getting a job, so you’ll just have to deal with the uncomfortable side of things and make sure you do it all correctly. This may require calling the recruiter, even if that makes your stomach churn.

Simply asking if the job is still available and reminding them of your interest can make you stand out above the crowd. Keep in mind that a recruiter is going over dozens of resumes every day and there’s nothing in particular to make yours stand out. When you call and present yourself to them, it may get your resume a second look.

Not only does calling the recruiter or hiring manager remind them to take a second look at your work, it also shows them that you are interested enough in the position to take the risk of calling. Most people will be too nervous or shy to actually pick up the phone, so you instantly make yourself more notable . . . which could result in being hired.

Never send a resume without any follow up. You’re practically guaranteed to lose out that way.

You will be turned down many times. This is completely normal and it happens to everyone. You are no stranger to rejection, after years in academia, so push through it and keep trying. Eventually, you will land the job you want.

There’s a lot of competition out there for high quality positions, but with your higher level of education and years of experience in the field, there’s no reason you can’t land a great position. It requires a little effort, but the possibility is there. You just need to hone your resume and follow up on every job you apply for.


Cheeky Scientist credit

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