Astrobetter:Ph.D. Resumes

The process edit

Before talking about how to write a resume, it's a good idea to go through how resumes are processed.

If you put out anything suggesting that you have a job, you are going to be spammed with people wanting that job. Most of the applicants will clearly have no chance of being hired, so what happens is that you give a stack of several hundred resume to someone has ask them to find only the serious candidates. The person that does the first pass usually has no technical training since people that have technical backgrounds are too expensive to use as human spam filters.

It's only after the first stage that the resumes go to someone technical. At that point they make a short list, and then decide who gets a telephone screen. Once you get the telephone and interview stage, the resume becomes a guide for what is going to be asked in the interview.

The mindset edit

  • Resumes are not read, they are scanned. The first person to look at your resume will spend no more than a few seconds looking at it. In that time you want to make it easy for them to decide whether they should go further or not.
  • A resume is a movie trailer, not an autobiography. One important thing to remember is that a resume is not your autobiography. It's a very short commercial or movie trailer. One problem in writing resumes is that if you think of them as your life, it's hard to remove things that mean a lot to you. However, if you realize that it's not your life, it's a short commercial or movie trailer, it becomes easier to focus on what you want.
  • A good resume should get you *rejected* for some jobs. A resume is a time saver. If you are clearly not going to get the job in the end, it's a waste of your time and the employers time to go through with the interview process. So you should write the resume in a way that will get you quickly rejected for jobs that you have no chance of getting in the end.
  • For science Ph.D.'s, you are *not* a fresh out of school graduate. You have likely been paid to work as a teaching assistant or research assistant. This is work experience and should be treated accordingly.
  • Don't stress out about getting a perfect resume. Any resume that gets you to the interview table for a job that you are qualified for is a perfect resume. Remember that the resume will not get you the job. It's just a movie trailer.

What you must include edit

  • Remember that a resume will be scanned, photocopied, e-mailed, printed out. It should have nice readable fonts. Do not try to cram massive amounts of text into tiny fonts, as it will be unreadable.
  • You should include your name, contact information, e-mail, cell phone number, a land line, and your work status. If you have a professional website (i.e. your web page at the university) include that.
  • Focus on technical, demonstrable skills. One question that you should ask yourself, is "why can't anyone write this." For example, anyone can write "I know C++." However, not everyone can write "I designed and coded a 30000 line telescope control program in C++ that processes CCD data real time."
  • Do a spell/grammar check. Spelling errors look bad, because they say that you can't be bothered to run your resume through a spell checker.
  • Include a land line telephone. You will need a land line for telephone interviews.
  • When you send it as an attachment, call it "your_name.pdf" and not "resume.pdf". The problem is that the person is going to save it, and calling it "your_name.pdf" will make it easier for them, and you want to make life easy for the reader.

What you should avoid edit

  • Do not talk about your personality or work habits. It's impossible to get an accurate picture of a person's personality or work habits through a resume, and that's not the point of the resume.
  • Do not include a picture. It wastes space, and will look awful after it's been scanned. Also, for technical positions, employers would rather *NOT* know what you look like.
  • Don't include any skills that you do not what to be grilled over in the interview.

Specific items edit

  • Publications - If you think it will help with the job, include two or three representative publications. If the interviewer is interested, then they can do a literature search.
  • Awards - Include them only if you think it's something that the interviewer will have heard about. If you think that the interviewer is a Ph.D. in your field, then you should include awards given by professional societies, but avoid awards given by your school, since people outside your school are not likely to know what they mean. If you think that the interviewer is not a Ph.D., then it's a good idea to leave out all awards.
  • Hobbies - Can be very useful if you can demonstrate competency. "I play chess" is useless. "I have an ELO rating of 2250 and placed X the US Chess Federation championships" will help get the job. Anything that shows commitment and effort with demonstrable results will be seen as positive.

Words edit

  • Bad words in resumes: theoretical and academic - If you identify yourself in a resume avoid the terms "theoretical" and "academic" since these have negative, and in fact strongly negative connotations in industry.
  • Minimize adjectives. Focus on verbs. What did you *do*!!!

The two major types of Ph.D. industrial resumes edit

The advice that people give is to customize the resume to the employer, but rare to see how to customize the resume. Put broadly there are two types of jobs

  • jobs in which your Ph.D. is helpful to getting a job
  • jobs in which the Ph.D. is not helpful in getting a job

Jobs which the Ph.D. is helpful edit

  • You can put the Ph.D. in the first line of the resume. You aren't Joe Blow, you are Dr. Joe Blow or Joe Blow Ph.d.
  • You should include a short summary of your research that would be impressive to someone else in the field. What is likely to happen is that initial resume screener will have no idea what you did, which is good since then your resume goes into the pile that will be read by someone else in your field.

Jobs in which the Ph.D. is not helpful edit

You cannot remove the Ph.D. from your resume since that leaves a huge gap. Also, you will not be able to convince the reader that a Ph.D. is a good thing. It may be true, but you aren't going to convince them.

The strategy in this case is to deemphasize the Ph.D. and emphasize the work experience that you got. You are an experienced researcher. You should focus on that, and the fact that you got a Ph.D. is some irrelevant fact about you.