Getting your academic resume ready for industry
A guide for researchers to upgrade their industry job hunts
Are you a researcher looking to find new opportunities in industry? Have you read guides on how to convert your CV to a resume and showcase your transferable skills, but you’re still not getting there interviews you want?
This guide will show you how to take your resume from “good” to “great.” To do this, we’ll show you how to focus less on the signs of academic success, and more on the needs of industry.
Starting point: the academic resume
I talk to a lot of PhDs, postdocs, and professors who are interested in leaving research for industry (specifically, climate data science and/or management consulting). This means I see a lot of smart, careful people get rejected for jobs they are qualified for because they aren’t attuned to the needs of their potential industry colleagues.
Their resumes often look like this:
This example resume is strong, but not good enough
This resume successfully demonstrates that the candidate has many educational, technical, and scholarly qualifications that will be relevant for jobs in their field:
However, many elements of the resume are unconvincing:
Our goal is to turn this into a resume that shows this candidate is not just qualified, but outstanding.
Tips to fix common resume weaknesses
1. Make your experience outstanding
Every line in your “experience” section should show that you did something better than a mediocre researcher would have done in your situation. If you’ve read resume and interview guides, you’re probably familiar with the situation-action-result format. In research terms, this could look like:
- Conducted research on problem X
- Applied method Y
- Demonstrated result Z
This research experience can be discussed in a mediocre way:
- Researched the distribution of mermaid fossils on the seafloor
- Developed an extension to a geospatial mapping package, SQUELCH
- Demonstrated that current fossil distributions imply a larger population of Paleozoic mermaids than was previously thought
This example could have been written by a student who tagged onto their advisor’s research project, wrote some messy code with no users, and reached a low-impact research conclusion. The same experience can also be discussed in a way that shows the candidate is excellent:
- Built Bayesian statistical models of mermaid populations using the AncientSea dataset
- Extended a geospatial mapping package, SQUELCH, with Python and ArcGIS. Published my code as part of SQUELCH 3.0 (2000 users)
- Demonstrated that Paleozoic mermaid populations were higher than previously thought, leading to two peer-reviewed publications and coverage in the ‘See Sea Science!’ magazine
This example shows that the student has relevant skills and datasets, builds tools that other people actually want to use, and is able to communicate with both researchers and the public.
We’re human, so we’re not outstanding all of the time. Pick 2-5 situations where you did especially good work. Describe those achievements in compelling detail, and cut the rest. Good stories are intriguing. You will be asked questions in interviews, so don’t make things up.
2. Show off your soft skills
Many researchers’ resumes fail to demonstrate soft skills: teamwork, communication, organization, management, mentoring, public speaking, and leadership. These skills are generally valued more highly in industry than in academia, and are critical to almost every job. To show your soft skills, add 2-3 interpersonal stories to your ‘Experience’ section. These should follow the same format as the technical examples above.
Again, there’s a mediocre way to discuss soft skills:
- Collaborated with international researchers
This example could be written by someone who tagged along passively on a big collaboration, or even by someone abrasive who made the collaboration worse. The same experience can also be discussed in a way that shows the candidate is excellent:
- Realized that the largest failure risk in this research project was poor communication with our international collaborators
- Organized short workshops to foster a closer sense of connection within the group
- Created a safe, connected working environment where we were able to communicate freely. This led to a smoother work experience, and the group later hosted me for a summer at Cool Foreign University
This example shows that the candidate is thoughtful, aware of social dynamics, good at organizing events, and liked by their collaborators. Your soft skills experience might come from: teaching a challenging course, mentoring students through a challenging moment, organizing a workshop, initiating a new collaboration, engaging non-academic stakeholders, doing outreach, negotiating funding, or leading initiatives in a research organization.
3. Make your awards section sparkle
Academia – especially US academia – gives out a lot of awards.
Most award sections include a couple of gems:
- Highly Competitive Fellowship (~$300,000)
- Best Speaker Award (awarded to 2 of 50 speakers)
- Outreaching/Teaching/Leadership Awards
Mixed in with some rocks of uncertain value:
- Tiny University Scholarship ($1000)
- University Conference Travel Grant ($500)
- Academic Performance Award (x3)
Your “gems” are your most competitive awards, your most financially valuable awards, or awards that demonstrate skills not proven elsewhere in your resume (usually your soft skills). To make the gems stand out, you can put them at the top of the section, use bold font, or call the section ‘Selected Awards’ and drop the “rocks”.
4. Pare it down
Many achievements that are hard-won and dear to researchers do not demonstrate that you can do non-academic work. These should be removed to keep readers focused on your most relevant experience. This will almost certainly require you to remove several sections that are academically prestigious:
- Don’t list publications, and certainly don’t give full citations. Publication quality is hard for people outside of your field to judge.
- Do use lines like, “Demonstrated result Z, leading to two publications in peer-reviewed journals” in your experience section.
- Do include evidence of impact, such as references in mainstream media, public policy, or improvements in the work of other researchers.
- Don’t list conference talks. Talk quality is hard for anyone who wasn’t there to judge.
- Do give evidence that you’re a skilled public speaker, such as “best speaker” awards, or evidence of positive receptions to talks.
- Do use high-profile talks as evidence of success, e.g. “I was invited to present this project as spotlight talk at the 200-person Iapetus Ocean workshop.”
- Don’t list membership of societies or committees. Many committees achieve little.
- Do use committee service as evidence of leadership skills, e.g. “Introduced a safer and more private procedure for addressing student complaints, receiving thanks from the undergraduate diversity committee.”
- Don’t list courses taught. Teaching skill is hard to judge from course titles.
- Do use teaching as evidence of hard skills, e.g. “Re-wrote lectures for Computational Ocean Science class to include a Python programming module, improving student evaluation scores from 4.5 to 6.0/7.”
- Do use teaching as evidence of soft skill, e.g. “Reached the highest enrollment demand for any elective in the department” or “Three students I mentored earned competitive awards for their research”
- Don’t duplicate material. If you have 5 lines discussing your experience with Ocean Science or Python, remove the weakest to make space for other material
- Don’t use a summary or objective statement if you can avoid one. Opinions differ on this; I believe that most summaries duplicate material given elsewhere
Finally, read your resume defensively. Are there any lines in there that could have been written by a mediocre researcher? Take them out.
To improve your resume, make sure that every line shows you are outstanding. This means:
- Each item in “experience” shows you did something interesting that a mediocre researcher would not have done
- 2-3 items in “experience” show you use soft skills that an abrasive researcher would not have
- Each of your awards adds something substantial
- Each point that does not demonstrate relevant skills is removed
Endpoint: a better resume
Here’s my (quick and imperfect) improved version of the resume we started with:
Think you can do better? Edit the example here and send your version to kelly (dot) kochanski (at) gmail (dot) com.