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#50 Johanna Dutton on resume writing for researchers looking to transition from academia to industry: Tips and Tricks

Dr.Johanna Dutton shares her best tips and tricks on resume writing. We will learn how we can make our application letter and CV stand out and why it’s important to demonstrate other skills than the academic ones.

Published onJun 08, 2018
#50 Johanna Dutton on resume writing for researchers looking to transition from academia to industry: Tips and Tricks

Johanna Dutton is the Biomedical Engineer that after 10 years in industry decided to return to academia to pursue a PhD. She is also the Founder of Think Likely Resumes Service, a service providing do's and don’ts on how to design a CV or resume for industry as well as interview coaching.

In this podcast Johanna will share her best tips and tricks on resume writing. We will learn how we can make our application letter and CV stand out and why it’s important to demonstrate other skills than the academic ones. She will also provide key points on what to include as well as exclude from the resume in order to convince the hiring manager or recruiter to meet up for an interview.

You need to be able to show that you have other skills and abilities that make you a competitive candidate.

– Johanna Dutton, PhD Graduate and Founder of Think Likely Resumes Service

About Johanna

Johanna earned her BS in Chemistry from the University of Connecticut and an MS in Analytical Chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She then worked as an analytical chemist for almost ten years at Eisai before accepting a position as a formulation scientist at Novartis Vaccines, now GSK Vaccines. Currently, Johanna is a PhD Candidate in the Joint Program of Biomedical Engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State. She spends some of her free time reviewing and editing resumes for students that want to transition from academia to industry.


Hello my name is Tina Persson, Founder of the podcast PhD Career Stories. It is my pleasure to introduce Johanna Duttonin episode 50.

Johanna contacted me on LinkedIn [asking] if she could share a podcast on her company webpage. She's a founder of Think Likely Resumes Service, a service providing do's and don’ts on how to design a CV or resume for industry, from a U.S. perspective. I was very impressed by her background - having performed an industrial career before starting her PhD studies.

Today, Johanna is a PhD candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Before her PhD studies, she performed a successful career as a formulation specialist at Novartis, GSK [Vaccines] and a scientist at Eisai. In the industry, she gained experience reading CVs and resumes from a candidate perspective applying for jobs. Thus, Johanna knows what an outstanding CV looks like, how you as applicant can increase the possibility that hiring managers pick your CV - leading to an interview.

In this podcast Johanna will highlight, among other things, how to stand out, what about articles and posters, importance of showing other skills apart from your academic [ones] to make you competitive.

Finally, I am glad you have chosen to listen to PhD career stories: episode 50. So thanks for following us and never hesitate to give us feedback. You can find us at Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and on our web page

All the best from Tina.

Hey everyone my name is Johanna Dutton,

I'm going to share some tips on resume writing for PhDs looking to transition from academia to industry. The tips I’m sharing are largely from my own experience in industry; and the past few years I’ve used these tips with several graduate students to teach them how to get the most value out of the two pages you have to convince someone to give you an interview.

So in 2016, the NSF reported that there were approximately 32 000 students that graduated with PhDs in science technology, engineering and math in the US. Since there are not 32 000 positions available in academia this is a lot of competition for industry jobs.

When it comes to resumes, it may be surprising to learn that even though all of these PhDs have had a unique research experience and are experts in their fields, their resumes are remarkably similar - and this similarity is not a good thing!

It's that these resumes have very long publication, poster and presentation sections with a very short and vague experience sections and typically no sections focusing on specific skills or competencies.

A key point to remember, when writing your resume for industry, is that although publications are critical in academia, everyone has them and it’s also likely that everyone has presented posters or given seminars. While these are great achievements with only a title they really supply almost no information about you. These activities don't necessarily equate with performance. So this information on a resume gives no indication of who did what for a paper or a poster, or the level of quality in a poster or presentation and these lists just take up space. So honestly, if I was given a resume for a first round, I might check to see what journals the articles were published in, but I probably won't even read the poster or presentation titles because these will not distinguish you from other PhDs. You need to be able to show that you have other skills and abilities that make you a competitive candidate. So I'm going to talk about how to do this and let's get started at the top of your resume - on page one!

The first thing on your resume of course is your name.It should be at the top and the center and in larger font than the rest of your text. I have looked at resumes where the text is the same size as the entire resume and I've passed right over the name and I actually have to go back and look for the name because it just doesn't stand out.

After the name, I like the next section to be a few sentences or short bullet points that will generally summarize you as a scientist. For example, my first sentence might be: “Biomedical engineer with expertise in fabrication of microfluidic devices”. This is a broad overview of my skills and it can be followed by something like: “Dedicated team player with experience working with cross-functional development teams”, which is an overview of some soft skills so I would use about three points to introduce yourself in a general way.

It's kind of like the presentation style that gives the conclusion first. So you're telling the reader who you are. You are not making them guess and figure it out as they browse your resume. You want to put that bug in their ears, so they read your resume with the bias that you are an engineer or chemist or whatever. So if the job posting is for an analytical chemist you want to start that first line with analytical chemist, etc.

If this is an application for your very first job following graduate school, the next section should be your education because this is your only experience up to now. If it is not your first job, your education can be moved to the end of the resume because it just isn't as important as your work experience.

So following your education, I strongly recommend including a section for technical skills and core competenciesand this section doubles as a key word dump to help tailor your resume to a specific job description and also a place to easily show your skills. This section is quickly showing the reader the instruments or processes you are familiar with, without the burden of having them read through your entire experience section and trying to pick out those special talents that you have.

So working as an analytical chemist for almost a decade, I have a subheading for it analytical characterization, where I list the analytical techniques I am familiar with. Other subheadings could be software, could be programming languages, cell culture, nanofabrication, [and] things like that and just remember to not use tables or graphics because these can interfere with applicant tracking software.

So after pointing out your skills and core competencies, you should have your experience section. Now you've been in school for probably five to six years and your experience section should reflect that. I see a lot of resumes that say something very vague like - developed a method to measure a protein molecular weight - and that's it! And as a reader, I'm left to guess what this means or just pass on your resume because I can't get any information from that statement.

So you want to try to demonstrate with your writing that you are able to articulate your scientific accomplishments succinctly and informatively. So you need to be able to describe - what you did, how you did it, if it was successful, does anybody care about this work, [and] is there an impact. In this example of developing a method to measure a protein molecular weight, you need to describe more. You need to say what kind of method did you use. What kind of instrumentation did you use? What kind of proteins did you measure? Is this the first method to do this? Why does this count as a thesis? It doesn't sound like much when it's only one sentence, you know? Are people using your method still - like is your lab still using your method? Did other people publish off of your publication?

Sometimes the best way to learn how to write this out is to have someone else read your resume and have them ask you questions that they have once they read those statements, because they might point out something that you thought was really obvious, but it's not actually obvious to people who aren't in your field.

Topics under experience, if applicable, should demonstrate your transferable skills. You really need to think about where you spent your time in school and show that even though your particular project might have nothing to do with the job you are applying for, which is pretty likely, you can transfer the skills you picked up doing your thesis to other situations. For example, if you did HPLC on proteins, this may not be useful for a job developing small molecule therapeutics but HPLC is a skill that you would likely still use.

Other areas of interest to mention are for example: Did you work in a team? Did you coordinate collaborations? Did you manage other students or interns? Did you research new technologies and introduce them to your lab? Have you identified procedures that were inefficient, and you implemented improvements? Did you provide training to other students? Did you establish protocols? Calibrated your systems? Write code for a program to analyse data or images? These are all transferable skills, so they're not specific necessarily to one project - you can transfer them from your experience into a new environment.

After experience you should have sections, as applicable again, for things like leadership and outreach, awards and certifications, or recognition. And finally - and only if there is space - add your first author publications, or all of them if there's room, and you can add sections for posters or presentations but it's really not an effective use of space! So as I said before, almost everyone with a PhD will have done these things. And your work that was published should have already been described under experience. So remember that these are just lists with no qualifier to show that they were good posters or talks and therefore they really aren't helping your cause.

If you really feel compelled to list posters or presentations because you won an award or it’s an invited seminar - include it in the section for awards and recognition. If someone wants to read about awards and recognition they will find it in that section, instead of glossing over it and not noticing it because it's in a long list of poster presentations that I'm confident no one will read through.At least in a first screening they won’t read it.

Then finally you want your resume to be about two pages and definitely not any longer! If you need space - delete presentations and finally only include select publications.Also try to keep wide margins so that the reader has space to make notes or comments. It's a subtle way to make the reader's experience more pleasant and I promise you'll have plenty of information to fill two pages and still have large margins.

Of course do the obvious things and read through every line, use proper grammar and spelling because these mistakes can easily get your resume place in the pass pile. And don't forget to keep an updated LinkedIn profile with basically an abbreviated resume because employers are trending toward searching for talent instead of waiting for you to find them. And definitely google yourself and be aware of your online presence. So for example, make sure if there are other people with your same name - you add your middle initial or some other identifier.

So there you go - find yourself a quiet place to curl up with your laptop and a long list of action words and start writing!

If you have any questions about resumes or are interested in advice on interviewing.
You can reach out to me through LinkedIn or my website, both of which are in the description of this episode.

Thank you so much and good luck.

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