Before I landed my first job in Columbus, I sent out over 160 resumes.
Granted, this also includes the jobs I applied for in Lexington before we moved. So maybe it was 50/50. But seriously, if you’ve been applying to jobs left and right and feel like you’re getting nowhere, you’re not alone. Anyone who says, “Just get another job.” has NEVER actually had to do just this.
Being frugal has helped me in more ways than I can count. I’m constantly in search of the best deal and finding ways to get the most bang for my buck. However, being frugal has also taught me how to be more strategic and make more calculated choices in my professional life.
If I could become a full-time blogger, maybe I would. But right now, I have a very fulfilling job. I am fortunate enough to contribute to valuable goals much larger than myself. I also find my current job so fulfilling because I did NOT end up here by chance. I left my PhD program with the knowledge and experience I had and I pursued a new, carefully thought out career path. I learned things along the way and used the knowledge to push myself harder.
After making my not-so-dramatic exit from academia and deciding to strike out into the professional world of full-time jobs + benefits (because benefits are kind of important), I realized I was lacking something VERY important…
But I’m going to be honest–it was ROUGH at first. Primarily because I needed to transition from an academic to a non-ac career. This meant learning how to turn my CV into a resume.
But wait–what’s the difference?
Oh, there is a difference. I found out there is a biiiiiiiiiiiig difference.
A Curriculum Vitae (or CV) is usually a longer document that is more detailed than a resume. It includes your educational and professional experience like a resume, but can also include information regarding accomplishments, awards, publications, etc. A CV is also more likely to include all of your educational and professional background, rather than only that which pertains to the specific job you’re applying for.
A resume is shorter in length than a CV–no more than one page–and is tailored to include only relevant information that pertains to the specific job you’re applying for. A resume is meant to be a snapshot that catches the reader’s eye and distinguishes you from the rest of the applicant pool.
Whether or not you use a CV or resume depends entirely on the job. Academic jobs usually require a CV, but non-ac jobs will usually require a resume, especially if the job is in the private sector.
Even if you don’t leave academia and you still just want to have a stable job while pursuing a degree, you NEED to know how to create a well-crafted resume. A resume is the first thing a potential employer sees and will determine their interest in you as a candidate. And let me tell you–transforming a CV into a resume (or, hell, just creating a good resume in general) is HARD WORK.
So there I was–back in 2015–sitting on my couch with the cats and a strong cup of coffee (always strong) and applying to whatever jobs sounded interesting, hoping to Jesus that it would snow enough overnight so that I wouldn’t have to go back to work the next day (no really, I worked outside so January was mud, ice, and agony).
In all honesty, this was part of my problem. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. There were a lot of things I liked to do, but I had no idea what I wanted to do for a CAREER.
Now, you don’t have to decide what job you want to have for the rest of your life. All you need is a place to start. What kind of job is going to start you off on the right foot? Your next move needs to be strategic and calculated. If my only goal at the time hadn’t been to escape the university and my current job, I might have had enough sense to do some planning. Try brainstorming with a few of these tips, complete with a venn diagram (thanks, TA skills!).
Once you have a better idea of what type of job you want, start building…
1) Tailor your resume to the job you’re applying for.
Now, this does NOT mean list experience you don’t have (aka lie) or exaggerate to the point of getting yourself into a pickle where you generate interest but can’t back it up. That will never end well.
Tailoring your resume means emphasizing experience that will directly help you succeed at the job you want. You probably have a variety of experience, but not all of it applies to the jobs you’ll apply for. You may include one past position on one application, but leave it out and emphasize a different past position on another. It all depends on the specific job.
Insider Tip: Keep a “Master Resume” where you list every single skill or past position that you might use to craft various resumes. This way, you can pull information from one place rather than losing it within a pool of resumes.
2) Pick out keywords from the job posting and use them in your resume.
This can be a battle in and of itself if you don’t know how the system works. I certainly didn’t and it never crossed my mind until I began devoting all my time to job searching and resume writing.
For months, I wondered why I didn’t get so much as a phone interview. I was qualified for every position I applied for! Or so I thought…
Looking back, it’s obvious why I didn’t make it past those first HR screens. I hadn’t bothered to use ANY of the actual words from the job descriptions! This may sound odd at first, but we live in a technological age and HR utilizes tech in their hiring process.
Many employers run your resume (either an electronic one you’ve emailed or resume information you enter directly into fields on their electronic application) through software that screens out applicants based on keywords. These keywords can be skills, education, past job titles, etc. that are matched from your resume to their job description.
You can’t always know which employers do this, but I made a habit of including those keywords because, at the very least, if an actual human is doing the screening, my resume would still sound similar to the job description. Plus, why not do everything possible to ensure you’re not screened out immediately?
3) Create a killer introduction.
I never knew that including a small introduction on a resume was a thing. Isn’t it a waste of space? Shouldn’t you just start firing off your experience?
It’s not absolutely required, but I think it adds a little something to the resume and creates an ambiance of sorts for the person reading it. The introduction only needs to be a couple of sentences and paints a quick picture of who you are as a professional and frames how the reader will perceive your experience and qualifications.
“Detail-oriented professional with analytical and project management experience. Excellent communicator with collaborative experience with multi-disciplinary teams and ability to work well under pressure in a fast-paced environment.”
Starting your resume off with something like this can plant a seed in the reader’s mind and help them picture you doing all the things you say you’ve done in the rest of your resume. Think of it as a news headline–the first phrase you read sets the scene for the rest of the story.
4) Brevity is a lost art.
For the love of God, do NOT exceed one page for a resume unless absolutely necessary. There are few exceptions to this rule, which will become clearer once you narrow down the type of job you want. For example, if you’re applying to a non-ac research position or need to include a writing portfolio of some kind, including a list of publications may be to your advantage (this might even be specified in the job posting). Otherwise, a multi-page resume is more likely to kill your chances of even getting an interview.
After reading many (dear Lord, so many) articles and speaking to various hiring managers (friends and former bosses), the point is is that no one has time to read a resume longer than one page. HR reps and hiring managers are busy, and honestly, the process of hiring someone is something that most people dread anyway. Ideally, a qualified, competent employee would appear, start working, and no one would miss a beat (which I would love because I hate “first days” of anything). In a nutshell, if it’s going to take someone more than 30 seconds to quickly read through your resume and get an idea of who you are and whether or not you’re qualified, it’s not worth their time.
However, this doesn’t mean you can shrink your font size and stretch your margins to comply with this rule. Which brings me to…
5) Bullet points and lists are your friends!
Imagine that! As if I could promote lists even more…
Paragraphs do not belong in resumes. Resumes serve as a straight-forward, quality snapshot of your professional life. They don’t need to tell the entire story–that’s what your interview is for! Your resume needs to include valuable snippets of information that demonstrate that you have the necessary knowledge and experience without taking forever to read. If your resume is comprised of blocks of words, I guarantee a hiring manager/HR rep will just toss it and move on to the next one.
Has anyone at work or school ever asked you to read or “look” at something when you’re already busy? Did you take time to focus and give it your undivided attention? Probably not. If it wasn’t easy to read or able to catch your attention quickly, you probably forgot it as soon as you finished “looking” at it.
Now, this doesn’t mean your writing must be flashy and dramatic. Packing a punch in a resume can be as simple as stating a valuable skill or unique knowledge you have, succinctly and confidently, in one bulleted line. Simple as that!
You know that saying, “The empty can rattles the loudest?” Well, when you know what you’re talking about, it doesn’t take paragraphs of text to let people know it. Utilize bullets and state your qualifications concisely.
6) Stop focusing on your academic history.
Do not list your educational background first. Place your education at the END of your resume.
This sounds completely weird. This sounds crazy. This will be HARD. It will feel as though you’re going against everything you were taught. You might even feel like you’re sabotaging yourself by not highlighting your academic credentials. BUT YOU’RE NOT.
You’re a professional now, with professional skills and experience. Your education is behind you (or at least not in the #1 spot anymore), so highlight the professional experience and skills that are going to get you that job!
Put your education at the bottom of your resume–and do it with PRIDE!
7) Turn academic experiences into professional ones.
Did you complete an internship? Were you a research assistant? Did you volunteer regularly? Did you participate in work-study? These are all experiences that can boost your chances of getting hired–as long as they are worded the right way.
Try to describe an academic job, part-time job, or volunteer experience as if it were your full-time job. Often, the context surrounding a job can play mental tricks on you and you can’t see the valuable experience you acquired from them. This is especially true when your grad program was #1 and any other job you had played second fiddle.
If you’re applying to a PR firm and you worked part-time as an administrative assistant in marketing while you were in school, this is a perfect place to highlight that experience. If you’re applying to a research organization and you worked as a research assistant at your university while you were in school, definitely highlight that experience. If you’re applying to a community non-profit and you volunteered regularly at a refugee resettlement organization, share that specialized knowledge!
This is where tailoring comes into play. Choose the experiences you want to highlight for your desired job and describe them in a way that shows you are the MOST qualified for the job. Honestly, you can draw relevant experience from almost any job–it’s all in how you perceive and convey that information.
Expert Tip: I’ve highlighted this section because I discovered this by accident and it could very well make or break an application.
After interviewing for one particular position and not getting it, I couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong, as I was one of the top two candidates. It was only after chatting with one of my friends that it became obvious. She asked me, “Did you put down that you were still in school?”
As a matter of fact, I had. I interviewed for this job before ultimately deciding that I was going to leave academia. I indicated on my resume that I was still in my PhD program. My friend said this was likely why they didn’t hire me. She had experienced the same thing, but was hired only after being extensively questioned about her 5-Year Plan (they wanted to make sure she was going to stick around and they wouldn’t invest in her training, etc. if she was just planning to leave in a couple of years).
From an employer’s standpoint, this made total sense. Even though I was planning on making that job my career, they didn’t know that for sure based on my resume. After I decided, once and for all, that I was leaving academia, I took it off my resume and the number of call-backs I received actually increased.
If you are planning on leaving academia, you are not required to disclose that you were in that academic program. Your education section is only relevant in regards to proving you have the degree qualification you say you have. No one is going to judge you or care that you were in a grad program and never graduated (unless you try to say that you actually graduated and got that degree).
Therefore, if you leave academia, just put the highest degree you earned before that, whether it’s a BA, MA, etc. and be done with it. Honestly, in a non-ac world, education gets you past HR’s minimum qualifications–it’s your EXPERIENCE that should be speaking to a hiring manager.
After doing a ton of research and reworking my entire resume, it looked COMPLETELY different! I was also kind of embarrassed because if I’d received my old resume, I wouldn’t have hired me either…
It’s amazing how the smallest of changes can completely transform your CV into a resume, but I never learned about that in school. I could tell you about biomarkers and patterns of disease in the human skeleton, but I had no clue how to craft a stellar resume to get a job doing that!
Let’s be honest, we all have a unique set of skills and we all have personal knowledge that no one else has, but it doesn’t feel that way if you don’t know how to convey that information to get the job you want. If you’ve been struggling with creating a resume (or even knowing where to begin), I hope these tips will help put you on the right track and give you the confidence you need to showcase your amazing abilities!
I’ve decided to offer an eBook that goes into more detail about this topic–complete with step-by-step instructions, worksheets, a resume template, and more tips about how to transform your CV into a resume… If you have any questions or suggestions about what I should include, feel free to let me know! Stay tuned, friends!