Converting Your Academic CV to a Non-academic Résume

One of the most popular workshops organized by Beyond Academia every year focuses on how a PhD can convert their academic CV to a non-academic resume.  It is not always easy to highlight all the transferable skills acquired during your PhD in a very condensed format.

Earlier this March, our conference Keynote speaker, Susan Basalla May, gave tips on successfully transitioning from a PhD to nonacademic careers and warned attendees of the tedious process of converting their CV into a resume: “If you have not cried while making a resume, then it is still a CV, not a resume”.  

Don’t worry, we’ll share with you the professional advice received at the conference on how to make your application and resume stand out from the rest of the crowd! Mary McHale, from CS advising, gave us resume workshops to both STEM and Humanities & Social Sciences PhDs to help with selling themselves better.


Mary McHale, Senior Career Coach with CS Advising, giving advice to PhD students and Postdocs about resume writing at the 2018 Beyond Academia Conference.

You’re not always sending your resume to a person: make it robot-friendly.

Unless you already know someone at the company you are applying to, chances that your resume falls directly in the hands of a hiring manager are quite low. The reality is that they don’t see it unless your resume passes through the first round of selection. Who is reading it first then? The Automatic Tracking System (ATS), a resume reading robot that cuts down more than 75% of the applications, before an actual hiring manager gets a look at the selected pool.

How can you make sure that you’ll be in the selected pool of candidates?

  • Identify critical keywords in job descriptions: The automatic tracking system extracts information from each online job application you fill out, and then analyzes it with its algorithms to search for critical keywords they are looking for in your resume! They will score your resume based on those keywords.
  • Analyze your past job experiences: Spend the time to figure out what skills and expertise you gained from past internships, degrees or jobs, and match them as best as possible with the job description.
  • Send your resume in a Word vs PDF format: Once you upload your resume online, it will be electronically scanned and information will be extracted from it. Avoid submitting PDF format when uploading it onto a job application platform. Most prefer a simple word format. However, if you are sending it to a person, a PDF format (visually cleaner) is the way to go.
  • Make sure your LinkedIn page reflects your resume. You can have many resumes, but you only have one LinkedIn profile. Make sure that all the critical keywords you included in your resume are also in your LinkedIn page. Recruiters have a premier feature where they can search candidates based on keywords. We heard from an employee at a big biotech company that all potential job candidates that submit a resume gets their LinkedIn checked online through identical keyword check.
A resume is not about you; it is about your future employers.

Some of us often include a top section like “Summary” on their resume and write a few sentences such as “looking for team environment” or “interested in X/Y research”. Well, you can delete it all.  The general consensus is that a recruiter spends about 7 seconds on a resume. Do you then really think that they care about what you’re looking for in a job? They want to know how can you be valuable for them, and if your skill set matches what they are looking for.

  • Convert your interests into skills on your resume. List your interests on your LinkedIn. As mentioned earlier, your LinkedIn is the right space where you can give depth to your character (hobbies, extracurriculars, interests). Your resume should focus on accomplishments and skills relevant to the job application.
  • Always think of your experience in terms of how valuable it is in industry. Write an accomplishment-based resume by describing how you made a difference in your role – how you made things move forward. For that, master the STAR approach when writing about your skills:

    PhDs often describe their project in their CV without mentioning what would be the industry value.


    Situation: General context
    Task: What was the objective?
    Action: What did you do, skills needed to complete that task
    Results: What were the outcomes? Think of it in term of business (e.g. $$ saved, or made…)

    Follow this formula so the recruiter will better understand how critical you were in a specific role in a project or at an institution. They will focus on the outcomes, so don’t forget to mention it.

  • Remove any information that can discriminate against you. Don’t include your photo or even your address. You could easily not be selected because recruiters think you wouldn’t want to commute an hour to the company every day, for example. Remove all that kind of personal information. Only your LinkedIn, phone number and email address are critical information. Similarly, make sure to use a generic email address ( instead of a university-affiliated email address. While it can be helpful to show that you really attended a prestigious university, mostly it gives the impression to recruiters that you are not done with your degree. Use a professional email address that won’t change in the future.
  • Do recruiters care about where I got my education? If you’ve already worked for 2-3 years after graduation, put your education at the bottom; employers will care more about your professional experiences. If you just recently graduated, you can leave it at the top. Only add your GPA if it is above 3.5. If you performed well on entry tests, add your GPA and scores on LinkedIn.
Resume length? Should PhDs include their publications? Write a cover letter?

Unless you’re interested in consulting, where they will give you more precise format for what they are looking for when you’re applying to their firms, this is a big open question. It really depends on the industry, and sometimes even on the recruiter. CS advising suggests creating an addendum to list publications and talks, without taking space from your resume.

  • Consulting/Business: 1 page, don’t list your publications on the resume, but refer to them so people can go on your Linkedin if interested.
  • Research: 2-3 pages, definitely list your publications (and talks if relevant). If you just recently graduated, you can write 1-2 pages. If you’ve been in an industry for 5-10 years, you can write 3-4 pages.
  • Arts & Culture: 1-2 pages, don’t list your publication on your resume – use LinkedIn or an addendum.

 Other fields you know about? Don’t hesitate to comment and share your experience.

Should you include a cover letter when submitting a resume? This is also going to vary based on recruiters. Unless you have a page limitation when uploading your resume, you can always add it to the body (e.g. you submit one word of PDF document, but includes the cover letter before your resume). If limited, just skip it.

Spend the time on formatting your resume: no mistakes allowed!

Recruiters won’t have any mercy if they find any typos in your resume. Make sure to have multiple people go over it. Formatting your resume to make it look clean and easy to read will also help.

  • Headings: Use commonly understood headings such as summary, core qualification, experience, professional experience, leadership, activities, skills/technical skills, certifications, Honors & Awards. For core qualifications, write them in columns with keywords instead of sentences.
  • Grammar: Use 3rd person. Past tense throughout. Resumes shouldn’t contain a lot of abbreviation
  • Dates: easy to find and formatted. Put job title justified on the left and the dates justified on the right. Recruiters love months fully spelled out (Month YYYY format).
  • Tables and column are not read well by computers, so avoid using any.
  • Font (color, size type): only 1-2 fonts, all black is ideal.
  • Addresses: Always include the complete name of university/company, city, state. E.g. University of California, Berkeley. Berkeley, CA. (instead of University of California, Berkeley, or UC Berkeley).
  • Numbers: From 0-10: write it. if  >11, spell it.
  • Punctuation: Period at the end of each bullet. It tells the eye when to pause.
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About the Author:

Cécile Fortuny is a 5th year PhD Student in the Vision Science Department at UC Berkeley. Her thesis focuses on developing gene therapies for inherited retinal diseases and improving current gene delivery systems using Adeno-Associated Viruses as a viral vector.  She joined Beyond Academia in 2015 and since helped organized the 2016,2017 and 2018 Annual Conference as well as multiple career development events on campus.