Monthly Archives: May 2013

Strike your PhD from your CV?

A recent discussion on the LinkedIn group, PhD Careers Outside of Academia asked this question:

“I recently completed a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology. I’ve been looking for a job in industry for a few months. I’m using every resource I can find – friends and acquaintances, LinkedIn, staffing agencies, Monster, company websites. I’ve had very few calls and no interviews for research positions whatsoever – only interviews in high turnover positions, like sales. Often I find a position that doesn’t ask for a PhD, but sounds like it would be a really good fit for me (and vice versa). From speaking to a few people, it seems like, other than assuming I may be expecting a higher salary, employers don’t want to consider someone who is “over qualified” (or over educated) because they fear the job seeker is just taking a stop-gap position and won’t take the position seriously, quitting the moment something better comes along. Is it reasonable to account for this by removing my PhD from my resume ….? All of my references are from my PhD program, so if granted an interview, I would probably have to disclose to the interviewer that I have a PhD – otherwise they will probably learn as much from my references. Any advice / suggestions / anecdotes are welcome!!”
Amongst the many responses was some very sound advice, some of which I’ve summarised annonymously below (but you can see the whole discussion by joining the LinkedIn group).
“There was a significant discussion on this a year or so ago. In North America, concealing your PhD is a big no-no. When recruiting for a high level position over there, every aspect of you record can be checked and absolute honesty is expected from current and prospective employees of any reputable organisation. The likelihood is you will be found out if there’s any hint of anything that doesn’t add up…… To sum up, don’t try it and instead focus on your skills that are applicable to the job you are chasing. You could place your qualifications on the second page of your two page CV or resume to downplay it, but don’t even think of trying to remove it. If someone looks for you on the internet, there’s a good chance you’ll be found.”
 “it’s almost always easier to land a job if you have a technical/research-related gig going already. So, for instance, if you’re looking to get into a career path in industry, you might consider landing a postdoc research job first. Of course, you might get a great job before finishing your PhD.”
“It’s not enough just to say you have a PhD – make sure your resume and cover letter explain why your PhD will help you do that job better.”
“I will make just two short suggestions: first, as recommended earlier, make your CV a “functional” CV. Highlight what you can do for your employer. Skills rather than education. Second, along the same lines, perhaps you can de-emphasize your PhD. Keep it on the CV, but not front and center as with an academic CV.”
“The cover letter is a powerful instrument to not only introduce yourself in a more compelling way then your resume allows, but also to layout specific information regarding your professional expectations for a position. It is a great place to discuss why you are a great fit for a position regardless of whether or not a PhD is required. … Don’t pigeonhole your skill set to the bench. Communication, teamwork, teaching and mentoring, management, problem solving, and critical thinking are all highly-desirable skills that can be applied broadly in any position. Demonstrating that you can leverage these skills at and beyond the bench shows that you can contribute more than just your scientific prowess to an organization. … Consider getting some help from either a headhunter and/or a professional CV or resume writer. Depending on where you are looking, there may be up to a hundred (sometimes more!) applicants for a single position.”
“One thing I took from asking about how I was selected for an interview was that both my cover letter and CV directly spoke to my relevant experience and specifically answered the question of why I wanted THIS job. Put the most important things you have done first. Highlight the parts of your experience that have been the most rewarding and explain why this makes you a good candidate in the cover letter. Whether you are overqualified or under-qualified, it comes down to making HR see that you are unique and providing them with a valid reason to bring you in.
Ironically, amidst this discussion a report was published in the UK by Vitae which compared the employment statistics of PhD graduates with masters and degree graduates. The findings show that PhD graduates had the best rates and levels of employment over those with other academic qualifications concluding that a PhD is a definite asset in these times of recession. See the full report here:
Finally, I think this piece of advice from one of the contributors of the LinkedIn discussion sums things up very well:
“I don’t think omitting “PhD” from our resumes is the answer – maybe de-emphasizing it by putting relevant skills and work experience at the top, with a section called “Education and Research Experience” at the bottom with PhD under that. But in the end, we all want positions that require (or at least  prefer) a PhD, because if not, it really de-values the PhD and the countless hours of challenging work we put into it.”