Applying for roles or opportunities outside of academia is already a daunting task. Despite being suitable for a range of positions, communicating this to someone who is not familiar with your topic area can be rather difficult. However, the key thing is the manner in which you communicate yourself to someone who doesn’t quite fully understand what a PhD entails. In all honesty, you’ve probably done this a thousand times already. You may have often found yourself explaining what it is exactly you do to friends, family or in other social contexts. Even after explaining what a PhD is, you might also have to present a ‘simpler’ explanation of what your actual work is about. Essentially, you do the same in a CV just with a bit more style.
Usually, PhD students have an ‘academic’ CV. This contains a bit about you, a list of your educational achievements, your employment history – whereby you list the specific duties under each role, and a list of your research or academic outputs – most often publications. These general sections are presented 9 times out of 10, where you prioritise your educational achievements and previous work on the first page. Furthermore, depending on the nature of your PhD and prior academia achievements, an academic CV is longer (maybe a lot longer) than two pages. For the academic world this is all fine and will most likely be read by an employer.
When writing a CV for employers outside of academia, you need to lay it out in a way that makes it digestible, easy to follow, and communicates what you can do as opposed to what you have done. This is often referred to as a ‘skills’ CV (try Google-ing this for a range of templates and additional advice). But what are my skills? To write a skills-based CV it is essential you identify your transferable skills and how they apply to a range of different contexts outside academia. I’ve outlined this elsewhere, so we won’t touch on this here, but it typically includes a list of skills you would have been refining and developing throughout your PhD. This provides a really straightforward and clear framework for someone who doesn’t quite understand what a PhD is or what it takes to complete one.
The structure of a skills-based CV is different to an academic CV. Again, you would have a personal profile or bio at the top of your CV. Do not just copy and paste this from your academic CV. This should provide a more general description of who you are, your diverse skillset, why you want to leave academia, and why you’re applying for the current role (in brief). Next, instead of writing your employment history and responsibilities, just have your employment history and a one liner explaining what this role was (not what your responsibilities were or what you did).
The key point here is to demonstrate that other people think you’re employable, as sort of social proof, as opposed to how competent you are. The next section should be a list of your skills. So, rather than collating your skills/responsibilities under each job/role, you provide a more synthesised version of your skills. Here, you would list a skill you have (e.g. problem solving), and then provide 3 to 4 bullet points of when you have used that skills in your PhD. Repeat a similar process for lots of different skills (ideally the ones most relevant to the role you’re applying for). Then at the end of your CV, list your educational achievements. Industry is much more concerned with your skills than the accolades you’ve picked up on the way (the real world is unfortunately not like Pokémon).
This should all be done within two pages. Oh, and do not provide a list of your publications – industry doesn’t care what you’ve published, they are more interested in if you have published. A bullet point under ‘writing skills’ that says something like ‘ability to write in different formats including peer-reviewed papers, book chapters, posters and blogs’ will suffice. One last tip would be to also list your PhD as previous job title, this will help fill that employment history gap. It also will change the way employers perceive your PhD – it wasn’t a series of lectures; it was independent work containing annual leave, sick leave, and specific work hours that you’ve been contractually obliged to do. If your PhD is funded, you will also have a ‘salary’ for it.
To recap, your skills CV should be divided as follows:
- Personal profile or bio (aim for around 100 words)
- Employment history (keep this brief and include your PhD)
- Skills (name a skill & 3-4 example bullet points)
- Education history (including your PhD again is optional)
- Keep this all within 2 pages.
This should provide you with a quick, succinct, and efficient way of explaining who you are and why you have the competencies to do whatever job you are applying for!
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