Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Ask Cloud: Turning an Academic CV into an Industry Resume

I promised @jkgoya that I would write about how to turn an academic CV into a resume aimed at industry jobs. I was planning to post about it last week, but then last week went to hell.

I am still processing why, exactly, last week went to hell, since the proximate cause of the train wreck on Thursday would rightfully seem to most people to be a relatively small irritant, in the grand scheme of things.

I will probably write about this eventually, because it usually helps me to write about it. I have a lot of thoughts swirling around about last week, mixing with thoughts about disproportionate responses to seemingly minor incidents and the deeper reasons for them, the limits of my tolerance, the accidental gaslighting that you experience when you are different from your colleagues in some important way, the "ban bossy" campaign and why it matters that we call girls bossy but boys leaders, and an awesome short story I read in the latest issue of Crossed Genres magazine in which words are literally weapons. Only the last of those things can really be called pleasant. (Seriously, if you have any inclinations towards Sci-Fi at all, do yourself a favor and subscribe to Crossed Genres- I have yet to read a story I didn't like, and I've read severally that I outright love.)

But I can't quite get my thoughts to coalesce into something coherent, so I will let them percolate some more and write my promised "Ask Cloud" post instead.

To all those arriving at this post because someone sent them a link saying they should read about how to write a resume- apologies for the above. That's just how I roll on this blog, and since it is a hobby for which no one pays me... you get what you get. I will, however, happily answer questions on the resume subject, both in comments and in email.


The first thing I need to tell you about turning an academic CV into an industry resume is that while I strongly recommend you do this before applying to any industry jobs, having failed to do so is not a cause for despair. Early in your career, you probably don't have a super long CV, so most hiring managers will give you the benefit of the doubt and read through your full CV to see if you are a fit for their entry level position.

However, you can increase your chances of catching a hiring manager's attention and greatly help anyone who has offered to keep an eye out for relevant positions for you by making some tweaks to turn your CV into a resume.

Let's take it section by section.

The Profile or Objective

The absolute #1 thing you should do is add either an objective or a profile at the top of your resume. Seriously, if you take none of my other advice, at least do this. Which you choose is a matter of personal preference. I personally prefer a profile because I think the objective is fairly self-evident (my objective is to get the job to which I'm applying!) but I see a roughly equal mix of the two, and as long as the section is well-written, I don't think it matter which form you use. The profile is also sometimes called a summary. This distinction is utterly meaningless.

The objective or profile section is a written version of your elevator speech, tailored for the job to which you are applying. It should only be a couple of sentences long. In fact, my current profile is a single sentence. If you are sending the resume to a networking contact who has offered to help you, you should try to craft a version that can plausibly cover all of the types of jobs in which you might be interested. Yes, this is hard. I know, because I have struggled with it every single time I have run a job search. It is worth doing, though, because this is the first thing the person looking at your resume sees, and it gives them the reference frame into which they will fit the rest of your resume. It is worth sweating over this section.

Here is what a summary or profile might look like for someone who is just starting out:

Scientist with interdisciplinary experience in basket-weaving and snorkeling, strong technical skills in reed preparation, snorkel selection, and demonstrated ability to quickly master new weaving techniques.

Here is what an objective might look like for the same junior underwater basket weaver:

To obtain an entry-level position in underwater basket-weaving in which I can apply my interdisciplinary snorkeling and weaving experience, strong reed preparation and snorkel selection skills, and learn new weaving techniques.

You should tweak the order of the clauses and include/exclude specific skills and experiences based on the job to which you are applying. If you have one of the key skills that the job description calls out, try to get it in this section. If you could plausibly apply to two different types of jobs, have a different summary or profile for each type. For instance, I have bounced around among jobs that are more science-oriented, more computer-oriented, and more management oriented throughout my career. When I apply for a job now, I use my profile section to emphasize the part of my experience that is most relevant to the particular job to which I am applying.

Key Skills

There is some debate about whether this section should go right after your summary/objective or at the end of the resume. I think this is another case where there is no one right answer. My personal bias is to put it after the summary for more technical/hands-on positions, and move it to the end when you start applying for management positions. I've seen it in all sorts of locations, though, and I personally have never cared where I find it in an applicant's resume. I definitely want to see this section, though, particularly for more junior positions.

The key skills section is exactly what it sounds like: a listing of your key skills. The combination of this section and your profile is the "TL; DR" version of your resume. I read the profile and the key skills, and then decide how carefully to read the rest of the resume. This sounds harsh, I know, but remember that I review hundreds of resumes for any position I post. I have to use something to tell me where to focus my time, and using the profile and key skills is better than using the formatting and font choice.

Only list skills in which you have reasonably strong proficiency. Do not list things that you know about from reading a paper or two or have just dabbled in. If those things are truly relevant to the job, mention them in your cover letter, not here. Stretching the truth in this section is a disqualifier, in my opinion. If I interview someone who does not turn out to have the skills he or she listed, I will not hire, end of story.

It is best to divide this section into bullet points, arranged by type of skill. For instance, here is what our basket weaver might have:
  • Basket-weaving: cross weave, Thompson's anti-fray weave, reed preparation
  • Diving: snorkel selection, Jones' free dive technique
  • Basket-finishing: advanced decorative design, design testing
Professional Experience

This section is the meat of the resume, in which you summarize your work experience, in reverse chronological order. For someone just leaving academia, I would recommend listing post-doctoral positions, your graduate research assistant position, and any relevant experience from before graduate school. If you worked for awhile between college and grad school, list what you did, even if it is not directly relevant. If it isn't relevant, it is fine to make it a very short section, but don't leave it out, or the hiring manager might assume something bad was happening then. If you were traveling the world for two years, briefly mention that in your cover letter, but leave it out of your resume. Same thing for less desirable reasons for an interlude.

I include a job title, the date range, and a very brief summary of the job (e.g., "responsibility for all lab basket-weaving. Hired and managed two technicians.") before listing 3-6 specific accomplishments for the job. The more recent positions include more accomplishments, but this is also something I customize for different jobs and I include more detail about older experiences if they are relevant to the job requirements.

I would only include part-time positions you held during college if they are relevant- e.g., research work or a position in which you garnered some supervisory experience, but this is truly an area for which there are no right answers. You'll just have to do what you think is best.

Don't list jobs you held in high school unless you had some sort of super awesome internship or something like that. I scooped ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins and sold popcorn at a movie theater. No one cared about that, even when I was fresh out of graduate school (and I didn't do a postdoc, so my resume was light for that first job application).

The standard advice is to make the bullet points with your experience action and result oriented. Don't just list what you did: list how it benefited your employer, and try to quantify that benefit. I think this is difficult for most people without much industry experience, but you might find some bullet points that you can rework into this style. For instance, you could turn this:
  • Designed novel 5-point basket weave to improve fish capturing capacity.
Into this:
  • Designed novel 5-point basket weave, resulting in 5-fold increase in average fish catch.
Or perhaps even better:
  • Increased average fish catch 5-fold by designing a novel 5-point basket weave.
If you choose to include teaching experience in this section, try to translate that experience into bullets that show your talents in training other people. Most industry positions eventually involve training someone else in something you have mastered, so teaching experience can definitely be relevant.


Some people put the education section right after the key skills. I put it after the experience section, but I am much further away from my educational experiences than someone just starting out is. I don't think it makes a huge difference for someone straight out of academia whether it is after key skills or experience. Actually, I don't think it makes a huge difference at any point, but I do think it was sort of weird when the first thing someone who has some post-graduate experience wants me to see on their resume is where they got their degree.

In this section, you should list all of the degrees that you have obtained, in reverse chronological order. When you are relatively junior, you can flesh out your resume by including the title and a summary for any undergraduate thesis you wrote. As you get more senior, you'll drop the undergraduate thesis but keep this information for your graduate thesis (although you'll keep trimming it, as you search for more room for your professional accomplishments). List your advisors. Don't bother listing your high school education. No one cares where you went to high school, even if it was an awesome school with an excellent reputation. In most cases, your college and graduate school GPAs are irrelevant, too. As a friend of mine used to say: there is no such thing as a PhD-minus.

If you have taken any additional formal training that is relevant, list it. When I was first starting out, I listed the database course I had taken via the extension school at a nearby university. I still list that. I now also list my various project management and some other training courses.

I am not sure what to recommend in terms of EdX courses and other MOOCs. Certainly only list them if they are relevant: if I am hiring a scientific programmer, I don't care that you completed a MOOC about Greek myths. I suspect that listing relevant MOOCs might be helpful for a scientist attempting a transition into a different field, such as programming. I do not have any direct experience with this, though.


List any awards you have received, reaching back to college but not before. This is another section that slowly dwindles over the course of your career. When I first started out, I listed my National Merit scholarship and my college honors scholarship. I later dropped those, but kept the research fellowships I won in college and my NSF award for graduate school. I have now dispensed with the section altogether and just mention the NSF award in with my PhD thesis title. Don't stress too much about this section. I've never seen it matter.  In fact, I had to open up my resume to see what I do with this section. I discovered that I do not have this section anymore, probably because I wanted more space for my professional experience section.

Publications and Presentations

List these, much like you would for an academic CV. This can be a separate page (or pages!)  and does not count against the usual 2-3 page length for a resume. It is nice to put your name in bold in the list, to make it easier for the person who is reviewing the resume to find you.

If you have patents, you should list those, too.

Other tips

Your resume should be 2-3 pages without publications. This probably won't be a problem for early career folks, but might be challenging for someone who is more senior. Do the work to trim your resume down to size, regardless. Most industry hiring managers that I know are annoyed by long CVs, not impressed. Keep what is relevant to the position to which your are applying, condense or drop what is not.

Yes, you really do need to customize your resume for each and every job to which you apply. Yes, this is a pain in the ass. Do it anyway.

If you have gaps in your employment or educational history or are making a career change beyond just moving into the industrial equivalent of your academic field, explain this in your cover letter. This is not optional. The hiring manager will notice, and if you haven't explained, he or she might skip your resume in favor of someone else.

Have someone proofread your resume, even if you are a native English speaker. I'll overlook a typo or two, but some hiring managers are really annoyed by them. Grammatical errors and sentences that don't make sense will probably always count against you. Remember, the person reading your resume is going to be reading many, many emails and reports from you if you are hired. No one is enthusiastic about struggling through incomprehensible written communication.

OK, that's all I have. Commenters- what did I miss? Add your tips or ask your questions in the comments! Also, please comment if you disagree with any of my tips. It will help people to see that none of these tips are truly rules, and that there is no one single right way in which to write a resume.


  1. sThanks for this post! My resume is in need of a brush-up. The TL/DR concept of the profile/key points sections makes a lot of sense and I think I have undervalued these aspects on mine.

    The publication list is interesting, as I have heard mixed opinions about whether or not publications should be included. Do you think this is only relevant for R&D related positions or would you suggest including them even if applying to other types of positions as well?

    The other thing that I am wondering about is involvement in professional organizations, etc. Are these worth including in your opinion?

    1. I don't have much experience with non R&D positions, so I don't know about including publications for those. I'd say that if it is a position for which your scientific knowledge is relevant, include them. Have them start on their own page, and then people can ignore them if they aren't relevant.

      I would only include professional organizations if they have some sort of entrance requirement beyond paying money. I've never seen mere membership in an organization make a difference. However, if you've done relevant volunteer work with a scientific organization, it would be worth adding a section for this and perhaps calling it out in your cover letter, particularly if your resume is otherwise a bit light.

  2. This is so interesting and so different than an academic CV! My grad student showed me his academic CV based on our career services advice, and it look very much like this, which is a terrible idea in academia. In academia, no statement of objective/profile, you lead with education, positions held (no explanations), awards, and then immediately publications (in full), followed by teaching, and if applicable service.

    In academic CVs the references are on a separate last page, so they can be easily accessed. When I look at academic CV, I see where the candidate went to school, where s/he has been lately, and how many papers total and where published recently. That takes about 20 sec if you don't make the cut.

    Anyway, your thoughts are a great resource! I will share with my students, many of whom go into industry.

  3. This is fantastic Cloud. I've written a ton of resumes (went through a co-op program as an undergrad so I was doing this every 8 months, and then rounds of interviews - you got to try out all sorts of different resume ideas and see what people thought of them).

    The one thing that springs to mind (because I'm currently in the middle of writing an academic paper) is that the Profile/Objective section + skills is basically an abstract for your resume. So think about how many papers you scan through, only reading the abstract before deciding whether to dig deeper into the actual paper, and that will help you understand why this section is so vitally important!

    Also, do you ever see functional rather than chronological resumes? I've written a few of these to play up relevant experience when I've been switching from one focus to another - and if there are big gaps in your time line this makes them much less obvious. Although you're still going to need to explain them.

    Another thing I always did as a co-op student was get a generic reference letter from my previous employer and include it instead of the ubiquitous "references available upon request". This worked brilliantly as a student, and seems like it might be the sort of thing you could ask an advisor or senior lab member to write for you if you're exiting academia after a degree or post-doc. How would you react to something like that?

    1. Wendy -- I am not a fan of the functional resume. The functional resume make me work to piece together the applicant's career arc. I don't want to do that. For the last position that we offered, I had >300 resumes to evaluate. Anything that makes it more difficult does not help a candidate's chances. If there are gaps or other flags, they're best explained by a great cover letter.

  4. I think this is great advice. As someone that reads a lot of CVs, both from BS and PhD level candidates, I tend like Skills after Work Experience, but I'm not a stickler. And I completely agree that the summaries after work experiences are enhanced by accomplishments.

    I will say that the Profile-Objective part is really a neutral-lose situation to me. A good one doesn't really help, but a bad one -- or one clearly cut-and-pasted that is not applicable to the position I'm screening suggests that you're inattentive to details. Not a good first impression.

    And really, I've become much more cover-letter-oriented in recent years. A great cover letter takes a middlin-to-good CV to the top of the pack and a bad cover letter can sink an otherwise good candidate.

    1. Thank you for weighing in! Folks- SteveB is a friend of mine who also has a lot of hiring experience. Listen to him!

      I think it is interesting that you are so-so on the Profile, while I absolutely hate getting resumes without one. Maybe this is because I hire almost exclusively interdisciplinary roles and usually have a lot of career-changers in my stack. I want help framing their experience into my requirements.

      But I agree that a bad one is very bad news! And this just shows why job searching is so hard. There is no one right answer on things. Different hiring managers like different things, and there is no way for you to know. It sucks.

      I am completely in agreement about the importance of a good cover letter.

  5. Anonymous3:53 PM

    Yeah, I read somewhere that the Objective statement is "out" these days in favor of putting that information in the cover letter.

    1. Huh. That strikes me as bad advice, but since SteveB doesn't like the Objective section, maybe it is fair and I'm behind the times.

      The problem is, a lot of times in a company even of moderate size, the resume arrives in my inbox w/o its cover letter if I am on the interview committee but am not the hiring manager.

      I will say, though, that I think a profile/summary is easier to write well than an objective, which is why I prefer to use a profile. I keep it quite short. I hit the highlights of my background with respect to the job description/requirements in the cover letter.

      I agree with SteveB that a good cover letter can rescue a mediocre resume... but why take that chance?

      Also- different industries may have different preferences. Even within a single industry, different types of jobs can have different expectations. Business development jobs, for instance, often want to see your "deal sheet" which of course makes no sense in technical jobs.

      Also, any number of resume and cover letter faux pas will be overlooked for a candidate with the exact skills we want. But those candidates are rare, and we usually instead hire someone who has ~60-70% of the skills we want on the assumption that he or she will learn the remainder quickly. A good resume/cover letter greatly influences my opinion on whether a candidate is likely to be able to learn the remainder quickly.

  6. I've always heard that a resume should fit on 1 page, so I'm glad to hear that I get more space!

    After reading this, I really need to overhaul my resume. Thanks!

    Now, can you do a post on writing a good cover letter? (asking too much???)

    1. It is on my list of "basics of job searching" posts to do. I hope to get to it soon.

  7. I re-did my resume, and in doing so I now have some real questions. I should note that I'm applying for management positions.
    1. Should I list training/mentoring in key skills? I assisted in training and oversaw the research of undergrads while in grad school. I listed this under my research in professional experience, but wondering if it should be a skill too.
    2. Can teaching go under key skills? Similar to above, I did a lot of ta-ing as a grad student. I have a teaching section, but should it be a skill too?
    3. I am the president of my postdoc association. Where should this go? I had it listed as its own category, but is that too much or will it get seen? Maybe it could go as part of my profile statement and get its own section?
    4. I have potentially relevant volunteer experience (I volunteer at the zoo as a docent (so, science education) and helped with organizing local Brain awareness week activities). Is this seen as a good thing? Is a volunteer section too much?
    5. A silly formatting question- how do you handle page breaks? Is it better to have a whole section on a page, which might leave awkward blank spaces? Or, is it better to break up a section?

    Thanks again for the post and any advice that you can offer! I was pretty lost before this and using advice that I think is more for business resumes.

    1. I would not list training/mentoring or teaching under key skills unless you are applying for a teaching job. I do have a "management" section in my key skills, and if I were going for a job for which it seemed relevant, I would list specific training or mentoring skills there- but a generic "mentoring" skill probably won't mean much.

      I'd put things like being president of the postdoc association in a "service" or "volunteer work" section, and then highlight the relevant skills you developed in your cover letter. So... clearly, I think a volunteer section is OK since your volunteer experience is relevant, but you may need to help people make the connection in the cover letter.

      I handle page breaks by tweaking spacing and the like to get them to fall in reasonable places. No need for your entire experience section to be on one page, for instance- but it is weird to split in the middle of a bullet point.

      If you'd like me to look at your resume and give feedback, email me. I can't do this heaps of times, but first come, first served.... I will be happy, though, to send my "base" resume and versions customized for a couple of different jobs to anyone who asks. Email is wandsci at gmail dot com.

  8. Its is important when some thinking of to change his field means want to work in other environment from presently then this tip is very much useful. And for industry CV you have to take care of some thing before applying for it. Your CV should look professional also mention any experience that you have previously in the industry so it can help you a lot to get a better and fast job.

  9. that's good post.

  10. risis9:03 PM

    Good post.

  11. Your cover letter and resume is your poster child and the first impression on prospective employers. Starting from the cover letter, you need to convince the hiring manager that you are the right person for the open position and that you are really motivated to do exactly this job. See more cover letter for a job application


Sorry for the CAPTCHA, folks. The spammers were stealing too much of my time.