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6 Actionable Tips to Turn a CV Into a Resume that Employers Love

If you are leaving academia, there comes a time when you realize that you need to present yourself differently to the world. And there’s no bigger switch than to turn a CV into a resume.

The CV is the document that defines you as an academic. But in North America the resume reigns supreme. So if you need to get non-academic jobs–you’ll probably need this document.

Before we dive in, I’d like to remind you that I think networking is key for transitions out of academia. Don’t spend so much time on your resume that you don’t network.

But, with that being said, here are 6 tips if you need to know how to turn a turn a CV into a resume.

CV vs Resume: What’s the difference?

In North America, a CV is usually a document associated with academics in some way–it is especially used for building a career as an academic. A resume is more common for the non-academic job market. (Note that these are not perfect distinctions). In Europe, a CV is more commonly used to describe either of these. The standard way to apply for most jobs in North America is a resume vs CV.

1. Make it relevant

You’re going to need to figure out how to make your academic experience relevant to a world that doesn’t understand that much about it.

In my opinion, the best way to approach this is to start reading some job descriptions and to figure out how you could demonstrate you meet the requirements.

For example, the fact that I won a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada Grant was a huge deal in Academia, but not so much outside.

So instead of putting it like this on my resume:

  • Won a SSHRC Grant

I wrote this:

  • Grant writing won +$100k

In doing so, I took an obscure academic thing that most people outside wouldn’t know about, and translated it into language that just about any organization can understand: grant writing and money.

Btw, the fact that you may have won a few hundred thousand dollars in grant writing is no small feat. Brag on that a little bit.

How about project management? It’s something that a lot of grad students are told they can do, but most don’t have any idea what it is.

Instead of an entry like this:

  • Completed an original thesis in X

Try something like this:

  • Created an original research project, oversaw all elements, inc. winning $105,000 in funding. Conducted 85 interviews, analyzed, coded results and published them, meeting project budget and timelines.

There are very few work places in the knowledge economy that wouldn’t understand your value proposition here. Tech companies do interviews with their users. Nonprofits have funding they have to win, and research that they have to manage.

This means something outside of Academia.

2. Try to find job titles

The world understands job titles, and within the scope of your degree, there’s a good chance you have held a few.

  • Research manager.
  • Research assistant.
  • Teaching assistant.
  • Project manager.


People often tell me that they have never had any experience, but these same people may have spent 10 years in academia and done all of these jobs and more. Consider adding these to your resume as individual sections, especially if they are relevant to a job you’re applying for.

For example, if you were applying to a policy job that involved a lot of research, you could do something like this:

  • Research Assistant – worked with X to manage $3 million research project, worked independently to produce X research, supported publications, etc.

3. Look at the “service” section

I’ve read a lot of CVs.

A. LOT.

Most of them suck for non-academic work. This is because academia works on an inverse value structure to the real world.

Academia values publications, impact, your degrees, and which prestigious conferences you have presented at.

The real world values your projects, events that you have overseen, committees you worked on, initiatives you started, and even grants that you have won–but probably not the name.

The stuff in the service section is often some of the best.

LinkedIn for Phds: How to Use It to Build an Amazing Non-Academic Career

4. Simplify

I deleted the names of my publications, and replaced them with the line, “Published 2 peer-reviewed journal articles.”

If I ever personified the phrase Kill Your Darlings, this was it.

It was necessary. In fact, having the actual names of my publications might have caused potential employers to realize how totally unrelated my PhD was and to ask questions.

I didn’t want that.

There’s no perfect science about leaving or taking off your publications, but if you are switching to work in a different field, there’s a good chance you should take them off. You want to give employers a few reasons as possible to reject you, and if they are holding to resumes, and yours has a bunch of obscure, unrelated stuff, you might make the decision easier.

I’m sorry to say this, that’s the way the world works. Simplify.

5. Don’t sell yourself short

I noticed a difference pretty early on in how women describe their work and how men describe their work.

It looks something like this.

  • Led a team researching X (male)
  • Was able to support the research in x (female)

Yes, this is what really happens. When describing the exact same task, men describe it as if they have run the thing while woman describe it is it they played a tiny bit part. Men overemphasized their value. Women under-emphasize their value.

This anecdotal evidence from my own resume reading is somewhat confirmed by a study of the resume gender gap, which found that men tend to give specific, concrete accomplishments on their resume more while women often provide more of a narrative overview of their career.

While we can dream of a world where mediocre men don’t get all the attention (*looks guilty in the mirror*), for the time being, one of the best things that you can do, especially if you identify as female, is not to sell yourself short.

Look critically at your resume for places that you downplay your accomplishments, language that demeans your role, or credit that you give to others.

And look for places to be really clear on your accomplishments, even to the point of being uncomfortable. Take credit for it, be specific, and take ownership of your successes.

6. Limit your academic language

I don’t have any hard data on this, but I suspect employers are scared of people who sound like academics.

They are scared that they will hire an egghead who will be totally unrelatable. These stereotypes, unfortunately, may find us you begin your career. (I wrote in this post about concerns employers have hiring PhDs).

So I would suggest, if you are going into an industry that isn’t academia-adjacent, that you leave no question that you belong in the real world, and not the Ivory Tower. Throw a contraction in. End a sentence with a preposition, like I just did. Add some flair and personality.

As I’ve said so many times, if you have an advanced degree, people are going to assume you’re smart. They’re going to be more worried that you’re not relatable.

Conclusion

So there you have it. Try these tips if you need to turn a CV into a resume. Don’t forget that resumes are only a small part of job hunting! Good luck!

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