Tailor your resume and cover letter for the job you want.

You’ve heard this career advice two hundred million times.

But what in the world does that mean?!

(Permit me to take this side journey before we continue. I am almost forty years old and I still don’t get the point of cover letters. If I have submitted a resume that discusses my skills, what’s the point? I feel it’s like taking two showers within ten minutes of each other when you never even got an opportunity to sweat or get dirty. Anyway, I just wanted to make the rant. Although I focus on resumes in this post, the concepts apply to cover letters too. Moving on.)

Let’s talk about how to tailor your resume for the non-academic jobs you want.

1 – Examine job posts for the kind of role you want…carefully

If you’ve followed me for a while, then you have probably heard me say to read job descriptions carefully. Let me repeat this one more time: you absolutely, positively, need to read the job descriptions of the kinds of roles you want carefully in order to tailor your resume and cover letter for that job.

Now, this can seem tedious because you’re in a rush to apply for these jobs and land something. And the more jobs you apply for the better your chances will be of getting one, right?


A more efficient use of your time would be to have a recruiter who picks up your resume say, “Wow, this person is really who we are looking for.”

“Dr. Gee, does this mean I will have to write a new resume for each job I apply to?”

No. And if you follow along for the rest of the post, I will tell you how you can write one resume that may only need five minutes of tweaking each time you apply for a new role.

The first step here would be to settle on the job type you want to apply for. So let’s say you want to apply for a regulatory medical writer role.

What you are going to do is to use a job search platform like LinkedIn or Indeed to search for that kind of role. Before you do this, open up a Word document or an Excel spreadsheet.

Read 5-10 job descriptions for regulatory writer roles. There are bound to be differences. But take note of the similarities. Do all or most of those job descriptions mention “clinical study reports”? Add that to the Word doc or spreadsheet. How about understanding GMP practices? Add that to the list too.

Read every job description and add all those similar skills and responsibilities to your list.

I recommend going this path in order to be thorough.

But if you’d like to use AI to make a quick shortlist, check out this LinkedIn post I made on the subject.

Estimated time investment: 30-60 minutes.

2 – Identify your transferable skills

In the video embedded below, I share some of the common transferable skills we gain as PhDs as we go through our education.

Those transferable skills might include:

  • Writing
  • Research
  • Communication
  • Data analysis
  • Problem-solving

You might also be familiar with a particular research methodology. Or perhaps you used a particular software or instrument during your studies and became very good at using it. It’s time to sit down and take stock of all the skills and knowledge you have, and how those apply to the type of role you want.

And so, going back to my medical writer example, you might recognize that you could parlay the fact that you wrote not just academic papers but also standard operating procedures for experiments in your neuroscience lab to prove that you might be able to write clinical study protocols in a medical writer role. Don’t just expect your future to be impressed that you have multiple publications though! Yes, you achieved that but now you need to demonstrate how you will use that writing skill in a regulatory writer role. I talk more about this below.

In some instances, you might have to do some self-learning to get yourself up to speed with some of the items you’ve listed that you don’t know so you at least have base knowledge. I find that even having base knowledge is helpful when you go into an interview rather than not knowing anything at all.

Estimated time investment: 30 minutes

3 – Write your resume

It is time to take what you’ve learned from the first two steps and use it to bake a delicious resume.

When it comes to writing non-academic resumes, I always recommend the following two rules.

Keep it concise.

In academia, it is common to have a four- to ten-page curriculum vitae, depending on your long string of achievements within the academy. Academia values that.

And I made the mistake of applying for non-academic jobs with my academic resume.

Don’t attend the School of Hard Knocks like me.

Things changed significantly when I started writing one to two-page resumes. So keep it concise. Cut what needs to be cut and focus on how your skills make you the candidate for the job. I talk about this in the next point.

Highlight skills. Not achievements

I want to harp on this point because I have had people message me and say, “Dr. Gee, but I have all these accomplishments in academia. I could learn this job quickly. Why is nobody paying attention to me?”

Ah. I feel your pain. I spun that wheel myself.

Here’s the thing:

Generally, non-academic employers are interested in seeing how you’ve applied your skills and knowledge in real-world settings. Be specific and use data and examples to demonstrate your impact.

Here’s an example based on a recent resume review I did:

The first line of the job this person wanted to apply for said the ideal person for this role would, “apply mathematical models of human perception to support research protocols in coordination with researchers, principal investigators, and engineering staff.”

The person’s resume was a standard impressive academic resume.

And nowhere on their resume did they address how their skills and knowledge would help them do the above. Don’t assume that the recruiter will make the link between your education and what they are looking for. Make it glaringly clear that your skills and knowledge make you the ideal candidate for the role.

Weave the words and what you’ve learned about this type of role in steps one and two into your resume writing. If they mention “mathematical models” or, “GMP practices” or “collaboration” in the job description, sprinkle those words (meaningfully) into your resume like a fine sweetener.

When you read a job description, think of each of the requirements as a question “can you do this?’ Your resume (and cover letter) should then answer and say, “yes I can do that.”

And now you know how to tailor your resume for non-academic jobs

Now that you know how to tailor your resume for non-academic jobs, go forth and prosper.

Comment below and let me know if this post was helpful or if you have follow up questions.

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