realworld PhDs

A resource for job hunting PhDs.

Why you rock. (And why we salute you.)

I recently had the opportunity to help a good friend of mine - we’ll call her S - revise her resume for a new round of job hunting. This is a person whose skills and experience I respect tremendously - she and I worked together for several years, and she taught me a great deal, both in terms of job skills and in terms of career development. So you can imagine my surprise when I opened up her resume and found it was just list after list of basic job skills. Proficient in Microsoft Office? Well, yeah, sure, she’s definitely that, but she’s also proficient at balancing the delicate egos of senior scientists who all want the most credit for a new idea, or at squeezing blood from a stone to keep an amazing assistant professor in his position long enough for his own grants to start coming in. I know she’s someone that anyone who has worked with her would consider a resource, someone who’s always willing to stay late to walk you through a new policy or software system, and someone who always jumps on a problem as soon as it comes to light. But according to her resume, she was just someone who had always done her job.


Sometimes I think it’s a bad idea to try to write your own resume. Most of us aren’t comfortable talking ourselves up (and, let’s be honest - a lot of people who like talking themselves up shouldn’t!), so it’s not surprising that, like my friend S, we fall into the trap of offering the most brutally honest view of ourselves in our resume. Even when I sat down with S to start beefing things up, she hit me with the familiar ‘buts’ - ‘but I didn’t do that project alone!’ ‘But I wasn’t the only one!’ ‘But that just needed to get done!’

As I pointed out to her, no hiring manager is going to be confused that there are other people in your office. If you say you oversaw $10 million in new donations, no one reading your resume is going to assume you knocked on every door and brought in every check. And yet of us are resistant to taking any credit unless we did 100% of the work.

Of course, this tendency to see the best in others and the least in yourself is part of what makes a great employee. No one wants to work with someone who takes 100% of the credit all of the time. We all appreciate working with people who give credit and take responsibility, but in order for that to happen, we all need to get comfortable taking a little more credit when we’re job hunting, and give hiring managers a more balanced view of what we’re really like to work with.

Easier said than done? Sure, it’s hard to get past that voice in your head that says, ‘but.’ My suggestion to S? Don’t make yourself do it yourself - be a team player and ask for help. I gave her a couple of talking points of why I, as her colleague, would say she’s great at her job, and then pointed her to a few of our other former colleagues to do the same. Sometimes it’s just easier to hear the truth from a friend.