How to convert a scientific CV into a business CV


Seán is back with another guest post, this time on the tricky subject of turning your scientific CV into a business CV! Seán explains how to make a good first impression with your cover letter, and shares some tips and tricks for making your CV more business-friendly.

A huge problem that many scientists feel when leaving the lab is having insufficient business experience to make the transition out of science. And so with little business experience, what kinds of jobs can they apply for? However, every day many scientists do make a successful transition into the world of business, without a sniff of an MBA on their CV. Most of my friends have now gone on to work in sales, marketing, business development, IT, consulting and project management, just to name a few professions and roles.

Like everything (not even science unfortunately), there is no magic formula to make your CV appear as a business masterpiece. However, tailoring your CV for an HR department and a business manager can definitely make a big difference to whether you get to the interview stages of the job process or not.

Below are some of my tips and advice that may help you when making that transition out of science:

The first impression

From your cover letter the HR department and employer will make a judgement on whether you are a candidate who is truly interested in working for their company, or someone who has just sent another job application hoping that they make it to the interview stages. Therefore, it is critical that you tailor your cover letter to suit your prospective company, including how you align with their interests, how you understand the competition, how you have excelled to get where you are and how you’d be an asset to work for their company. Furthermore:

  • Give a brief description of their competitors and where they stand within the market;
  • Describe how X, Y, Z of your experience directly relates to the role and makes you an ideal candidate;
  • Describe the highlights of your career, what successes you have achieved, and how your determination to succeed would directly align with their business goals.

Your CV will give the HR department and your prospective manager an insight into how you structure your thoughts, your experience and exactly what your role was during your PhD and post-doc. So clearly outlining your exact roles, and how you excelled in these roles, is critical to getting through to the interview stage.

More tips for a business-friendly CV

Project management is a phrase that many PhDs and post-docs use in their CV to describe the skill of managing a research project. However, this can be taken as a given in many cases and thus expanding more on how you managed your project will set you apart from other candidates. Expanding on the objectives, goals and outcomes of your projects, and what experience you gained, provides valuable information for your CV. A little more detail will give your prospective employers a lot more insight into how great you really are!

Managing grad students and undergraduates during your PhD and post-doc alerts the HR department and your manager to your experience in working as a senior in a team, and displays that you are ready to take on responsibility, no matter what the position is. Highlighting how you managed these grad students, took their projects to completion and how you helped troubleshoot their issues along the way shows that you’re a team player and ready to take action.

Use some business terminology. It’s very likely that your new employers will been out of the lab a few years, or may not have any scientific background at all. Therefore, speaking the common language of business will resonate and allow them to see you as a business person (Chris says: my free guide on how to translate your skills into language employers can understand can help you with this).

Demonstrating further training and outreach will show whoever reads your CV that you have an interest in life outside of the lab. Further training and outreach will also show an employer what steps you’re taking to make yourself successful and useful in a career outside of the lab. If you haven’t taken any training courses yet in business, consult with your University’s career advice counsellor and see what courses you can take up for free.

Awards. You may not have won an Oscar or Olympic gold (yet!), but nothing screams success like winning an award, no matter what it was. If your peers had to compete to win this award and you beat them to the post, place it on your CV. Winning awards also shows employers that you can get things done, within a timeframe and be successful at doing it. Furthermore, it shows that you are competitive and likely to succeed within their company.

Putting some of these tips and tricks into your CV will help you to stand out from the crowd. Getting through the interview stage is the next part of the process, but with such a great CV, you’re sure to get the job!

About Seán:
Seán was a PhD student at University College Dublin and a post-doc at Cambridge University, where he studied mechanisms of cell division. Currently Seán run an ELISA assay company where you can find some great information on ELISA assay protocols and ELISA kits.

Job hunting in the digital age

Job hunting in the digital age

Technology is impacting job hunting in a big way. This month’s guest blogger Vera Marie Reed explains how to establish a professional online presence, and how to rise to the challenge of a video interview. And with a fantastic infographic too!

Graduates completing a degree program in search of employment face a very different process today. Gone are the days when an impressive résumé was enough to land the perfect job. Social media impacts many aspects of modern life – including furthering your career. With the following key pointers, graduates can separate themselves from the broad mass of applicants and attract the right employment attention.

Establish a professional social media presence

Instead of shrinking away from social media, leverage the available tools at your fingertips to expand your network and increase the chances of meeting the right employer. Research shows that 75% of recruiters will review a candidate’s digital profiles and 70% of those recruiters have rejected someone based on what they’ve found. Neglecting your online persona can be a costly and frustrating mistake.

If you’ve used the Internet with your real name in any way, you’ve left a digital footprint. The best way to crowd out the unprofessional references would be to establish a professional presence. Change or modify your name on any social media sites where your posts might depict an unfavourable representation of your interests and activities. Consider shutting down accounts that may contain excessive objectionable content – at least temporarily. If nothing else, keep your social media postings set to private.

Next, set up a LinkedIn account if you haven’t already done so. Complete your profile with as much information as possible to give potential employers a well-rounded overview of your skills, education, and experience. When asked, 89% of recruiters say they have hired someone from LinkedIn. Make sure you add a professional photo and complete the skills category portion of the profile.

LinkedIn fosters the same community building and resource sharing aspect prevalent in all popular social media sites. While interacting with your community online, be sure your postings are relevant to your industry or are professional in nature.

Smile, you’re on camera

The use of video is beginning to pervade the job search process. Candidates are increasingly using video résumés to make their applications or profiles leave a greater impact. Some employers request a short video message to accompany any completed application packet. When recording a video, be sure to practice, review the final file for mistakes, and clear the background area of any distracting noises, items or clutter. Make your video presentation as polished as possible so that it presents you in the best light. Proper grooming and attire are also important. You wouldn’t show up to an interview in your sweats and t-shirt. Treat your video résumé as you would an in-person interview.

Video interviews are also become more common. They come in two flavors: face-to-face or one-way. Before conducting either type, test out your connections prior to the scheduled appointment. Make sure that you’re able to log in, connect, and have the appropriate equipment for the call. Practice with a friend ahead of time. Pay close attention to grammar, posture and again grooming. You never get a second chance to make the very best first impression.

Social media is changing the way we network and communicate. We have access to employment possibilities that take us far beyond any geographic boundaries of the past. Take advantage of the benefits without letting the unintended consequences work against you.

Infographic: reputation, résumés and video interviews

Sorry to turn you down, but you’re overqualified

Sorry to turn you down, you're overqualified article, by Chris Humphrey

I recently answered a question over on my Facebook page, about what to do when your job application is rejected because you’re ‘overqualified’. This is a frustrating response for applicants to receive; and researchers transitioning out of academia may encounter it more than most. In my experience being labelled as ‘overqualified’ is shorthand for a number of scenarios on the employer’s side:

  • We only want to hire at the very bottom of the scale, but we didn’t want to say so in our advert.
  • We want to hire someone who’ll stay put and not wish to develop/progress in the role (and you seem like a very capable person who would want to progress in the role/organisation).
  • You seem very intellectual and we’re worried you won’t fit in/you’ll get bored/your head is in the clouds!

So how can you avoid getting this response to your applications? Here are some suggestions to help:

1. Do some digging before you apply
If you have a contact ‘on the inside’ of an organisation, e.g. made through informational interviews, you can try to determine exactly what they’re looking for, in terms of salary and experience. This will help you to rule out vacancies where they’re just looking for an entry-level candidate. It can be a very difficult thing to detect from the job advert alone – a salary range can give a false impression.

2. Speak the employer’s language
Are you using the language of a ‘fellow professional’ in your application (see my article on this topic)? Being able to speak the employer’s language is very important, and if you don’t use terms they’d expect to hear, it’s easy for them to think you don’t know their industry, business or profession. Remember, you’re a professional ‘X’ first and foremost, where the ‘X’ is a job title or role that the employer recognises from their industry, with a complementary PhD.

3. Reduce the degree of distance
For some jobs, it’s important to reduce the perceived intellectual gradient between you and the interviewing manager or HR department. You should come across as an approachable colleague with relevant experience and expertise, rather than as a know-it-all who’s fresh out of college with lots of degrees!

So give your cover letter and resume to non-academic friends and family, and get them to give you some honest feedback. Avoid obviously academic language in your application, like your ability to ‘challenge orthodoxies’ for instance (which was the case with one researcher who wrote to me for advice about rejection). It’s not dumbing down, rather, it’s adjusting your communication style to connect on a more personal level with the hiring manager.

More resources

In my presentation on ‘How to translate your skills into language employers can understand’ I show you how to analyse a job advert and really get to grips with the challenge of speaking an employer’s language. Just subscribe to my monthly newsletter and I’ll send you the slide deck by return.

In this video from, some helpful careers experts (including me) do their best to answer the question of ‘How do you convince non-academic employers that you are not overqualified?’. How do you like my nerdy headset (I have ear buds these days)?!