I’ve been following some threads on the discussion boards over the past few months where there is a battle raging about whether to leave your PhD off your resume in some circumstances in order to address the “Overqualified” part of the “overqualified and under-experienced” curse. This is all based on anecdotal stories about postdocs who have been passed over for jobs and have either concluded themselves, or been told , that the reason is that their PhD “over-qualifies” them for the position.
The thread then meanders to how to deal with the obvious time gap in your resume once you leave your PhD training out, what happens if you get “found out” and the ethics of it all. The argument then emerges that “well, if I am changing careers or disciplines, then my PhD isn’t relevant anyway.” The problem with all of this is that the true value of the PhD is being severely short-changed.
I do not doubt that there are circumstances in which the academic requirements for a position specifies an undergraduate degree only, and that in some of these cases the hiring manager truly is not interested in someone with a PhD. Often, however, if you look more deeply into it, the reason is not so much their being overqualified per se as it is the concern that they will 1) quickly get bored with the job or 2) their applying for such a junior position indicates a poor sense of self worth. Either of these interpretations is likely to discourage the hiring manager from taking a chance on this individual.
But I would argue, and have examples to back it up, that many positions whose job description specifies only an undergraduate degree, would jump at the chance to get someone with more experience if only that person represented the true value of their graduate training and PhD in their cover letter, resume, and interviews!
“Oh really? What true value is it of which you speak? You’re out of your mind!!!”
I’m not talking about the candidate’s awesome scientific/technical skills they’ve learned while completing their PhD in molecular biology, materials science, mathematics, immunology or whatever. What I’m talking about are the non-scientific skills that we absorb to a greater or lesser degree throughout our graduate and post-graduate experience.
Many of us have either had the honor or burden (depending on your perspective) of mentoring a high school or college student in the lab sometime during our career. So why doesn’t the phrase “experienced at mentoring and developing a highly functional team” ever appear on our resume Statement of Qualifications? Why, when we successfully argue to the Lab Chief for additional resources to do those critical animal studies doesn’t the phrase “demonstrated champion to upper management to promote and develop strategic programs” appear in said Statement?
There are many “soft skills” that we actually are exposed to during our careers that are highly valued in industry. There are some that we are really terrible at– I might suggest financial acumen, emotional intelligence, collaboration, social intelligence, rapport as examples, and some we’re pretty darned good at like strategic thinking, risk management, and tactical thinking. Yet our tendency is to focus exclusively on the scientific/technical skills when competing for jobs, which just throws our applications into the giant heap of other applications from other equally qualified candidates (from a technical standpoint) with nothing to differentiate us.
I give a lot of workshops across the country talking about these issues, and surprise of surprises, I get e-mails from attendees stating that by referencing these skills appropriately in cover letters, resumes, and through networking, they are now getting invited for phone interviews, which was not happening before. Some of them even get jobs!!! If we make more of an effort to understand the soft skills we do possess, can communicate those effectively, and develop a plan to obtain the other critical skills which we do not have but that are important for the job we’re going after, then we put ourselves in a better position to be competitive in the industry job market, and what’s more, be successful in those careers.
Of course that requires an ability to decipher those job ads to find out what soft-skills are highly desirable, but that will have to be the topic of a future post.