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Job Skills Any success when leaving PhD off resume?

  1. Mar 9, 2012 #1
    While searching for a job, a number of people have suggested that I leave the PhD off my resume when applying for positions that don't require it. I haven't tried that yet, but am considering it. The alleged benefit is that fewer employers will be scared off by the "overqualified" PhD label. The down side is, it's hard to explain what I did for a few years in graduate school without mentioning the PhD, and of course the emotional downer of hiding an achievement I'm proud of.

    Has anyone tried leaving the PhD off their resume and had successful results? I'm wondering if the benefits are real, or just an urban legend.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 9, 2012 #2
    Why get a PhD to get a job that doesn't require it? You should probably be applying for jobs that require a PhD. What is your PhD in?
  4. Mar 9, 2012 #3


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    because there are no or very few jobs that may appreciate a PhD. This depends on the PhD itself and employer's attitude.
  5. Mar 9, 2012 #4
    Who is telling you to leave your PhD off your resume?

    I'm about to graduate with my PhD in physics, and that didn't seem to hurt me in the job search at all. It probably depends a lot on the sorts of jobs you are going after. I was looking at software development positions in Silicon Valley. I constrained my search to the Bay Area because of family reasons, so I don't have any first hand experience of interviewing in other job markets.

    Most of the jobs I applied to said something in the job requirements like "B.Sc in CS, EE, Math, or related technical fields required. MS/PhD preferred." Not all had the MS/PhD preferred part. Though I guess if it has that wording it implies they don't consider a PhD overqualified, so this might not apply for the sorts of jobs you are pursuing.

    What sort of jobs are you applying for?

    Note also that at some point in every interview process I had to fill at an official application for the job that always had a section like: “Please list all educational experience” or something to that effect. Also the legalese on the application would have something stating that lying on the this form could constitute grounds for dismissal.
  6. Mar 9, 2012 #5
    A couple of people who work in human resources suggested this. Also I had one job interview with a small company where the "budget guy" said something to the effect of ... what are you doing looking for a job with us when you could be a physics professor? They didn't hire me, though I can't be sure that's the reason.

    Software development jobs, like you, though not in the Bay Area. I am also constrained by location due to family ties, in an economically depressed "Rust Belt" city, which doesn't help. Very few jobs around here say "MS/PhD preferred" unless it's an engineering degree.

    In answer to the person who asked why start a PhD program knowing it won't help get a job, it's mainly because I didn't know. Having started grad school before the 2008 financial meltdown, job prospects looked much rosier back then. In fact, I turned down a job offer to go to grad school. Also, I never imagined a PhD would be seen as a negative in hiring.
  7. Mar 9, 2012 #6
    My phd is theoretical physics. I spent well over a year looking for work, during which time I played various games with my resume. For intro type jobs at engineering (I was determined to find a job where some physics knowledge was value added) companies, I had a much better response/interview rate without the phd. I left the phd off, but left "researcher" in as the job I held during the period. Strangely enough, I also had a much better response when I stripped out the various teaching and research awards I had won during graduate school.

    Also, one effect to look out for- everyone outside of science thinks that its really easy to find a job in science. The zeitgeist seems to be that we have a shortage of scientists, and there are all these great science jobs going begging. They expect you to jump ship for one of these science jobs. They don't and won't believe the science job market sucks, so you are better off convincing them that while doing your phd you developed a deep passion for whatever you are interviewing for. This might be a tough sell (it was for me). The exception might be fields already loaded with phds, who better know the reality (finance).

    Also, I'd suggest looking in the health insurance industry. The companies are all over (everyone needs to be insured) and they've started to do a fair amount of data modeling which requires in-house programmers and data specialists.
  8. Mar 9, 2012 #7


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    Did you explain to them that chances of being a proffesor are less than some arbitrary positive epsilon?
  9. Mar 9, 2012 #8
    Doesn't work- after all "everyone knows we need more scientists." You are more likely to convince them that you've fallen in love with whatever you are interviewing for. i.e. "While working on my phd, I found I was enjoying developing and debugging code more than the science I was involved in... "
  10. Mar 9, 2012 #9


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    Having been on the other side of the interview a few times now, the real concern I think for a candidate is communicating their true interest in the position.

    If you have a PhD and you're applying for something that doesn't require it, the white elephant in the room is whether you're actually interested in the position, or just using it as a place holder until something better comes along. As ParticleGrl said, it doesn't work to argue that the chances of getting a professor position are slim - because that still means that if one ever comes along, you'll drop that position like ahot potato.

    One possible approach that can help is to style your resume so as to focus on skills and project accomplishments rather than assaulting the reader with the letters PhD and the title a complicated sounding thesis right under your name and address. You can still include the information - after all, people are going to find out about it eventually, but in some cases you can shift the focus away from it.
  11. Mar 9, 2012 #10
    Of course, the chance of a professor position coming along is 0 (its like being worried a potential employee will jump ship to go on tour with Boston (look up Tommy Decarlo), it COULD happen but its not worth worrying about), but the average non-scientist is unlikely to understand that and probably likely to believe the opposite. You aren't going to convince them during an interview.
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2012
  12. Mar 9, 2012 #11
    Are these people employers, since I don't it will work at all.

    The first thing that an employer will look at when they see your resume is to see if there are any time gaps. If you have a five year to seven gap in your resume in which there is no explanation, that will doom your resume.

    Now, I do have a resume which I was for computer positions in which I put the fact that I have a Ph.D. near the bottom. In my programmer resume, the name at the top says Twofish and the first section is working experience and the second is education. In my quant resume, the name at the top is Twofish Ph.D. and the first section is a technical description of my Ph.D. research.

    The reason I mention I have a Ph.D. is so that no one thinks that I was in jail for armed robbery.

    Don't see the point really. One thing to remember is that if the employer isn't going to give you a job at the end, then it's better that the reject you at the start of the process so you don't waste your time.

    One other thing to remember is that the employer may be *right* and you are overqualified for the job, and someone else should get it.
  13. Mar 9, 2012 #12
    That's not true. There are lots of jobs that appreciate a Ph.D. The trouble is that they tend to be centered in a few cities (i.e. Silicon Valley, Austin, NYC) and a few industries. For me a Ph.D. has helped a lot because in every case, the person making the hiring decisions also had Ph.D.'s.
  14. Mar 9, 2012 #13
    One thing to remember is that people in HR do not make hiring decisions for technical positions. HR's role is to do the initial screening, and if they trash your resume because you have a Ph.D., you weren't going to get the job anyway.

    Geography is a pain, but it turned out that what worked for me was to work in NYC Monday to Friday and then fly to Texas on the weekends. The scary thing was that lots of people were doing that.

    It is, but sometimes it's a good thing. After I went through several interviews by people that told me that I should looking for a job in NYC, I took the hint. One thing that on the employers mind is what happens in a year if the economy improves. If you have skills then you'll leave.
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2012
  15. Mar 9, 2012 #14
    I've done the same thing. In my programmer resume, I listed "research assistant" as one of the jobs, so I could (legitimately) claim work experience. I kept the Ph.D., although it got moved to the end, because Austin is a high tech area have respect for Ph.D., and even if I couldn't sell myself as a physics Ph.D., it doesn't hurt to sell yourself as a "UTexas Austin" alumni when looking for jobs in Texas.

    Not surprised that this is true. It's impossible for some outsider to know the value of a teaching and research award, so including a lot of those makes you look like someone that is 1) obssessed with awards and 2) padding their resume. Something that does happen with HR people is that they get flooded with a ton of resumes from business majors that treat every minor award as if its the Nobel prize.

    Leaving off awards, unless it's something that you'd expect the interviewer to be familiar with is something that you should do for even Ph.D heavy positions.

    One thing about resumes is that even when you are dealing with Ph.D. heavy industries is that you don't look too academic.

    One big problem with convincing people of this is that it might not be true. I've found reading about drama and theatre to be useful in job interviews, because there is a lot of role-playing here.

    That's one thing that makes interviews Kafka-que.
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2012
  16. Mar 9, 2012 #15
    One other thing is that resumes need to be targeted for the audience. For some jobs, you want to play up the Ph.D., and one annoyance of mine is to get a resume from someone that has taken the standard HR advice which is *wrong* for Wall Street firms. If you are applying for a job in NYC, one thing that you need is a technical description of your research which makes sense to someone else in your field.

    One other thing that helps is do not think of your resume as your autobiography. Think of it as a 30 second commercial. If you think of your resume as an autobiography, then you are going to emphasize what is emotionally important to you rather than what matters to the reader. If you think of it as a 30 second movie trailer that put you in the right mind set to get rid of stuff that isn't important.

    A resume is a commerical. Typically what happens is that someone gets a stack of resumes and scans through them very quickly, and you are lucky if someone spends more than one minute looking at your resume.

    Something that helps writing a resume is to have you or someone else look at the resume for ten seconds, and then figure out what you remember from it. This is useful, because looking at a resume for ten seconds approximates how they are scanned in industry. The process for scanning resumes is intentionally impersonal, because you have a 100 people and one job, and you *can't* make decent decisions if you develop a personal attachment to anyone looking for a job.

    Some other random things:

    * include citizenship and work status and/or security clearnances

    * use clean fonts with decent margins. Remember that your resume is likely to be faxed, scanned, printed, rescanned etc. etc

    * .pdf is generally the preferred format. If you send your resume as an attachment, call it something like myname.pdf. If you call it resume.pdf, it's going to be a minor annoyance to the person that saves the file and has to rename it. First of all, don't want to annoy the person reading it. Second, if someone has to do something by hand, that increases the chances that someone is going to rename it something that causes it to be lost. One thing that makes the process even more Kalfkasque is that if the resume gets lost for "random reasons" (i.e. some photocopies and it falls behind the desk) no one will care.
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2012
  17. Mar 10, 2012 #16
    It also occurs to me that geography makes a big factor, and that there is a lot of similarities between an "ethnic enclave" like Chinatown and Little Italy and cities with "physicstowns." Even if you aren't applying for a job in Austin, Texas that involves a physics Ph.d., it's likely that the interviewer knows someone that knows someone in physics department, and things like how difficult it is to find an academic position are "common knowledge".

    Off the top of my head, cities that are friendly to physics Ph.D.'s include Silicon Valley, Austin, NYC, Boston, Research Triangle NC. In China, the physics Ph.D's tend to hang out in either Shenzhen/Hong Kong or in Beijing.
  18. Mar 10, 2012 #17
    Then would it be a better idea if one would want to work in NYC, to get a PhD from a university in that area - Stony Brook, NYU, Columbia, etc - and likewise for California (Stanford, USC, the UCs, CalTech, etc) and then UT Austin for well, Austin? Instead of say, one getting their PhD elsewhere...in France or Germany or maybe Louisiana.

    Could you tell us more about your job? In which area is it? Are your co-workers all PhD graduates?
  19. Mar 10, 2012 #18
    Thanks for all the replies, lots of good advice in there. I especially like the idea of putting less emphasis on the PhD, without actually omitting it.

    If you are talking only about employer self-interest, I don't agree. The theory is that the overqualified person will quit as soon as a better job comes along, but this is a risk for all employees. In my experience, the most common reasons that people quit jobs are conflict with superiors or due to family concerns, which have nothing to do with qualification.

    If you are talking about what's good for society, you could be right in that the person who is just barely qualified for the job needs it more than someone with a PhD, but where does that leave most PhD's? If there are 1,000 unemployed PhD's and 100 jobs that require a PhD, what should society do with the other 900?
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2012
  20. Mar 10, 2012 #19


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    I heard that that's what experimentalists do most of their time, they don't do alot of physics.
  21. Mar 10, 2012 #20
    In several of my interviews, the employer explicitly told me that this was the reason I didn't get the job. One reason one of several of my interviewers were reluctant to hire me was that they were replacing a physics Ph.D. that had quit so that they could work for an investment bank in NYC.

    One interesting thing was that in one situation, I was able to stay in touch with the interviewers and I was able to steer some business in their direction later.

    It's worse for people with high skills. People will low skills are trapped and have no other options.

    Also, if someone were to ask me if I'd quit if someone offered me a tenured research professorship in astrophysics, the truth would be *HELL YES*. One of the good things about working for finance is that you don't have to pretend that you love the job, since the interviewer is likely to quit the second someone offers them a professorship.

    That's not been my experience. More important, it wasn't the experience of the people that were interviewing me, and even though I didn't get the job, I got enough information to know exactly why I didn't get the job.

    One thing that I tell myself is that my goal in life was to figure out the universe, and if I can figure out neutrino radiation hydrodynamics, then I can figure out the job market. It may be painful and difficult, but since I finished a physics Ph.D., I'll do what it takes to get the job done. If I have to learn something new, then I'll learn something new.

    I don't mention this to employers since it sounds arrogant because it is arrogant, but I do tell myself this constantly. One other thing that I did when I was looking for work is that my job was to find a job. I got up at 8:30, headed to my office (local Starbucks), and put in a full days work until 6:00 p.m. and then headed home.

    Force us to make difficult choices.

    One thing that seems to be a theme is that there isn't a massive shortage of jobs that require a Ph.D. There *is* a shortage of jobs that don't require relocation. I didn't want to leave Austin, but after spending a few years there, it was clear that there was no future for me there, so I had to leave. One thing that made this easier was that my parents were immigrants, so I figured that if they could give up their lives in China for greener pastures in the United States, then a move to NYC wouldn't kill me. My parents were willing to move half way around the world for a better life, and if I have to do the same thing, then I'll do it.

    One other thing. Society ain't going to give you crap.
  22. Mar 10, 2012 #21

    The reason that I mention UT Austin is that if I'm in a situation where I think that a "physics Ph.D." is a negative, then it becomes a "degree from UT Austin" and in the Austin area, that's always a positive. It's a positive because UT Austin (and the other Texas) universities have positive reputations in the Austin area. Think particle-wave duality and it makes sense.

    In NYC and Silicon Valley, everyone is an outsider so there is no major advantage in getting a degree from somewhere local. There is a *huge* advantage in being located in that area. If you are in the NYC area, and someone wants to interview you, they can call you at 9:00 a.m. and you can be in their office at noon.

    I work in a major financial firm. About two-thirds of my coworkers have Ph.D.'s, and the remaining have masters degrees with heavy work experience.
  23. Mar 10, 2012 #22
    One other thing that one has to watch out for is that physics Ph.D.'s have a reputation for being argumentative and unwilling to follow orders that seem stupid to them. I have to say that it's a well-deserved reputation. I am argumentative, and I *do* have problems following orders that seem stupid.

    One other problem is that a lot of managers have difficulty dealing with people that are smarter than they are. For that matter, it's pretty common to have employees that can't deal with managers that are dumber than they are.

    When someone tells me that I'm overqualified my first reaction is to argue the issue, but I've learned in an interview setting to shut up and listen, and try to squeeze as much information as I can out of a situation. If it becomes obvious that I'm not getting the job, I can get information, and that involves just letting someone talk. In a lot of cases, I've found that the employer is looking for someone that can shut up, take orders, and not ask any questions, and they happen to think that I would have difficulty in that situation. And they'd be right.

    Also, I've had to deal with situations in which it became obvious that the employer just couldn't deal with someone that was smarter than they were. I have an "absent minded scientist" act that I use for that situation, in which I act like a clueless idiot savant that's good an crunching numbers but incompetent at anything else. I had a job in which I had to act that way for long enough, that I was going crazy so I had to quit for my own sanity.
  24. Mar 10, 2012 #23
    True. I've started looking nationwide now, though moving is going to mean uprooting a spouse who already has a good job. It would be nice if one person's career didn't require sacrificing the other's, but that's not the real world.
  25. Mar 10, 2012 #24


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    Impossible question to answer as posed. It depends on the job and the attitude of the recruiters.

    Sample jobs;

    staking shelves in a supermarket - leave it off
    post-grad research assistant - leave it in
    technical support staff (not requiring higher education) - debatable; if the company is expanding, put it in, if it has passed its peak, leave it off.
    film star - what's the role?

    I went for a job delivering wood when I was ~17 years old. I didn't really want to go to university then, and even if I had decided I wanted to get a few years money earned first as I had no support to do it. Went for the job and filled the form. It was just name, address, and any other comments/qualifications. I actually asked the guy at the place if I should put in anything and he said 'there's only been one other applicant, and he left the box empty!'. So I put in '5 o-levels' (I actually had 10, and a few A-levels)... there was no interview... the other guy got the job. Go figure.....
  26. Mar 10, 2012 #25


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