PhD Questions of the Month – March 2021

Welcome to another installment of our blog series, PhD Questions of the Month, where the Grad Student/Postdoc Team at Career Services answers the top 2-3 questions that we have been asked in our individual PhD career advising appointments. This month, we’ve gotten questions about resumes and negotiating. Feel free to connect with us if you have career questions in need of answers – you can make an appointment to meet with a Career Advisor on Handshake!

Question 1: Does it really matter if my resume goes over 1 page?

This is a fairly common question from students at all levels. while an academic CV can stretch across many pages (but more isn’t always better!), the resume is a much more focused document that is targeted to a specific job at a specific company. Yes, you can have a general version that may serve as a foundation for more customized ones, but I would generally advise not investing too much time into a general version, because it is always going to benefit you to tailor this as much as possible for each application.

There is no magic to a 1-page resume. If by squeezing everything onto one page, you don’t have space to share relevant information about your skills, knowledge, or experiences (relevant to the job you are applying to), then the 1-page version really won’t showcase you at your best. As more companies manage applications through their own electronic systems, there are many positions you might apply for where you don’t get to submit a standalone resume as a PDF, but instead have to cut and paste your resume content into text fields on the employer’s website. This makes it less necessary to worry about the 1-page approach anyway, since there is no expectation that all of the separate parts you provide will be view in a one-page format.

I tend to avoid giving page limits for resumes that people must follow (there is no “must” here – just options to consider), but here are some general observations:

  • Consulting/finance jobs = 1 page – and this is a typical industry standard in most cases. However, the big consulting firms (e.g., BCG, McKinsey, and Bain) often say that they are also OK with academic CVs when they are hiring advanced degree candidates. I would tend to avoid sending an academic CV for a consulting application, though – they are not very engaging documents at all.
  • Industry R&D = 2-3 pages. For research-focused job, you may want to include a list of relevant publications, and highlight the relevant technical skills you use in your research. On top of this, you have demonstrate skills such as collaboration, learning new information quickly, project management, problem-solving, effective communication, and more. That’s hard to do in just one page, and 2-3 pages are perfectly acceptable.
  • Federal resume = unlimited pages. The more information you can share about your relevant skills from the widest range of experiences that you have had, the more likely you are to tick all the boxes in terms of the key skills that federal recruiters need to see in order to interview you.
  • Any communications role = short and concise to illustrate your communication skills in action. If you are applying for a role where you must be able to communicate complex information effectively to a broad audience, for example, then use your resume to illustrate this skill.
  • Non-profit/academic administration = 2+ pages. Since there are so many types of roles that fall under this category, this is a very broad generalization, but you can definitely have more than one page in most cases.

In terms of formatting, resumes that stretch over a complete page and leave 3-5 lines on the next page, followed by a giant empty space on the rest of the page, don’t look as professional as they could. If you are dealing with 3-5 extra lines, chances are some strategic formatting can help you get these back on the previous page.

Take a look at some of these resume resources to help you put together an effective resume:


Question 2: Why might you negotiate for a changed job title as part of a job offer?

There are common aspects of a job offer that can be negotiated: salary, start-date, signing bonus, relocation, and possibly even the job title itself. Now, this won’t be common in many organizations that have a very structured hierarchy of positions, or for very large organizations where it would be chaotic if everyone had unstructured titles. However, in many start-ups, and some of the more mature versions of start-ups, negotiating for a different might be helpful for a few reasons.

One reason might be to help you make a bit of a career shift so that you can position yourself for different roles in the future. If the job you are hired for is termed Research Associate, this would obviously leverage your social science research experience, for example. Now, everyone knows that PhDs come from research backgrounds, and so becoming a Research Associate doesn’t really change the narrative about your professional identity in obvious ways. However, perhaps you are thinking about more of a shift towards user experience work in particular. If you could negotiate a change in the job title from Research Associate to User Experience Researcher, then the way people see you and your professional experience will tend to shift to match this new title. You are not just a researcher, you would be a user experience researcher. When it comes to the next job you are looking for, within the same organization or beyond, the ability to convince a hiring manager that you can work effectively with UX roles would be much easier with this title.

Sometimes, the names of roles at companies are not that clear. Do you know how many Associate Directors there are at Penn? Well, LinkedIn suggests that there are about 800 of them. Some might have descriptors (e.g., my title is Senior Associate Director), but these don’t necessarily provide any additional clarity in terms of what the roles represent. At organizations where there is the possibility for negotiating a job title change, you can imagine thinking carefully about subtle ways to add value to the job title that might benefit you in the present and especially the future. For example:

  • Associate Director of Metrics
  • Associate Director of Innovation
  • Associate Director of Clinical Trials

Each of these descriptors might add to the professional narrative you are hoping to create as your grow your experience within your career field. Again, for organizations that are willing to entertain this as a possible option for negotiating (something you might find out from looking at the job titles for an organization, or by connecting with alumni through informational interviews), this doesn’t actually cost them anything to do. Especially for employers that cannot offer financial incentives as part of offer negotiations, this could be something to consider.

If you are looking for ways to negotiate effectively, then take a look at the Negotiation Curriculum on the Big Interview resource provided by Career Services.

If you have more career-related questions, or if you’d like to chat with us about your career plans or job search, feel free to make an appointment with us. We look forward to working with you!

By Joseph Barber
Joseph Barber Director, Graduate Career Initiatives