I quit my PhD Education – what should I write on my CV?

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009 - career management, career transition, Job Application, job hunting, job search, Ph.D., professionalism, university


Phd Education

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Carlotta asks: I quit my PhD halfway through and I’m concerned about how this will look on my CV. It was the best decision for me – I now work in publishing and am very happy to be out of academia – but I don’t want to come across as a quitter. Should I just leave the ‘qualification gained’ bit blank, and explain it in the interview? Or put ‘suspended studies’? I just wondered if anyone has the same black spot on their CV and how they get round it? Thanks!

In answer: I don’t think that this is a problem, as if / when you apply for future jobs, I’m assuming you’ll be emphasising your professional experience and achievements rather than academic qualifications. The person reading your CV needs to see at a glance if you’re suitable for the job, which means that your sections on key achievements and career history will probably come before education. What you can do on your CV is take out any reference to your PhD from your Education section, and then put it underneath in a smaller section entitled “Further research”. You don’t need to mention that the research was for a PhD, but just put the dates and write what your major area of research was. If you’re asked about it at interview, you can say that you decided not to pursue your research, as you felt that academia wasn’t your calling in life, and that you were more suited to a practical, hands-on working environment. Unless you’re applying for a job where a PhD is specifically asked for, interviewers will be more interested in finding out if you can do the job and are a fit for the company than whether or not you completed a PhD.

Now, you may be seeing this refocusing as lying? Here’s the truth: you did research; you say on your CV/resume that you did research; and if the potential employer referenced it that was your reference would say. OK, so then you had a goal to get a Phd, but that didn’t suit you. It is now turned into a positive as you recognised the situation, found something you were good at, and are now proven to be good and productive at that new career choice – so what’s the problem?

Sometimes job applicants create problem situations for themselves, and it is important if you are faced with the same problem again, to look at it from the HR professionals/recruiters view point:

  1. Do you have the skills to do the advertised job? If you don’t, why are you applying? If you don’t have the skills, then negatives become totally irrelevant!
  2. Is the issue more than 3 years old? HR professionals will only take the issue into account if it is less than 3years aged, and almost no notice it if its more than 5years old

Employers realise they need to employ human beings, and as such you are allowed a small blooper or two. If you keep repeating that blooper in those time scales – for instance flip careers three times in the last three years; then every HR professional would reject you at CV sifting stage, questioning the motivational why?

If you have to deal with a what you see as a problem in your CV, see first how it will be seen by the employer. Secondly, if its relevant, see if you can refocus it. Thirdly, if you have to address it, think about how to turn it into a positive – its in the past, I am going in this proven direction in which I deliver. Finally, work that positive through verbally, so that if you are asked questions about it in interview, you can confidently address the question. Don’t worry about what you see as negatives, or create problems in your personal “now” which are in the employers view “the past.”

Good Luck!

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