This guest post was written by Lana Cook, a PhD candidate in the English department at Northeastern University who finishing up her last semester and beginning to navigate the Alt-Ac track.
Translation (n.): The conversion of something from one form or medium into another.
Mixed feelings abound when entering any job market, but transitioning to a different career path or field can be downright intimidating. Embarking on my own career search, I kept asking myself, can a PhD trained in the academic track of teaching and research move to a career in administration and nonprofit management? Did I need to go back to school for a business degree? I researched MBA programs for a quick minute before I realized that 1) I had plenty of education, and 2) I already had all the necessary skills and abilities. I just had a problem of phrasing. I was too bound to my discipline’s jargon. I needed to become a translator.
Any skilled translator would tell you that you need to immerse yourself in the foreign language to gain fluency. In my alt-ac career search that meant researching arts organizations, nonprofits, foundations and research centers, taking special note of how they describe their missions and activities. I followed community leaders on Twitter and subscribed to industry news. I carefully read job postings and highlighted repeated key terms. I learned that in administrative-speak “development” meant fundraising, “outreach” meant marketing, “coordinator” meant collaboration. I began to see my graduate work through the perspective of project management. The dissertation, conferences, teaching, and tutoring taught me to how to prioritize multiple high stakes projects and negotiate diverse stakeholders. Graduate school required me to develop organizational systems that efficiently managed logistics and achieved identifiable outcomes. Revising an academic curriculum vitae (CV) into a resume involved using a new industry language, reframing my experience in terms that would resonate with my audience of potential employers.
Step one was translating my experiences into industry jargon. The next step was revamping my bloated multipage CV that listed all my conferences, publications, courses taken and taught, into a compact, easy to digest, professional resume. I recommend the following steps for transforming a CV into a resume:
- Identify your transferrable skills. Interpersonal communication, organization, following instructions and anticipating needs: these are transferrable skills that are applicable in every career. There are several resources where you can mine language for identifying your personal aptitudes and describing them in professional terms.
- Condense your history. While an academic CV can be several pages long, resumes are typically one page (two if you have extensive experience). For graduate students fresh on the job market, keep your resume to one page, focusing on experiences and skills that are most relevant to the desired position.
- Tailor your resume and cover letter specifically to the position and organization. Create a long master resume that lists all your experiences, education, every seminar, class, conference, and project you worked on (start this while you are in school so you can keep track of your accomplishments). Use the master copy to take sections from when tailoring a resume to a specific position. While cover letter templates can help save time, they can quickly become formulaic. One size does not fit all in today’s job market. Pay attention and respond to the minute details of the job post, echoing the language the employers use and aligning your experience with their needs.
- Add new skills to your resume. Many of the positions I was interested in asked for proficiency with administrative software. Northeastern provides several free options for technology crash courses. Information Technology Services (ITS) offers one-day courses in the Snell Library classrooms for hands-on help or you can follow online tutorials through Lynda. I recently took refresher courses in Excel database management and Photoshop, as well as a 4-hour introductory course to HTML.
- Use your network to workshop your resume. Identify a professional working in your desired career and ask for an informational interview. Use the meeting to gain industry knowledge and learn about the career paths people have taken to get there. Follow up by asking if they could give you some advice on your resume. Visit Career Development and work with a career advisor to refine your job materials.
Translating my resume has given me a confidence boost. I now look at job postings and see open possibilities where before I saw closed doors. Resources for alternative academics (Alt-Ac) are growing as more PhDs turn to options beyond teaching. GradHacker dedicated last week’s posts to Alt-Ac, including how to get started on the job search. Follow the hashtag #altac on Twitter to learn more. Join me on the first Thursday of every month here on the Works as I countdown to graduation.
Lana Cook is a PhD candidate in the English department at Northeastern University. Her dissertation traces the development of the psychedelic aesthetic in mid-twentieth century American literature and film. Lana is a 2013-2014 graduate fellow at the Humanities Center. She received her bachelors of arts at the University of New Hampshire. You can follow her on Twitter @lanacook or Linkedin.