Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Importance of the Master Resume

This is going to be a bit of a rehash from a couple of earlier posts I've done, but since those are buried so far in the archives I wanted to highlight them again, along with the dustbiter's recent post about how the "career changer" mindset had been helping her prepare for the process of making the break from academia and starting a new career. It's a great post altogether, but in particular I'd like to highlight the fact that she's put together a "master resume" to help with her job search; something she learned from Julie at Escape the Ivory Tower, and something that I've also found immensely helpful (probably based on advice I got from Escape the Ivory Tower or someplace similar).

I really believe this is a critical step for any postacademic or even potential postacademic to take. It's important for you to understand not just what you've done in the academic world, but what skills those things have given you. You have skills, buried under the jargony lines of your CV, I promise.

When you're getting ready to write a resume, you may look at your CV and see the two lines representing two conference presentations that you've given at two academic conferences. For an academic CV, that's it - two lines. Boom. And clearly, those two lines aren't going to get you an academic job. (Hiring manager: "What the heck does a presentation about basketweaving have to do with an entry-level job in marketing??")

This is where a master resume can help you break down your academic achievements into a set of skills. Your potential nonacademic employers probably don't care about the titles of your presentations or what conferences you were at or what cities they were located in. What they will care about, though, is that by having completed conference presentations you have demonstrated that you can:
-complete a complex research project (or interpret the complex findings others have come up with)
-narrow down long, complex papers and highlight the key points to be included in a presentation
-write creative and interesting presentations*
-utilize presentation software and hardware
-speak comfortably and confidently in front of a variety of audiences
-answer questions on the fly and to respond to criticism
-meet deadlines and conform to time constraints

Similarly, teaching positions demonstrate that you have a range of organizational skills, public speaking skills, "people skills," and experience writing evaluation tools and overseeing and reviewing the work of others. These are important skills that would be valued in a lot of jobs ... and they get completely lost if your resume just lists "Instructor - Basketweaving 101" on it.

So, do this. Sooner rather than later. Make a master resume. It'll help you get out of the mindset of thinking of your career as a checklist of academic tasks ... and will help you see the long list of actual, concrete job skills you've obtained.

(*keep in mind, you don't actually have to be the world's best public speaker to make these claims. You're selling yourself. No one reading your resume was at the Basketweaving Conference of 2010 and saw you bomb. You're a public speaker. Sell yourself as one.)


  1. Yup, most definitely good advice. One thing you can do to help find the language to sell your skills, as well as figure out what nonacademic employers are looking for, is read job ads for positions you might be interested in applying for. Even if you're not ready to start sending out resumes yet, this will help you get in the right mindset and get your resume in shape.

  2. Yes, excellent advice. I actually spent most of the first two-ish months after I made my decision to leave doing this. (Of course, I already had a job so money was not a critical issue at that point).

    But yes, great advice. Sending resumes out blindly is not a great idea (other than trying to land yourself *something* to get your bills paid). Spending a bit of time looking through ads and thinking about what you can (and want to) do and how your skills fit is critical.

    Heck, even now as I'm on a three-month hiatus from looking for new jobs (for various reasons, we can't move until after the new year), I've still been doing this. It's never a bad idea to be looking at job ads and rethinking your skill set.

  3. Oh yeah, I also still look at job ads, though I think I'm going to stick around here until at least January (which will make a nice, round year) and am not sending out resumes currently. It's helpful to know which jobs are consistently in demand and what skills you need to land them. For example, if I'm going to stay in my current line of work (and I'm not sure I am), I know I need to beef up my Outlook skills. We use Gmail and Google calendar for scheduling and management of contacts here, but most places use Outlook. I know Outlook basics, but, based on job ads for the kinds of positions I'd apply for, I'd like to be able to say I know it as well as I know Word. Fortunately, I have plenty of time to get up to speed and plenty of "down time" to do it in at my current job.

    This is exactly the sort of thing I wish I'd been doing while still in grad school.

  4. Yep. Of all of the things I'm angry at grad school and Grad U about, I think the lack of real world job training (writing for multiple audiences, using software other than academic software programs, etc) is the single biggest thing I'm angry about.

    Between the horrendous job market and the fact that some of us (hi!) will just realize they're burnt the f*ck out and want to do something else, there is no excuse for it. None.