Resumes for Post-Acs – Gover #2

Continuing from yesterday, more on the postac resume. This time by Maggie Gover.  As you can see, there are different ways to approach this critical document.

Maggie Gover

   One of the biggest problems my recent graduate students    face is converting their CV into a resume. They wonder how to explain their graduate school experience in a way that will appeal to non-academic employers. Here is a brief primer in resume writing for those of us who have unconventional job experience!


First are the basic conventions. The header of your resume should NOT say Resume. Instead, it should simply say your name. This is followed by your mailing address, email address, and telephone number. These should be your personal addresses, not the ones at your institution. That means your home address, an email address at a etc., and your home or cell phone number. This is because it is considered poor form to apply for a new job using contact information provided to you by your current employer. This is strange if you are still a graduate student and are told to use your institutional information! However, this is the convention for resumes.

The formatting should be consistent and easy to read. I like all of the dates aligned on the far right of the page, but you may want to align them all on the far left of the page. Whichever you choose, be sure that the format is consistent throughout. Use boldface and underlining sparingly, but also consistently.

The conventional sections of the resume are as follows: objective, summary, education, experience, skills (technical skills, lab skills, language skills depending on your field), accomplishments, professional affiliations, professional training, activities/interests. Not all of these must be listed. The ones that must appear are education and experience. Other than those, use the job posting to guide your choices about what to include.

Experiences should be listed in reverse-chronological order. If you have two or more experiences that happened or have happened concurrently, choose the one you have held the longest to appear first (i.e. 2008-Present before 2011-Present) or chose the one that most closely fulfills the needs of the job listing to appear first. Information to include is your job title, the company that employed you as such, city/state of employer, and month/year of employment. Each should be followed by bullet points of explanation of your responsibilities in this position. How many bullet points will be dictated by the type of job to which you are applying. If it is entry-level, shoot for 3-5 bullet points. For managerial, shoot for 5-10 bullet points.

Use action verbs in your resume. Use past tense for any experience that is listed in the past. You can use simple present tense for anything that is current or you can stay consistent and use past tense for the entire document. Also, echo some of the language from the job posting in your resume. Many companies use resume reading software that will narrow the 500 or so applications down to 30 or so for the HR person to actually read. You will need for that software to pick up on some of the key words in your resume.

Thinking About How To Present Yourself

Experiences are often thought of as different jobs that you have had. However, don’t limit yourself to thinking of jobs as different experiences for which you were paid. As a post-ac your career probably includes many volunteer positions that you have done without thinking much about it as work experience. The biggest mistake I see people making is listing Graduate Student as the only experience in the past 5-10 years! If you did not have an official title, use one that best describes what the position was, but don’t over-inflate the job. For example, if you helped coordinate the annual graduate student conference think about what your primary duty was. Were you the lead coordinator who delegated duties to others and ensured that the conference took place? Then you were the conference coordinator. Were you in charge of ensuring that the continental breakfasts, buffet lunches, and conference dinner were ordered and paid for? You were the catering coordinator.

Remember that this is a document meant to communicate with a particular employer. That means that you should begin by thinking about this employers needs, not your particular experiences. That means the resume should be revised for every specific job to which you apply! While your experience won’t change, you may highlight different things, use different language, or reorder the responsibilities beneath each experience. Mirror the structure of the job posting for the ordering of your responsibilities. Job postings will often list the most important competencies first, so you should address those first. You also have some leeway in the ordering of the different sections. While I would always put education at the top, you may choose to put your “skills” section after education and then list experience if the position calls for specialized skills that you do have.

Be specific about your responsibilities and list accomplishments with them whenever possible. For example, instead of just saying you managed a budget say the exact amount of that budget.

My Unconventional Advice

Following is some of my advice that is unconventional, but which is gleaned from my experience as a potential employer who has been on the other side of the process. Use at your own risk!

In my experience, the objective section is not always necessary. If you use it, it must be very specific to the job. For example, “To obtain the position of Grant Writer for the ABC Company.” However, I find this to be a dated convention. Gone are the days when you would walk from company to company dropping off resumes with employers who are not actively listing work. If you are leaving unsolicited resumes, this might be an important section in which to say what type of position you are seeking. The other reason you may find it useful is to explain your change in career. As a post-ac, you are a career changer. This section could state something about the transition, so instead of “to obtain the position of” you might write “to transition to a career,” and what you are specifically looking for in this new career path. If you are not going to use it in this way, it is likely you are applying for a job through some sort of online portal or in response to a specific posting. If this is the case, there is no need to state this in an objective section. Most of the time, I am comfortable with this section being left off.

Some post-ac students prefer to format their experiences in a “functional” resume which is used primarily for career changers or for those with gaps in their work history. Many are actually encouraged to do so. It is thought that this type of resume highlights the skills the job seeker has rather than the lack of chronological experience. Speaking as someone who has sat on three different hiring committees within the last twelve months, I greatly discourage this. In my experience, functional resumes actually highlight the fact that you DON’T have the preferred years of experience. For post-acs, I think it let’s you off too easy! No one who has completed a PhD and now might be working in an academic setting has been able to convince me that they don’t have enough relevant experience to fill a chronological resume! However, three hiring committees in twelve months is small beans. When I asked Lindsey David, an HR Generalist at Fox Sports, about the functional resume, she stated, “I personally don’t like them. They make our job more difficult because we compare applicants by years of experience.” Additionally, studies have shown that resume readers look at the education first, and then at the time of the most recent employment. I don’t want the second thing that a potential employer is looking for to be obscured by the format of my resume. Instead, really think about the different things you have been doing for the past several years and communicate them in a way that the employer will value.

If a cover letter is requested, use that document to do the work of the summary and objective sections. This will allow you to create a shorter resume, more concise, and more focused resume!


Does it have to be one page?

No! The length should be suitable for the job. If this is a managerial position with many required competencies, the employer is looking for someone with lots of experience. This means that the resume might be longer than one page. For ease of reading, I try to keep a resume for any job, even a very high level job, between two to three pages. If the position is entry-level, then try to keep it to a page.

How do I address teaching experience in a resume?

If the job asks specifically for teaching experience, address it in much the same way as you would a CV. If the classes you taught directly relate to what the position is asking you to teach (so, for example, you are applying to be a Sexual Health Educator with Planned Parenthood and you taught Human Sexuality as a graduate student), list the classes you taught and your responsibilities. If the job listing asks for teaching in a general way (mentorship, supervision, presentations to audiences, etc.), list all of your teaching as one experience and list all of your responsibilities under that. Also, do not overestimate your teaching experience by listing every university, community college, and class you have taught as a different work experience unless you are applying for a teaching position. Many post-acs get caught up in talking about their teaching experience as mentorship, long term project planning, conflict resolution, and all other competencies the posting requests. While these may all be part of your role as a teacher, you do many of these in other areas of your experience as well. Do not overly rely on teaching as your only work experience. Only list it once, and list all of those competencies in that one entry. Then highlight those competencies in other experiences as well.

Should I list education last or simply not list my PhD so as to not call attention to it?

Many resumes will list education last, especially when you are getting into more managerial positions. The conventional wisdom is that as you get further up the corporate ladder, you get further away from your education. In recent years, this has changed. For the same reason that I do not like the “functional resume,” I don’t like listing the education portion last. Studies have shown that employers look first at education and then at the dates of your most recent employment. I never like to bury the information that employers are looking for first. So, I would always advise listing education first. I would always advise against omitting PhD work. I view this the same way I would as listing a degree one does not have. It is falsifying your educational information. If you decide to leave it off, you must put something in the title of the section that hints at the fact that the information is incomplete. For example, you can use “relevant education.” I would not personally feel comfortable omitting it because I would not want to work in an environment that is hostile to PhDs.

What kinds of professional organizations should I list?

I would list professional organizations that relate to the job to which you are applying. For example, if you are a member of the National Council of Teachers of English and you are applying to work for Everybody Wins! (a literacy foundation), then that is definitely one you should list. If there is a particular career in which you are interested that has its own professional association, think about joining that association. This isn’t just to list on your resume, although it may help, it may actually offer you opportunities to network and meet people. Don’t worry too much if you don’t have any relevant professional organizations.

What types of “skills” should I list and what do I do if I don’t have any relevant skills?

This should come directly from the job posting. If they are looking for someone who knows C++, has worked with Final Cut Pro, and has experience with Adobe CS6, you should list any of those skills that you have. If the posting says that they position requires working with Spanish language speakers, and you are fluent in Spanish, list that. If it is a research position in industry, your technical lab skills may be valued. The job posting may not say exactly the skills that they are seeking, but you may be able to get a sense of what they need in order to list it.

Can I leave off some job experiences if they do not seem relevant?

Unlike education, it is fine to leave off different work experiences if you do not feel that they are relevant to the position for which you are applying, especially if they would make your resume very long. In fact, for every experience you list, ask yourself, “What will this employer like about this experience?” If the answer is, “I don’t know,” the employer won’t know either. Think about removing that work experience, or explaining it in a different way so that it specifically relates to the employer’s mission or job posting.

I am a graduate student. Is that my job title?

Always, you should be comfortable with the terminology you use in your resume. However, I wouldn’t use Graduate Student as my job title. If you were a Graduate Research Assistant, use that instead. In this case, your resume line might look something like this:

Graduate Research Assistant                                                                    2010-Present

Water Propulsion Laboratory, University of the Palisades, CA

If you did not have such a title, you can use Graduate Researcher or something similar. If you are a humanities or social science person who does not have a specific lab to claim, your entry might look more like this:

Graduate Researcher                                                                                 2010-Present

Department of History, University of the Palisades, CA

Or you might have a specific archive in which you worked:

Graduate Researcher                                                                                 2010-Present

William Powell Archives, University of the Palisades, CA

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Resumes for Post-Acs – Gover #2 — 4 Comments

  1. It was only a matter of time before we had some professional disagreement in these Alt/Post pages! Because life is complicated like that. I think Maggie’s right that many employers don’t like the interpretive challenge of a functional resume and prefer the easy scanning of a chronological one. But in my experience, it’s that very ease of scanning that eliminates many academic career changers in the first place. You’ll have to make a judgment call based on your own background, but I think the chronological resume disadvantages many academics in two ways: 1) by emphasizing the bulk of a career spent in academe rather than the transferable nature of acquired skills and 2) by robbing you of the chance to demonstrate through category headers how you MATCH the job criteria. So rather than having to list yourself as a “visiting instructor” for the past ten years it might be more compelling to lead with an “Editing/Writing Skills” category for a communications or editing job, which would blend your recent academic work with actual editing work you may have done years ago but which, according to chronology, would otherwise feature low in the line-up. However, the functional resume can’t be a willy-nilly grab bag: it works well only if it’s a careful response to the actual job description itself, reflecting and resonating with the employers own language and desired criteria.

    Finally I’d say this: as a genre theorist, I know that genres bend through cultural influence and experimental practice. Rather than reinforce strict resume rules I think applicants can shift employer reception over time by putting different options into circulation. The more people who do this, the less of a single “norm” we have. Existing resume norms tend to work to the advantage of those with linear career paths, or extensive experience in one field–not academic career changers who spent most of their time in one field and now (for reasons beyond their control!) are seeking work in possibly very different fields. If generic diversity in application materials causes more employers have to read more carefully and thoughtfully rather than in knee-jerk ways, that’s a good thing. And your cover letter can and should amplify the argument you’re implicitly making with a functional resume.

    So as Maggie says, yes – follow our advice at your own risk, because we’re all working from situated places rather than being able to see the whole market at once. However, if you find that the traditional chronological form isn’t yielding results, mix it up and try a robust functional approach in at least some cases. If nothing else, generating a functional resume has the salutary effect of rendering your transferable experience highly visible… to YOU.

  2. I think the cover letter as the first step into the interview. It may be even more important that the resume/CV itself since a lot of people may have similar if not better qualifications than you. It is the critical difference between a person just chucking your entire application into the trash bin or spurning their interest to read your resume/CV.

    Also I’m aware that this is mainly for the american public. So if you’re aplying for overseas jobs be aware of the particularities of the CV/resume tied with the country you’re aplying to. If you don’t stick to them, you don’t have a chance.

  3. Can’t wait for your coverletters for alt-ac/post-ac jobs. Currently, I’m trying to figure out how to write a coverletter for technical positions with a laundry list of desired qualifications (most of which I have) without it looking like a laundry list? This position specifically asks for a CV, what are your feelings on adding a “Technical and Computational Skills” section to a CV?

    • Kendra, absolutely add a section on technical and computational skills to your CV if the position asks for many specific skills! When you are putting together your cover letter, you will want to mention where you obtained or demonstrated your mastery of some of these skills to make it a but less like a list!

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