Speaking the Language, Getting the Job – Fruscione 3/Polizzi 6

Joe Fruscione and Allessandria Polizzi have partnered to create today’s post on the language of post-ac reinvention.


By Joe Fruscione and Allessandria Polizzi

Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

Dr. Allessandria Polizzi

Dr. Allessandria Polizzi

A key part of one’s post-ac career- and self-reinvention is finding the right kinds of language to describe skills, experience, and assets gained in academia. In a non-academic career, you might never again write theoretical construct, heuristic, always already, or other things academics say, so one of your early tasks is figuring out how to ‘translate’ your knowledge and experience into understandable terms. You’ll be adapting your language on your resume and cover letter and when marketing your work and services.

We’d like to start building a vocabulary for post-ac job seekers to maximize their employability and best stress the transferability of their skills and experience. Consider this a work in progress, which we’ll happily expand or revise based on comments and feedback. We’re hoping this piece gives valuable insight by providing perspectives from someone with an established corporate career and someone who recently transitioned out of academia.

In part, we’re building on what Lana Cook wrote for Northeastern’s Career Development Blog (as well as other bloggers on this site). She began to see her “graduate work through the perspective of project management. The dissertation, conferences, teaching, and tutoring taught [her] how to prioritize multiple high stakes projects and negotiate diverse stakeholders.” The University of Michigan Career Center’s guide to transferable skills for PhDs also provides guidance on how to translate the skills you have into skills potential corporate employers or business clients will understand. Danielle Deveau has also written on this practice of reframing academic skills in the private sector, as well. For her, “This means communicating your wealth of skills and experience in a language that they actually value and understand.”

Following the lead of these and other predecessors—including some of our fellow post-ac experts—we’d like to share what we hope is a useful yet expandable list of words and terms you’ll need to use on a resume, cover letter, interview, LinkedIn profile, and the like. Our goals are constructive for post-ac job seekers in literally trying to use the right words. We don’t want new jargon but useful, adaptable language.

Of course, the proper language you use will also depend on the kind of job and workplace you’re targeting. Government jobs—especially the USAJobs site—prefer very particular language. (Years of parsing MLA’s Job Information List may come in handy here.) Also, due to both of our backgrounds in English, we will be heavily focused on the Humanities this space. We encourage those with experiences in the sciences and other fields to flesh out transferable skills in their space, as well.

Part of this list came from a crowd source Joe did via Twitter in mid-February. Big thanks to Katie L. Thompson, Joseph Fisher, Accidental Academic, and others who shared some examples.

Academic Language Post-Ac Language
Discourse community Network/Team/experts in field
Rhetoric Language

Writing Style


Composition/Rhet-Comp Writing
Conference Talk Presentation
Text Document
Journal Article Study



Peer Review Commenting
Critique Edit


Give Feedback

Adjunct Freelancer


Contract Position or Contractor

Seminar Workshop
Pedagogy Teaching (Style)


Knowledge Transfer

Approach or Method

Instructional Design

Monograph Book


Citation/Literature Review Acknowledgment


Job Talk Interview
Post-Doc/Fellowship/VAP Previous Job or Position


Research Position

Post-Ac Private Sector



Colleague Coworker


Team Member

Archive Study




Research practice




Broad Scope/Context




Theoretical Scaffolding

Theoretical Schema

(never use them)

Examples of resume or cover letter language:

Partnered with experts in [field of study] to produce five published articles, with over 12 million in combined readership.

Excellent written and oral communications skills.

Taught introductory and advanced writing skills, with a positive evaluation of 95%.

Collaborated with team of four coworkers to organize a professional meeting.

Can you think of something that we haven’t? Mention it in the comments field.

As some of us have stressed lately for The Professor Is In, the trick is always to show how transferable your academic knowledge and skills are while stressing your adaptability outside academia. A good place to start is by looking at the job descriptions for the positions you are actually interested in and using their language as it applies to your work. You can also learn more by conducting informational interviews with those in your field of interest. In some cases—and when you’re not also submitting a cover letter—you can include  a short self-description at the top of your resume that echoes the language of the job description.

The important thing to focus on here is that you have marketable skills already. (Our colleague Margy Thomas Horton just did a webinar on this very thing.) If, for example, you’ve gone through 10+ years of undergraduate and graduate education, taught, and organized several writing projects, you have a lot of the skills an employer will likely need:

  • Done any kind of capstone, thesis, and/or dissertation? You know how to write, organize, and revise an extended project in multiple stages.
  • Taught at more than one school while doing some professional work and research? You can multitask and stay on schedule.
  • Planned an academic conference? You can organize schedules, communicate with speakers or guests, and edit conference materials.
  • Worked in a Writing Center and/or taught courses with a meaningful writing component? Commented on a colleague’s book, article, CV, or cover letter draft? You can edit and give feedback on different kinds of writing.
  • Co-written an article or other project? You are a collaborator with strong teamwork skills.
  • Presented at a conference? You have demonstrated your strengths in oral and written communication and presentations.
  • Done archival and/or first-hand research for a project? You know how to locate, study, and apply a variety of sources to a specific purpose.

This is not to say, of course, that the skills transfer and professional rebranding will happen overnight or without a few hiccups. As with many post-ac experiences, this is a process: start figuring out how to describe what you know and can do, and refine your language and self-marketing. Employers will have trouble hiring you if they don’t quite know what you’re saying. And communicating is easiest when we are speaking the same language.

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Speaking the Language, Getting the Job – Fruscione 3/Polizzi 6 — 6 Comments

  1. Yes to everything here!!

    One of my favorite techniques for discovering new language for the skills academics have is to study process diagrams from other sectors. (Ooh, “sector’! another word for “discipline” or “field”!) I’d venture to say you could find a process diagram from almost any sector and, if you study it long enough, find a way to map onto it an academic process, task, or procedure. For example, in the Skills webinar, we looked at a detailed diagram of one company’s Customer Care process. We were able to map onto that diagram the various tasks involved in Teaching. (Students = Customers). I know that student-as-customers might seem like a cringe-worthy metaphor given the fact that profs (rightly) dislike being pressured to treat their students as literal customers. But nevertheless, the exercise can be a great way of discovering sector/industry-specific ways of describing your skills! Especially if you already have a target sector or industry in mind.

  2. This is fantastic, A and J, and so valuable and needed. I also especially like your crowd-sourcing impulse as it takes many paths of experience to see how the translation process can work in different contexts. Thanks and I look forward to seeing what other terms people might map onto this wonderful translation template! Margy’s suggestion of the process map is really great too.

  3. I suggest to add a table of solid, strong words not present in academia that should be used (e.g. profitability, projection(ed), milestones, deliverables, timeframe, tasks, deviations to be expected, etc.). Also one about words that can be used in both (e.g. (industrial)partners, impact, collaboration, objective, strategy, etc.).
    And finally, the word “I” should optimally be changed to “we/the team/the laboratory/the section”. The times of “I” are long gone.

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