The crux of the matter: how do you convert your CV to a resume? It might seem elementary, but it actually takes a completely fresh new conceptualization of your past experiences. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis maintains that language shapes our thoughts. Yes, arguing about this has kept linguists occupied for 70 years or so. But even so, the academic categories of “research, teaching, and service” are keeping you from grasping the real breadth and depth of skills you command. Karen Cardozo tells you what needs to happen, and how to stop being trapped by academic categories of achievement.
by Karen Cardozo
When you’re ready to jump off the academic ledge, it is often the very experiences that were dutifully OMITTED from your CV—along with transferable academic skills—that form your life-saving Alt/Post-Ac bungee cord. Freeing the academic elephant means stepping back to take a fresh inventory of all that you are, all that you have done, and all that you have to offer. It’s about recognizing skills you didn’t know you even had, and naming them for others.
Translation studies have been fairly hot in the past decade. A central tension concerns whether the primary task of the translator is fidelity to the original versus re-presenting the original text in terms most likely to convey its essential spirit for a new audience. When it comes to translating your story for a non-academic audience, there’s no debate: you’ve got to use terms THEY understand – even if that means changing all the original words.
Let’s talk about this translational work on two levels: 1) the broader issue of identifying transferable experiences and skills and 2) the specific conversion of a CV to a resume.
In a recent consult with someone considering the Alt/Post-Ac route, I was struck by the complete lack of articulation between his CV and resume: it was as if I were looking at two different lives, two different people. This person failed to effect any translation between academic and alternative careers—he approached the Post-Ac application as the inverse of its academic counterpart, cutting out all things academic in favor of nonacademic experiences. But in so doing he put a huge hole in his work history, and left out a lot of relevant transferable experience.
This strict division in CV/resume content makes more sense on the first side, since the academic job market has little interest beyond research, teaching and service. With some exceptions for applied disciplines, academic search committees don’t tend to consider how alternative work relates to or enhances academic engagements. Academic means are their own ends.
The reverse is not true, however. Many other units within higher education (the Alt-Ac scene) along with outside organizations (the Post-Ac landscape) would be very interested in the integrative sum of your parts, IF you could explain how your knowledge or skills would benefit them. The problem is that many academics can’t identify their own transferable skills or put them in terms employers can understand. In part, this is because the familiar categories of Research, Teaching and Service are actually complex bundles of discrete and variegated forms of work that need to be unpacked in order to be seen and discussed as transferable skills.
A little story here might illustrate the point. In Mindfulness, psychologist Ellen Langer talks primarily about its inverse –mindLESSness, which she argues stems from three major sources: 1) automated behavior, 2) entrapment by category, and 3) an inability to view situations from multiple perspectives. To explain categorical entrapment, she tells this story (and I paraphrase):
Imagine you are awakened in the wee hours by a knock on the door. It’s a well-dressed man claiming to be a member of The Millionaire’s Treasure Hunt Club. He needs a 3 x7 piece of wood to win the treasure hunt and if you can supply him with one, he will give you half of his $1M winnings. You’ve never been so motivated in your life! But after tearing apart your house and its environs, you admit defeat—there is no such item to be found. Off he goes, taking your windfall with him. The next morning you pass a nearby construction site where you see a whole stack of 3×7 wooden planks! What are they? Why, doors, of course. In fact, your house was full of them, but you saw “doors” instead of “3×7 pieces of wood.” Your search was not conducted mindfully.
After years of CV polishing, most academics suffer from a severe case of entrapment by category. Successful Alt/Post-Ac job seekers must therefore 1) look carefully at any given Alt/Post job description to identify what primary functions are involved and then 2) consider the full range of their prior experiences – including but not limited to academic work—to find the professional planks of wood that will open new doors.
However, to state the obvious: some things are just not wood no matter what you call them. So the first step is to reasonably identify jobs for which your experience and skills ARE transferable rather than ridiculously far-fetched. On the other hand, the more complex or diversified the professional role, the less likely that any single candidate will have all attributes in equal measure.
So, don’t eliminate yourself from the pool because you can’t meet every criterion: strike a balance and apply to any jobs for which you have MOST of the required skills (and of course, don’t discuss what’s lacking in your cover letter; just stack the deck as much as you can in favor of all the assets you DO bring and hope they’ll find you appealing enough to let you learn the rest on the job).
Now, let’s talk about how you can identify and translate prior experiences in order to convert your CV into a resume. The division of duties in most professional positions could be organized under three general competency domains: administrative, conceptual, and interpersonal skills. Respectively, these involve task, idea, and people orientations. What’s tricky is that these do not align neatly with the academic divisions of Research, Teaching and Service because they cut across the major modes of academic engagement. For example, let’s look at Teaching.
Commonly understood as an interpersonal engagement, teaching actually draws heavily on all three of the basic functional categories. Administratively, you are a scheduler and project manager (exponentially so with a high advising/teaching load of numerous students and discrete preps). Conceptually, you are a researcher, program designer, visionary, and problem-solver, not only in thinking through intellectual questions as they arise in your courses, but in managing the range of issues that bubble up around a population whose prefrontal cortexes are not yet fully developed! Interpersonally, you are a coach, instructor and supervisor; you also negotiate around difficult colleagues and navigate complex bureaucracies.
Then there are overarching skills needed in all three areas: speaking, writing, presentation and technological skills are used in administrative, conceptual AND interpersonal contexts. If you work out of the trunk of your car on myriad campuses as many adjuncts do, you can add “flexibility and effective use of limited resources” to your many talents. The list of attributes and potential to put a positive spin on your work history is potentially infinite. You just have to see the planks of wood.
For the Alt/Post-Ac search, this usually means ditching the basic chronological resume and tripartite “Experience/Education/ Skills” structure (a form best suited to early career individuals and/or those with a unified trajectory in one profession). Instead, you need to get creative and produce a thematic or FUNCTIONAL RESUME that 1) highlights your different competencies and 2) translates and sequences those categories in terms that MATCH the language and hierarchy of value in the specific Alt/Post-Ac job description.
For example, if the organization is a non-profit that uses the term “Youth Services,” your category header wouldn’t say “Teaching Experience” but rather, something like “Youth-Related Work” – wherein you’d list college teaching along with camp counseling, facilitating a church youth group, and any other work related to young ‘uns. Where you place that category on the resume depends upon whether this hypothetical role is more heavily weighted toward administrative, conceptual or interpersonal work. A careful analysis of the job description usually tells you how to proceed (and who better than an academic to engage such close reading?).
Let’s say this is a program director role emphasizing communications skills in a youth services non-profit. Your resume might lead with “Administrative/Non-Profit Management Experience” followed by “Communications and Media Experience,” then “Youth-Related Work” and “Additional Skills” where you mention any relevant certifications, language, or technological skills. This resume would be saying (amplified by the discussion in your cover letter) that you have what it takes to direct a program, communicate its mission effectively, AND understand the population served. In some candidates, these competencies developed from “coming up through” a related field; in the Alt/Post-Ac career conversion, they are more likely derived from different jobs and settings.
NOTE: Sometimes the functional approach means you have to mention the same job in multiple categories as you highlight different aspects of the work. If that’s going to happen more than a time or two, it’s probably best to do the equivalent of an MLA Works Cited list and provide a “Work Summary” up front – a simple chronological history of employers and dates to which more detailed entries under various functional categories can be keyed with minimal fuss..
Point being: the terms of translation and the sequence of categories should be determined entirely by the specifics of the job description and/or field context. In the same way that you learned to construct a Research/Teaching/Service hierarchy in response to academic norms, you have to match the language and hierarchies of value for new roles or fields. The challenge is that Alt/Post-Ac pursuits are more varied, so you have to may have to employ different strategies each time. As a career consultant, this is what I teach people to do. Once I have worked with clients in a few different application contexts (to illustrate the limitless and varied art of translation), they are more readily able to effect the conversion process themselves.
So far we’ve been talking about translation—the transmission of similar content in different words. However, the Alt/Post-Ac adventure can take you far beyond translation. It could be an opportunity to write a whole new story. Here is your chance to engage in genuine vocational exploration and the attendant questions of fit or motivation that all of your academic slogging may have squelched. So if you’re going to jump off the ledge, leap big. My last post described how networking can help you explore new alternatives and my next post will talk more about how to take your own inventory, to figure out who you are and where you might be going. Soon you won’t be translating as much as creating, writing your life anew.