How to Get Experiences Corporate Employers Are Looking For

by Allessandria Polizzi

Dr. Allessandria Polizzi

Dr. Allessandria Polizzi

When I first moved to Texas to begin my PhD, I was a pretty ambitious and cocky gal. I was meeting a houseful of fellow grad students, going around the room and introducing ourselves. One person said he taught “tech writing.” I had never heard of such a thing. When he explained what it was and that it was the best way to get a spot during the summers, I scrunched up my nose and said, “but then you would have to teach TECH WRITING.” Little did I know that teaching technical writing would be the gateway to my academic departure and future career.

So, lets begin exploring how you can beef up your experiences rather than turn up your nose to opportunity, as I did.

My guess is that you have probably done a few things other than teaching in your adult life. In beginning to explore this world of post-acs, of which I have been a member for 15 years, I have noticed that a lot of people have taken on tangential work, from editing to coaching. That’s a great start to getting the experiences corporate employers are looking for (& very helpful for you in determining what you would like to do full time). If you haven’t, don’t worry. We will get you there.

Let’s start with the basics. Potential employers only understand their world (& recruiters can be pretty literal). Any work you do will have to be translated for them. I will talk more about that in a later “Lost in Translation” post. The main focus for you as you start your transition is building up experiences that will as closely tie to the work you want as possible so no translation is needed.

Secondly, you don’t have to get years and years of experience here. You just need enough to be able to tell a complete “STAR” story. “STAR” stands for Situation, Task or Action, and Result. Results are big for potential employers. They don’t just want to know that you did something; they want to know the impact you made (because that is what they will want).

The other thing to note is that recruiters like work that is tidy and connected to a job because that’s what the other candidates will have. You will be competing with people who might have fewer years or experience than you do, but may have experience in specific jobs that closely tie to the position, so you need to look comparable. Therefore, you will be looking for ways to beef up roles, not just your individual skills. All of these will have STARs under them, which will use the same exact language as the position posted.

Finally, you will notice I do not suggest you take more courses. As someone from an academic background, this will more than likely be your first thought. RESIST THIS URGE. To many outsiders, you are going to be overly educated enough. And, personally, I would have used “I should go back to school” as a way to avoid taking the plunge. Focus at first on experience. This is what you will need and what they will be looking for. Also, once employed, education and training is often covered by your company, so you will still be ale to take classes later, but you can do it on their dime.

As I mentioned in a prior post, the best way to learn about potential positions is to look at current openings, so I suggest you comb through any that interest you and capture the specific skills you will need. For illustration purposes, here are a couple lines for an available position as an instructional designer on one of my former teams ( which I use because I will know from an employer’s perspective what I would be looking for):

“-Uses project management skills to lead project teams and outside vendors to deliver projects on time within cost

– Defines learning objectives based on customer requirements and sound ID expertise

– Drives conversations to gain alignment and synthesizes thoughts to action”

Now that we know what we need to get our STAR, let’s talk about how we would get it:

  • on-campus work: start looking around campus for places where the work you  want to do exists. For our purposes, we need some project management experience, preferably in an educational environment. Start asking around campus to see if there are any projects going on around curriculum design, perhaps. More than likely this will not be paid, but it will be an investment in your future and you won’t be doing it forever. Your STAR would be under your current position as a professor since it is for the same employer and might be something like “leveraged project management skills to partner with ___ and successfully implement ___ project ___weeks early and $___ under budget.”
  • contract work: While employers may be hesitant to take on a full time employee with experiences they don’t understand, contract companies tend to be a lot more flexible. You might also be able to do these jobs while you are teaching because they could be project-based. I have personally hired a couple people to help with course editing or other work who have full time jobs elsewhere. In many cases, however, you will be hired by a contracting company, not an employer. You can even join a contracting company as part of their team. All of these are things you can search for online (and if you want to know more about this, let me know and I can write a post about it). In our illustration, I would focus on getting experience in defining learning objectives, although your years of teaching are very helpful in this space, as well. And make sure the work you do leads to a STAR, so if it is only part of a project, you can still articulate the outcome, such as “utilized instructional design expertise to establish learning outcomes to create courses that were developed ___ faster and produced a ___% improvement in ___.”
  • create your own: sometimes it is just easier to craft your own project to get exactly what you need. This also fits tidily under the role you have today, making your résumé less complicated. Remember, employers are looking for skills that you have, so anything you have done that demonstrates that and can be equated back to a position is helpful. For me, I worked with a friend to create a literary magazine on campus. This translated into a few STARs that tied to positions I wanted. For the one above, for example, I would say something like “founded and managed literary magazine, successfully partnering with stakeholders to align on publication outcomes and drive production and distribution,  resulting in ____ % higher readership and a ___% improvement in sponsorships.”
  • volunteer work: working with volunteer organizations can be helpful, but it may be more difficult to tie it to a specific job. I wouldn’t focus too heavily here, unless you had a leader role that you will be able to flesh out more fully as a position that reflects the skills you need in your future role. If you were president of gifting and are looking for a role in development or something like, you should highlight it boldly. Also, and I believe this goes without saying, unless you want to restrict yourself in your search, leave off anything potentially political. This doesn’t mean you can’t be who you are… Just don’t limit yourself right out of the gate. I am a very liberal, feminist democrat (proudly so), but I don’t put my Women’s Studies degree on my résumé. I have still worked for liberal companies. I am not saying I agree with this, that you should be ashamed of who you are or that you wont be able to find a pace that aligns with your values. I just recommend you make that decision AFTER you get an interview (which I will go through in a future post).

While not exhaustive, these tips should help you get a few more STAR bullets on your résumé. And that’s what potential employers are looking for: someone with skills they can understand. Hopefully, you will be able to see those opportunities and seize them, rather than scoffing at them, as I did.

And, who knows, maybe you will even LIKE them!!

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.


How to Get Experiences Corporate Employers Are Looking For — 1 Comment

  1. Great post, A! I’m always interested in the “turning up the nose” or idea of tangential experiences because I think underlying those perceptions is a lack of understanding about how transferable skills and experiences work (and how you need to get out of the academic box to acquire the ones that translate best to corporate environments). Thanks for illuminating!

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