For a mere two to three pages of text, your cover letter and resume can cause a lot of heartbreak. This is especially the case if you are looking for your first non-academic job.
Cutting down your CV, and condensing or even eliminating your academic experience in order to create a focused resume can be painful. For many of us, it’s a struggle to devote so little space on our resumes and cover letters talking about what may have been our primary intellectual focus for years. Jennifer Polk’s post on resumes beautifully addresses the sense of loss that comes from demoting an experience that can occupy years of your life and become a large part of your identity.
While CVs typically provide quite a comprehensive view of your professional activities, resumes take much more of a close-up view of only your most relevant experiences. Yet each document can feel as though it represents who you are – which is part of the reason why it can feel so defeating to see your academic experience truncated and re-cast in terms of transferable skills.
I think there are some reminders that might be useful when creating documents for the non-academic job search. One is that your resume and cover letter are not who you are – they offer only the briefest view into why an employer should interview you. In that sense, they are, by nature of their genre, documents about your next employer as much as they are documents about you.
If your academically-lean resumes get you interviews, it does not mean that your academic experience will be wasted. Reading the transition stories of other academics can provide some reassurance on this front – not to mention help you identify skills of yours that you may have discounted. (Again, Jen Polk has a lot to offer, as does The Versatile PhD if you have access to the premium content.)
Even when your resumes and cover letters persuasively describe your fit for your next job, it can feel odd to see your academic experience summed up so briefly. It won’t be until you’re in your next job, accomplishing things with your new skills, that the full relevance of the skills you developed in the academy will be obvious to you. Your resume not only doesn’t capture fully who you are – it only gives an outsider’s view of your fit. The value – and the limits – of your training will continue to make themselves known to you.
So, do the resume litmus test knowing that your reservations about it are normal. When you ask yourself that question – would someone who has never studied in my discipline immediately understand the relevance of this particular experience to the work I want next? – you have options. You can rephrase the experience to make its relevance clear. You can omit it, knowing that leaving the experience off the page doesn’t erase the experience from your life. Either approach acknowledges the fact that application documents are at least partly about your next employer.
And you can leave your experiences on the master resume that you keep but don’t distribute – the one that will continue to grow and shift in focus, along with your career.