Yes, You Do Have Relevant Work Experience

“What jobs could I get other than teaching? I don’t have any work experience to put on a resume. All I know how to do is teach.”

I have heard the above line of reasoning from many brilliant, accomplished graduate students over the years, often in moments of self-critique and frank assessment of academic job prospects. I think it is a shame that graduate education sometimes leads graduate students to believe they are inexperienced and unqualified for meaningful work, whether within or outside the academy. Perhaps it is this perceived lack of skills that keeps many master’s and doctoral students in their graduate programs, even if they would rather explore other opportunities.

Graduate education is a curious beast. Years are spent taking courses in areas of specialized knowledge and methodologies, conducting research and presenting results, and teaching undergraduate students. These are the years that flesh out a curriculum vitae with publications, presentations, awards, and leadership positions. And yet, when attempting to convert these years to the industry standard resume, it is easy to feel as though these accomplishments are irrelevant to employers.

Perhaps you have also felt such uncertainty, or a believe you are under prepared for diverse job markets?

Graduate and professional students have relevant work experience and valuable skills which can translate to desirable qualifications for jobs in many career paths. Yes, there will be career paths that require specialized training, education, or work experience, but learning to see your graduate years in terms of work experience, strengths, accomplishments, and skills opens doors to many other opportunities.

Begin with a long, close look at your curriculum vitae. Take stock of what you have done so far in your graduate career. Most likely you have sections for research, teaching, and service/leadership. You may also have sections for awards, grants, tutoring, or work outside the academy. And if your curriculum vitae seems a bit brief, then keep reading: you may get some ideas for fleshing it out in the remainder of this article.

Be proud of the research you have conducted, presented, and/or published. Be proud of the courses you assisted or taught. Be proud of the leadership experience or service work you have done for your community, department, campus, or field. Wow–you have been busy!

Now comes the key to success: learn to see your academic and scholarly accomplishments in terms of applied, transferable skills. Develop a new way of seeing your time in graduate school. Start by reframing your experiences as work experiences, with a position title, start and end date, and duties and accomplishments for each. I will explore this shift in perspective more in future articles, but for now, here are some questions to get you started.

Take a look at your research experience.
Have you held a position as a graduate research assistant? If so, what were you responsible for doing, and what did you accomplish? Have you worked in a lab setting? Have you developed your own research project, such as a Master’s thesis or a doctoral dissertation? Did you master a body of complex information, then synthesize it for different audiences through publications, reports, or presentations? Any or all of these can be presented as work experience on a resume. Instead of describing the research findings (the content), you would present the skills you honed, and/or the methods you mastered, throughout the research process.

Take a look at your teaching and/or mentoring experience.
Have you assisted a professor with course instruction, or have you designed and taught courses on your own? (I consider setting up your own syllabus as “design.”) Do you have experience mentoring, tutoring, or coaching students? Have you developed assignments and guidelines for gauging student learning? In some cases, the course subjects may matter–for instance, I mention that I have taught public speaking–but a litany of all classes you assisted/taught is not important. Instead, focus on your skills for facilitating group discussions, assessing individual and group performance, scheduling events over a three- or four-month period, and communicating complex information to diverse audiences.

Take a look at your leadership and service experience.
Have you held elected positions in student government, even within your own graduate program? Did you volunteer with organizations in your community or campus? Have you collaborated with peers or administrators on special projects, or spearheaded a project on your own? Do you have experience serving on a search committee? Did you hold a position in administrative support, or work as a graduate assistant? Some of these positions may have been short-term, temporary opportunities, but that does not mean they should be overlooked on a resume! Serving on a search committee gives you experience with selecting and hiring a candidate, and it shows you can be trusted with sensitive information (i.e., an applicant’s file). Volunteering communicates ethics and values, as well as initiative and collaboration.

Research, teaching, and service/leadership are three areas where you may have ample experience relevant to different career paths. Start by reviewing your curriculum vitae and see what you already have listed, and probe your memory for any additional experiences. The goal at this stage is to take inventory; fleshing those experiences out with descriptions can wait a bit. In a future post, I will discuss how you can group experiences on a resume, and how you can communicate your transferable skills and relevant experiences for prospective employers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *