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Brady Krien is a Ph.D. candidate in English Literature and an MLIS student at the University of Iowa where he works in the Grad Success Center. You can find him on Twitter at @BradyKrien and at his website.

Last week I was working with a graduate student on writing his first resume. He was preparing to start searching for jobs both inside and outside of the academy and found the process of converting his C.V. into a resume to be confusing and frustrating. As we talked through some of the key differences, namely that resumes are shorter, provide a greater level of explanation for key items, and emphasize work over research experience, he began to look a bit hopeless. “But I don’t have any work experience,” he said. I pointed to the research section on his C.V., which was filled with line after line of diverse and interesting experiences as a research assistant doing high-level work for various labs. “What about this?” I asked. “That’s research experience, not work experience.” And that’s when it “clicked” for him – it was both.

This is one of the most common conversations that I have with graduate students who are in the process of converting a C.V. to a resume. Though both are job documents that offer a synopsis of one’s experiences, they are dramatically different in their conventions and, most importantly, in their audiences (though there is certainly some overlap). That is why I often talk about translating one’s C.V. into a resume. Creating separate job documents for academic and non-academic readers is a lot like writing about your work for academic and non-academic audiences. The biggest things to be aware of in this process are:

The most important distinction between the resume and the C.V. is that the resume is
partial and focused. Unlike the C.V., which traces out the course of an academic career and can continuously grow, the resume is focused on detailing relevant experiences, often work experiences. To determine what's relevant, look at the job, grant, or agency to which you are applying. What do they value? What types of skills and experiences are listed on the position description in the required and desired qualifications sections? What skills will be necessary to complete the project associated with this grant? The resume must respond to these elements and eliminate the nonessential elements. This means that many things on your C.V. that you might be quite proud of might not make it on to the resume. It also means that you may end up constructing slightly (or dramatically) different resumes for different types of applications.

Making Experiences Legible
One of the most common challenges in moving from one format to the other is communicating the
skills and responsibilities that go with each experience. Many C.V.s, for instance, will have a section devoted to teaching that will list classes, semester, and perhaps the teaching role. People who have taught college classes before can likely understand what this experience means fairly easily, but that’s a lot less true for readers who have never found themselves in front of a class or a discussion section full of undergrads. Teaching requires a lot of communication skills, both in front of an audience and one-on-one settings. It requires managing students, and assessing, evaluating, and providing feedback on their work. It often even requires some basic web design in creating and managing a course on a learning management system.

Emphasizing these skills and experiences (especially in a tailored, responsive way) is an essential part of writing an effective resume. It will make your experiences much more comprehensible to readers who have not necessarily shared them and it will make your resume a lot quicker and easier to process and understand, helping it to stand out in a large stack of resumes.

Minimizing Academic Conventions
Another student that I worked with recently was preparing an application for a grant application with a non-profit organization. One of his experiences was assisting in editing a collection. In both his resume and his cover letter, he emphasized the the collection had been published by a university press. Academics would immediately understand the significance of getting a work published by a university press, but that distinction is meaningless for most outside of the narrow world of scholarly publishing. Instead, I suggested that he could go into greater detail about the communication, coordination, and editing skills that he developed had prepared him for the type of publicly engaged work the grant would eventually require.

Understanding where academic conventions have crept into job documents can be hard, especially because many graduate students spend so much of their time immersed in the culture of academia, but it’s really important to identify and minimize these instances and how to translate them for non-academics. Getting a prestigious national fellowship, being the “instructor of record,” or working with a leading scholar in your field all carry specific (and often weighty) connotations to those inside the world of academia, but they can mean little to people outside of it. As you work to reconfigure your C.V. into a resume, I recommend asking someone unfamiliar with the conventions of the university (and ideally someone familiar with what you’re making your resume for) to go through and highlight all the items, language, or phrasing that seem confusing, unimportant, or just odd. Often, these will be things that are specific to academic culture and you can work to rephrase or refocus them, strengthening your resume and helping it to rise to the top of the pile.

What tips or tricks do you have for translating academic experience for a non-academic audience? Feel free to share in the comments below or with us on Twitter.

[Image by Unsplash user rawpixel and used under a Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication.]

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