Turning a life lived in academia into something else can feel overwhelming. But there are strategies that work, and more resources than you can begin to imagine. Want to see all of the ones I’ve talked about so far? Click here for the job-search archives.
Applying for jobs can be uncomfortable
A while ago, I wrote a resume and cover letter for a client that left her deeply, deeply uncomfortable.
It wasn’t inaccurate. It wasn’t even stretching the truth – she had done every single thing on that resume just as it was described.
But she had spent so long believing that she didn’t have any relevant experience, that she didn’t have any transferrable skills, that she couldn’t reconcile her sense of herself with this description of her on paper.
Imposter syndrome rears its ugly head
Academics talk a lot about imposter syndrome, that sense of being a fraud and being afraid that any second now, someone is going to figure out that we aren’t as smart as they thought we were.
It’s often bandied about as a joke, as a form of “we’re all in this together” bonding, but for many people, it can be crippling. And it is nowhere as crippling as it is when you’re trying to get another job.
That’s because, in order to get a job, we have to talk about what we have to offer – which means we have to believe we have something to offer. When we don’t, things go downhill fast.
You’ve got a lot to offer
Academia doesn’t generally talk about the skills involved in doing all the work of higher education. It likes to focus on content knowledge, because that’s how it’s set up. Sure, different disciplines may have different kinds of research skills, and different disciplines may have different kinds of problems that require solving, but for the most part, we talk about disciplines in terms of what they study – not how they go about it.
We also rarely teach the underlying skills directly, with exceptions such as statistics and software packages. We expect people to learn them through osmosis, trial and error, or some other undisclosed method that comes down to “leave me alone” and “prove it.”
But just because we don’t talk about them and don’t teach them overtly doesn’t mean you haven’t learned and honed many, many skills during your time in academia.
It also doesn’t mean that the skills you’ve learned and honed in your life outside of academia are useless – despite academia’s pointed ignoring of anything else we do in our lives.
In fact, it’s nearly impossible to get through academia and to your late twenties (or later!) without picking up a whole host of skills that organizations outside academia would love to have: problem-solving, research, clear communication, the ability to manage and motivate groups of people, designing curricula, public speaking, coordinating events, managing budgets, supervising staff, and much, much more.
The first thing you have to do is convince yourself
But in order to convince someone else of your skills, you first have to convince yourself. And the best way to do this, I’ve found, is to work with someone objective – a friend, a family member, a coach – to put together a resume that is both accurate and a little discomfiting. Someone else will be able to ask you the questions that will help get all of your accomplishments down on paper even if, in your mind, they aren’t really worth anything.
When you see your skills right there in black and white, then you can attend to all those little voices that start speaking up in the back of your head – the ones that say things like, “But why do you think that’s good enough?” or “You call that managing a budget? It was only a conference!”
When that chorus starts up, then you have the opportunity to notice the fears and doubts that are standing between you and a confident application, and when you notice them, you can answer them.
Sometimes you can answer them by providing evidence: “Well, this is actually exactly what they’re asking for!”
Sometimes you can answer them by asking questions: “What does ‘good enough’ mean? What does it look like?”
However you answer them, getting them out in the open is nearly always the first step towards creating a strong application that accurately reflects your accomplishments – and thus helps you get a job.