As you consider a transition away from an academic position in the Ivory Tower, crafting a well-thought out professional narrative to market yourself to employers will be essential to an effective career search. It will establish the picture of you that potential employers take away from your resume and interviews. While an academic CV presents a straightforward portrayal of your research and teaching strengths, a resume can be molded to place different emphases on your strengths, skills and interests.
It is important to devote time to thinking about about your skills and experiences and how you would like to market them to employers. After all, if you don't have a clear idea of your professional narrative, it will be difficult for employers to discern it. Developing a professional narrative allows you to take control!
A strong professional narrative will highlight the following:
- Transferable Skills: Think carefully about all skills that you have developed both in and out of the classroom. These include not only the technical skills and knowledge specific to your academic work but also an array of skills, often called "transferable skills," that may be equally, if not more important to employers. By highlighting your full range of skills in a broader context, you will be able to communicate your value to employers with clarity and confidence.
- Your Transition Story: Explain what motivates your career shift in terms of your interests and skills, and refer to your experiences to demonstrate your ongoing or developing interest in a given industry or role. The more successfully that you can convey the message that you have an active interest in this new career, rather than giving the impression that it is a Plan B to a career in academia, the more appealing of a candidate you will be.
Employers value many skills addition to the technical knowledge in your discipline that you have honed while at Yale. These skills are called "transferable" because they can be employed in a range of employer settings. The skills most cited by employers include: written and oral communication, project management, collaboration, and leadership. You already have developed many of these skills through your academic training, full or part-time jobs, and extra-curricular activities or hobbies. While at Yale, seek out additional experiences that develop these skills. They will benefit your future career, whatever course it takes.
Tip: To employers, relevant experience does not have to be a paid job. It can be any experience that develops skills that are important to their work.
The resources below can help you identify your particular skill set. These skills are a key input into the professional narrative that you will employ in your resume, cover letter, and interviews.
- Graduate Student Transferable Skills (courtesy of Northwestern University)
- 20 Transferable Skills For Biotech, Biomed, and Biopharma Industries from the Cheeky Scientist
- PhD Transferable Skills (courtesy of the University of Michigan)
Looking for ways to enhance your transferable skill set while at Yale? Below is a list that can get you started.
- Teach a class
- Learn new technology tools. Check out these campus organizations which offer classes, workshops and other resources:
- Mentor students
- Manage your lab's supplies and equipment
- Take a leadership role in a student organization
- Become a McDougal Fellow in one of 5 offices
- Seek out an internship or part-time opportunity either on or off campus
- Perform volunteer work
- Hone your writing skills
- Work on a consulting project through the Yale Graduate Consulting Club or Yale Entrepreneurial Institute
- Improve your Excel skills, learn Python or master basic accounting by taking an online course! Check out the offerings on Coursera or Lynda.com (free to Yale students, staff and faculty through this portal)
In addition to your skills, employers will be equally curious about your intent. A question that is likely to crop up is: "Why are you leaving academia?" Dedicate the time to construct a confident and clear narrative that conveys your motivation and genuine interest in making this transition to potential employers. Your transition story will be unique to you and will reflect your skills, interests, and preferences for different aspects of work life.
As part of your story, you should draw upon your past experiences to explain your ongoing and developing interests in certain roles or industries to potential employers. Since many firms consider "demonstrated interest" to be important to their hiring decision, consider participating in activities while at Yale in order to explore and gain experience in industries, careers, or functional areas that you might ultimately be interested in. For example, if you are thinking about consulting, pick up a consulting project through the Yale Graduate Consulting Club or Yale Entrepreneurial Institute. Interested in project management? Apply to be a McDougal Fellow! Click here for more ideas.
- Office of Career Strategy "Telling Your Story" worksheet (Word document)
- How to tell a great story about your transition out of academia (Jobs on Toast)
- Preparing for the Non-Academic Interview (Inside Higher Ed)
- What's your Story? (Harvard Business Review)
- Your Personal Marketing Plan (sciencemag.org)