Part 2 of a 3-part CV vs Resume Series

One of the most common questions I receive from my clients when transitioning their CVs to resumes is,

How do I know what to include in my resume?

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It can be a bear to go from a 10+-page document that describes the depth of your academic professional work to a 1-2 page document that hits the highlights in a way that’s relevant to employers. So I’m answering a few of the most commonly asked questions I’ve gathered from recent grads, graduate students, postdocs and faculty who enlist my CV to Resume Conversion services.

Begin with the job announcement or target position

It’s difficult to know what to include in your resume if you are not sure what is important to your target audience – the hiring manager for the position you want.  With a couple of related job ads in hand you can identify the key skills, technologies, characteristics and experiences that employers require of that position.

Review your experiences against this information to see where you have similar skills and experiences. At first glance, it may not appear that you have the required skills or experience for the job. Think about your transferable skills and transferable experiences, as most jobs will not describe their needs in the language of academia and higher education.

Building on the analysis of your transferable skills, write about your experiences in the language that you see in the job ad. In other words, swap most of your discipline-specific language for theirs. Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that you misrepresent your experiences, rather that you create a narrative about your body of work that is relevant and familiar to your reader.

But what do I write about in a resume if I have little or no job experience?  During a Q&A session after my recent workshop at the University of Maryland, College Park, a grad student expressed this concern. “I went straight from college to my graduate program. That’s supposed to be a good thing, but now that I’m considering other types of work I don’t know if I have enough experience to describe on a resume.”

In cases like these, I recommend we take an inventory of your involvement beyond the classroom. Here’s a sample list of activities that you may have participated in which can showcase the skills you have developed areas such as collaboration, project management, logistics and coordination, data analysis, organization and planning, and other top transferable skills.

  • Participated in or lead a civic organization, graduate student group,  committee (on or off campus), or a volunteer organization or program.
  • Worked alongside a professor in data analysis, data collection, or writing.
  • Organized a campus or department event.
  • Gathered and lead a group of people in a writing group, reading group or some other organized, collective activity.

You can add more to this list as you begin to think over your experiences and involvements over the past five or so years, and you may just surprise yourself at how much skills you actually have gained throughout your academic career.

Finally, if you are stuck about how to talk about your skills, adopt a practice mindset.   Right now you are steeped in academy. You talk like an academic, think like an academic, debate like an academic, and position yourself as an academic. But you’ll have to broaden your thinking about yourself and your work to find its relevance beyond the academy. A practice mindset focuses on the context, challenges addressed, quantification, and results.

Here’s an example from a creative writing professor and award winning novelist who enlisted my services to help him secure a professional content writing job. His CV featured a lengthy list of universities in the US and abroad where he’d taught courses and workshops. We didn’t need all the details from each teaching gig, so we shifted to a practice mindset to quantify and highlight the outcomes:

  • Created instructional curriculum and assessments for youth and adult learners at 8 public and private universities in the US, Europe and the Caribbean, offering short writing intensives, residencies and semester courses.

The next entry is from a public health professor applying to work in a health foundation. Here we give context of what she did, quantify the number of team members and articles, and list the results:

  • Convened, as part of a 6-person team, a symposium of researchers and health practitioners on challenges in designing culturally appropriate and theoretically rigorous measures to study diverse aging populations. Resulted in the publication of 4 articles in the Journal of Aging and Health.

We approached these rewrites from the perspective of the jobs these clients were going after and did so in the language of the employer.

It can be tempting to keep your nicely organized and well-crafted descriptions from your CV and simply cut and paste a few relevant ones to create the resume. That simply will not work.

The process of CV to Resume conversion is literally a process in translation. The writing style is a mash up between business writing and creative writing. I dedicate anywhere between 6-10 hours on each conversion, depending on the length and complexity of the CV and the career transition.  When I’m done working my magic on my clients’ resumes, I love to see my clients walk away more empowered to apply for the jobs they want, clearer about their skills, and focused on how to talk about themselves in the post-academic job world.

So there you have it! Next week make sure to check back for Part #3 of our CV to Resume series: What’s a hybrid CV-resume, and when should I use it? 

And click over to read Part #1 if you missed it: CV vs. Resume – What’s the Difference and When Do I Need Which One? 

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