By Elizabeth Labiner
In early February, the Graduate Center and Postdoctoral Affairs hosted two lectures by John Singer, author of Résumé DNA: Succeeding in Spite of Yourself and CEO of Professional Development Strategies. Singer’s talks, “PhDs Beyond the Academy: Identifying and Translating Your Skills for Non-Academic Careers” and “Effective Interviewing and Networking for Multiple Career Pathways,” focused on how to translate academic competencies into terms that non-academic employers are familiar with and value.
After his public lectures, Singer elaborated on the ways that graduate students can leverage their teaching and assistantship experience to make themselves desirable job candidates in any field. In addition to making graduate students highly competitive for academic positions, Singer says, “many of the skills in teaching, either as a sole instructor or a TA, are transferable to the private sector. For example, organizational skills, project management, interpersonal skills, and working within established timelines are all important to any company.” These competencies are highly sought-after, and are particularly strong in those with course construction and classroom management experience.
The vital work of graduate students in the job market, Singer explains, is to demonstrate that their skills are relevant to a variety of workplace goals and situations. The breadth of experience a graduate student has is something to show off, Singer advises, “show that you’re well-rounded and can succeed in any number of roles.” Perhaps even more importantly, however, graduate students need to make sure that their CV or résumé tells a story about who they are and how they address challenges. “I recommend a framework of situation, action, and result,” says Singer. These narratives are extremely short -- they’re referred to as “three-sentence narratives” though are more often four or five sentences in practice -- but convey to employers precise examples of strategies a graduate student has used and what kind of success they achieved.
Highlighting skills and experiences in narrative form on their CV also positions graduate students to talk specifically about themselves in an interview. “Foreground functional information, and tell the story,” Singer reiterates, “because you want to sell your added value. Anyone can read a job posting and let hiring committees know that they possess that bullet-pointed list of skills. You have to show that you have all the attributes they need, but will bring even more to their company based on your ability to manage groups, clearly communicate information, and so forth.”
It’s crucial for graduate students to demonstrate who they are as a manager and leader, Singer notes, roles that are often highly refined through teaching: “The best teachers build students up and give them the tools they need to succeed, and a manager or leader does the same with their employees.” Showing that you create successful learning environments as an instructor indicates that you’ll also create successful work environments; it also demonstrates that you are a strong fit not simply as a new hire, but as a long-term prospect in the company as well.
If you’re interested in learning more about Singer’s book and his consulting work, visit his website at http://pdscareers.com/.