Post Academic

Cover Letter Do’s

PhotobucketA few days ago, Gawker offered a potent example of what not to do in your cover letter. Now for a little constructive advice–how to tackle your cover letter. The key rule is to keep it short, so I’ll jump right in:

Match your skills to the job. If your skills and background don’t match the job, don’t send the letter unless you are confident that your skills are in the ballpark and you have a friend at the company.

Don’t get cute. A cover letter structure is basic. Let the reader know what position you want, where you saw the position and what you have to offer. Your life story and your passion are unnecessary. HR is not interested in your life story. In fact, HR is probably inserting your cover letter into scanner software that hunts for specific keywords that match the job description. Return to the importance of reading the job description above.

Suppress your emotions. Save dazzling them with your personality for the interview. Sob stories or rage about how you were laid off will not faze HR. They are looking for skills only, and in this economy everyone has been burned.

More after the jump! Photograph of a stentor (announcer) transmitting a program at the Budapest Telefon Hirmondó, which appeared in the “The Telephone Newspaper” by Thomas S. Denison, in the April, 1901 World’s Work magazine.” Image public domain from Wikimedia Commons.

Cover Letter Don’ts Courtesy of Gawker

PhotobucketUsually, Gawker’s salty snark is applied to celebrities and politicians, but this week it has been applied to garden-variety Hamsters who don’t know how to write a cover letter. An unfortunate Hamster looking for a job sent a cover letter to a company … which was promptly forwarded to Gawker.

Here’s an example:
DO: Explain that you’re a dedicated worker.
DON’T: “I don’t just think outside the box, I stand on top of it. I aim to appease my employer. If he/she isn’t satisfied with my work, I will sweat blood and tears until I get them the result that they are enamored with. If my employer wants me to be knowledgeable of a certain person, place or thing; I will research that particular subject until I know everything that Google, Lycos, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves and Encyclopedia Britannica has to say about them/it.”

This person is probably already embarrassed enough, so we’ll just glean a few lessons from this incident. First, keep your cover letters short so you can avoid embarrassing yourself. Second, hyperbole is a no-no, especially if you claim you can do the impossible, such as literally sweating blood and tears. If you can actually do that, HR will deem you a health hazard, and you won’t get the job.

More after the jump! These serious-looking individuals are reading a cover letter, and they might be on the verge of laughter if you don’t watch it. Engraving public domain, Wikimedia Commons.

The Pros of Word-of-Mouth

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on July 7, 2010
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PhotobucketUsually, word-of-mouth refers to rumors and gossip. At best, it seems more suitable for a viral video than it is for academic work. Yet word-of-mouth is one of those intangibles that might get you a job, either in or out of the academy.

Freelance writers in particular rely on word-of-mouth to build up a client base. Writer Dachary Carey,* who covers a range of topics on the life of a freelancer, writes:

First and foremost: treat every job like a big job. Don’t put small jobs off because they’re ‘small’ and they won’t pay you much; treat your small clients with the same respect and responsiveness that you provide your ‘big’ clients. You never know when a small client can refer a big client, or even when a small client expands the scope of his business or marketing efforts and needs more from you.

The mantra “treat every job like a big job” is worth keeping in mind as you make any career transition. When moving from academia to the Hamster World, you will need to take on “small jobs” that may be small in quantity of work, pay or prestige. You have to prove yourself first, and then the work will follow.

For that reason, you need to minimize any trash talk or negative feelings regarding small jobs. You may feel tempted to brush off a small client, but no one ever, ever likes to be “looked down” upon. It can be exhausting to treat all jobs like they are important, but the key to avoid burnout is to employ smart time management skills … a subject that will appear later.

*I worked with Dachary for two years, and I’ll use her word-of-mouth tips and recommend her work. Even if you don’t need a freelance writer, her blog can help you with tips on self-employment.

Image of “The Conversation” by Danielle Scott, on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Learning to Let Go of Your Publications

Posted in Housekeeping,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on May 11, 2010
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Over at Inside Higher Ed, Jerry Jellison provides advice for academics who are putting together their first Hamster World resumes. He reminds readers that the resume’s goal is to answer one question: “What can you do for us?”

Along those lines, he advises that former academics (or soon-to-be former academics) skip listing publications. That can be painful since the whole point of being in grad school and academia is to rack up publications.

The issue here is not that your publications aren’t important to businesspeople. They are, but not in the same way they’re important to you. In the Hamster World, it’s less about prestige and more about your actions. Jellison suggests re-framing your academic work: “Instead of listing academic publications, describe the skills and traits that enabled you to write the articles or to conduct the research.”

Conducting research, staying organized, and forming a coherent argument are all talents that will appeal to employers. The fact that you had the tenacity to get published is more important than where you got published. So, instead of listing the papers themselves, say that you did research, conducted interviews, and crunched data.

Jellison has many more tips for translating your academic skills into business lingo. Don’t be afraid. By the time you’re done, you’ll realize that this process is way easier than an MLA interview. For more tips, check out my advice on turning your CV into a resume.

Another book Post Academic likes: So What Are You Going to Do with That?

Since we’re on the topic of post-academic books, it’s probably a good time to tout So What Are You Going to Do with That?, a helpful how-to guide for Ph.D.s interested in transitioning from academia to the hamster world, whether willingly or not.  It’s usually the first title mentioned when Ph.D.s and ABDs ask about what options are out there for them and don’t know where or how to start looking.

Written by two Princeton lit Ph.D.s, Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius, the book can be read either as a practical toolkit that provides the nuts-and-bolts on how to rethink your professional life or as a collection of narratives about experiences your peers have had going through what you’re going through now.  And don’t worry that the book takes a sappy self-help approach to career advice, because it’s written in a smart, conversational, and casual way that’s neither rah-rah nor an invite to a pity party.  However you like your advice, it’s going to help you brainstorm and give you ideas about career paths you might not have considered.

More about the book, after the jump…


University Salaries Revealed! Kind Of

Yesterday, I recommended as a way to get the scoop on a company. Then I wondered if I could get any information about universities from the site.

For kicks, I looked up “assistant professor,” and the sheer range of salaries that appeared was astonishing. You can look up any school, but I plucked out a few salary ranges:

Assistant Professor at Texas A&M: $58K-113K
Assistant Professor at the University of Florida: $52K-$95K
Assistant Professor at University of Illinois at Chicago: $55K-$87K

Right below the salaries for the Assistant Professor at University of Illinois at Chicago position, I noticed listings for the University of Chicago, and profs at private schools appear to make more, between $58K and $186K. Yet their base rate isn’t all that different from the base rate at public universities.

The base rate is probably the most realistic expectation if you are hoping to land a job as a humanities prof. However, knowing how high a university is willing to go can give you more bargaining power if you get a job offer, especially if you find out how much similar universities are willing to pay.

If you are considering grad school but think you might have to go into debt, checking can help you figure out how long it will take for you to pay off your loans with a certain salary. If you don’t think you can pay off your loans at between $50 to $60K a year, you might want to shift gears or go to a less expensive school.


Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on March 31, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionA major disadvantage of moving from academia to the hamster world is that you probably don’t know how much you deserve to be paid. However, many companies ask you to provide your rate in a cover letter, or they’ll ask you in an interview.

What do you say? Grad students are notoriously low-paid, and if you throw out what you actually made last year, the company will lowball you or laugh in your face because you seem desperate.

Here’s where comes in. If you register for an account, you can research companies and find out what people are making in certain positions. This also includes hourly employees if you are considering contract work. Employees post their salaries and comments on the company anonymously. While the site is limited toward larger companies, you can still get a better idea of what you can expect to earn when you change jobs.

The comments section is also eye-opening, but as you know all too well with Rate My Professors, most people go to the site only when they’re royally pissed off. A low rating on might not mean much, but you should still read the comments to look for trends relating to the company as a whole. For example, if most of the comments mention major overtime or underwhelming health insurance, you might want to reconsider sending your resume.

Image of Disney’s Hollywood Hotel Café by Bvld11 under a Creative Commons license, from Wikimedia Commons.

The psychological baggage of your CV

I wanted to follow up Caroline’s really helpful how-to’s on converting a CV into a resume by focusing on my own real-time experiences of doing just that, particularly some of the more intangible aspects of the process.  What makes turning a CV into a resume all the more difficult is the psychological baggage that goes along with it, since it can symbolize something you wish it didn’t–that you might be becoming a post-academic.  It’s not so much figuring out a new set of conventions that’s the tough part, but the self-scrutiny and rose-colored reminiscences that can really paralyze you.  Writing a resume feels like a surrendering the past to the future, when paring 5 pages down to 1 page feels like you’ve just ended up with a blank page.

Here are some of the mixed feelings I’ve dealt with in writing a resume and what I’m telling myself I need to do to thoughtfully and seriously prepare for a transition.

1. Get(ting) over it: Does shearing off all the details of your CV feel like your academic achievements don’t matter?  What exactly happened to the last 5 to 7 (to 10) years of your life?  Do your faculty recommendations even matter any more?  Going through your CV to decide what to keep (a little bit) and what to ditch (almost everything) is a daunting task, because it requires a retrospective introspection that isn’t easy, especially when you’re forced to do it.

In the post-academic’s touchstone, “So What Are You Going to Do with That?”, by Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius, there’s a chapter on resumes that’s aptly titled “This Might Hurt a Bit,” which offers great how-to advice on shaping a resume out of CV.  But more important than the nuts-and-bolts of the process (though the list of resume verbs on to use on 110-11 is pretty great), Basalla and Debelius get you into the right mindset with some tough love.  According to them, the editing process involves some cuts that’ll sting.  But, for your own sake, leave off the following (109-10):

See the list and more after the jump…


Transfer Your Skills: Turning Your CV Into a Resume

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on March 26, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionMany academics work on building a CV, not a resume. However, you’ll need a resume for the hamster world, and CVs and resumes are two different animals.

For starters, the resume is much shorter. You can list your experience in reverse chronological order, but if you have a long work history or you are a career-changer, then you may wish to list your experience into several groups:

Relevant Experience: Here you list the jobs you performed that are similar to the job to which you are applying. For example, if you are applying to work as a copy editor, you may want to list the fact that you worked on your department’s grad student newsletter or you had a side gig as an editor.

Other Work Experience: Even if some of your jobs weren’t relevant, you still need to list them to convince a potential employer that you are not prone to sitting on the sofa eating bonbons and watching paternity test results on Maury Povitch. Even if you are prone to Povitch’s paternity test shows, you don’t want your employer to know.

Freelance Experience: You may or may not want to list this separately. If you’re applying for a writing gig, and you’ve written as a freelancer, then you should list this section under relevant experience. But if you did freelance work to build up other skill sets that are important but not directly relevant to the job, then list it in this section.

An Important Note: Resumes are much shorter than CVs. You may have heard that all resumes must be under one page. This is not true. My resume is just under a page and a half, and no one has ever told me I didn’t get a job because my resume was too long. I usually didn’t get the job because my skills and experience didn’t match their needs.

A resume’s goal is to let future employers know what you can do for them in as short a space as possible. If you have a long work history that will benefit the employer, then don’t leave anything out just because of some obscure rule you may have heard in a high-school typing class. That said, you don’t want to go on and on, either.

Any more questions about resumes? I’m happy to answer. Also, if you’re not sure how to word certain aspects of your resume, join LinkedIn, and read what your contacts have posted.

Image of “human computers” in the NACA High Speed Flight Station “Computer Room”, Dryden Flight Research Center Facilities, from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Resources: LinkedIn

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on March 25, 2010
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Networking is one of the most painful parts about building a career, especially if you are a shy person who prefers to have a nose in a book. I consider myself one of those shy people. I also liked to believe that I could let my merit speak for me and that I didn’t have to be “fake” and schmooze my way up the ladder.

However, I discovered that networking is really just making acquaintances—and possibly terrific friends—who happen to have the same career interests you do. Think of how you make friends after moving to a new town or starting a new stage in life. You probably ask friends you currently have if they know anyone in that area or that school. Then you spend time with those people, and your circle of friends expands. And that’s all networking is, except you might talk about career trends more, and you can’t drink as much, lest you embarrass yourself in front of a potential employer.

The Web site is a way for you to get accustomed to networking. If you’re already on Facebook, then there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t open an account on LinkedIn, which is like Facebook, only with more resume info and fewer embarrassing photos.

By signing up on LinkedIn, you can find friends of yours, and you can also search for specific companies. When you perform a company search, you can find out if you know anyone who works at one of those companies. A connection can work behind the scenes to help you get hired at a job. It isn’t fair, but, as Arnold writes about the myth of pure merit, networking can get you a job, especially if a company can choose only one applicant from a pool of equally worthy individuals.


**As always, this post isn’t intended to be an ad, but if we come across a site that will save you time or get you a new job, then we’re plenty happy to spread the word.

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