Reframe Your Narrative: From Academia To Business

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The academic CV is unusual in the workplace for its detail, often running to many pages in length. For many academics, their CV is in effect a rolling record that lists every award, publication, conference speech, and module taught. It can be very hard to transform such a comprehensive document into the far more condensed, skills-focused CV required in the business world. Here are a few pointers to help academics find their way.

It’s a matter of taxonomy

Use your analytical, pattern-matching skills to stand back and gain an overview of your achievements to date. Taking a bird’s eye view of your career will enable you to find overall patterns or shared categories into which you can group your work. For instance, rather than listing every publication you have written, try summarising your publication record in a series of bullet points that group together types of publication by means of communication (e.g. traditional; hard-copy; online; social media; interactive) or target audience (e.g. expert-facing; learner-facing; engagement enhancing). In other words, treat the description of your achievements as an exercise in taxonomy – grouping them by summary categories of shared characteristics, and not by exhaustive accounts of their individual variation.

Answer the question

The process of summarising your achievements by re-classification will mean that you have to make decisions about what to leave out. This can be hard to do, but remember that over-burdening your CV with detail that is not relevant to your target audience is a quick route to not being asked to interview. In other words, your task is to determine what the question is, and to answer it with a laser focus - not to write down everything you know on the subject. And where do you find the question? Why, in the job spec or advert to which you are responding. In other words, mirror the words or categories used by your would-be employer, and use the structure of their job specification to shape your application. Remember your academic training, and be ruthless about omitting what isn’t to the point. Use bullet points, highlight keywords, and keep it brief (1-2 pages).

Recast your achievements

But that doesn’t mean that you have to throw out absolutely everything. The trick lies in finding the right language in which to re-cast your achievements. That’s where your skills as a researcher and communicator can be put to good use. Read around in your target profession, being sure to note the particular terminology or keywords used to describe sought-after skills. For instance, translate your teaching achievements into the language of leadership and mentoring. Talk about your research in the language of project management. Describe your teaching development in terms innovation, and re-cast the detail of administrative tasks in the language of organisation and teamwork.

Find the narrative line

Consider this: how would you describe your key professional attributes in a few lines – without mentioning degrees, institutions, or publications? Describe yourself in terms of key skills (matching these to the job spec), and you’ll be on your way to creating an eye-catching personal statement that provides a quick and straightforward reference for your employer.

Free yourself of the idea of vocation

Lastly, how often have you heard the phrase that academia is a vocation? Or that the speaker simply can’t imagine what he or she would do outside academia? This way of thinking is often so ingrained in academic life that it acts as a brake on those considering moving out of academia for any reason. Keep in mind that of all professions, academia equips you to follow an incredibly wide range of career paths – since it trains people in critical thinking, requires finely honed communication skills, and produces highly self-motivated project managers. Remember, your identity is not defined by being an academic!

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