Non-academic job postings, part 2: translating non-ac to ac

If you have not yet read Part 1 of this two-part post on non-academic job postings, I recommend doing so before reading this.  Here I list some common terms on non-academic job postings (for-profit, non-profit, and public-sector) and discuss what they often mean and what academic experiences can be considered comparable.  Don’t see something here that you’d like translated from non-ac into ac?  Let me know at or via Twitter @akrook

Communications skills
Customer engagement
Customer service
Demonstrated ability at [skill]
Desired [qualifications]
Dynamic environment
Individual contributor
Salary commensurate with experience
Some travel required

Communication skills.  Communication skills typically mean the ability to learn from people with different skills and convey ideas clearly to people with different skills and different levels of seniority.  That includes, for example, evaluating and demonstrating the success of a team’s work to other teams or to the entity’s customers.  For organizations with geographically dispersed teams, it can also mean the ability to work well with people you don’t see in person every day, and whose native language(s) you do not speak. Comparable academic situations:  Research teams with many members; research that involves interviewing subjects; iterative projects that develop on the basis of team feedback.  Digital Humanities work that introduces and evangelizes new tools to audiences is a particularly good example of this work within academics.

Customer engagement.  Customer engagement is a subcategory of customer service, involving working with customers (businesses or individuals) to understand how their experience can be improved, whether that means delivering better products or better service. Comparable academic situations: Understanding the customer experience and working to improve it most often combines engagement with customers directly and data-driven analysis, and is often a perfect industry job for academically trained people, particularly in the social sciences, most particularly those supported by data analytics.  Any academic working to understand and explain a group’s relation to a historical moment or an economic structure, particularly across multiple disciplines, can make a case that their skills can address an entity’s need to engage with its customers; the emerging role of data-driven customer engagement in the public sector is a particularly comparable field for many academic skills.

Customer service.  A company’s every contact with their customers, whether directly with individual customers (B2C) or with businesses (B2B).  It includes shaping the packaging and instructions for products and services under the rubric of user experience (abbreviated as UX, and explained here via cereal), the point of sale in which the product or service is delivered, and follow-up afterwards.  Comparable academic situations:  Teaching is the most commonly understood academic skill comparable to customer service, whether addressing the needs of direct customers (students) or indirect customers (sometimes parents, sometimes employers who need students to be taught certain skills).  But research of all kinds, and publication, and outreach, are also examples of customer service, and you should be able to explain how your research contributes to a body of knowledge or the public good or both. Many academic fields prepare graduate students to address issues of accessibility (to research, to repositories) particularly well, which is a critical component of customer service.

Demonstrated ability at [skill].  This phrase typically means a documented work history in the described skill: demonstrated management ability means you have managed people (see below, “management”) in a current or previous job and can show that from the job title, or via a reference.  Demonstrated ability in communication means you may be asked to provide a writing sample, or a link to online work, or to a portfolio, or to work that uses specified tools. Comparable academic situationsYou should not only keep an updated resume (and CV) of skills but with the proof that you have them: the jobs in which you acquired and / or demonstrated them, and, if applicable, links to or copies of the work.  Think of it as maintaining the documentation repository for your resume. The skills themselves can come from your research work, your volunteer or paid jobs, or work on organized events such as conferences.

Desired [qualifications].  Synonyms: optional, bonus, nice to have, preferred.  Sometimes these are truly optional, in that an applicant with the required qualifications but none of the desired ones will be hired.  More often these are differentiators: they  differentiate a possible candidate from a better one, or a manager wants a range of skills, but will hire the best mix of them she can find depending on other people she may also be hiring for other jobs, or someone with all of the desired skills may be able to negotiate a higher starting salary. Comparable academic situations It is helpful if you can show that you got skills in addition to those required for completing your work.  So if you needed to enter research into a database, and you learned how to construct and query a database rather than or in addition to using a ready-made product, that is an example of a desirable but not required skill.  A track record of gaining such skills may be attractive to employers, who like people who want to learn new skills.

Dynamic environment.  This phrase sometimes means that the company or business line is new or changing fast, and that employees need to be prepared to change what they and their teams are working on.  Sometimes it means that the managerial structure of the company is in flux, particularly if it is taking on many new people in a relatively short time, so your manager might change unusually often.  Sometimes it means that an established company does not want to be thought of as staid, as that is seldom attractive to younger talent. Comparable academic situations: if you can show that your field is changing and that and how you adapted to it, you will be able to show that you have worked in such an environment.  Non-academic employers often worry that academically-trained employees will not adapt as quickly as non-academic employees often must, so it’s worth understanding how to address this perception.  Here too Digital Humanities is a good example of a changing work environment.

Experienced.  The actual expectations behind this term depend on the level of the job: to be hired as an experienced senior manager or director will require more years’ management experience than to be hired as an experienced manager. Comparable academic situationsas with Demonstrated ability at [skill], you want to be able to show, not just assert, what experiences you have.  So if you have organized panels for academic conferences, you need to have the names, date, and participants to hand; if you produced online materials for groups, you need a links (and take screenshots, in case some of these sites are no longer extant when you need to show your work).  In general for an entry-level job that asks for some experienced at creating, say, good online documentation, I would expect three discrete projects or one very substantial one as lead contributor.

Individual contributor.  The term individual contributor usually means one of two things: either an entry-level employee hired to report to someone, but not manage anyone him- or herself, or an advancement track in which it is possible to be promoted without taking on management responsibilities but instead becoming a subject-matter expert.  Comparable academic situations: Typically academically trained people have no trouble demonstrating their ability to work well as an individual contributor, because most academic programs, particularly doctoral programs, are designed to produce this skill, and the ability to work self-directed is valuable to a non-academic employer.  That said, many employers fear that academically trained people will only want this kind of role and not work well with others.  Make sure you can also discuss your skills at communication and as a member of a team (see below).

Leadership.  Sometimes this is merely a synonym for successful management, but more often it describes the ability to persuade others to align themselves with your or your entity’s vision of what to accomplish and how to accomplish it.  Comparable academic situations:  graduate students often (wrongly) consider this a “corporate” term and believe they do not have such experiences, and they are most often wrong.  Leadership includes running reading groups or TA or RA groups; being lead researcher on a team; running a conference, panel, or a workshop, or (and especially) persuading groups to adopt something new.  Persuading faculty to add Digital Humanities support as an acceptable summer fellowship activity is leadership,  Just sayin’.

Management.  In non-academic contexts, management typically means people management, which in turn typically means responsibility for providing direction to others, responsibility for the outcome of those people’s work, and responsibility for formally evaluating them, usually once a year.  Comparable academic situations:  graduate students are more likely to have leadership experience than management experience, as the missing element is most often responsibility for formally evaluating others; postdocs, however, often have actual hands-on management experience if they evaluate others’ work.  When they do have that experience, it is most often apart from their academic work: if they live in an undergraduate residence as lead counselor and have to evaluate the other counselors, for example, or if they are head writing or math or chem tutor and have to evaluate other tutors.  Do not make the mistake of neglecting management experience because you have acquired it outside your academic research.

Problem-solving.  The broadest description of what goes on in workplaces: they need problems solved, whether that means doing more work, different work, or figuring out what actually needs to be done now and next.  Specifically, and less generally, it often means figuring out how to adapt an old process pr product to changing customers, or how to do something differently.   Comparable academic situations:  The good news is that there is no more general skill than academically trained people are likelier to have than this one, as this is, after all, what research is.  The bad news is that frequently the research is so specialized that the research topic is not useful to an employer, while your skills as a problem-solver and researcher are.  The temptation is to describe your work; you must instead describe your skills.

Required [qualifications].  These are typically the qualifications without which an applicant cannot do the job, or without which the hiring entity is unwilling to hire a candidate (these are not the same!), or both.   Comparable academic situations:  There is required and there is required.  If the job description requires C++ programming background and you cannot code in C++, you cannot apply for the job.  If the job requires advanced problem-solving skills, or any other skill than can be abstracted from a field (communication, leadership, management; see above), you may be able to make a case.  Do not overstate your skills at the hard requirements: if it calls for website development languages and you have only worked with website-development tools, you will not be a competitive applicant.

Salary commensurate with experience.  Most jobs have a range of experience they expect: someone hired as an experienced manager, for example, may have managed only briefly or for several years, depending on how senior the job is.  Depending on your level of experience, you may be able to negotiate a higer salary than, for example, someone just finish his or her undergraduate degree  Comparable academic situations: Most academic situations to not involve financial negotiation.  The one that does, albeit indirectly, is applying for competitive grants or fellowships.  Before you believe you have no negotiation skills that would help you negotiate within a salary range, ask yourself if you have successfully applied for competitive fellowships, travel grants, language-study support, or conference-expense support.

Some travel required.  Travel can be anything from the occasional trip to see a client or a team located elsewhere to a regular commitment to time on the road.  Rules around travel (where you may stay, whether you may fly instead of drive, how much you spend per day on meals) vary widely.  Comparable academic situations: If the job will put you in front of clients frequently, and you can show that you have a track record of successful presentations, especially to audiences outside your home institution, an employer will be more likely to look favorably at your application.  If you have traveled to conduct research, especially overseas, and especially to collaborate with others overseas, highlight that experience.

Team.  Team most often means the group of people you will work with closely, whether on a particular project or in a standing operational group.  Sometimes it means everyone working together as peers, but not formally working for anyone in the group, and sometimes it means the team all reports to the same manager.  Comparable academic situations:  Most academics have many comparable experiences to cite here.  Research teams count, of course, but don’t neglect reading groups, TA groups, residence counselors, grad student union officers, conference organizers, tutors.  Employers want to know how well you work with others with whom you work closely.