How to Translate Your Graduate Degree: Learning to Speak the Language of Hiring Managers

Close up of a page in a dictionary.

All communication is context dependent. For example, what does it mean if I "catch the golden snitch"? Well, maybe I just scored my house 150 points and brought a rousing match of Quidditch to a close. Maybe the blonde-haired person leaking information has just been caught. Or you reread that sentence and wonder why I would even type something like that.

Context is just as important when communicating the skills and expertise we develop in graduate school. We talk frequently about how we can describe our research to a lay person, but what about describing our skills and experience? It isn't just technical jargon and know-how that gets lost in translation when we talk about our PhD's to people in different contexts.

Look at a job ad. Even an ad for a position that requires your degree. What do you find? Are there bullet points about teamwork? Managing others and ensuring continual growth? Hiring managers may not have the technical background you do, so they may not understand your “grad speak”. Your job as an applicant is to help them understand your skills. The best way to do that is to speak their language! Here are some examples:

Grad Speak Hiring Manager
Incorporated collaborator edits Addressed client/stakeholder concerns
Supervised undergraduate research projects Managed and promoted skills development in junior team members
Presented research updates in group meetings Led team discussion to address potential roadblocks and develop actionable solutions
Utilized advanced instrumentation Leveraged state-of-the-art diagnostics to accurately measure and control project development and identify new leads

Writing a resume for a specific job can sometimes feel like trying to solve a secret code. But the hiring committee gives you the key! It’s the job ad. Identify the keywords you use in your graduate degree, then find their equivalent in the position you are applying for.

Try it yourself! Go to CareerHub (a great resource provided by the Centre for Career Action) and navigate to the skills section. Identify the skills you have developed through your graduate degree and be generous! Find some job ads for positions you like and try translating your graduate skills to the ones listed in the job ad. If you get stuck, you can check out people with that job title on LinkedIn and see the skills they list.

Good luck with the job hunt and learning the language of hiring managers!

Benjamin Hisey is passionate about using his experience and leadership to help graduate students develop their non-academic skills so they can succeed beyond their research! He is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the department of chemistry and is pursuing ways to improve the graduate experience at Waterloo. If you would like to get in touch with Benjamin you can find him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter! 

Looking for more assistance in your career search? The Centre for Career Action offers several services tailored to graduate students and postdocs, including drop-in advising, one-on-one appointments and workshops. Visit the Centre for Career Action website to learn more.

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