How can a graduate student stand out as a job applicant outside of academia? Jack Emmert, CEO of the Austin studio of Daybreak Games, offered useful advice on this question at a PATHS event in Fall of 2017. Emmert, who holds a UChicago Master’s Degree in the Ancient Mediterranean World, reflected on his years of experience building teams for game development and the value of his academic background. His advice for job-seekers boils down to one basic goal: be interesting!
Emmert suggested thinking of resumes and cover letters as a conversation starter, not just simply checking all the boxes of a job ad. He said his company’s job ads regularly receive 90+ resumes, so anything that helps the hiring manager remember you is an advantage.
Have you done challenging fieldwork on a unique archaeological site? Discovered a new molecule or historical document? Faced a particularly tough challenge while teaching? Describing specific accomplishments like these not only illustrate the skills a recruiter is looking for—like teamwork, creativity, or analytical thinking—but also make you seem like an interesting person a hiring manager would want to talk to for an hour. Graduate students’ specialized knowledge and unusual experiences, if framed correctly, are both unique and relevant to a wide range of jobs.
On resumes and cover letters, instead of simply translating research and pedagogical experience into standardized professional skills, which can sometimes be vague, emphasize the specific things you’ve done that make you interesting. Just as in writing papers or lectures, you should highlight your most important or strongest points, and use specific examples wherever possible. List these parts of your background first when building resumes, or consider whether a nontraditional format like a skills resume might work best.
Emmert used his own academic study of ancient Greek civilizations as an example of how skills from graduate school are useful to him every day. Almost all graduate students excel at analytical thinking, initiative and ownership of tasks, communication, and the ability to learn quickly—all skills that Emmert looks for in any good job applicant!