Graduate school requires an immense amount of time, money, and dedication. Trust me I’ve been there. The amount resources (time, work, money, and energy) it takes to obtain a higher degree (both before and during school), it’s no surprise that graduates expect a swift and solid return on their investment.
However, many recent (or not so recent) graduate school grads expect that “just” having the degree will warrant their being hired. They think the work is done. That employers should recognize your achievements and reward you with a job.
If you’ve been in the market for a job more than a day post-grad degree, you’ve gotten a taste for how completely false this assumption is. And how demoralizing the experience can be and often is. You were promised more opportunities. Greater salary. More offers. Where are they?!?
Don’t fret – I’ll help you understand the real value in your degree and how to leverage it for the advantages you were promised (and have, but haven’t accessed).
Leverage Your Degree
After the amount of resources (time, money, and energy) you’ve spent to get this far, you may be (understandably) frustrated. For decades we’ve been fed the idea that “all you need is a degree,” that a degree is “safe” and the “stepping stone” you need to “get ahead.” That you’d come back into the job market with a “competitive advantage.” That the degree is the ticket to success. As many of you have experienced, the world has changed a bit. This simply isn’t a reality anymore.
Rather – it’s not the whole story….
See, a degree is a tool. One of many in your professional toolkit. How you use this tool makes all the difference. This one is all about leverage.
Leveraging Your Experience in Graduate School to Build Your Resume
The first thing you should think about when leveraging your degree is the experience you gained in graduate school.*
*Think you didn’t learn/do anything? Stop right there. The work you put in will be valuable to recruiters – you just need to talk about it in a way that they are accustomed to and more importantly the language that resonates with the hiring manager.
Go back to the coursework you did. What kind of projects did you work on and what kind of skills did you have to develop in order to successfully complete those projects? Don’t try to hone in on the skills you want to focus on the most just yet – start by writing everything down. Once you have a good feel for everything you’ve done, you can start narrowing the list.
One thing that helps job seekers is thinking like an internal recruiter (who works at the perspective companies), instead of thinking like a job seeker. What do internal recruiters trying to fill a position want to know? Look at your dream position and the company it’s in – what skills do they care about? What expertise matters to them? Are there specific talents or values they look for? What problems are they trying to solve?
I recognize the answers to these questions require some research. Take the time to do this. It will be to your benefit (both short and long term). Research the characteristics that make for the most successful people in your field. Look at job openings to see what skills are required for the positions. At the very least, set aside an hour and use Google – figure out what matters to the organization you want to apply to.
Then, reverse engineer. This is where leveraging graduate school comes in.
Remember that list you made from your toolkit? You’ll want that here. Look at EVERYTHING you’ve done. Projects, extracurriculars, classwork, class subject matter, professors exposed to, research conducted – no matter how trivial, list it out.
Re-write your now narrowed down list in the terminology you’ve found in your research. Speaking to recruiters in their language is going to be the key to showing them that you have what it takes to succeed in your field.
You want to use that experience to enhance the skills you want to underscore – the skills and experience that speak to what the hiring manager is looking for.
Skills don’t always have to match one-to-one – there could be things you learned how to do in one context that would relate well to any other context. What we call “transferable skills” (I know you’ve heard this phrase before) and it’s the key to getting that first opportunity after graduate school.
How does your graduate school experience relate to that (what you found in your research)? How can your graduate school experience enhance your resume – and help you communicate that you are the perfect fit for this company and this position? USE your graduate experience – don’t just let it sit there as one line under the “Education” section. Use it to underscore, enhance, and reaffirm that you’ve got what the organization you’re applying to want and needs.
Remember: always think like a recruiter.
Never Really Done
When it comes to leveraging your graduate degree, understand that you’re never really “done.” While many of us were sold the dream that a degree is a golden ticket, by now we all know it’s just not true. Don’t allow any feelings of frustration, disillusionment, or fear of a wasted investment bring you down.
Like all things in life, graduate school is what you make of it.
Leverage that experience. Leverage that network. Never stop building, connecting, and nurturing your network. That will be your true ticket to success – and it’s all in your hands.
Image Credit: Ales Krivec