Ask HR: Can You Land a Job with Only Academic Experience?

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP July 15, 2022
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Ask HR: Can You Land a Job with Only Academic Experience?

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here. 

 

After working in restaurant management for the last eight years, I have started grad school. While my focus is primarily on schoolwork, I am wondering if I should look in my field (commercial finance) to help kick-start my career. Where should I start? How can I sell myself as a candidate with only academic experience?—Bettina

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Congratulations on starting grad school and making the investment in your career and life. With such a labor shortage, this is an opportune time to embark on a career change. While having existing experience in your desired field may be helpful, employers are expanding their range of candidates to include people who may not be the exact skills fit but do have the soft skills and drive to learn.

There is no better time than now to develop an action plan for building experience in your field. Start your search with the resources at your school. Visit the career services office and consult with a career counselor. The career services office often has job and internship leads, as well as key networking contacts. Internships are great for people looking for their first industry exposure and experience.

Professors are another fantastic source of leads. Many have access to information about employers who are hiring, thanks to their connections with former students and colleagues. Check to see if there is an alumni organization for commercial finance majors at your school where you can share your resume. Also, you may want to seek out finance associations with networking opportunities so you can meet people in your desired field.

You'll want to use your resume to showcase career objectives, academic achievements, academic projects, relevant classes, training or certifications. Showcase how your academic experience aligns with the roles you seek.

And consider how your existing work experience would help you succeed in the position you're seeking. As a restaurant manager, did you perform tasks related to finance? Are there concepts in your coursework that overlap with your experience? Even if you lack specific work experience for the commercial finance industry, you likely possess a wide range of transferable skills. Consider skills such as time management, communication, leadership and the capacity to tackle challenging situations. Focus on those transferable skills and relevant academic experience when you are creating your resume and interviewing.


I recently retired from a career in mental health therapy. I am interested in possibly returning to the industry on a part-time or limited basis. What is a good way to approach my previous employer or other employers in the field to gauge interest?—Porter

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Now is a great time to enter the job market. With the current labor shortage, employers are scrambling to fill positions with talented, capable and experienced people. Many are offering incentives like flexible scheduling to attract former employees and retirees. 

If you left your former employer on good terms, there's no reason not to reach out to express your interest in returning.  You have an advantage in being familiar with the organization's product or service, culture, mission, and operations. Even if your old job has been filled, they may still welcome you back in a different role or consider you for any future opportunities. They may even consider bringing you on as an independent contractor to work on special projects. It reflects well on your experience with your former organization if you are entertaining a return.

While I don't know the particulars of your work experience, you likely have amassed considerable soft skills and valuable perspective throughout your career. Don't underestimate your appeal to an employer. Rather than submitting a resume or application, it may help to speed up the process with a direct call to your previous employer to discuss your interest, policies related to returning following retirement and the process for reapplying.

If you are seeking work with a different employer, do your research by reviewing job listings and company websites. Find out if any employers are hosting programs for retirees who are re-entering the workforce. Contact family, friends and former colleagues to see if they are aware of any openings. Refresh your resume to highlight your talent, skills and the wealth of experience you can bring to the organization, and then apply.

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