In response to the May 2017 Humanists@Work Workshop, this blog series explains the practice and value of building exploratory job searches, as discussed by Debra Behrens (PhD Counselor, UC Berkeley), into our habitual research routines. These suggestions encourage you to use Jared Reddick’s resume-writing technique, the Job Description Analysis (JDA), to initiate your search for a fulfilling career before you even start to write your resume. If you’d like to read a bit more about the resume building process in tandem, check out Shawn Warner-Garcia’s 2015 post.
This series walks you through the strategic process of using keywords and online job databases in order to identify and explore potential career paths. It also focuses on industry-specific searches and highlights a variety of opportunities that are available for humanities MAs and PhDs in tech fields. The strategies employed in this column translate across searches in any industry, especially if you are conducting your search with online tools like Indeed.com or LinkedIn. By examining roles and job functions that are relatively unknown, we will gain fluency in some of the languages that describe careers available to people with the advanced skill-sets and experiences inherent to graduate work in the humanities.
Our identification of some of Google’s writing roles demonstrates the potential for PhDs to strategically move into non-entry-level positions outside of the university. There are, however, some serious institutional and individual hurdles to consider.
Analysis of our collected job descriptions allows for a few key observations:
- The people described in these roles are very similar to people who are drawn to PhD programs in the humanities.
- While many of the requirements for these roles are intrinsically related to the accomplishments of graduate students, companies like Google insist that candidates demonstrate writing experiences that are explicitly “consumer facing.”
- Though it is up to each individual to do the work of identifying and gaining additional experiences in order to transition out of the university, none of us can single-handedly engage with or change the complex perception of PhDs as writers who do not have valuable work histories given our lack of “consumer audiences.”
Overall, the teams at Google that value critical writing, editing, and public speaking skills are focused on branding, training, user experience, marketing, and communication. Most of the words used to characterize these roles describe typical graduate students in the humanities. The people who write at Google use “strategic pragmatism” and “superb writing, editing and project management skills,” to “build brands and grow businesses in ways that match Google’s humanistic values and aspirations.” A number of these positions call for “great communicators” who are “quick witted, entrepreneurial and intellectually curious.” These individuals are “experienced problem solvers” who can collaborate with international and multidisciplinary teams and “appreciate cultural differences.” Several of my colleagues come to mind when I read these descriptions. Whether while facilitating dialogue in the classroom, sharing collaborative conference panels, or even sitting alone in our rooms, there are many scenarios to which we bring all of these characteristics to our work as graduate students.
Many of the responsibilities listed in these roles are also consistent with the tasks graduate students accomplish by practicing, teaching and assessing persuasive writing techniques for particular audiences. The Editor for Training and Certification, for instance, is expected to “edit technical content for the learner community,” in addition to creating “style guides, standards, templates, editorial guidelines, and globalization best practices.” The User Experience Writer helps “format documents, coordinate translations, and improve writing tools and processes.” The Creative Writer for the Doodle Team generates content on a variety of communication platforms in order to “bring a fun and human touch to people interacting with the Google Assistant.” Some job responsibilities eerily echo the process of managing long-term intellectual projects like our dissertations. The Creative Writer for Brand Studio, for example, is required to “think strategically, identify break-through concepts and ideas, find unexpected ways to bring them to life, and craft them until they are perfect.”
Of course the “unified voice” and “integrated brand experiences” that these individuals are expected to craft is supposed to target specific users and consumers. Graduate students may have trouble imagining a friendly relationship between the process of tailoring an esoteric dissertation topic and that of writing branded multimedia content. However, I’m unwilling to accept that academic writing exists completely outside of a world that depends on user interactions. We are at a point of exclusivity in academic publishing that is not unlike a private market, even if it only exists for a very small group of consumers. Audiences aside, the main difference between academic and industry writing stems from the manner in which research informs the final product. At companies like Google, data science and product design teams analyze user interactions in order to develop consumer-focused goals, so that—unlike dissertation writers—professional writers work within parameters that are developed in collaborative settings. Though dissertators do not arrive at writing goals with the input of a team, they are always in dialogue with voices and audiences that are informed by pre-existing research and scholarship. There is certainly an argument to be made regarding the dissertation itself as an intense exercise in content development for narrowly defined purposes.
That said, it is clear that graduate programs haven’t done the work of translating the value of academic writing experiences into the setting of content development for technological and digital markets. If humanists are set on characterizing their skills as content specific, rather than process oriented, then they are setting themselves up to be told that they have expertise in the wrong content. Companies like Google often consider prior work experience as an eliminating factor for candidates. Between three and six years of experience in business, media, politics, non-profit organizations, or advertising agencies are part of the minimum requirements for the jobs identified in our initial Google Careers search. Interested candidates must also present a portfolio of work that showcases communications materials related to consumer audiences and experiences with technical content. There is no indication from Google that graduate education in the humanities contributes to such requirements. Our institutions can be doing much more to communicate the details of our work experiences and our potential to contribute to these roles because of—and not in spite of—the completion of a dissertation and a doctoral degree.
As obvious and painful as these labor disconnects may be, they are not issues that we can tackle as individuals. The existence of the roles we’ve identified through simple searches—and the fact that companies like Google clearly value individuals who sound a lot like graduate students in the humanities—are both signs that there are career paths available to us in which we will most certainly excel. At the moment, it is up to us to imagine our futures, broaden our job search strategies, and build relevant experiences into the completion of our degrees.