It’s what you do that matters

Earlier in the week during the Humanities Without Walls workshop, we spent a whole day learning how to “pitch” ourselves. This kind of self-promotion often makes academics uneasy as “selling” yourself can feel awfully close to selling out. The fact is (as many people pointed out) academics constantly pitch themselves and their work in application letters, dissertation proposals, grant applications, and many other situations.

There is a big difference between academic and non-academic pitching, however. When pitching in academia, it’s who you are and where you are from. When pitching outside of academia, it’s what you do. For the world outside of academia, you want to gain skills and demonstrate your ability to use them. How you do this is irrelevant (generally speaking).

Think of the layout of a CV and what it questions it prioritizes. Where were you educated? Who were your advisors? Where have you published? Who has hired you? Who has given you grants and recognized your work? What conferences accepted you to speak? A CV asks who has already approved you and your work. The content of any of your research, writing, speaking, or teaching is far less important than where it took place — certainly for the first few rounds of cutting down the application pool.

When looking outside of academia for employment, the presentation of yourself becomes much more focused on what you do. You didn’t just teach a section of History 101. You constructed a syllabus, used educational technology, gave frequent public presentations (to your students), and managed the classroom. It’s much less important where you did these things than that you actually did them and could replicated the experience of (for example) speaking in public for your knew position.

One of the program’s speakers this week, a former executive at Google, said that ideas are overvalued. Many people (both in technology and academia) bury their ideas out of fear that someone will steal them. However, it’s not the idea that matters. It’s the execution. It’s not where you’re from. It’s what you do.

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