How I Used My Skills as a Researcher to Craft my Applied Anthropology CV + Portfolio


Inspired by the open-source practices of many web developers, who generously share their coding processes to help other developers save time and energy, I thought it could be useful to share my process in updating my CV / resumé and creating my online applied anthropologist portfolio. 

It’s a process that I put off for months. Partially because I was working on some very intense projects, but mostly because I hate this shit. The contemporary practice of condensing complex human experience into 1-2 pages of buzzwords and trendy skillsets to be scanned by software for some arbitrary words that likely do not accurately represent the duties that will be performed or the reality of the job itself annoys me, and worse, makes me incredibly anxious. How can I know that I’ve chosen the words and phrases that hiring managers want to see? Can I be sure they will understand the diversity of the experiences that I’ve had and that I promise I’m actually an interesting person with a lot to bring to the team?! 

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I’ve pretty much resigned myself to considering networking the most effective way to get work but nonetheless, CVs and portfolios have symbolic value and I have not yet worked up the courage to refuse to comply with a cultural practice I disdain. Earlier today, while having yet another modest nervous breakdown in trying to update my CV and build an online portfolio, I realized that if there is any skill I have mastered, it is taking a large amount of data and analyzing it to produce meaningful and actionable insight (take that industry buzzwords! ). 

I decided to turn the task into a mini cultural analysis, the kind I am used to doing as part of my work. For months years, I’ve been reading articles, blog posts, job postings and the like, trying to absorb all the knowledge on what my skills are as an anthropologist and how I can put them into practice. I have Evernotes filled with snippets from podcasts, books, and articles. But I have never systematically analyzed all this information, and I’m a little ashamed that it took this long for the idea to come to me. No matter. This is how I did it, but if you have other ideas or have tried other things, please feel free to add your thoughts below, or shoot me an email.

1. You will need a method for analyzing the data that you compile. In university, I was fortunate enough to have access to Nvivo, which I no longer have (don’t get me started on barriers to access, especially for the most vulnerable, like the unemployed) ((and no I’m not trying to imply I’m among the most disadvantaged populations)). Thankfully, there are affordable alternatives. I’ve done a little bit of research on options and so far, I’m most pleased with Dedoose. Otherwise, if you have a method using Word/Excel/Evernote/Numbers/Pages/whatever, go for it! 

2. Start gathering job postings from LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Indeed, EPIC, or any other source you use. They should be jobs that you would love to do, or at least think there is a possibility you would like. It doesn’t necessarily matter if you have all the skills yet that might be needed for the job. For me, the idea behind this is that the language that is used in creating job descriptions and postings is perhaps the same language I should use in the documents that I am presenting to companies. As anthropologists, we are attuned to the language and symbolic meanings that are present in the cultures we study, thus it can be valuable to extend this same practice to the culture(s) of the labor market.

3. I wanted to bring in data from sources other than job postings. Inspired by this job search post (again, thanks dev community!), I decided to pull in information from the LinkedIn profiles of those already doing the kind of work I want to do, as well as companies that I might like to work for. But it need not stop there. You could also import for analysis the portfolios of others, blog posts and articles about the work you want to do, transcripts from interviews and podcasts about the work. The list goes on. The extent to which you do this and the amount of data that you want to bring in is completely up to the time and energy you want to invest. 

4. Before really diving into the analysis phase, I created a few parent codes to stand in as the overall themes I was exploring for answers on how to represent myself linguistically in my CV, portfolio, and cover letters. These were the codes I created initially, knowing that others would likely emerge during analysis, and that the real meat of the analysis would be in the child codes that would fall under these parent codes/categories:

  • Job Responsibilities
  • Skills/Experience Needed
  • Company Culture
  • Describing the Work
  • Phrases I LOVE

The idea behind creating these parent codes/categories is to help give me a framework for the types of language that I am looking to acquire. If I want to understand how I need to articulate the experiences I already have into compatible job responsibilities or experience descriptions, then it will be easier for me if I am looking for the trends in this language from the outset. They also match how most job postings are structured, and thus the overall themes of what I need to touch on in applying to a place (or in having a conversation while networking). I wanted to create a *starred* category so that I could make sure I would pull out that phrasing when writing letters or my CV, so I thought it would be fun to add a code called ‘Phrases I LOVE’.

5. At this point, I started pulling in my data and coding each source as I went along, adding child codes to the parent codes I already created. By the time I was coding through my second or third posting, I was already starting to see trends and gain an understanding of how I might frame the experience that I have. Some other parent codes that emerged for me while coding were:

  • Personality Traits
  • Interests
  • About the Company

6. After pulling in the sources I wanted to analyze (I brought in only 16 because I’m working against a deadline — I have to bring my portfolio to a review session in a couple of days), I started coding. Generally I like to have at least 2 passes at coding because in the process of the first pass, you are discovering the codes and themes that are relevant and therefore need to return to the early coded sources after making your way through the data to the end. But because this is more of a quick and fun project to help jumpstart my portfolio and CV writing, I stuck to one pass through. Even with one pass it becomes very clear the cultural archetypes that job descriptions and LinkedIN profiles are complicit in producing. On a visceral level, it became difficult for me not to feel stressed about whether or not I could live up to the creative, multi-tasking, highly-experienced, entertainingly communicative, brilliant thinker that every single job seems to be seeking. There are definite language patterns and a clear cadence to the ways in which postings are generally written. 

7. My next step was to do a very simple analysis of the results, drawing out the most frequently used themes and concepts. There is no shortage of tools within Dedoose and other software to analyze for a variety of different factors and questions, but for my purposes, understanding which skills, responsibilities, and experiences were most prevalent would help me understand what to emphasize and the wording to use in writing my portfolio. I clicked over to the Analyze tab in Dedoose and under ‘Qualitative Charts’ I clicked ‘Code Application’ which allowed me to see total code counts as well as their distribution amongst the sources. 

8. Looking at the totals, it seemed that any code that was applied 5 or more times, would be relevant for my consideration. I ended up with a total of 95 codes, 14 (or about 15%) of which were applied 5 or more times. (Here you also must be careful to take a look at the distribution of the codes across the sources, if a code was applied 7 times, but it was only in one source, that does not actually demonstrate high saturation). Of course, 95 codes is far more than one would need for a different kind of analysis, but the reason I ended up with such a high code count was because I was very detailed. I made this decision because I am looking for really specific language and ways to articulate my skills, and I also wanted to account for multiple perspectives. For example, a job posting might require “an understanding of various research methods and when to apply each method for the best results” whereas a LinkedIN profile might state ” I structure and manage mixed methods research projects accounting for client needs.” Both statements could easily fall under a code named something like “Understanding of Research Methods”, but combining them in this way would not account for the recruiting perspective versus the experienced professional perspective. Additionally, the nuance that emerges from the professional’s perspective regarding applying knowledge to client needs or to the design and implementation of projects would be disregarded. 

For a relatively quick reference on coding FAQs, this article is very helpful!

9. Here are the codes that I identified to be the most relevant for the types of jobs or projects I would be interested in working on:

  • Parent Code: Job Responsibilities 
    • Communicate with Clients
    • Cultural Analysis
    • Generate Insights
    • Qualitative Research
    • Reporting Findings
    • Research Design
    • Strategy
  • Parent Code: LinkedIN Profile Job Responsibilities
    • Creating Insight
    • Identify Opportunities
  • Parent Code: Skills/Experience Needed
    • Collaboration
    • Communication
    • Presentation
    • Creativity
    • Understanding of Research Methods

10. At this point, the analysis requires interpretation, followed by action. What I interpret from my results is that the job responsibilities/experiences that I need to emphasize are those that demonstrate my research design and execution experiences, my communication with and reporting to clients, my outputs phrased in terms of generating insight and developing strategy, and the ways in which I have leveraged cultural analysis in my work. I can see that professionals with jobs that I would love to have talk about their achievements with regards to creating insights and identifying opportunities. Lastly, making mention of my experiences in collaboration, communication, presenting, or showing my creativity and understanding of various methods, would strengthen my portfolio. 

Having identified what is potentially most important to talk about, I can then go back into Dedoose and read the excerpts I assigned to each of these codes to find language that will help get me started in articulating these experiences for myself. I also have the code “Phrases I LOVE” to return to for the phrases or explanations I found to be particularly powerful or clear. 

I hope this has helped! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reach out or comment below.