Identify Your Transferable Skills
Although graduate school asks students to develop a near-obsessive focus on one specialized field of study, many of the general skills developed during this time are also quite useful in non-academic contexts and can help you make the leap into a new career. You might begin to think about the transferable skills you’ve gained by first making a list of everything you’ve done as a graduate student—from researching, teaching, and applying to grants to organizing panels and presenting at conferences—and then describing the work more specifically using active verbs and adjectives.
The goal of getting you to think about your transferable skills is not to make you feel like a commodity. Rather, it is to encourage you to think more broadly about what your career possibilities might be and to give you confidence as you move through the job search process.
Examples of Transferable Skills
Your graduate education gives you numerous skills that are attractive in non-academic jobs. Some you may not even realize you have.
- Management: of people, time, projects, budgets
- Flexibility: ability to work well under pressure and in difficult situations, creative problem-solving, adaptability, can learn new things quickly
- Team-based work: working with people from diverse cultures, collaboration, facilitation, delegation, receptivity to listening to others, respect for others’ opinions
- Communication skills (written, verbal, interpersonal): ability to synthesize large amounts of complex information, can adapt your messaging for a nonacademic audience, grant-writing
- Critical thinking: ability to turn fuzzy ideas into something concrete, gather & interpret information, make informed decisions
- Working with data/research: designing & evaluating studies; data collection, manipulation, analysis, visualization, & storage
- Professionalism: self-directed work habits, continuous professional development, ethical research practices, ability to take and receive constructive criticism
- Leadership: teaching concepts to others, conducting meetings, mentoring undergraduate or high school students in class or in lab
Teaching assistantships count as legitimate professional experience! You:
- Facilitate large and small group discussions
- Provide oral and written feedback
- Plan and deliver weekly presentations
- Use different media & technologies to present information
- Develop evaluation criteria
- Are resourcefulness without supervision
- Create student handout documents & assignments
Don’t forget the things you do outside of your dissertation! Freelance jobs, volunteer gigs, hobbies, etc. all give you transferable skills as well.
You want to be a “knowledgeable nomad”—someone with strong portable skills that equip them for multiple job changes throughout their lives.
- The Balance’s list of examples of transferable skills
- “‘But I Have No Skills’” by Rebecca Bryant in The Chronicle of Higher Education
- “New Grads: Here’s How To Discuss Your Classwork in Job Interviews” from Fast Company
- “Post-Academic Job Search” from Leaving Academia helps students describe their transferable skills in ways employers will understand
- “Leaving Academia? How To Sell Yourself to New Employers” from The Guardian, which summarizes tips from the book Success in Research: Developing Transferable Skills
- “PhDs Do Have Transferable Skills” from Chronicle Vitae
- “Unearthing and Developing Your Real World Skills” from GradHacker
- “Transferring Skills Beyond the Lab” from Science magazine