As a graduate student, you have probably grown accustomed to identifying yourself by labels, such as “I am a PhD student in rural sociology.” These labels, such as “PhD student” and “rural sociology,” typically give a clear message of your background and training in an academic environment. If you are considering a job outside of academia, however, you may have discovered that many jobs do not require a PhD or research experience in your particular field. Instead, most employers seek specific skills or competencies that you have acquired during the process of getting your graduate degree in a particular discipline.
When considering a career outside of academia, you will need to think beyond the academic labels and academic signifiers of success, such as the number of publications you have or invited talks you gave. Instead, focus on the skills you used to earn your degree that will be necessary to perform a particular job; these skills are your transferable skills. These skills are not limited to just your research or teaching experience, so think broadly. Did you volunteer somewhere and, if so, did you acquire leadership experience or additional communication skills? Have you informally edited or proofread your colleagues’ manuscripts or dissertations? If so, perhaps you developed copy-editing skills and the ability to provide constructive feedback.
Understanding Your Transferable Skills
There are many approaches to understand what transferable skills and career interests that you have. One approach is to take an assessment such as SkillScan, Myers Briggs Type Indicator, or StrengthsQuest, which can help you identify your skills and potential careers using those skills.
Another approach is to analyze your previous experiences to identify what skills you used or acquired. The following list is a small sample of transferable skills that you may have used during your graduate experience.
Research and Analytical Skills
- Locate and assimilate new information rapidly
- Understand complex information and synthesize it
- Reach independent conclusions and defend them
- Analyze and solve problems
- Write clearly at different levels, from abstracts to book-length manuscripts
- Edit and proofread
- Speak before large groups
- Convey complex information to non-expert audiences
- Exhibit leadership skills (lab or classroom)
- Demonstrate diplomacy
- Accept criticism
- Cope with and manage different personalities
- Navigate complex environments
- Persuade others (e.g., grant proposals, negotiation within your department)
- Build consensus (e.g., with your department/committee)
- Handle complaints (e.g., from students about grades)
Organization and Management
- Manage a project (your dissertation)
- Maintain records
- Organize and plan events (programs, panels)
- Motivate others to participate
- Evaluate others’ performance (e.g., graded exams or papers)
- Monitor or oversee the work of others in a lab or classroom
- Work independently
- Acquire funding (e.g., write grant proposals)
- Manage a budget