Transferable Skills

IN HER ARTICLE Transferring Your Skills to a Non-Academic Setting in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Margaret Newhouse, cautions against falling into the trap of believing that if you are trained for the professoriate, you have no skills of interest to anyone in the real world.

If you’re looking for a non-academic career, however, consider how to capitalize on the skills you’ve developed as a graduate student – studying and mastering course content, setting up laboratory experiments and conducting research, preparing lectures and teaching classes, or writing a dissertation, papers and articles.

As a first step, list all the skills and character attributes you developed as an academic-in-training. As a starting point, use the following list of abilities that were brainstormed by participants in a 2006 UNL Graduate Studies workshop on Identifying Your Transferable Skills, conducted by Dr. Rebecca Bryant of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

• critically evaluating, analyzing and synthesizing information

• organizing large amounts of information logically

• working as a member of a team

• working independently

• communicating in writing and speaking

• interviewing

• reporting

• adapting presentations to the needs of a listening audience

• using media in presentations

• managing time

• mastering computer programs

• designing documents

Many of these skills no doubt reflect your own abilities; consider how they might be relevant to the types of jobs you’re seeking and use them in your
resume and job application letters.

Think also in terms of underlying skills you’ve gained through work and other experiences. For example, if you are a teacher you’ve mastered the ability to explain difficult concepts, create effective written or oral presentations, motivate students and evaluate performance. The process of writing a dissertation requires managerial skills to create and carry out a vision, locate and organize resources, manage time – not to mention all the research ability, writing skills and subject matter expertise involved.

Newhouse says, “Fundamentally, you want to think in terms of transferable skills – skills that can be generalized and are valuable in many jobs and
settings.” Have any of your experiences prepared you to manage budgets, supervise others, manage public relations, cope with deadline pressure,
negotiate, speak, write, organize, interview or teach?

Katharine Hansen, writing for the online career counseling site Quintessential Careers, points out what should be obvious: always portray your skills as
applicable to the job you seek. A recent article published online by the UC Davis Internship and Career Centeridentifies these as the ten most sought after skills identified by employers:

• communications skills (listening, verbal, written)

• analytical/research skills

• computer/technical literacy

• flexibility/adaptability/managing multiple priorities

• interpersonal abilities

• leadership/management skills

• multicultural sensitivity/awareness

• planning/organizing

• problem-solving/reasoning/creativity

• teamwork

To know what skills to emphasize, you will have to research the company at which you seek employment and the particular job you're applying for. The more you understand the culture and vocabulary of the field you want to enter, the more effectively you can translate your experience into its terms.

A word of caution, though: don’t downplay your degree. Instead highlight the skills acquired through your work on the Ph.D. that indicate maturity. You
can scarcely go wrong by emphasizing the skills that virtually all employers are looking for, such as teamwork, communications, interpersonal and
leadership skills.


Ken Barnes (Jan.5, 2009) Skills Most Sought After by Employers. UC-Davis Internship and Career Center

Katherine Hansen (n.d.) Strategic Portrayal of Transferable Job Skills Is a Vital Job-Search Technique. Quintessential

Margaret Newhouse (Dec. 4, 1998) Transferring Your Skills to a Non-academic Setting. The Chronicle of Higher Education.