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Top 20 Transferable Skills Every PhD Can Use To Get Hired

Transferable skills are your biggest asset in industry, no matter what position you are applying for.

If you’re still obsessing about finding an industry position that is looking for the technical skills you developed in academia, you are wasting your time and narrowing your opportunities.

You can apply and transition into a wide variety of roles by focusing on your desired lifestyle and leveraging your Transferable skills.

I have seen PhDs transition into all kinds of industry jobs, and they always highlight how they were hired because of their transferable skills, not their technical skills. 

Take for example the following story shared by one of our members after transitioning into a business management role:

I finally transitioned into my first industry position after a 5-year career gap spent taking care of my two children.

I had hit rock bottom and thought I would never find a fulfilling career. But it all changed when I joined Cheeky Scientist and learned how to position myself.

I networked and applied for different positions, in the end, I got to the last stages for two of them.

Before every interview round, I asked cheekies to help me prepare and went through the CSA modules.

I asked a lot of questions during the interviews and made it conversational. 

I leveraged my tutoring skills as business skills, client-facing skills, and communication skills. 

I explained how my PhD/postdoc experience positioned me as an expert in the field and a project manager. 

I explained how my volunteering experiences made a good leader and manager. 

After two weeks, I was offered both positions and decided on the business development role because it better aligned with my career goals.

If you want to have better results when interacting with industry employers, consider highlighting your Transferable skills just like this PhD did.

Transferable Skills Are Your Biggest Asset

Surveys have shown time and time again that employers put more value on transferable skills than on technical skills when hiring talent and that a lack of transferable skills is the number one reason people get fired after being hired.

Think about it, when you are invited to interview for a position, nobody asks you to perform an experiment. Instead, they ask you a lot of questions to assess your personality and how you behave under difficult situations.

They are looking to gauge your Transferable skills.

Also referred to as core competencies, soft skills, and interpersonal skills, transferable skills are non-technical abilities that are not specific to one position, but transfer across working fields.

You have developed many transferable skills during your time in academia, and these are your biggest assets when it comes to transitioning into an industry position.

20 Transferable Skills You Already Have

One of the biggest challenges that PhDs face when they start planning their transition is that they don’t know how to position themselves in an industry setting.

This is often because they start applying for jobs with an academic mindset and focus all their conversation on technical skills instead of transferable skills.

Transferable skills sound too simple. So, PhDs don’t think they are worth mentioning. Many don’t even know what Transferable skills they have. This keeps them stuck in academia.

To help you change your mindset, I have put together a list of 20 transferable skills most PhDs have, so you can start highlighting them in your resume, LinkedIn profile, job interviews, and networking efforts.

1. Information management

Your ability to manage information, including different types of data, is one of your most valuable skills. 

You probably don’t think about information as something that needs to be managed, but tasks like gathering data, going through large amounts of data, and analyzing data fall into the umbrella of information management.

And this is something that you have ample experience with as a PhD.

2. Time management

Many PhDs fail to mention their ability to manage time and/or prioritize tasks because they think it’s too simple.

Just because a skill doesn’t sound impressive to you, it doesn’t mean that it’s not important.

If you look at it from the perspective of a recruiter or hiring manager who doesn’t have a technical background, the ability to keep track of several tasks and staying within deadlines is very valuable.

3. Project management

You don’t have to be a project manager or have an official project management certification to claim that you’re skilled in project management. 

You’ve balanced many different projects – in industry terms, a PhD is a compilation of smaller projects. 

And you probably didn’t just work on one project during your time in grad school, you also collaborated with colleagues in your lab or across labs.

Make sure you’re including this skill in your applications. It’s one of the most important transferable skills employers are looking for.

4. Collaboration

Industry is a collaborative environment, they are looking for people who can work well with others as well as independently.

You can go above and beyond and use the term cross functional collaborations, which means you can get things done with people you have no authority over.

However, don’t use the term “teamwork.” It can actually hurt your chances of getting hired by giving the impression that you rely on others to get things done.

5. Commercial or business acumen

The word “acumen” refers to your ability to make decisions based on information. In this case, your ability to make decisions based on business information. 

During your time in grad school, you probably had to decide to use one reagent over another, one type of training material over another, etc…

The ability to make those decisions are proof of your commercial or business acumen.

6. Negotiation

Also referred to as deal-making skills, these are very important in a variety of industry positions.

If you had to negotiate the price of an equipment or reagent, or the terms of your academic contract or salary, you have negotiation skills. 

Make sure to mention them throughout the job search process.

7. Legal and regulatory literacy

Maybe you have a patent or have gone through some of the steps to ask for one. 

Maybe you have worked with the technology transfer office of your university.

Or maybe you created guidelines for your lab or classroom.

All these are examples of regulatory literacy and are something you can mention when applying for industry jobs.

8. Leadership skills

Again, just because it sounds simple, it doesn’t mean it’s not worth mentioning. 

Are you a good leader? Have you volunteered to take over some extra tasks or responsibilities during your PhD? Have you shown initiative? Have you led any programs or groups on campus or in a previous role? 

If so, you want to put leadership skills on your resume and communicate it throughout your job search.

9. Communication skills

A lot of industry employers are going to think that because of your technical background, you don’t have communication skills or you don’t have the right communication skills. 

So, don’t forget to mention them. Talk about how you’ve used these communication skills to hit goals.

And remember, there are several types of communication. Having the ability to present orally is not the same as having the ability to write a well crafted report, and you should make that distinction.

10. Relationship building

Relationship building is related to collaboration, but it goes beyond as it focuses on creating professional relationships.

If you helped establish collaborations with other labs, or mentored students during your time in academia, these are examples of relationship building. 

Talking about this is very important because it shows that you can fit into a structure or a hierarchy and most companies are run by some kind of hierarchy.

11. Organizational skills

How organized are you? What have you organized? What systems or methodologies have you helped organize? 

The ability to keep things organized is highly valuable in industry. So, make sure you’re communicating this skill and giving examples of how you developed it.

12. Client-facing skills

One of the biggest concerns employers have when hiring PhDs is that they can only focus on technical aspects of the jobs and will be awkward when interacting with customers.

You can ease these fears by giving examples of your ability to stand up and talk to people who come from different backgrounds, or get along with someone who is not part of your lab or your organization.

This will show that you can interact with clients and increase your perceived value as an industry candidate.

13. Strategic planning

Are you able to plan ahead? Can you talk about a time where you were successful handling a large project that required you to hit budgets and deadlines? 

Then, you should mention it in your job applications.

This will show employers that you are strategic and can create plans that lead to big things.

14. Professional awareness

Many people get confused about the meaning of this skill, but it just means that you understand how you come across and can change your behavior based on cues from your audience.  

Employers will assess your professional awareness every step of the job search. So, make sure you talk about it and put it at the forefront.

15. Flexibility

No matter what business you get into, there will be a market that will dictate business decisions. Sometimes, the business will have to adapt on a short notice. 

So, the employer needs to know that you’re flexible, that you’re adaptable, that you won’t crumble under pressure if your plans change. 

Instead, you’re going to respond appropriately, stay flexible and get things done.

16. Creative problem solving

Your ability to innovate and be creative is very important.

As a PhD, as somebody with high level technical expertise, somebody with a lot of education, who’s had to push a field forward or master a field to get their degree. You’ve had to be creative. 

Talk about your innovation skills. Most people don’t have these skills and you’re overlooking them because you’re surrounded by other people who have them.

17. Conflict resolution

Every industry position is bound to have to deal with conflict. Stressful situations come up even in the best company cultures. 

So, your conflict resolution skills will come up at some point during the interview process.

Make sure you’re getting out in front of it and mentioning that you have these conflict resolution skills from the very beginning of your job search process.

18. Current industry trends

Your ability to keep up to date with a field is highly valuable in industry. 

Employers are always looking for people who can look ahead, who can make sure they’re responding to the market appropriately and finding new ways to generate revenue, finding new ways to do things better than their competitors.

You have done this for years as part of your PhD, so make sure to highlight it.

19. Entrepreneurial mindset

While employers don’t want you to be an entrepreneur and leave, they want you to bring an entrepreneurial mindset to their organization. 

Employees with an entrepreneurial mindset can spearhead new projects, new initiatives, new products, and new systems that will help the business stay fresh and grow. 

So, make sure you’re bringing that kind of innovation and are talking about it from the moment you start planning your transition.

20. Emotional intelligence

Because of your PhD, employers already know that you are intelligent and have high level technical expertise, but are you emotionally intelligent? Can you deal with people? Can you respond to people when they get emotional? 

Just talking about this will show them that you understand emotional intelligence enough to bring it up appropriately.

Concluding Remarks

One of the biggest challenges that PhDs face when they start planning an industry transition is that they don’t know how to position themselves in an industry setting. They think that what makes them valuable are their technical skills and believe that transferable skills are way too simple and not worth mentioning. This keeps them stuck in academia. The transferable skills you developed during your PhD and postdoc are your biggest asset in the eyes of industry employers. So, take a look at this list of 20 transferable skills you probably already have and make sure to mention them at all steps of your job search process to show employers that you understand what you bring to the table.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

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Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by millions of PhDs and other professionals in hundreds of different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, Dow Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hankel has published 3X bestselling books and his latest book, The Power of a PhD, debuted on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list. His methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

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