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10 Transferable Skills Job Recruiters Are Looking For

Written By: Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.

When I was nearing the end of my PhD, I knew that I wanted an industry job.

And, I thought it would be easy to get one.

I was a PhD.

Any company would be lucky to have me.

So, I sat down, uploaded my resume to a few job portals, and waited for the job offers to come rolling in.

To my surprise, I heard nothing.

So, I uploaded more resumes to more job postings. I uploaded hundreds of resumes.

Still, nothing.

Silence.

Not even a rejection.

It was awful.

Clearly, I was doing something wrong.

I sought help and learned that it takes more than just a PhD to get an industry job.

Companies want someone with both technical expertise and the right transferable skills.

Did I have the transferable skills that industry employers wanted?

I thought about it and realized that, in addition to my technical expertise, during my PhD I had developed many of the “soft skills” I saw written in job advertisements.

Dealing with my manipulative advisor taught me how to resolve conflicts calmly.

Our limited lab funding taught me how to make and keep a budget.

Training new students taught me communication and leadership skills… the list went on.

As a part of my integrated job search strategy, I knew that highlighting both my technical and transferable skills would land me the industry job I wanted.

How To Communicate Your Transferable Skills During Your Job Search

Your transferable skills are the most important thing to communicate to your potential employer.

As a PhD, industry employers know you have the technical skills they are looking for, but they don’t know if you have the transferable skills, the “soft skills”, they need in an employee.

They want to know that you are not just an awkward PhD.

A survey of more than 250 employers, conducted by Wonderlic, found that 93% of employers rank “soft skills” as essential or very important when making hiring decisions.

If you don’t communicate that you have the necessary transferable skills, you will not get hired.

And, communicating your transferable skills goes beyond just saying that you are a good leader or that you have great problem-solving skills.

You need to show the recruiter or hiring manager that you have the desired transferable skills.

You can show your transferable skills by highlighting specific examples of when you used those skills.

Include these examples in your resume and LinkedIn profile, as well as talking about them during interviews.

Continuing to develop your transferable skills and showcasing them will not only get you hired, it will help you get promoted once you are in industry.

A survey by ICIMS found that 94% of recruiter professionals think that employees with stronger soft skills have better chances of getting promoted.

Bottom line, your soft skills are essential to getting hired and succeeding in industry.

Ensure that these skills are clearly communicated at every level of your job search, from your LinkedIn profile, to your resume, to your interview.

10 Transferable Skills To Highlight On Your LinkedIn Profile

Industry employers are looking for candidates with the right transferable skills.

Industry wants leaders, team players, and problem-solvers.

As a PhD, your technical skills are a given, but you have to prove that you have the transferable skills required to succeed in industry.

By including concrete examples that demonstrate your top transferable skills on your LinkedIn profile, you will get noticed by recruiters.

Remember, you are a PhD, so you already have the skills needed to get hired in industry.

Here are 10 transferable skills to include on your LinkedIn profile…

1. Communication skills.

You may have heard this one before, but it is so important.

Every aspect of your industry job will involve communication.

You will have to communicate effectively within your team, with executives, with customers, with other scientists, with non-scientists, and with anyone else who becomes involved with the projects you are associated with.

You will have lots of meetings and need to know how to verbally communicate your ideas clearly.

Being able to communicate to a wide variety of people effectively is essential.

But, it’s not limited to verbal communication.

Written and online communication are also important.

Use your LinkedIn profile and any professional website you have to demonstrate that you can communicate clearly.

If asked to give a presentation during your interview, practice and ensure that you are clearly showing them that you have excellent communication skills.

As a PhD, you have had to communicate with a wide variety of people in various formats: from lab meetings, to academic papers, to conference presentations.

You have excellent communication skills, but you have to show, not just tell, your potential employer that you have these communication skills.

2. Organizational skills.

As a PhD, the only way you are going to be successful is to be organized.

You know how to maintain the organization of your data and experiments.

How many times have you had back-to-back-to-back experiments that you had planned down to the minute?

Accomplishing this level of organization is not something every job candidate can do.

This is a skill that you have highly developed as a PhD.

Being organized in industry means being effective and saving both time and money.

Industry employers want organized employees.

Demonstrate your organizational skills with specific examples from your work experience, as well as with your resume and LinkedIn profile.

Does the organization of your resume and LinkedIn profile make sense?

You cannot claim to be organized while having a messy resume or LinkedIn profile.

Actions speak louder than words.

Show your potential employer that you are organized.

3. Giving constructive feedback.

The importance of feedback is a major difference between academia and industry.

In academia, you rarely got feedback from your advisor.

But, in industry, you will constantly be giving and receiving feedback about the work that you are doing.

This is the only way to stay on target.

Showing your potential industry employer that you know how to give constructive feedback speaks volumes for your understanding of what is important in industry.

It will set you apart from the other candidates.

And, you already have experience giving feedback.

You have to give feedback in your interactions with the students you are training in your lab or any students you interact with as a teaching assistant.

You also regularly give feedback to your advisor.

You have to report on the data that you have gotten, express your opinion on the quality of that data, and make decisions on how to move forward.

Being able to give constructive feedback is an important transferable skill for industry, but many job candidates fail to highlight this skill.

Set yourself above the rest by demonstrating your ability to give feedback.

4. Simplifying complex information clearly.

There is no other group of people more qualified to understand and simplify complex information clearly than PhDs.

You are constantly doing this.

Whenever you read a paper and then convey the concept of that paper to another lab member, you are simplifying complex information.

Synthesizing all the data that you have created into a clear and concise conclusion is another example of you simplifying complex information.

Teaching a new PhD student, speaking with an academic outside your field about your project, telling your family about what you do…

These are all examples of simplifying a very complex idea into a format that your intended audience will understand.

You know how to get to the heart of an idea.

You know how to break through all the complexities and find the simple explanation.

This is essential in industry.

You will work with many people who are not scientists and they will not understand technical jargon.

It’s up to you to communicate scientific ideas with non-scientists clearly, so that the value of your project can be correctly understood.

Show your future employer you can do this by ditching the jargon during interviews.

Speak about your science clearly, but without being so technical that only someone in your specific field would understand you.

Demonstrate that you can make a complex idea easily understood by any audience.

5. Conflict resolution.

In industry, you will not work alone.

You will work in various teams with a variety of people.

There is bound to be conflict and disagreement.

Industry employers are interested in hiring people who know how to resolve a conflict smoothly.

As a PhD, you have had ample opportunity to develop conflict resolution.

You probably worked in a cramped lab with the same 8 people for more than 10 hours a day for years — all without going mad.

The only way that is possible is with some excellent conflict resolution skills.

Demonstrate this skill to your potential employer by using the STAR method in interviews, and by providing specific examples linked to results in your resume.

Also, be ready for an argumentative interviewer.

Some employers will do this on purpose to see how you respond.

Stay calm and collected.

Have you ever had a meeting with your advisor when they are being argumentative?

Of course you have, you have probably had many meetings like this.

You are an expert at conflict resolution — just remember to highlight this skill during your application process.

6. Creativity and innovation.

Industry needs employees who can do more than regurgitate information.

They need you to interpret information, and then move the field forward.

Industry needs employees who are creative and innovative.

As a PhD, you are comfortable at the edge of what is known, and you thrive on asking innovative questions.

You are literally creating new information.

You can demonstrate this innovation to a potential employer by highlighting the new things that you have created.

Have you created a new methodology, a new technique, a new technology?

What problems were you able to solve along the way?

You had to take risks and think creatively to earn your PhD.

Bring this skill to your potential employer’s attention and be proud of it.

There is no one else as comfortable with innovation as a PhD.

7. Decisiveness.

The people who get promoted in industry the fastest are those who know how to make a decision.

Unlike academia, the world of industry moves fast. There is no time to second-guess yourself.

You must know how to think on your feet and make decisions quickly.

Even though the pace of academia is slow, you have experience being decisive.

When an experiment isn’t going as planned, you have had to troubleshoot on the fly, integrating all the information available, and making the best decision possible.

The key part here is, “best decision possible”.

It is useless to make decisions quickly if they are always wrong.

But, as a PhD, you have tons of experience taking in lots of information, making connections between lots of data, and then choosing the best course of action.

All within a short period of time.

As a PhD, you can make decisions both quickly and thoughtfully.

8. Strategic planning.

In order to succeed, a company must be able to strategically plan for the future.

Industry moves quickly and having a clear picture of where the company is going is crucial.

Every decision is made strategically and in alignment with the overall mission of the company.

Employers are looking for job candidates who understand this and know how to think strategically.

As a PhD, you have strategically planned an entire multi-year project that probably involved multiple people.

You would have maintained a budget for that project and made choices on purchases that best fit within the overall goal of the project.

Highlight these experiences during your job application process.

But, to really demonstrate that you can plan strategically and understand the value of this skill in industry, ask the company you are interviewing for about their future plans.

Ask where they see the company going in 5 years.

Ask them about a specific competitor or merger, and how that plays into the overall strategy of the company.

These are the types of questions that demonstrate that you are the best candidate for the job.

9. Product knowledge.

If you are a science PhD looking to transition into the biotech or biopharma industries, then your product knowledge is a transferable skill that you must leverage.

All of the reagents, instruments, consumables, etc. that you use in the lab are made by a company.

You have been using these products for years.

You probably know which company’s product is better and why.

You know how to troubleshoot various instruments better than anyone else.

This is invaluable knowledge.

But, you can take this a step further by researching the company that you are interested in.

Have they had any recent mergers or acquisitions?

Who is their biggest competitor?

Then, use the information you learn to ask insightful questions during your interviews.

This will demonstrate that you have great product knowledge and that you know how to use that knowledge to make business decisions.

10. Leadership skills.

Employers are looking for candidates who know how to step up.

Candidates who they can count on to lead and drive a project forward.

As a PhD, you have led your own project and you know how to take the reins of a project and get it done.

Without this skill, you would never have been able to graduate with a PhD.

But, you need to show your potential employer how this skill translates into industry.

Provide them with concrete examples of when you were a leader and what results you achieved.

To get an employer’s attention,you always need to link your skills to an industry-relevant result.

As a PhD, you have many advantages over other job candidates. You have both the technical prowess and the high-level transferable skills industry employers want. But, it’s up to you to clearly communicate these transferable skills, and one way to do this is by highlighting your transferable skills on your LinkedIn profile. You should include transferable skills such as communication skills, organizational skills, giving constructive feedback, simplifying complex information clearly, conflict resolution, creativity and innovation, decisiveness, strategic planning, product knowledge, and leadership skills. Make it clear that you have the transferable skills needed to succeed in industry, and your transition from academia to industry will be a success.

To learn more about 10 Transferable Skills Job Recruiters Are Looking For, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.

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Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.

Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.

Isaiah is a Ph.D. in Anatomy & Cell Biology and internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant. He is an expert in the biotechnology industry and specializes in helping people transition into cutting-edge career tracks.

Isaiah believes that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life right now, you should make a change. Don’t sit still and wait for the world to tell you what to do. Start a new project. Build your own business. Take action. Experimentation is the best teacher.
Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.
  • Kathy Azalea

    Thanks a lot, Isaiah. Those examples make it perfectly clear. I’ve been aware for a while about the importance of showing transferable skills, but these examples really help. It’s not enough to say that you have them; you have to show them, too.

  • Marvin D’Esprit

    It’s definitely tricky, but can be done. I think the effort that you have to put out there is worth it in the end, because you not only get that first job, but you become part of the club and you’re now armed with information about what worked. We spent a lot of time critiquing other people and getting critiques ourselves, but rarely think, what works?

  • Madeline Rosemary

    I can identify with the feelings you had right out of graduate school. I’m not sure that academically, there’s anything worse! Because you’re so used to waiting tables or something that you don’t even feel you deserve a big salary. At least, that’s how I felt at first, and I had a hard time promoting myself in interviews. So there you have it — you’ve got to take a stance that you’ve learned a lot more than your technical skills, and not wait in the sidelines. I wish I knew that years ago, but fortunately Life taught it to me eventually. 🙂

  • Shawn Lyons, PhD

    The easiest for me is simplifying complex information, but I can see the value in being more proactive in the softer skills.

  • Julian Holst

    Definitely. You’ve got to be aware of the other skills you have and flaunt them!

  • Carlie Stevenson, PhD

    Boy, these transferable skills are important, because you’ve got to get along with people, no matter where you work. If everything were just as easy as reading a formula or procedure out of a book, you wouldn’t need these transferable skills, but let’s face it — things go wrong, people have personalities, there are delays, setbacks, misunderstandings, and all kinds of issues. Work on those skills, and not only will you perform better, but life will be more pleasant, also.

  • Harvey Delano

    You’ve definitely got to have both skills, the hard ones and the soft ones. They’re paying you too much money to goof around with you. They’ve got to be sure you can cut it on every level.

  • Winona Petit

    Very good advice! Just make sure you don’t forget it after you’ve been in the industry for a while, though.

  • Sonja Luther

    I like the idea of gathering as much intel about the company as possible. This would surely give you an in and make you look more intelligent when they ask you if you have any questions!

  • Sissy MacDougall

    As a postgraduate student, it took me some time to find the right place or niche, and that’s probably mainly due to my not knowing precisely what I wanted. I had a general, vague idea, but if they were looking for someone decisive, that wouldn’t be me. So taking the time to think this through and come up with a general plan with as many specifics as you can muster should really help a lot. Hopefully your readers won’t have to spend too much life energy wandering around with not very decisive ideas on where they want to end up. 🙂