Discover the 20+ transferable skills that make PhDs totally employable

Discover the 20+ transferable skills that make PhDs totally employable

As a PhD or post-doc you get very used to thinking about yourself as a specialist within a specialism – for instance I studied within the Arts and Humanities Faculty, but focused on the Literature and Drama of Medieval England.

What many doctoral graduates don’t appreciate is that they’ve also acquired valuable transferable skills and knowledge which are highly sought after by today’s employers. In fact by undertaking a broad range of activities during your PhD, you develop over 20 transferable skills, making you a very attractive employee!

Let’s take a look at the four main skill areas that a well-rounded PhD student will have:

Project skills:
Project management
Managing budgets
Team working
Problem solving
Organising meetings and events

Thought leadership
Bidding for funding
International experience

Communication skills:
Public speaking
Stakeholder management
Web, email, content creation and social media

Knowledge and information skills:
Teaching and training
Managing data and information
IT applications and programming languages
Writing reports

Capturing the transferable skills you have is a different way of thinking about your capabilities compared with say how many academic papers you’ve published. Yet as you start to think about yourself in this way, it can be surprisingly liberating and empowering!

In my experience of working with groups of PhD students, there is often a ‘light-bulb moment’ as they appreciate the fantastic portfolio of transferable skills they possess. It helps them to make a connection with the mainstream world of work and understand how they can market themselves to employers – as a capable generalist or as a professional ‘________’ (fill in the blank), rather than as an academic specialist. Of course, if your subject is relevant to the jobs you’re interested in, so much the better, but for many jobs your subject is less important than your transferable skills.

Further reading – transferable skills

Many thanks to Dr Ioanna Iordanou for her helpful feedback on this post! Check out Ioanna’s own blog post on PhD skills for more information and analysis.

This page was updated in January 2017 with improved further reading links.

How to convert a scientific CV into a business CV


Seán is back with another guest post, this time on the tricky subject of turning your scientific CV into a business CV! Seán explains how to make a good first impression with your cover letter, and shares some tips and tricks for making your CV more business-friendly.

A huge problem that many scientists feel when leaving the lab is having insufficient business experience to make the transition out of science. And so with little business experience, what kinds of jobs can they apply for? However, every day many scientists do make a successful transition into the world of business, without a sniff of an MBA on their CV. Most of my friends have now gone on to work in sales, marketing, business development, IT, consulting and project management, just to name a few professions and roles.

Like everything (not even science unfortunately), there is no magic formula to make your CV appear as a business masterpiece. However, tailoring your CV for an HR department and a business manager can definitely make a big difference to whether you get to the interview stages of the job process or not.

Below are some of my tips and advice that may help you when making that transition out of science:

The first impression

From your cover letter the HR department and employer will make a judgement on whether you are a candidate who is truly interested in working for their company, or someone who has just sent another job application hoping that they make it to the interview stages. Therefore, it is critical that you tailor your cover letter to suit your prospective company, including how you align with their interests, how you understand the competition, how you have excelled to get where you are and how you’d be an asset to work for their company. Furthermore:

  • Give a brief description of their competitors and where they stand within the market;
  • Describe how X, Y, Z of your experience directly relates to the role and makes you an ideal candidate;
  • Describe the highlights of your career, what successes you have achieved, and how your determination to succeed would directly align with their business goals.

Your CV will give the HR department and your prospective manager an insight into how you structure your thoughts, your experience and exactly what your role was during your PhD and post-doc. So clearly outlining your exact roles, and how you excelled in these roles, is critical to getting through to the interview stage.

More tips for a business-friendly CV

Project management is a phrase that many PhDs and post-docs use in their CV to describe the skill of managing a research project. However, this can be taken as a given in many cases and thus expanding more on how you managed your project will set you apart from other candidates. Expanding on the objectives, goals and outcomes of your projects, and what experience you gained, provides valuable information for your CV. A little more detail will give your prospective employers a lot more insight into how great you really are!

Managing grad students and undergraduates during your PhD and post-doc alerts the HR department and your manager to your experience in working as a senior in a team, and displays that you are ready to take on responsibility, no matter what the position is. Highlighting how you managed these grad students, took their projects to completion and how you helped troubleshoot their issues along the way shows that you’re a team player and ready to take action.

Use some business terminology. It’s very likely that your new employers will been out of the lab a few years, or may not have any scientific background at all. Therefore, speaking the common language of business will resonate and allow them to see you as a business person (Chris says: my free guide on how to translate your skills into language employers can understand can help you with this).

Demonstrating further training and outreach will show whoever reads your CV that you have an interest in life outside of the lab. Further training and outreach will also show an employer what steps you’re taking to make yourself successful and useful in a career outside of the lab. If you haven’t taken any training courses yet in business, consult with your University’s career advice counsellor and see what courses you can take up for free.

Awards. You may not have won an Oscar or Olympic gold (yet!), but nothing screams success like winning an award, no matter what it was. If your peers had to compete to win this award and you beat them to the post, place it on your CV. Winning awards also shows employers that you can get things done, within a timeframe and be successful at doing it. Furthermore, it shows that you are competitive and likely to succeed within their company.

Putting some of these tips and tricks into your CV will help you to stand out from the crowd. Getting through the interview stage is the next part of the process, but with such a great CV, you’re sure to get the job!

About Seán:
Seán was a PhD student at University College Dublin and a post-doc at Cambridge University, where he studied mechanisms of cell division. Currently Seán run an ELISA assay company where you can find some great information on ELISA assay protocols and ELISA kits.

5 ways an MBA can improve your employability

5 ways an MBA can improve your employability

Have you ever considered taking an MBA degree? Our guest post this month comes from Adam Maidment, who introduces the benefits of gaining an MBA qualification. Follow the link at the bottom of the page to find out what type of MBA is right for you.

In order to remain attractive in today’s competitive business industry, it’s important to find an edge over your fellow candidates. One of the best ways to make yourself stand out is to have a postgraduate qualification to your name – such as an MBA.

A Masters of Business Administration (MBA) is a degree designed to equip students with in-depth knowledge of business and management, and is typically studied by those looking to develop an already-existent career.

Having a MBA to your name may be just what you need to get the career you want, but it’s not an easy task and will require a lot of hard work and determination. If you’re considering studying for an MBA, here’s food for thought – a list of five ways in which an MBA course will help to improve your employability.

1. Transferable skills

Whichever path you choose to follow, the skills you inherit during your MBA studies will be relevant throughout the rest of your career.

MBA courses develop student’s ability to recognise excellence, appreciate customer value and human performance, and enhance their understanding of business strategy and implementation.

If you haven’t yet decided where to take your career, you can focus on the generalised phase first and then select your own modules during the second phase – giving you time to recognise what particular skills you want to learn and develop. Modules include business psychology, emerging technologies, supply chain planning or leading change and sustainability – whatever path you choose to follow, you will be able to tailor the course to bolster your arsenal with the exact skills you’ll need.

2. Better chances of career success

An MBA will show that you take your career seriously. Showcasing your determination and passion to progress your career, employers will see you as a serious candidate when it comes to job offers and promotions.

A recent study by the Association of MBAs (AMBA) found that only 12.8 per cent of students started their MBA course in a senior management position. In the months following graduation, a third of all students were working in senior management roles.

In some cases, an employer may choose to help fund an employee’s MBA studies with the hope of promoting them after graduation. With the additional knowledge and business understanding that comes with an MBA graduate, both employee and employer can reap the benefits.

As your understanding and expertise develop, you will also open yourself up to the likelihood of a better salary. According to Fortune, the expected median starting salary for recent MBA graduates in America in 2015 was around $100,000 (around £80,000).

3. A stronger understanding of business

An MBA will help to increase your existing bank of knowledge. Students will learn how to apply creative thinking to their work, and learn new processes that will help them down the line.

Throughout the duration of the course, students will be extensively taught about how business works on a global landscape. By undertaking subjects such as accounting, leadership and management, students will be held in good stead when progressing throughout their chosen career.

Those that already have a specific career path in mind may find that a specialised course is more suited to their needs and what they want to get out of their studies. On a specialist course, as well covering the essential parts of the general MBA, students will also be provided with a stronger focus on the sector they have chosen for a career. For example, a Financial Services MBA will include modules which focus on risk, regulation and failure avoidance as well as financial analysis management – essential subjects for a career in finance.

4. Connecting with the right people

With an MBA, you will be able to open doors to opportunities you may have previously been unable to. Throughout your course, you’ll be taught by professionals with heaps of experience and a number of different guest speakers who’ll offer the expertise and insight they’ve learnt during their careers.

You will also be studying alongside like-minded individuals in the same position as you. As an MBA is designed for people who already have some experience in business, it’s very possible that your fellow students will have connections that can prove valuable throughout your own career.

Most MBA programs will also involve an international study tour which will allow you to understand how business operates in another country. This experience will also enable you to build relationships with others from around the world.

5. A recognised qualification to your name

An MBA is a qualification that is recognised throughout the world. There are currently 237 AMBA-accredited MBA courses and similar programs in over 49 countries.

The majority of MBA courses (50 per cent) are based in Europe, whilst 33 per cent are in Latin America and Asia. Wherever it is that you decide to work, you can take comfort from knowing that your credentials are valued and recognised.

An MBA can improve your employability

If you’re looking to develop a career where you need an insightful understanding of how business works, an MBA may be for you. By crafting your course to your specific requirements, and by building solid business relationships, you’ll realise how effectively an MBA can improve your employability.

The Graduate Management Council (GMAC) found that 92 per cent of 2012 business school graduates worldwide had found employment within the three months of graduation. This not only shows the value that comes with an MBA, but also how it can have a positive effect on your career.

Adam Maidment is a writer for Manchester Metropolitan University, an institution that offers an MBA course with three specialisms; Financial Services, Digital Management, and Strategic Health and Social Care. If you want to learn further about how to choose the MBA course for you, take a look at their short quiz.