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

Entrepreneurship:
Thought leadership
Innovation
Bidding for funding
Networking
International experience

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

Knowledge and information skills:
Research
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.

Danger: PhDs at work (outside academia) #phdlikeaboss

Having read a lot of career-related blogs and comments written by PhDs/ABDs/adjuncts/academics in the past few months, I’ve been struck by the lack of confidence some folks have in their own skills and abilities. Typical comments I’ve seen include ‘Academic training hasn’t given me any skills I can use in the outside world’ or ‘I can’t turn my academic CV into a resumé’, or other variations on these themes. This kind of thinking is a real psychological barrier to getting a job outside of academia and I really want to do something to help. I already wrote a post on the 20+ transferable skills a PhD gives you. I appreciate though that it can sometimes be difficult to identify your own skills, and see how they can be put to work in non-academic job situations.

So to help to bring these skills to life for you, I’m going to tweet a post at the end of each day, when I feel I’ve used a skill in my day job which I learned when doing my PhD (these days I’m a project manager for a values-based bank). The tweet will contain a short description of the situation, identify the skill I used, and finish with the hashtag #phdlikeaboss, to make it easy to search for and archive. All in 140 characters! You can follow me @chrishumphrey.

Update – see below for my tweets from February and March 2013:

Further reading – discovering your potential

Discover the 20+ transferable skills that make PhDs totally employable, by Chris
What do you want to be when you grow up?!, by Chris

The Four Steps to Finding Your Passion, by Stephanie Huang