As a grad student or post doc, you are building disciplinary expertise and a repertoire of research skills. Job-specific skills are colloquially referred to as “hard skills.”
Less visible, but equally important, are the “soft skills” you have acquired: problem solving, teamwork, project management, and communication.
In contrast to hard skills, soft skills are not specific to any one job, discipline or employment sector, but are transferable across careers and employment sectors. Hence, we prefer to use the term transferable skills in lieu of the term soft skills.
Why bring attention to transferable skills?
In recent years, employers have consistently reported that new hires possess disciplinary knowledge and skills but lack the ability to lead teams, communicate effectively, solve problems, and make data-driven decisions (i.e., transferable skills.)
Knowing this, we strongly recommend that grad students & postdocs set goals for acquiring new transferable skills that are in high demand by employers. In doing so, we believe that you will be
- highly competitive on the job market when compared to other equally-qualified candidates;
- able to consider multiple career paths across employment sectors; and
- more able than others to pursue a new career if you lose a job due to downsizing.
Learn more about transferable skills by completing at least two skill inventories.
Graduate students and postdocs: Did you know that your transferable skills are in high demand by employers? It’s true.
It is easy to figure out what skills you have to offer future employers by completing at least one transferable skills checklist. These checklist can also help you determine what new skills you need to master before you hit the job market.
A variety of free transferable skills checklists are available from trusted sources. A few recommended sites:
- For science majors, my Individual Development Plan (myIDP) will help you explore career possibilities and set goals to follow the career path that fits you best. The site includes a confidential self-assessment of your skills, values and interests. From the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a trusted source.
- Michigan offers a good page to help you take an inventory of your transferable skills.
- The University of North Carolina calls them “core competencies,” but their list is a good one.
- Another checklist to try is from the University of Missouri Kansas City.
- Cornell University Career Services provides this list for grad students
- For all graduate majors: This Career Development page from UC Berkeley provides a competencies assessment. Bonus: a graphics that explains the career management planning process.
- The University of Minnesota offers a series of probing questions related to transferable skills.