Transferable Skills Checklist For PhDs and Academics

PhD transferable skills

I never used a transferable skills checklist when I was a PhD student, so I thought I didn’t have any. Like many academics, I specialized in a very specific discipline and thought I had little potential for career development in a new industry or as a freelancer.

Luckily, I was wrong.

PhDs have plenty of transferable skills, just like other academics. It took me a long time to figure this out, but once I did, I was able to apply my most important transferable skills to succeed in a new career (I’m now a freelance business writer and consultant). This experience inspired me to create these resources for others like me that need ideas for making the academia vs business switch.

Need help identifying your most valuable skills?  Download your FREE Transferable Skills Worksheet. Perfect for PhDs, MAs, graduate students, other academics, and anyone looking for a career change.

What Are Transferable Skills and Why Are They Important?

Transferable skills meaning can often be unclear. They are skills and abilities you already have that are relevant to different areas of your life, including socially and professionally. These skills are most often discussed when making a career change. They’re an important topic for academics considering leaving university life. PhDs and other people with higher education have lots of transferable skills that are relevant to both academia and other industry careers (as well as freelancing, consulting, and entrepreneurship).

The transferable skills definition should also differentiate between transferable skills vs soft skills. Hard skills are specific tasks that you know how to do that are needed for different types of jobs.

Soft skills, on the other hand, are aspects of your personality. They can be learned or innate. They also help inform your preparedness to do different types of jobs outside of academia.

Identifying your most valuable transferable skills is important so you don’t undervalue your experience when changing careers. It’s easy to take your experience and knowledge for granted, when in reality they’re valuable assets that can improve your chances with different job postings.

Having a clear understanding of your most valuable skills is particularly important for PhDs today, as opportunities for career development and success in academia continue to dwindle in the modern economy.

Examples of Transferable Skills For Academics

Which skills are most valuable for career change is different from person to person. But here are some transferable skills examples to give you an idea of the kind of things that are important to potential employers outside of academia.

Hard Skills Many PhDs Have

  • Professional writing skills
  • Research
  • Customer service skills
  • Technical skills (Like IT, data analysis, programming)
  • Project management skills
  • Teaching skills
  • Publishing
  • Conference presentation
  • Finance and resource management
  • Curriculum design
  • Journalism

Soft Skills Many Academics Have

  • Strong Communication skills
  • Management skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Problem-solving
  • People skills
  • Effective time management skills
  • Public speaking and oral communication skills
  • Collaboration and working as a team
  • Organizational skills

These examples of transferable skills are important to many different industries as well as the consulting and freelance fields you can get into. While managers and prospective employers might not ask for these skills directly, things like team collaboration, time management, active listening skills, and other previous experience are important in a job candidate.

Transferable Skills Checklist

transferable skills checklist

When most people face problems in the workplace, they don’t realize the solutions they come up with are invaluable skills that potential employers want in an employee. This transferable skills checklist breaks down some of the experience you might have as a PhD so you don’t overlook anything valuable. Use this list for inspiration to go along with your PhD transferable skills worksheet.

Communication Skills

  • Effective public speaking
  • Writing skills
  • Listening skills
  • Editing experience
  • Experience with different styles of writing
  • Effectively communicate with people from different backgrounds
  • Communication in large groups
  • Explain complex topics to general audiences
  • Facilitate group discussion
  • Offering constructive feedback
  • Negotiation
  • Nonverbal communication
  • Summarizing and reports
  • Interview skills
  • Research skills
  • Goal setting
  • Hypothesis testing
  • Information analysis
  • Evaluation strategies
  • Forecasting
  • Data management
  • Identifying data issues
  • Analysis
  • Specific software experience
  • Critique

Productivity Skills

  • Organization
  • Decision-making
  • Creating action plans
  • Following through on decisions
  • Cooperation
  • Punctuality
  • Attention to detail
  • Meeting goals
  • Enlisting help when needed
  • Responsibility

Interpersonal Skills

  • Relationship building
  • Sensitivity to outside perspectives
  • Listening skills
  • Effectively communicating feelings
  • Counselling experience
  • Peer support
  • Peer motivation
  • Collaboration
  • Representing others
  • Respectful delegation

Leadership Skills

  • Managing groups
  • Ideation
  • Enforcing policies
  • Attention to detail
  • Coordinating employees
  • Teaching and counselling
  • Delegation
  • Driving business goals
  • Collaborative decision-making
  • Conflict management

PhD Transferable Skills Worksheet

Need help identifying your most valuable skills?  Download your FREE Transferable Skills Worksheet. Perfect for PhDs, MAs, graduate students, other academics, and anyone looking for a career change.

Rather than copying your transferable skills from a checklist, the best thing to do is look back on your own experience and identify your most valuable skills yourself. Creating your own transferable skills list can be difficult to do when you’ve spent your career in academia. You’re surrounded by people who have many of the same skills and qualifications as you, causing you to overlook the real value of your assets for industry and entrepreneurship.

That’s why I created a transferable skills worksheet for PhDs, MAs, postdocs, PhD students, and all other academics. The goal of the worksheet is to think about your work experience and skills in a different way, and to make sure you don’t overlook anything. Filling out this worksheet can help you uncover industry career opportunities as well as explore academic writing jobs from home.

The worksheet asks you to list all of the tasks you performed as part of your job roles or time in graduate school. Then you break each of those tasks down into the associated skills you needed to do them successfully.

Just listing your type of role alone doesn’t give a complete view of your previous work experience. Your current role in academia plus any previous role can illustrate your academic experience and relevant skills.

If you follow the instructions on the transferable skills worksheet, I think you’ll discover you have an overwhelming number of relevant skills to choose from based on direct work experience. Then, based on your future career goals, you can select the most relevant ones to incorporate into your new resume. Or if you want to get into freelancing or consulting like I do, you can start researching the market value of these different skills to discover which have the most profit potential for your future business.

Want to earn online income using your MA or PhD? Discover the best freelance niches for academics. Download your FREE guide now.

Incorporating Transferable Skills Into Your CV or Resume

transferable skills resume

If you want to include transferable skills for your CV, you need to revamp it for an industry role. Your list of conferences, publications and academic rewards are important for a university career, but less so for a new job outside of academia. You’ll want to add transferable skills to a new resume designed for your industry ability.

Based on your career goals, it’s also worthwhile to break down your skills for different opportunity types, like consulting, teaching, research, etc. Translating your academic skills into specific business niches helps make them more valuable for employers.

During the job search, you can also mention your most valuable skills on your cover letter. Create cover letter examples that highlight your most relevant skills for different job descriptions. Include both soft and hard skills on your resume as well when applying for job postings. Having a tailored application answers questions and will help you meet your goal of finding employers with a role perfect for your current qualities. All this can help when searching for jobs for PhD graduates.

Building a Freelance Business Using Your Existing Skills

If you want to get the most value out of transferable skills from your PhD, I recommend harnessing them to build a targeted freelance business. Academics and even graduate students can easily become well-paid consultants or offer freelance services using only their existing skills.

If you want to get tips for leaving academia, more information about transferable skills and how to identify the most profitable skills you have for building a freelance business, sign up for this FREE course:

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