Present Your Key Skills to an Employer

If you’ve browsed job listings outside academia recently, you may have noticed that few require advanced degrees or academic skills (e.g. research or teaching skills) in the job description. This does not necessarily mean you are not qualified. Employers outside academia look for a core set of competencies, abilities, experiences, and values that a candidate can bring to their organization.

So, what should you do?

The short of it is that YOU DO have valuable transferable skills that build upon and extend beyond teaching or research! You help employers see the unique set of transferable skills that might make you the perfect candidate for a position.

The following steps will help you identify, develop, and communicate your transferable skills!

Step 1: Identify your transferable skills and make a list of your experiences, including those outside the classroom.

Review lists of transferable skills. Become familiar with the transferable skills employers are commonly seeking in their ideal candidates.

  • The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) provides a list of Career Readiness Competencies, which is great starting point! This list was developed with input from over 600 different U.S. employers.
  • Under the Build Your Skills focus area, the Graduate School’s Pathways to Success webpages also provide details on the types of transferable skills graduate students should seek to develop.
  • Review job advertisements in a field you are interested in pursuing. This helps you figure out which transferable skills are considered more important than others in specific fields or for specific positions.
  • Make a list of all of your experience. Expand the definition of “experience” by including your volunteer work (e.g., service to your department, student organization engagement, mentoring undergraduates, etc.) and any freelance work you may have done inside or outside of academia.

Step 2: Develop your transferable skills and experiences to match your identified lists.

  • Seek volunteer opportunities. Experiences as a volunteer can fill some of the gaps that may exist between your existing experience and the experience and skills your desired position may require.
  • Attend workshops that supplement your list of transferable skills. Workshops can add valuable skills to your resume. The Pathways to Success website includes a list of transferable skills and workshops that develop these skills, including programs on leadership.

Step 3: Communicate transferable skills and experiences by preparing a resume (which is different from CV!) that highlights your experience and transferable skills, then make updating it a monthly exercise!

  • Focus on bulleting your previous and current experience. This will help you recognize how your graduate training supports the development of a diversity of skills beyond research and teaching. This Inside Higher Ed article provides great strategies on how to accomplish this.
  • Become familiar with the lingo of an industry sector that you are interested in pursuing. Use that lingo to reframe your resume in way that is recognizable to people in that sector.
  • Meet a graduate career advisor at Cornell Career Services. A graduate career advisor can help ensure that your application materials clearly communicate your transferable skills and experiences.
  • Explore LinkedIn profiles of professionals. LinkedIn provides immediate access to how people in fields and positions of interest to you (especially the experience section) present their transferable skills. This information can help generate ideas for your own application materials and LinkedIn profile.
  • Review your resume and other materials: Make sure that your most relevant transferable skills are clearly highlighted in your resume and cover letter in a way that will be easily understood by hiring managers.

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