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Help! I don’t have any skills!

If you’re thinking of working outside of academia or in a non-faculty role, you might find yourself in a bit of paradox when it comes to your skills. On the one hand, there’s the notion that people with PhDs are automatically overqualified for non-academic jobs. On the other, is the idea that you have no transferable “real world” skills outside your field.

Luckily, both of these ideas are false. While you don’t need a PhD for most jobs, and some people might have the perception that you’re overqualified, this concern is actually a smokescreen for other issues. Perhaps employers will assume that you’ll demand a salary they can’t pay or that you think you’re better than others. These aren’t necessarily true. You can probably dispel these fears in a good cover letter and interview.

The second false idea – that you have no transferable skills – is more likely coming from your own flawed perception of your abilities. It’s true that your subject knowledge is specialized and not likely to directly transfer to industry or even alt-ac spaces. However, your skills have little, if anything, to do with your subject-specific knowledge. Your skills are about what you DO everyday, not about what you know.

Figuring out your skill set means drilling down below the big categories of research, teaching, and service. You need to look objectively at what your day-to-day tasks include. These can then be sorted into more generic categories that will make sense to any employer. For example, in any given week you almost certainly use skills in oral communication, written communication, project management, problem solving, leadership, training, teamwork, and more.

I’ve created a free chart/worksheet that organizes skills into these generic categories and highlights what aspects of academic work have helped your develop these skills. You can download the worksheet and use the Notes column to add your own ideas and examples.

I hope this helps you start to understand the wide range of valuable skills and strengths that you hold beyond your specialized field or study.