It’s something of a buzzword; the new “synergy”: Transferrable Skills. We’re meant to identify them, and cultivate them, and position them just so on a CV or present them definitively in an interview—but what are they, really? What does the term mean, what does it entail and encompass: what are these ever-so-valuable Transferrable Skills, save for just one more thing we’re meant to accumulate before earning our qualifications and moving on to the job market, on top of so many other things?
The answer is that transferable skills can be found just about anywhere, if you keep a wary eye for them, and they don’t really require more effort, most of the time; just a new perspective. With that small shift at the core, we can break down the bulk of Transferrable Skills into quick and easy steps that will help you maximise every skill-driven experience you undertake as a doctoral researcher (including, perhaps, a few you didn’t even expect would qualify!) in order to showcase the many areas of both study and practice, within and beyond your specific field, in which you shine.
Transferability as a Hermeneutical Shift
To speak in academic terms: the best way to seek out and cultivate transferrable skills is to approach your experience much like you approach your research when looking for a new project, or a new angle. There is so much already accumulated, which you know, and which has already been contributed—and yet, as we’re all aware, that’s not sufficient for a thesis proposal: there must be something new in the mix, to be added to the wealth of knowledge. Arguably, that’s the whole point of academic study as a professional undertaking.
And what’s a tried-and-true method of seeking out a new approach? Changing perspectives. Switching lenses. Undertaking, as literary and biblical scholars might term it, a hermeneutical (or interpretative) shift.
The same approach of finding newness that we use to build our core research is exactly what is called for in identifying transferrable skills. Simply take a normal day: tutoring, seminar attendance, and perhaps a lecture in the evening. Whilst tutoring, you’re obviously building teaching experience, but perhaps you want to apply for a job that’s not in the field of educational instruction. Dig a little deeper into what goes into teaching: comfort in presenting to groups, dialoguing with colleagues, leading instructive or training modules, planning for said modules, following an action plan, providing feedback, charting progress—any number of seemingly small aspects that we take for granted in the larger understanding of “teaching” or “tutoring” can be broken down to their component parts and reassigned to a different context for a different kind of position.
Similarly: you’re in seminar, jotting notes, listening for relevant points, forming questions, interacting with the presenter, etc. All of these, when taken out of the seminar context, are valuable tools: the ability to distil important information from large quantities of data, as well as to identify information relevant to a given context within those large quantities of data; the ability to record and communicate the relevant bits in the form of a short, easily accessible digest; a certain degree of comfort with not just formulating questions by identifying points that lack clarity, but also confidence in communicating those questions respectfully as both inquiries and as constructive criticism. You’ve got an impressive skill set at hand already!
And even more—if you end your day at a lecture, you’re likely engaging one of the most significance transferrable skills: face-to-face networking of both the formal and informal varieties. Do not underestimate how all of these components of your day to day life train you meaningfully in skills that are not just relevant, but necessary across countless fields. Simply shift your gaze a little, and you’ll find transferrable skills throughout most of your day. Consider jotting them down, even, when you organise an event or take charge of a particular training module: collect your experience and it will be there for you when you need it, whether it can be submitted as-is, or, perhaps merely requires a bit of reframing.
Double or Nothing: Creative Framing as Two Skills in One
To that point of reframing: don’t get lured into the false idea that reframing is somehow warping what you did into something entirely different. First, remember again that you’re taking a multivalent experience and conceiving of it at its component level, teasing out all of the necessary skills required to make the larger experience a reality. All those components are required for a successful whole, and each of them represents a skill that you have cultivated and can rightfully own.
Second, be happy to embrace the reframing process itself as a skill: your capacity to think outside of the box and to take a skill or experience from one place and fit it into another speaks not just to your innovative and imaginative thinking skills (both of which are highly sought after on the job market), but also to your adaptability and resilience: one, you’ve managed to do the work of adapting either the initial experience, or the new context, in order for the two to complement one another productively, and two, you were willing and able to tackle that task in the first place. Those are both excellent (and transferrable!) skills in and of themselves.
And everyone likes a two-for-one, BOGO type of deal. On a graduate time-budget, in particular, taking more where you can get it for less is the Golden Ticket of situations: it’s almost always welcome.
If You Value It? You’re Likely Not Alone
Finally, keep in mind that if an experience you’ve had is something you found valuable, it’s highly unlikely that you found it valuable for no good reason. Moreover: it’s unlikely that there is absolutely no piece of it that wouldn’t also be valued, via one lens or another, by other people: including hiring committees, scholarship boards, research councils and the like. Transferrable Skills often get the dubious reputation of being second-choices, or last resorts: the original plan didn’t work, so you’re not forced to rework what you’ve done to fit into a new box.
That, however, could not be farther from the truth. Every experience has the capacity to develop and lend transferrable value, and that doesn’t make it less important in one context and more important in another: it makes it significant to one’s development as a professional, and as a person, on the whole.
So take your researcher’s eye for newness and curiosity and see what skills you might find in unexpected places. You may surprise yourself with the variety marketable, valuable skills you already possess, if only you just shift where and how you’re looking.