While working on my Master’s, the thought of finding a job after graduation was enough for me to break out into hives and a cold sweat. It was also 2011 and the recession was still a hot slice of fresh hell, so everyone still had high anxiety about the job market. The worst part was that even though we were working toward graduate degrees, NONE of us thought we had any marketable skills!
As students, we’re so preoccupied with our hyper-focused research topics that we completely forget WHAT skills brought us to grad school in the first place.
Six years ago, I was sitting in a Grad Club meeting at Georgia State, discussing resume-building with a group of students and two faculty members. Our anxiety started spilling out everywhere until, finally, one student said she didn’t have any marketable skills to put down on a resume. One faculty member responded with an explosive, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”
Many graduate students are taught only to think about their research topic and nothing else. The result is a young professional who doesn’t feel professional at all. Before that Grad Club meeting back in 2011, the only marketable skill I thought I had was my ability to excavate and identify human skeletal remains.
Imagine my surprise that there’s not a checkbox for this on Indeed.com…
Fortunately, it doesn’t matter what your job title is. IT DOES NOT MATTER!
You may be worried that your degree or research experience is too specific to appeal to non-academic employers. The good news is that only your skills and experience matters when it comes to resumes and job interviews. Remember when you’re creating your resume, don’t dwell on your education–your experience is the most important!
Many people have one job title but end up doing many important things throughout their career. You can be an administrative assistant, but run workshops and give presentations to executives. You can be a researcher and know IT. Your job title is only as good as the skills and experience behind it.
So what has grad school done for you?
1. Critical Thinking
I’m constantly surprised at how unique of a skill critical thinking is. It’s not as common as you think and it’s taken for granted by ALL grad students! The ability to rigorously evaluate each scenario can truly distinguish you from the crowd. Critical thinking shows potential employers that you don’t blindly follow others and you have valuable contributions and ideas to offer.
Duh. But there’s more to research than academia! Private companies, from marketing to biomedical, rely on researchers just as much as sales and customer service. Research skills translate to all industries. Companies improve and stay ahead of the competition by investing in different kinds of research. Your ability to seek out information through different avenues makes you a valuable asset.
3. Work Experience
Were you a Research or Teaching Assistant in grad school? If so, you already have marketable skills that include collaboration, elements of project management, and working in a deadline-driven environment. Have you had full or part-time jobs? Have you completed an internship? Do you volunteer with a non-profit? When it comes to a resume, any relevant experience can help you. Volunteering for an organization you care about can teach you how a non-profit runs or the importance of fundraising, accounting, or grant-writing. Interning with a company you’re interested in can turn into full-time employment. Don’t write these experiences off because they aren’t the “normal” full-time job.
4. Software Applications
Microsoft Office, Adobe Design, coding, website building, basically ANY statistical software–we live in a technological world. The gamers are landing robots on Mars and flying drones for the military. Software skills aren’t just for IT, many applicants have techological skills that enhance their abilities and offer employers more than what’s written on the job posting. Technological skills you take for granted can be the one thing that sets you apart from other candidates.
5. Problem Solving
No matter what kind of degree program you come from, I guarantee you have to solve some kind of problem. No one has to know WHAT kind of problem, all that matters is that you can organize your thoughts and strategize to find solutions. As the importance of efficiency increases, so does the demand for applicants who want to actively fix problems rather than just take up space at a desk.
Candidates who can write well are extremely hard to come by. Just take a look at your texts and emails. You don’t have to be a poet or a novelist, but being able to express yourself clearly and concisely in grammatically correct writing is a breath of fresh air to a potential employer. This is especially important when communicating outside of your organization because you are acting as a representative for your employer, and unprofessional writing stands out.
I can’t go more than two days without noticing a copy typo on the morning news. THE NEWS. There’s nothing that makes someone look more unprofessional than slinging written material that reads like garbage. Whether you’re writing articles, publishing web material, or sending emails to executive management, your editing skills will be invaluable.
8. Public Speaking
Have you presented at professional conferences? Have you lectured for university courses? Grad school provides ample opportunity for public speaking experience. The more comfortable you are speaking in front of groups, the more confident you’ll be speaking to potential employers. Plus, Corporate America LOVES meetings. Being able to express ideas in front of your managers and colleagues shows engagement and initiative that will set you apart.
9. Time Management
Efficiency is a real asset in the professional world. After all, time is money! If you’ve balanced a job, school, and research, you know a little something about time management. The ability to effectively prioritize and multi-task isn’t a skill everyone has.
Remember when we all used to dread group work? Many of us still do… But now, at least you can promote your ability to collaborate with different people to achieve a common goal! Have you presented research with other students or faculty? Then you’ve interfaced with all levels of an organization and have engaged key stakeholders (sound the buzzword alarms!). Have you published scholarly work with colleagues? Promote your collaborative skills as much as possible because, aside from actually being useful, it shows you play well with others!
Teaching isn’t limited to lecturing about biomarkers of disease. You can teach about anything. Similar to problem-solving, it doesn’t necessarily matter WHAT you teach, it matters how you engage with others. An effective teacher can take a concept and show people why it matters and give people confidence to use that knowledge. Training is a large part of corporate life, and if you are good at it, it may open new doors for you.
I have two planners, phone alarms, an Outlook calendar, and post-it notes all over the place. This is how I stay organized. And you know what? IT WORKS. As long as you can stay organized, it doesn’t matter how! They might not admit it, but no one can stand that person who’s late for everything. Everyone’s time is important! Being able to prioritize and stay organized, even under stress, shows that you’re reliable, professional, and trustworthy. Most jobs will require you to balance more work than you have time for; these marketable skills will be the key to a successful career.
What do you call a good manager? … A mentor. Have you every noticed if you hate a job, it’s usually because you have a crappy manager?
I worked at a second-hand clothing store through high school and college and I LOVED it. But a few years ago when I worked at an agency doing exactly what I went to school for, I thought it was the worst job on the planet. The difference was when I worked in retail, I had awesome managers. When I worked the latter, it was equivalent to working for a Sith Lord (without the sweet cloaks and red lightsabers).
As Michael Scott says, “Good managers don’t fire, they inspire.” Mentoring combines collaboration, teaching, and people skills, which will stand out if you aspire to take on a management position.
14. Grant Writing
Who doesn’t need money? And who doesn’t want free money? Especially important in the non-profit sector, grant writing skills give you a MAJOR advantage over the competition. From marketing to fundraising to development, all kinds of employers are looking for people who know how to state their cause (this is where those writing skills pay off) and persuade others to support them financially.
If you’ve ever been a grad student, you KNOW about the importance of self-motivation. If you hate being micro-managed, this is the best way to convey that. The ability to self-start and work independently is an incredible asset to an employer, especially in a fast-paced industry. Ensuring a manager that you can work hard and deliver without having to be micro-managed speaks volumes about you as a person as well as an employee.
Now it’s time to get to work creating that resume! Check out these 7 Gamechangers That Will Turn Your CV into a Resume. How many of these marketable skills do you have? What else have you learned as a grad student that can help you get hired?