Three Things to Do to Develop Your Transferable Skills

There are lists all over the internet covering transferable skills. These are the skills that could be useful no matter what the industry or job you work in. Some lists are agnostic – e.g. skills of the future. Others are more specific to science or research.

But I think a bigger thing than know what transferable skills are, or if you have them or promoting them in your CV or job applications is developing them in the first instance. That is, proving that the skill is transferable. This is particularly important as a PhD student or researcher, where much of what you do is foreign to employers outside academia (and we know that 50% of PhD graduates will immediately leave university and go into a non-academic role).

So, what are some of the things you can do to develop your transferable skills?

Three things to develop your

transferable skills – (1) Get a job;

(2) Volunteer; (3) Join a club

1. Get a job – Nothing says “I can work” more than having a job. It doesn’t need to be in a specific industry or role. It just needs to be a job. Now, I can hear all of the students saying, “But a PhD is like a job” and I totally agree. But not everyone knows what a PhD requires for success. Indeed, few people know what is required for success outside their own career trajectory. Thus, a part time or casual job at a fast food chain, office supplies shop, hardware store or retail outlet are all jobs people understand and know what is required. I was once on a recruitment panel and one of the applicants was a small business owner. All of the other panel members failed to see how the owner would be self-motivated, understand finances, and had interpersonal skills. They lacked the experience and so I had to explain it to them. If you can, getting a role in your preferred industry is a bonus. For example, get a role at a chemist/pharmacist if you want to be in a biotech company.

2. Volunteer – If you cannot get a job that uses or develops a transferable skill, then look for volunteer role that does. It could be joining the committee of management for professional body. It might be joining the committee of a local club or society. It could be help organise the next conference. It might mean participating in your child’s school parent-teacher committee.

3. Join a club – Working in a team is one thing, playing and being part of a team is another. So, join a music, sport or art club. One that requires or supports regular performances. Where you can be tested and develop your skills in the context of a peer group.

These three things also have the added bonus of growing your network, forcing you to meet with an interact with new people. People who could help build your skills and/or get you your next job.


Dr Richard Huysmans is the author of Connect the Docs: A Guide to getting industry partners for academics. He has helped more than 200 PhD students, early career researchers, and established academics build their careers. He has provided strategic advice on partnering with industry, growing a career building new centres and institutes as well as establishing new programs. Richard is driven by the challenge of helping researchers be commercially smart. His clients appreciate his cut-through approach. He knows the sector and how to turn ideas into reality.

To find out more, call 0412 606 178, email (Richard.huysmans@drrichardhuysmans.com) or subscribe to the newsletter. He’s on LinkedIn (Dr Richard Huysmans), Twitter (@richardhuysmans), Instagram (@drrichardhuysmans), and Facebook (Beyond Your PhD with Dr Richard Huysmans).