Dr. Joseph Barber
I have been thinking about skills and competencies quite a bit just recently. This was triggered first by the fact that my introductory period working at Career Services recently ended. Many jobs have a 3-4 month introductory period, after which your progress is evaluated. All being well, this introductory period evaluation is a time to focus on future goals to reach for, and skills that should be acquired or put into action. In my case, the good news is that I passed the evaluation, and so here I am today! Ok, so it wasn’t really an exam where there are simple questions that need to be answered, of course, but an assessment of how effective I have been doing what is required of me in this role as career counselor for graduate students and postdocs. The only way to pass this kind of assessment is to illustrate the skills that I have by putting them into action to achieve measurable outcomes. Remember this last sentence, because this is really the key to being successful with any job application and interview. I’ll get back to this in a moment.
The second reason I have been thinking about competencies is based on the fact that I have just become a first-time parent. I’m a dad…, and all of a sudden I feel completely incompetent in terms of this enormous responsibility. Right now I dealing with the basics: burping, changing, rocking, changing, carrying, changing…, and this is already proving quite the challenge. I haven’t even got to the point where I need to figure out when to buy her first cell phone, how to teach her to drive, or how to convince her not to date boys from rock bands. Strange as it might seem, however, many of the skills I have been using here at Career Services are the same skills that I am trying to use when caring for a baby, and the same skills that most employers are going to find attractive.
I am talking about those elusive “transferable skills”. These are skills that you gain from one experience (let’s say completing a PhD in English), that you can go ahead and use in a totally different experience (for example, getting a job outside of academia as a development director at a non-profit organization). Your work on the writings of Oscar Wilde may not seem to have much application outside of university research, but what’s most important are the skills you put into action that allowed you to perform all aspects of this research effectively.
When you apply for jobs, employers not only need to see that you have skills, but that you can use those skills effectively. In your CV, resume, cover letter and interview, you need to be able to illustrate your skills in action by using real-life examples that show just how effective they are. Anyone can say that they are a good problem-solver. By showing how you solved a problem, and why solving that problem was ultimately important, you are much more convincing. It doesn’t really matter what the problem was, so long as you can show how you identified and addressed it.
To see an example of illustrating skills, and to show that transferable skills really are transferable, let’s look at what I am spending most of my time doing right now (career counseling and child care), and see how I can market these experiences effectively. Here are some of the most important transferable skills that you should always be on the look out to put into action:
- Career Services: Successfully coordinated panel discussion program by inviting three speakers to talk about alternative career options for scientists for an audience of 40 students.
- Child care: Utilized on-line resources to improve effectiveness of baby swaddling technique, leading to a 20% reduction in infant ‘evil arm’ escapes, and maintenance of doctor-defined core body temperature.
- Career Services: Gained working knowledge of Dreamweaver to update Career Services website, and added multimedia resources (Articulate presentation, audio clips, video interviews with alumni) to enhance experience for users.
- Child care: Maximized daily productivity by utilizing quiet periods in early evening to powernap, leading to effective use of nighttime hours to provide child care with no decrease in day-time work output.
- Career Services: Presented 4 workshops to groups of 10-25 students on career strategies, wrote 3 blogs, and assisted in the development of 4 PowerPoint presentations to effectively communicate career advice to wide diversity of graduate students and postdocs.
- Child care: Maintain detailed logbook of feeding, pooping, and sleeping activities performed by child to provide pediatrician with accurate representation of daily activities.
- Career Services: Collaborated with 6-person team to develop in-print and online program evaluation forms for use after each workshop and panel discussion given during spring semester, to assist in tailoring programs to meet the needs of students.
- Child care: Complete efficient removal of soiled child packaging units by identifying behavioural precursors to child discomfort prior to loud audible indicators, resulting in additional 40 minutes of sleep for over-worked co-parent.
- Career Services: Identified and contacted 4 alumni to request participation in video interviews during career fair; recorded and edited video footage to create podcast for Career Services website to assist students in developing strategies for maximizing outreach to employers.
- Child care: Coordinate scheduling of 3 local family assets to assist in daily care of child, moving care resources to upper or lower levels of care facility to facilitate needs of volunteers of different age-ranges with varying locomotory abilities.
- Career Services: Identified need for technology updates to allow office cameras to record complete mock interviews, and worked with office manager to order and acquire updated resources.
- Child care: Developed stepwise process to systematically identify causal factors leading to infant crying, resulting in 30% reduction in Tylenol consumption needed to address noise-related cerebral discomfort.
- Career Services: Partner with career counselor to develop interactive workshop on transferable skills by identifying program goals, creating group exercises, and framing discussion points based on experience of presenters.
- Child care: Coordinate all daily activities with co-parent to effectively manage resource acquisition, consumption of nutrients, reorganization of living space, and financial responsibilities, leading to 50:50 division of labour, and 100% completion of household chores.
Well…, leadership skills are an important area for me to focus on in the future. Hopefully, when I coordinate the Biomedical & Life Sciences Career Fair as part of the Graduate Team here at Career Services, there will be plenty of opportunities to illustrate my leadership skills. From the baby perspective, I continue to work with my wife to develop our strategic plan for effective child-rearing. We can come up with all of the house rules we want (e.g., no computer or TV in the bedroom), but an illustration of leadership skills in this case will be sticking with these rules. I’m no fool…, I am expecting this to be a near impossible task!
Take a look at the list of transferable skills I have provided above, and try to look back at your own academic and non-academic experiences to see if you can come up with effective illustrations of you using these skills to achieve quantifiable outcomes. If you have trouble finding a good example for a particular skill, try looking for new and different experiences where you can put this skill into action (e.g., joining a club, volunteering). If you are interested in thinking more about transferable skills, then consider meeting with us here at Career Services