In the 1960s, about half of the scientists worked in their field for around 35 years. By the 2010s, that tenure was cut down to five years. The times have changed, and working parameters continue to evolve. Workers have transitioned into a global workforce, and the economy has led to a new wave of transferable skills.
The person we are when we enter academia is often not the same person who enters the workforce – and even then, that person will grow and change over time! In addition, sectors such as science and mathematics often create highly specialized career paths, even in our more modern working world.
Every job contains a particular set of skills that can be transferable to another industry or sector, no matter how specialized the work is. Identifying these transferable skills and applying them to the broader scope of a career can help open up new opportunities and substantially impact your new job search.
Below we will look at an inspiring story of someone who used their transferable skills in the science field to build the career of their dreams – with the bonus of improved work/life balance! As well as the top five transferable skills and how best to apply them to your work history.
In CTRL Shift! latest podcast episode, "The scientific exodus to business," Alaina Levine, a scientist turned career consultant discusses her career shift after being unhappy with her post-graduate physics job. In her conversation on the podcast, Alaina brings up one of her favorite stories about a professor of particle physics who found his dream job in the soup industry.
This professor worked at a prominent US university while his wife was a food scientist at the Campbell Soup Company. Due to their job's differing locations, the couple was constantly apart and couldn't seem to create a work/life balance that suited their needs. The professor discovered over dinner one night that the soup factory was facing a consistency problem.
They couldn’t find a solution for each variety of soup that the factory processed—the contents of that soup needed to be the same in conjunction with the particular soup flavor. For example, opening several cans of mushroom soup at once should show the consumer a replica of the same soup in each can, from the color to the flavor, to the consistency. However, any factor of ingredients can change the soup slightly. As with the mushroom soup, certain types of mushrooms could create a slight variation in the color, and so on. These variables not only threatened the consistency of the soup but were also extremely difficult to manage and fix. The question posed was how does the factory facilitate removing undesirable ingredients from the process effectively and efficiently?
The professor and his wife had heard about this problem over dinner with executives. While hearing these grievances, the physicist professor was compelled to share an idea concerning an optical device in his lab that he thought might be just what they needed to solve the soup factory's problem. The executives were impressed and very interested and invited the professor into the factory to discuss the solution.
In the end, the Campbell’s Soup Company Factory created a job for the professor where he could apply his physics background to more aspects of the factories processes creating innovative and powerful solutions. Furthermore, this new job meant that the professor could now live in the same city as his wife, spend more time with her, embark on an exciting new career, and find perfect harmony in his work/life balance.
What makes Alaina’s story about the scientist who pivoted his career into soup so interesting is both the juxtaposition between the two opposite career fields and how the professor's transferable skills were applied seamlessly to something new. He was not just a physicist or a professor, but a businessman, a thought leader, and much more.
Transferable skills are essential in every field, and identifying those specific skills you possess will be the most impactful step to pivoting your career. Just as the physicist professor was able to identify how his unique skills would be an asset to the Campbells Soup Company, anyone who may feel their skills are too specialized should take a look at the broader scope of their work and try to identify their most valuable assets and translate them into transferable skills.
Let’s examine the top five most transferable skills and how they can be used to span a variety of career paths.
Relevant expertise is not just for moving up within an organization or specific industry. Having in-depth knowledge of a specific field can demonstrate to potential jobs how dedicated you are to understanding a particular market at an expert level. In addition, expert knowledge of an industry, market, or skill allows for the possibility of innovation, and application, both of which are desirable skills, especially when jobs are seeking highly skilled professionals to help solve a specific problem. While some industry experts may feel they are pigeonholed for work opportunities, learning how to apply that expertise to broader concepts can help to open new areas.
Similarly to communication skills, analytical skills are critical to success in all career fields. Today, data drives modern business and remains at the forefront of growth industries. A lot of highly specialized areas utilize data and analytical skills. The consistent application of analytical skills within traditional and emerging industries makes this an essential transferable skill.
The best way to showcase your analytical skills is to detail projects which require you to cultivate these abilities to create successful outcomes. This includes listing any relevant software you may have used, results you discovered, or any other practical applications of these skills within a project's scope.
Overseeing projects is a commonplace deliverable in many job descriptions. Whether the responsibilities include managing a team, developing a product, or supervising processes, the skills you acquire leading a task (or a team) from conception to completion are fundamental transferable skills that can lead to several roles.
Many skills fall into the category of project management. Two of the most important to identify are time management and general organization. These two are critical because each skill set demonstrates that you know how to establish priorities, stick to a schedule, and manage a project or team to meet deadlines and complete tasks successfully.
The best way to communicate project management skills is to reference previous projects you have managed and either describe the details of seeing the project through to completion or use them to prop up the larger professional working scopes. Even if these projects seem unrelated to the role you are applying to, a successfully managed project is a highly desirable quality.
Creativity and Critical Thinking
There is high value in creativity and critical thinking skills, and more companies are noticing how necessary these transferable skills are to their business in new ways every day. For those who have developed these skills in creative industries, the continued need for skills in visual arts, design, or marketing, is growing exponentially. Yet, even in sectors that are not traditionally “creative,” creativity and critical thinking skillset can be effectively utilized.
Creative and critical thinkers are known for innovative ideas and gathering anecdotal data and applying it in inspiring ways, pushing the boundaries, and approaching problems from new angles. The most crucial factor in creativity is to be able to demonstrate and follow through on any idea. When detailing invention as a transferable skill, describe how you not only come up with ideas but also how you have the tools to focus those ideas into successful action that yields results.
Having team members with practical leadership skills is an incredible asset to any team. For this reason, adequately demonstrating leadership skills through a broad lens by using examples from your learned experience is a highly valuable transferable skill set.
If your current or most recent roles involved leadership or management, that experience should be easy to convey to potential recruiters. Even if you do not have direct management experience within your current work history, pinpointing specific instances where you have demonstrated leadership qualities and taken on the responsibilities of a leader is just as important. Speaking on particular cases and applying your leadership skills to those instances will make you a desirable candidate in any field.
It is no easy decision to make a career shift, but that being said, you don't have to feel stuck in your path if it is no longer serving you. There are a lot of factors that go into the decision to pivot careers: some involve changes in goals, values, worldview, or personal circumstances. Whatever the reasoning, a successful career path is at your fingertips because, in the end, you do not always need another decade of academia or years of clinical research. Often the skills you need are the ones you have been cultivating all along. Discover your valuable transferable skills and see what new opportunities open their doors for you.