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Cornell University

Transferable Skills

When you are considering a job outside of academia, you may have discovered that many jobs do not require a PhD or research experience in your particular field. Instead, most employers seek specific skills or competencies that you have acquired during the process of getting your graduate degree in a particular discipline. See the Graduate School's Tips on Identifying, Developing, and Presenting your Key Skills to an Employer. There are ways to develop your understanding of your career interests as well as your "transferable skills" that are useful in the workplace. One approach is to take an assessment such as SkillScan, Strong Interest Inventory, or CliftonStrengths, which can help you identify your skills and potential careers that would use those skills. Another approach is to analyze your previous experiences to identify what skills you used or acquired. The following list is a small sample of transferable skills that many graduate students develop.

Skill Areas

Research and Analysis

  • Locate and assimilate new information rapidly.
  • Understand complex information and synthesize it.
  • Reach independent conclusions and defend them.
  • Analyze and solve problems.


  • Write clearly at different levels, from abstracts to book-length manuscripts.
  • Edit and proofread.
  • Speak before large groups.
  • Convey complex information to non-expert audiences.


  • Exhibit leadership skills (lab or classroom).
  • Demonstrate diplomacy.
  • Accept criticism.
  • Cope with and manage different personalities.
  • Navigate complex environments.
  • Persuade others (e.g., grant proposals, negotiation within your department).
  • Build consensus (e.g., with your department/committee).
  • Handle complaints (e.g., from students about grades).

Organization and Management

  • Manage a project (e.g., your dissertation).
  • Maintain records.
  • Organize and plan events (e.g., programs, panels).
  • Motivate others to participate.


  • Evaluate others’ performance (e.g., graded exams or papers).
  • Monitor or oversee the work of others in a lab or classroom.


  • Work independently.
  • Acquire funding (e.g., write grant proposals).
  • Manage a budget.

Look for more information on transferable skills and career competencies in the Career Exploration section of this site.

Developing Skills 

Doing an off-campus internship is a great way to gain hands-on experience, improve essential skills, establish and expand your network, and test-drive a potential career. You can find internship opportunities on Cornell Handshake and LinkedIn. If you have a supportive advisor, it may not be a bad idea to talk to them and find out if they know of any internship opportunities. 

You might be interested in on-campus employment opportunities through Student Employment.