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Guest Post: Transferrable Skills

Last spring  I was asked to write a guest post comparing my work as a corporate educator with my work in the corporatized university.  Much to the surprise of many, including myself, I realized that the pragmatic benefits of corporate work quickly outweighed the far more intangible benefits of academic work.  After I shared this revelation with you, my mind really shifted toward imagining myself in alt-ac.  Not as an alternative, but as a concrete opportunity that I did not feel I could get within the university.  I don’t just want to work.  I want to thrive.  And, I can’t thrive if I am not making a living wage but spend all of my time working.
So today, I thought I might speak a bit about my job search thus far.  I want to speak in big, broad terms.  I am not going to speak to the conversion of my CV to a resume, or about strategically pitching my experience to employers.  Instead, I just wanted to mention some of the things I am looking for when I assess jobs against my own experience and educational background.
In the last two weeks, I have applied for four jobs.  That is more jobs than I saw posted in Canadian literature all year, particularly if I narrowed it down only to permanent, uncontracted positions.  If I look at each of them separately, I see that they are diffuse:  jobs in training, instructional design, learning strategy and grant writing.  But, they aren’t diffuse because I am reaching, trying desperately to fit something to my skills.  They are diffuse because, I have learned, my skills really are transferable and I have a ton of existing experience.  My experience is tangible, and I can tie my work to real, concrete experiences and outcomes.  I can write up portfolios and presentations in various media to illustrate that I have, in fact, done all of the required to excel in each of the positions I applied for.
So often, particularly as a PhD student, we get caught up in narratives of failure and helplessness.  It feels sometimes (and our departments often make this worse!), that we have nothing to offer and have somewhat hopeless futures.  But we don’t.  We don’t.  We just need to realize that there are other industries—closely related to the ones we currently operate in—that value our work experience.  If we treat the PhD like a job, like I have for the last five years, then, we end up with five years of amazing skills and experiences that make us desirable and marketable to employers in both the public and private sectors.

In a recent job screening, I was asked about my salary expectations.  A little voice inside of me said, “Well, I am currently living off of $25,000 or less, so anything more than that would be nice.”  I didn’t listen to that little voice.  I did my homework and looked around at similar jobs and their salary ranges.  Instead of setting the standard at the abysmal low set by the university, I assessed my own value using the field standard.  This was such a necessary reminder for me:  I am valuable.  We are all valuable.  We need to stop defining ourselves by the standards established by part-time labour contracts.  We need to, just for a moment, remember our worth.

Emily Ballantyne
Dalhousie University

3 thoughts on “Guest Post: Transferrable Skills

  1. Great post Emily! I've been thinking about a lot of similar topics since I left academia and realized that many employers “value” (in a strictly economic sense) my transferable skills much higher than the university did. Also thriving, rather than just surviving, is a really great thing. Thanks for sharing! — Gillian Massel


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