Transferable Skills of PhDs

PhDs have brilliant under-appreciated transferable skills. I’ve had an employer say they didn’t want to consider an applicant with a PhD for their job. Not even for an interview. “Too specialist” was the assumption. Luckily, I convinced them that PhDs have the brilliant transferable skill of specialising.  All sorts of careers require workers to focus upon a specific topic, in great detail, for a specific length of time, in order to achieve a specific goal. Just like any marketing manager, product developer, media producer, business planner. In this case the person got an interview and the job as head of marketing. PhD’s are specialists in the specialising process of becoming world-class experts in a specific area.

Evidence-based confirmation of the transferable skills of PhDs is reported here. Three highly developed skills for non-research intensive careers were: ability to learn quickly, manage projects and time management. Project management is particularly well-developed. Not surprising since a PhD thesis involves designing a project with several sub-projects, making and meeting realistic timelines, overcoming setbacks and managing stakeholders.

PhDs develop top skills that are also relevant for research intensive jobs: creativity/innovation and collaborating with people inside and outside their organisation. These ‘soft’ skills in communication and collaboration – managing stakeholders, getting along with others in mutual learning, writing papers, journal manuscripts, presenting at conferences, teaching and mentoring, are too often ignored by employers. And maybe under-appreciated by the PhDs themselves.

It is no exaggeration to say that running a PhD project is analogous to managing a small company, where you spot a gap in the market, create a strategy and mobilise resources, meet deadlines, manage expectations and keep your stakeholders satisfied.


  1. Are self starters who love a challenge and who are used to working regular and often long hours. They can deal with the egos and politics that can be found in any institution. Hence, they quickly settle into the job and start making a contribution.
  2. They learn to break down complex ideas and communicate them clearly and succinctly to a range of different audiences, both one-to-one, public presenting at conferences and in writing their thesis and related papers for peer-reviewed journals.
  3. While their subject specific skills may be useful, the crucial orientation is curiosity. They are constantly asking questions and challenging conventional wisdom, in order to work out a way around a problem.

Researchers who would like help in honing their skills and convincing employers of their transferable skills should call me.

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