Life Sciences Research for Lifelong Health

What managers want: valuable transferable skills

Whatever plans you have for your career, and whatever unexpected turns you might take along the way, there are some skills that almost always come in handy. In fact I’ve gained a new appreciation for transferrable skills since applying to become the Babraham Institute’s equality and diversity manager.

After 10 years in the lab, applying for this role felt pretty scary because so much of the expertise I’d been cultivating over the past decade was no longer relevant. I basically discarded two thirds of my CV, and had to start coming up with examples of how the skills I had would make me a good candidate for a role I had little direct experience in. When you look at it through the right lens though, it’s amazing how many common skills that you pick up along the way are highly desirable and transferable to a whole bunch of different jobs.

If you are looking for your first job or thinking of changing careers or fields, applying for a role you don’t ‘have experience in’ can be daunting so I asked a range of managers (including my own) which transferable or soft skills they always look for and why.

Trevor Smith, Health & Safety Manager
  • There are plenty of not-so-obvious skills that are essential for a good scientific H&S professional like the ability to research and seek out information, analyse and consider practical and applicable H&S solutions, and communicate them effectively.
Cheryl Smythe, Grants Manager and Chair of equality4success
  • Passion, integrity and clarity of thought - together with evidence that you can deliver – it doesn’t matter what the subject is that you have delivered on.
Phill Hawkins, Group Leader
  • I really value evidence that an applicant has pursued some endeavour, which could be a sport, craft, hobby, anything really, with determination to improve and recover from the inevitable setbacks that everyone suffers when attempting something difficult.
Hayley McCulloch, Public Engagement and Knowledge Exchange Manager
  • I look for candidates that have really tried to understand the position being advertised and how their experience and skills match the role, even if that experience is not in a directly comparable role. I myself have changed careers twice, thinking about the skills I have developed, rather than the tasks I have carried out was advantageous to me in applying for work in a new sector.
Paul Symonds, Deputy Head of Biological Support Unit
  • I particularly look for experience dealing with difficult situations at work and a clear passion for our work.
Sarah Ross, Tenure Track Group Leader
  • I look for good communication skills in applicants – it’s vital that other people understand what you do, from your colleagues, where meaningful discussions can give you important feedback on your work, to explaining the importance of your research to the public.
All these examples demonstrate that lack of direct experience is not necessarily a barrier to a new job and employers are often more interested in your potential to excel in a role. While I may no longer be using my dissection skills or experience troubleshooting Western blots, my years spent as a researcher are invaluable to my current role. Maintaining lab records, managing my work priorities and time, and communicating my results all honed skills I use every day.

Research shows that women especially are hesitant to apply for jobs they don’t have qualifications for, but not necessarily for the reasons you may suspect. If you’re feeling reluctant, take stock of all the other skills you possess outside of PCRs and signalling assays and you’ll find you are also a teacher, presenter, entrepreneur and who knows what else. Then, rewrite your CV and go apply for that job!

Posted

10 April, 2019

By Elizabeth Wynn