Identifying Your Strengths
Many academics who are interested in alternative jobs make the mistake of thinking that they are only qualified for academic jobs and don't have a chance at applying for others. This is simply not true. As someone with graduate education and even some advanced degrees, you have many transferable skills that non-academic employers are looking for, you just need to identify them and learn how to describe them in terms that make sense outside of academia.
[The following is adapted from Katharine Brooks’s graduate student workshop materials from Fall 2011 and her book, You Majored in What?: Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career.]
StrengthsAs a graduate student, you are obviously good at reading, writing, and thinking. But you have many other skills that you have honed while in the process of taking coursework, teaching, and writing your thesis or dissertation. Prospective employers will lose interest if your job materials or interview answers go into detail about how Old English differs from Middle English, but they will pay attention if you tell them how your transferable skills will enhance their organization.
For example: What skills are required for studying Medieval languages?
• Attention to detail
• Intense focus
• Research—tracking down obscure references, being organized and flexible
Alternatively, try to articulate what you like about teaching your favorite students. Why do you like teaching them? It's likely that you share some of their characteristics and that's why you like them. Now, why would an employer value that?
Here are some resources to help identify your strengths:
Authentic Happiness - contains several free self-assessment tools to help job seekers identify their strengths and values. A particularly helpful assessment to start with is the Values in Action (VIA) Survey of Character Strengths. Other questionnaires to complete are the Optimism and Work-Life questionnaires
Career OneStop Skills Profiler - create a list of your skills and match them to corresponding job types
ISEEK skills profiler - powered by O*NET data
CareerTest.net - provides a Myers-Briggs type indicator for free (INFP, INTP, ESTJ, etc.)
Keirsey Tempement Sorter - very similar to the Myers-Briggs system
Buckingham, Marcus, and Donald O. Clifton. Now, Discover Your Strengths. Free Press, 2001.
- Not for academics, but good for encouraging liberal-arts types to see their talents in ways that complement our changing economy.