Parallel Career Paths

Discovering your Transferable Skills:
The first step to any successful job search — whether academic or nonacademic — is careful self-reflection and assessment of values, interests, and skills. By discovering who you are and what you want, you are better able to focus your career exploration and narrow your job search options.
Outcomes of self-assessment:
• Self-assessment provides the material to create persuasive résumés, CVs, and cover letters.
• Students who dedicate time and effort to self-assessment distinguish themselves in résumés, CVs, and cover letters, receive higher ratings from interviewers, and are offered more jobs.
• After receiving jobs, students are also more likely to be satisfied because they have taken the time to find the proper fit.
• In graduate school, it is particularly easy to assume you will follow in the direct career path of the professors you work with. Self-assessment will allow you to determine the nature of your academic or nonacademic path.
Self-assessment requires careful analysis of everyday activities and ideas, which can be a challenge since things so familiar are difficult to dissect. Working through the self-assessment process with a friend or group can help, and the rewards of self-assessment are well worth the effort.

Self-assessment is the process of identifying:
what matters most to you (VALUES).
what you enjoy doing (INTERESTS).
what you are good at (SKILLS).

Values: Values may influence the kind of work you choose. While not everyone believes work and values must be aligned, consider the following if you do want to link your work to your values.
• What do you care most about? • What kind of lifestyle are you seeking? • Do you require your work to satisfy intellectual or moral needs? • Do you require your work to satisfy intellectual or moral needs? • Is it important to help others? • What kind of work environment do you prefer?
Interests: Interests are reflected in your activities and affinities. Identifying your interests often helps focus you on what ideas and pursuits keep you engaged, an important element in satisfying work.

Skills: The skills students have strongly influence their career options. Transferable skills are competencies learned in one environment that can easily be employed in other settings.
During graduate school, students usually acquire sophisticated skills in:
problem solving
project management
communicating complex ideas.

Taking time to identify and articulate your skills is critical not only for successful career exploration but also for the creation of convincing résumés and cover letters. The knowledge gained during the self-assessment process also translates into greater self-confidence and savvier answers in interviews. Numerous career advice handbooks feature useful exercises to help you identify your transferable skills. We recommend Basalla & Debelius's So What Are You Going to Do With That? and Richard Bolles's What Color is your Parachute?
Bringing it All Together:
Use the following exercise to examine themes across your Values, Interests, and Skills. This should allow you to imagine career paths that will fit you best.

How do you come to understand the ways in which your Values, Interests, and Skills
intersect? How can you connect the dots? One idea is to use a mental experiment called, “The Bookstore at the End of your Mind,” proposed by Basalla & Debelius (2001). They rightly remind us that most scholars would rather read than any other activity in the world. But they also note that graduate students often read what they “have to,” not what they “want to.”
So they encourage you to go to the bookstore at the end of your mind and let yourself walk into a perfectly lit store with lots of comfortable furniture. They encourage the English Ph.D. to walk right past the “Literary Criticism” section and the historian to ignore the “Medieval History” section. Instead, since your professors and classmates can’t see you in this imaginary bookstore, where would you head? What book catches your eye? Are you secretly a foodie, a filmbuff, a science or political junkie? How might this knowledge help you look differently at your lists of Values, Interests, and Skills? What new ideas about work do you have?

Valuable Online Resources:


Values Exercise
Consider the following list of work related values. How important are each of these values to you? A useful exercise is to rate the importance of each value (from 1 to 4, where 1 is not important and 4 is very important). After identifying your top ten values, rank these in order of priority.

Social service—is it important to you to contribute to the betterment of your community, country, or world?

Direct contact with people—do you enjoy working directly with people, either with the public or with clients and/or collaboratively with co-workers?

Solitary work environment—do you prefer to complete projects by yourself, without significant contact or input from others?

Relationships—is it important to you to develop personal contacts and friendships as a result of work? Is it important that your job permits time to have close personal and family relationships outside working hours?

Job pressure, pace, and stress—do you perform well under pressure? do you enjoy a fast-paced environment? To you cope well with job stress?

Power/Authority—do you like to make decisions, determine policies, and guide work activities and the work of others?

Influence—do you enjoy influencing and persuading others’ attitudes and opinions?

Knowledge—is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of key importance to you?

Expertise/Competence—is it important to become a subject area expert, with or without recognition?

Creativity—do you enjoy creating new ideas, organizations, programs, works of art?

Aesthetics—is it important to you to be involved in the study or creation of beauty, culture, truth?

Change and variety—do you like work that is routine or do you prefer variety your work?

Job stability and security—is it important that you hold a stable job for a long period of time with the assurance of continued employment at reasonable pay?

Recognition and prestige—is it important that your achievements be acknowledged and respected by others?

Challenging problems—do you enjoy problem solving? Is it important in your work?

Opportunities for advancement—do you value the opportunity to rapidly advance your career if you work hard?

Excitement/Adventure/Risks—do you enjoy a high degree of excitement and risk taking in your work?

Wealth from income—are you motivated by the potential of making a large amount of money?

Independence—is it important to you to live and work within your own priorities?

Moral fulfillment—is it important to feel your work is in accordance with, and perhaps even furthers, your moral beliefs?

Physical work environment and work hours—what kinds of environments do you prefer to work in? Do you prefer flexible hours or 9-5? Do you mind working overtime? Do you want summers off?

Enjoyment—is it important to you that you derive a high level of personal satisfaction from your work?

Location—is geographical location important to you and your family?

Skills Exercise
1. Make a list of graduate school activities
List every activity you’ve participated in as a graduate student (both academic and nonacademic). For example,
• Taken classes, written papers, conducted research, and rigorously trained within a
specific discipline
• Served as a TA for a specific undergraduate course
• Research
• Thesis/Dissertation completion
• Campus committees, clubs, organizations
• Jobs, internships
• Wrote a grant or fellowship proposal
2. List specific tasks associated with each activity listed in step 1
Make certain your vocabulary is active. Think beyond the activity to the process you used
and be thorough—it is easy to overlook tasks. For example, specific tasks for TAing a
course may include:
• ordered books
• planned and organized lessons
• photocopied material for students
• established reserve materials
• prepared lectures and discussions
• presented lectures
• answered questions
• met with and advised students on their progress
• prepared exams
• proctored exams
• graded papers
• graded exams
• maintained grades in electronic gradebook
• evaluated student progress
3. Compile a list of skills necessary to complete the tasks
For example, just a few of the skills honed as a teaching assistant may include:
• the ability to coherently organize materials for others
• the ability to facilitate discussions
• the ability to objectively evaluate the performance of others
• the ability to make consistent decisions about abstract criteria
• clear communication skills, both verbal and written
• a comfortable manner of public speaking
• diplomacy
• the ability to monitor/supervise the work of others (students)
• time management
• the ability to remember large quantities of information for instant recall
• the ability to think quickly in a public speaking situation
• the ability to motivate and persuade others to participate
• the ability to read and understand large quantities of material quickly

[[#_ftnref1|*]] For this and more material concerning parallel career paths, see: