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Job changers: Let’s talk about transferable skills in STEM

A data pro and mentorship expert advises earlier-stage professionals, or anyone looking for a new role: Focus on your critical thinking, communication and project management skills.

Keep your skills sharp. (Photo by Anthony Shkraba from Pexels)

This guest post is a part of Navigating a (Possible) Recession Month 2023 in’s editorial calendar.

This is a guest post by Rajvi Mehta, a senior product data analyst and the founder of the virtual Data Mentorship Program. These views are hers alone.
2022 was a tough year for tech. Amid the spike in Big Tech layoffs, companies will be looking to do more with less talent while still consistently providing value through their product and services.

Individual contributors can’t keep their employer from shifting priorities or cutting their team. But they can aim to keep themselves essential by honing their skills, or developing new ones — which will also benefit them if they’re looking for a new role.

Transferable skills are industry or role agnostic. These skills are be generalized as how effectively can you problem solve, communicate or influence those around you. Before we get into details of some of the top transferable skills in STEM in 2023, I want to make one thing clear: We all have transferable skills. These are skills that we use to navigate through life.

Some of the top transferable skills that companies are looking for:

1. Critical thinking

If you can question an ongoing process and identify a potential waste in the process (cost or time) while providing a more efficient solution, you possess a certain level of critical thinking. In a STEM role, critical thinking is the bread and butter for almost every tech and data job.

Pro tip: While building your resume or interviewing for a role, make sure to use the STAR method — situation, task, action and results — to lay out how and why you made a specific process more efficient in your previous role.

Example: You were a warehouse manager who looks at the cycle time of a specific product going in and out of the warehouse. In your day to day, you identify a way of saving five minutes per product per person by removing a specific part of the process.

Although this example has nothing to do with the coding or whipping up a Tableau dashboard, you are still showcasing strong critical thinking skills along with the ability to lead a team or process through a change.

2. Communication skills

It has been said before, and I will say it again: Strong communication skill is as valuable as strong technical skills. Any organization works effectively on the ability of individuals to communicate and listen to each other. If you are able to communicate through a tough situation with a customer or your client, you possess some level of strong communication skills.

Pro tip: Interviews are the best place to showcase your communication and listening skills. The hiring manager is looking for a simple, clear, concise answer to their question. It helps to take a minute to think about how you would like to frame the answer before answering.

This is a tough skill to master but with enough practice and putting yourself in situations where you can build them will help you. (In my opinion, restaurant servers have extremely strong communication skills.)

3. Project management

Project management is your ability to structure a body of work and achieve all the deadlines on time. You do not need to be a project manager or a leader to be able to earn this skill. Organizations are looking for individuals who are independent in their work, while also being able to meet deadlines and client expectations.

Pro tip: If you haven’t had any opportunity to manage a specific project, the best way to start is by doing. If you’re an aspiring data professional, get a public dataset from the internet, analyze the data problem, and come up with a recommendation — all within a specific timeframe that you can set for yourself. Talk about this during your interviews to earn bonus points.

In the real world, there are a lot of other external factors while managing a project. What will set you apart is how you navigate those obstacles using your influence at work.

Identifying your transferable skills

These are a few of the many transferable skills that you possess right now. Once you spend some time identifying which one of these skills you possess vs. skills that might be easily gained, you will have a stronger chance of being hired as a data professional.

The best way to identify the skills you may have is through self-reflection. For instance:

  • Journaling — Take some time to reflect on your career as well as personal life so far. Tracking some of the natural abilities that you can showcase in your day to day helps a lot to identify your transferable skills. As you go through your day, open your notes app and mark words like “resilience,” “integrity,” “curiosity.” These habits will help you determine some of the bigger, more prominent skills that you might already have.
  • Talk to and observe your peers — Sometimes, it helps to observe those around you. For example, if you are working in the public service space as a fundraiser, look at other fundraisers around you and identify the skills that they portray. Do they have strong communication skills? Are they resourceful? Creating a cheat sheet for skills that your current role has will help you to narrow down yours.

As integration between products and services increases in tech, identifying and leveraging our transferable skills becomes crucial as well. The tech industry is becoming more diverse in terms of academic and professional background. Let us celebrate what we each bring to the field!

Series: Navigating a (Possible) Recession Month 2023

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