Identifying and Communicating Transferable Skills for Life Sciences Professionals


Transferable skills are skills you’ve used in any sector of your life and career that are transferable and applicable to what you what you want to do next. “Any sector of your life” doesn’t necessarily mean reaching far back to, say, when you developed sales skills by selling Girl Scout cookies or going deeply into your leisure activities to make a case that playing Dungeons and Dragons honed your problem-solving skills. But, within reason, transferable skills can be found in many corners of your life. The deft use of transferable skills should pervade your job search and play a key role in your resume, cover letter and interview strategies.

What are the implications of transferable skills for life sciences professionals?

  • If you are changing careers, you will find it valuable to identify skills you used in your current career and explain to your next employer how they apply to your new field. For example, you may be considering a switch from the research side of life sciences to the business side. You’ll need to show which skills used in your research work apply to business. (An article from Monique Ellis presents several of these life sciences career-change scenarios and analyzes the accompanying transferable skills).
  • If you have some qualifications for a given job, but ostensibly lack requested skills, look to your transferable skills to fill in the gaps.
  • New graduates at any level with minimal work experience may lack a number of required skills and must call upon transferable skills developed during their academic experience.

Identifying Life Sciences Transferable Skills

First, take a look at skills cited by several studies and publications as being important for life sciences professionals.

  • Research ethics
  • Scientific peer communication (presentations and publications)
  • Time management
  • Scientific knowledge and methods outside present research area and awareness of industry trends
  • Bioethics
  • Research project management


  • Creativity/innovative thinking
  • Ability to work with clients
  • Analytical skills
  • Oral communication skills
  • Decision-making
  • Problem-solving
  • Teamwork
  • Vision and goal-setting
  • Management skills
  • Compiling and interpreting information
  • Time management
  • Ability to learn quickly
  • Project management
  • Strategic thinking
  • Conflict resolution
  • Understanding of legal and regulatory matters
  • Interpersonal skills and diplomacy
  • Lab management
  • Writing (including proposals/grant applications)
  • Peer review
  • Communication
  • Personnel recruitment/ management


Sources: Sinche, S.;  Layton, R.;  Brandt, P.;  O’Connell, A.; Hall, J.; Freeman, A.; Harrell, J.; Cook , J.; & Brennwald, P. (2017, Sept. 20). European Molecular Biology Organization (2008). Aschwanden, C. (2007).

Next, look through Biospace job postings for the type of job you seek; start with your first-choice job function. Observe, or better yet, write down all the skills the employers behind these postings require. You will begin to see patterns emerge and skills that appear across many postings. You might even go ask far as pasting several of the skills lists into a word-cloud generator, such as; whichever words appear in the largest type are those that are most frequently required.

Networking with friends and conducting informational interviews are other ways to investigate the skills needed for your dream job.

Portraying Skills as Transferable

Employers often need job seekers to connect the dots for them. Clearly stating that your skills apply can help, as in this example, can be powerful:

“For the past four years I have been working on my Ph.D. thesis, which concerns secretion of foreign proteins from yeast. I am developing a vector system that allows the gene for a foreign protein to be integrated into the chromosomes of yeast. This research directly applies to the production of pharmaceuticals and is germane to identifying the key factors of secretion. In the process, I have developed advanced molecular biological lab skills and applied my engineering expertise to the project.”

Along with portraying your skills as applicable and transferable in your communications with hiring managers, express that you are a fast and willing learner. Ideally, substantiate this claim with an example from your experience that illustrates your learning prowess. In this cover letter excerpt, the writer lists several areas from the job posting in which she is lacking in skills but willing to learn. She ties her learning readiness to her collaborative skills:

“My willingness to explore grant writing, research practices, and statistical software, along with my experience in collaborating with other experts, shows my capacity for applying my broad scientific knowledge to conducting research efficiently and accurately.”


Mentioning colleagues who can attest to your skills helps substantiate them. Note this job seeker also mentions speed at adapting:

“As my former employers can attest, I am a self-motivated, hands-on professional who continuously demonstrates a high level of commitment and a solid work ethic. I am also a strong team player who will exert every effort to ensure that team goals are met. I am quick to adapt to new environments and molecular biology techniques.”


Specifically using requirements language from the job posting, the job seeker in this example calls upon academic experience in support of professional skills:

Someone who can serve as primary liaison between sponsor and the [name of company] team: My graduate training and postdoctoral research experience lends itself to a technical understanding of research concepts and strategies, which facilitates communication with sponsors, as well as with academic investigators.”

Be aware that not all skills gaps can be filled with transferable skills. If you find yourself repeatedly being rejected for jobs because you lack a particular skill, it may be time to pursue the training you need to bring you up to speed.

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