Philosophy and Industry: We Have Transferable Skills

Posted on May 20, 2016 by

Over the last year I’ve been thinking about how to identify and present the transferable skills one gains from philosophy.  Recently Mike Steiner, a UCalgary alumnus, gave a presentation to grads in our department concerning his experience with the non-academic job market.  Mike demystified the process of applying for jobs in industry. Although many of us have our sights set on the ivory tower, it doesn’t hurt to have a plan B, or maybe for others a plan A, or maybe even a plan-when-everything-goes-south-unexpectedly-and-you-need-to-feed-and-house-yourself kind of plan.  Whatever the reason may be, there were important lessons learned in this meeting that must be shared!

There are business problems that philosophers have the skills to solve.  All businesses have information management issues.  We, as persons studying philosophy, manage copious amounts of information at any given time.  All businesses need to generate, organize, access, and communicate information.  Sometimes, businesses require impartial critical analysis of information, or identification of a cause(s) when something goes wrong (known as ‘root cause analysis’).  We have research and presentation skills that transfer well here and concrete examples (such as writing a dissertation, teaching a course or tutorial, etc.) to back this up.

There is such a thing as transferable skills. We have clear communication and presentation skills, the ability to work independently, to synthesize information and draw conclusions, and the ability to critically analyze and solve problems.  We’ve managed large projects over long periods of time (re: thesis writing).  Finally, we learn quickly demonstrated by our ability to pass courses in numerous subject matters.  It might be easy to list these skills at the top of a resume, however, as philosophers we have demonstrated these skills and can give concrete examples.

Don’t be fearful of the job postings.  Postings with ‘business analyst’ or ‘project’ or ‘program manager’ are your friend.  Also look for ‘coordinator’, ‘lead’, and ‘decision support’.  Each job has its own ladder, that is, the ability to progress within that title.  This is often referred to as the ‘job stream’.  Once you begin a position as a Business Analyst level 2, for example, you can work your way up to level 6.  It’s often difficult to jump between ladders for various reasons.  Starting salaries can be anywhere from 70k-85k.  Businesses and government are typically looking for a particular skillset.  Often a blank slate is a plus and practical skills closely associated with the position will be taught on site.  So don’t worry if the job posting looks complicated with business jargon, though it doesn’t hurt to familiarize yourself with that jargon if you land an interview.

Where you can find said job postings. Federal, provincial, and municipal governments each have job postings on their own websites.  Also check out and Monster.  For industry jobs (e.g. oil and gas) there are various search engines to find their job postings, but also don’t forget to look at the company’s website.  There are alternative academia (a.k.a. Alt. Ac.) careers on campuses too.  And if you’re super keen to learn more, those alt. ac. positions often fund further education related to the job.

There will be obstacles.  One might be a lack of industry-specific knowledge, if you’re applying for senior level positions.  However, you can work your way up by starting lower on the ladder.  Two to five years of experience gained in graduate school will put you at an entry-level position–do not think you aren’t qualified simply because you have a philosophy degree(s).

Make a professional resume. This is not your run-of-the-mill academic CV.  Employers will not necessarily care about individuality pluralism in the biological domain, whether we truly have freewill and what that means in life, Cantor and inconsistent multiplicities, or the meaning of Nietzsche’s will to power.  Instead, keep it simple and relevant. Start with a profile indicating your skills, followed by your education, experience (tailored to the job ad), any research and project experience, selected publications and talks, awards and scholarships, employment history with duty descriptions, and interests.

The items just listed are from a write up by Mike Steiner that is definitely worth the read.

In sum, with reports concerning the nature of the job market these days, learning that options truly exist was a breath of fresh air.  I bet the same goes for other humanity degrees.  Here’s one upshot: Universities need to take notice and funnel more resources to undermine the ‘unemployable-humanities-degrees’ jokes and memes that frequently circulate.  ‘Unemployable’ is the wrong word to use, perhaps ‘currently untranslated for industry to understand’ is better.  And until then, we’ll have to do the work in house, as it were.  Like many others, pursuing plan A feels like a necessity to me–I love philosophy and cannot imagine leaving it behind.  However, there is validation in knowing that multiple pathways to success exist.  Let’s put those transferable skills to use.