Make it Work: Transferable Skills during the Job Search

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    Valerie Heruska
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    Career Info

Evaluation and assessment, working with corporate sponsors, and customer service--these were just some of the items on my résumé when I was looking to add to my portfolio with another graduate assistantship during the second year of my Master’s program. My first graduate assistantship--while an amazing experience--did not provide the foundational skills that one would need to be successful working in a traditional, entry-level residence life role. I struggled with figuring out how to make my experiences transferrable to a job that I wanted. Luckily, I had some amazing people help me realize the potential of my very unique résumé.

You might be looking at your résumé and wondering, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, how in the world am I going to use what I’ve actually done in a job that is completely different from what I currently do?” Fortunately, in our field and in most jobs in higher education, the skills you have from your undergraduate experience, and perhaps your current job, have set you up with foundation skills to do most jobs. Everything is transferable.

When you are looking to move into a completely different role, take a close, critical look at the job to which you are applying and figure out the core skills that the employer wants. For example, currently, I  work in residence life and have for the past seven years. Let’s say I want to move into a job in alumni relations--something that is completely different and most likely does not report under a division of student affairs. So let’s take a look at how my skills from residence life can fit into a job in alumni relations: 

Basic Skills Needed for Alumni Relations Job 

  1. Exceptional oral and written communication skills
  2. Effective interpersonal skills to develop collaborative working relationships
  3. Effective organizational and planning skills
  4. Event planning and alumni programming experience

My Residence Life Skills 

  1. Exceptional oral and written communication skills to communicate with students, colleagues, parents (alums), and other constituents
  2. Work collaboratively with faculty and staff in 11 LLCs on campus
  3. Assist in the implementation of cross-campus programming
  4. 7 years of event planning experience

Of course, I would need to go more in-depth than what's listed above, but as you can see, all you need to do is to pull apart the job that you hope to have, then figure out how your skillset can fit into that job.

You might be wondering: Valerie, how did you take your graduate assistantship and get your first residence life job?  Here is how I made my skillset work for me: 

Basic Skills Needed for a Residence Hall Director Job

  1. Masters degree in area of student personnel, education, counseling or related areas  
  2. Demonstrated supervision skills  
  3. Demonstrated initiative and experience in community development  
  4. Demonstrated administrative skills including an ability to manage multiple priorities  
  5. Demonstrated proficiency of communication skills, including verbal, written, and interpersonal

My Quasi Residence Life Skills 

  1. Actively completing my MA in May 2008
  2. I had some supervision skills when I did my ACUHO-I Internship in Summer Conferences. Supervised 21 Conference Coordinators for 3 months
  3. Community development looked different for me. I was working in an association for a period of time, so building community among members was what I had in my toolkit
  4. When you work at an association as an assistantship, you’re asked to manage multiple priorities
  5. Work with members, corporate sponsors, and on-site conference locations was my holy grail of positive relationship building and communication.

You should feel confident in the skills you already have; they are valuable and transferrable into anything you would like to do as a future career. Sometimes, you need to look beyond what is written in the job description and be creative in making the job work for you. 

Valerie Heruska is the Assistant Director for Residential Life at IU Bloomington and works with all of the Living-Learning Centers on Campus and is the Residence Hall Advisor. You can visit her website at or tweet her at @valerieheruska.

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