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The Versatile Graduate
Student: Using
Extra-Role Activities
to Increase your Job Marketability

TIPTopics for

 Students

 Grace Ewles, Thomas Sasso, and Jessica Sorenson 
University of Guelph

home

“To ensure the success of our students, it is increasingly clear that universities need to ensure not only that our graduate students are well trained in their specific discipline, but that they must develop “transferable skills” to succeed regardless of their ultimate career path.”

- Allison Sekuler

There has been a global recognition of the increase in doctoral degrees conferred with comparatively few professorships and academic positions becoming available. Associations such as The Canadian Association for Graduate Studies are noting large discrepancies between the supply and demand for new professors (Sekuler, 2011). This calls into question dominant models of graduate education as training the future professoriate. Industrial and organizational psychology is perhaps well situated as a field to be less concerned about this trend. After all, many students who enter graduate training in our field do so with the intention of careers in consulting, human resources, or governmental and nonprofit work. As such, this month’s TIP-Topics column aims to provide guidance for graduate students looking to develop or enhance competencies deemed critical for I-O practitioners outside academe.

It is our position that given the employment context, and the limited likelihood of change in the years to come, graduate students must work to develop and enhance transferable professional skills to increase their job marketability. Although there are a significant number of skills trained in traditional graduate education, which are transferable to roles outside of academia (e.g., critical thinking, research methodologies, presentations), we propose that some transferable skills are not typically developed to the same level.

In 2015, TIP provided its readership with a series of articles outlining the competencies identified as most central to different careers for I-O psychologists. In Zelin et al.’s (2015) article on competencies for consultants, “participants rated some of the competencies as learned most often in graduate school across all levels, whereas other competencies were mostly learned on the job” (p. 127). To demonstrate appropriate job readiness, graduate students must take the initiative to develop KSAOs outside of formal graduate training in order to be competitive in the job market.

With this is mind, we present a toolkit for building these competencies, including a table, goal-setting action plan, and a list of potential activities to support your development.

Toolkit Description and Utilization

The table below was developed using an integrative and reflective process based on previous work by Zelin et al. (2015). Using the identified competencies for I-O practitioners outside of academia, we selected 10 competencies that can be developed outside of typical graduate education. For each competency, we utilized the Canadian National Occupational Classification (NOC), the Occupational Information Network (O*Net), and relevant literature to provide descriptions and indicators demonstrating the evolving nature of each competency from initial capacity to mastery. The indicators provided are used as sample reference points; there are additional mechanisms available to determine your current level on a given competency, including significant self-reflection, seeking feedback from others, and using research to guide your self-assessment.

In order use the table, note the competency you wish to develop and estimate your current level of ability using the sample indicators; this information will be used to help develop your personal action plan! If you require additional information to determine your current level of each competency, we suggest utilizing other resources, such as the NOC or O*Net to support your decision. It is important to note that you may fall below the identified indicators. This is perfectly fine; the competencies in this column are not always emphasized in graduate education and everyone has to start somewhere. This process will filter into your use of the action plan. Specific instructions for the action plan are noted below.

Competency

Description

Level

Example Indicator

Strategic Thinking

Envisioning a future state and developing strategies, goals, objectives and action plans to achieve it.

1-Low

Identify where you are within the organization’s big picture and how you impact the larger strategy.

3-Medium

Analyze business trends within the industry and sector in order to assess implications on business strategy.

5-High

Establish a long-term mission and vision in order to set shorter-term priorities and goals.

 

Global Citizenship

An active approach to understanding and embodying principles of social responsibility, global competence, and civic engagement that are integrated into one’s behaviours and attitudes.

 

1-Low

Awareness and acknowledgement of social and global inequalities and the unique experiences of diverse populations.  

3-Medium

Working within current systems and utilizing pre-existing solutions to engage in social change and movements (e.g., participating in your organization’s at-risk youth mentorship program.)

5-High

Developing new initiatives that target specific social and/or global issues and engaging others in the process.

 

Advising & Consulting

Utilizing evidence, experience, and expertise to help guide and advise the decision-making process.

 

1-Low

Prepare recommendations based on empirical evidence.

3-Medium

Consulting with relevant stakeholders to determine solutions.

5-High

Empower organizational members to take leadership in discussing issues, coordinating activities, or enacting change.

 

Competency

Description

Level

Example Indicator

Promoting & Selling

Using influence strategies to communicate value associated with products, services, or ideas.

1-Low

Identifying services or products based on a specified client need.

3-Medium

Evaluating sector or industry needs for a service or product.

5-High

Demonstrating the value of additional products or services to the client not initially considered.

 

Relationship Building (Networking)

Fostering and maintaining relevant collaborative relationships.

1-Low

Establishing connections within immediate network (e.g., within home department).

3-Medium

Recognizing potential new connections within broader network. Maintaining connections with pre-existing network.

5-High

Purposefully seeking new relationships, connections, or partnerships. Leveraging relationships to create new connections for others within your network.

 

Political Savviness

Utilizing relevant relationships and resources to support initiatives, goals, or develop opportunities.  

 

1-Low

Identifying influential members of your network.

3-Medium

Establishing opportunities for mutual benefit.

5-High

Utilizing power dynamics and your spheres of influence to leverage connections in support of personal or organizational goals.

 

Conflict Management

Guide interpersonal interactions to promote healthy and productive relationships.

 

1-Low

Minimizing immediate conflict in situations without addressing or resolving underlying issues (e.g., tabling issues).

3-Medium

Gaining multiple perspectives to generate solutions for immediate conflict situations.

5-High

Proactively identifying areas where conflict may emerge and working to resolve issues before they occur for mutually beneficial solutions.

 

Delegation

Assigning tasks and responsibilities to others as part of a larger project.

1-Low

Assigning tasks to others based on their availability.

3-Medium

Purposefully assigning tasks to others based on their skills, abilities, and expertise.

5-High

Empowering and providing others with the opportunity for high-stake or complex roles within your project.

Competency

Description

Level

Example Indicator

Receiving Feedback

Receipt of task or situationally relevant information from others to support personal development or change.

1-Low

Receiving and reviewing feedback provided to you from pre-established feedback mechanisms (e.g., performance reviews).

3-Medium

Critically self-reflecting on skills, abilities, and performance in order to set higher-order goals for your future efforts and personal development.

5-High

Seeking out high-quality, reputable, multisource feedback from others to guide personal improvements.

 

Providing Feedback

Delivery of task or situationally relevant information to others to support their individual development or change.

1-Low

Providing specific, constructive feedback to others based on their demonstrated performance.

3-Medium

Crafting personalized feedback that is meaningful for others, in recognition of their ability level, contextual factors, and capacity for change.

5-High

Delivering thoughtful, constructive, and developmental feedback in a timely manner that is evidence-based and considerate of perspectives outside your own preferences.

 

Extra-Role Activities To Support Your Development

To develop these competencies, we would like to offer you suggestions of various activities outside of traditional graduate education that can support your development. Some of the activities may develop multiple competencies simultaneously; likewise, competencies can be developed through multiple activities. For example, strategic thinking, global citizenship, and political savviness can be developed by participating in student governance, sitting on a board of directors, serving on a community advisory group, or through involvement in nonprofit work or volunteering. You might already be involved in some activities where you have overlooked the opportunity to develop these competencies further, such as recreational sports, cultural clubs/festivals, theater/artistic/musical outlets, international conferences/forums, lobbying, or any kind of social activism. Additionally, some graduate school adjacent activities, such as getting involved in professional groups or your union, helping with conference organizing, being involved in interdisciplinary work, as well as networking events, may offer unique opportunities to develop any one of the competencies listed above. The possibilities are endless; don’t hesitate to use your current extracurriculars or create new opportunities to support your development!

TIP-Topics Competency Development Action Plan

Instructions: To use this action plan, first identify the specific competency you would like to develop. In the spaces below, note your current level and the specific indicators you are using to make that assessment. Next, identify a specific goal or desired level you would like to achieve, as well as a timeline for this goal; writing them down in the spaces below will help you hold yourself accountable. Use this information to create specific actions that will help you achieve your goal and identify any potential metrics you would like to use to assess your progress (note: you may wish to use external resources to ensure accountability [e.g., coworker feedback]). Finally, use the last column as a check-in: Have you achieved your goal (Yes/No)? If not, what next steps will you employ to support your development? See below for an example.

To support your goal setting, ensure your goals are SMART!

Specific

Measureable

Attainable

Realistic
Time-based


Conclusion

As graduate students it is easy to get lost in the rigour of class schedules and research, but we cannot forget that our preparations for future careers are not confined by curriculum and program learning outcomes. If we want to strategically position ourselves for our ideal careers (whether academic, consulting, government, or otherwise), we cannot be passive in our development. We must critically self-reflect on our strengths and weakness, develop a plan of action to continue our skill development, and get involved in experiential and nontraditional activities that will be enjoyable and beneficial. Because everything is a learning opportunity.

Our next TIP column will be our last in our 2-year term. We will use this opportunity to encapsulate our time as TIP columnists and graduate students while offering our unique perspective on what the future may hold for our field.

As always, feel free to engage with any of the columnists over Twitter (@JessPSYC @grace_ewles @t_sasso).

A Postscript From the Columnists on Recent Events

In an effort to be global citizens, and to use our platform as TIP columnists, we feel it is important to acknowledge recent sociopolitical events and their potential negative impact on graduate students. We recognize that now is a time when many individuals, for various reasons, may be experiencing additional stress. We encourage you to find ways to prioritize your self-care: Utilize your social support networks, avail yourself of the resources on your campus, and/or find ways to engage in positive social action. If you have the capacity, look to your colleagues and networks and see how others are doing. Many in our academic families may be silently struggling and an outreach of compassion could be a much-needed resource for others.

As global citizens, we also encourage all members of SIOP to reflect on the various privileges we may hold. Consider your country of origin, citizenship, race, ethnicity, educational background, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, ability, health, marital/family status, class, creed, and record of offenses. How might individuals of different identities than yours be experiencing the world around them? What can we do to support those who are experiencing a harsher world than we are? Those of us with more privilege are called to use that power to dismantle the systems of oppression that operate around us. We encourage all members of SIOP to become more informed of global affairs and their impact on marginalized groups, academia, and the world of work.

References

Sekuler, A. (2011). Ecosystems for developing transferable skills. 2011 Strategic Leaders Global Summit on
Graduate Education: Agenda 3 Papers, 76-79.

Zelin, A. I., Chau, S., Bynum, B., Carter, C., Poteet, M. L., & Doverspike, D. (2015). Identifying the competencies, critical experiences, and career paths of I-O psychologists: Consulting. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 52(4), 122-130.