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TIP-TOPics for Students: TheVersatile Graduate Student: Using Extra-Role Activities to Increase Your Job Marketability

Grace Ewles, Thomas Sasso, and Jessica Sorenson

“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.

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!







Create your own:


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.



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.

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