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What are you capable of?

"What are you going to do with a degree in that?" Does this question sound familiar?

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Photo: Alexis Brown © Alexis Brown fra Unsplash

Perhaps you've prepared a short spiel for family gatherings, to silence your uncomprehending family members. But if it's a potential employer asking, you'll need a totally different kind of answer. In that case, you need to be clear about what skills you have and how you can create value in a workplace.

TL;DR: Base your answer around past experience and volunteer work. What problems did you solve, how, and with what results?

Each of us has our own experiences and interests. That's what gives you a unique profile and distinguishes you from colleagues and fellow students. Over time, your profile will develop, and you'll become more aware of what you're good at and what motivates you. These are the cornerstones of the answer you should give to a potential employer.

Here are the tools you need to get started:

Create a general, overall CV

When establishing your skills, use your business experience as a starting point. Remember that volunteer work is relevant here, too. Write down what you did in each position, what problems you helped to solve, and how you solved them. Pay particular attention to the tasks you enjoyed the most or found most interesting. That can give you an idea of what motivates you in your work.

Then, consider your studies: What kinds of methods and resources have you taken from your studies? Employers don't care what you wrote your thesis or essays on (unless it's specifically related to a challenge they're facing). Employers would much rather know what you're capable of and how that can help them with the challenges they face. A tip: the curriculum for your course of study tells what skills you gain from your education. That can make it a useful source of inspiration.

For more inspiration, watch the video "What can I do with a degree?" from the University of Copenhagen (in Danish).

What can someone do with a master's degree?

When you hold a master's degree, whether it's in biology, philosophy, chemistry, or sociology, there are some core academic skills that you have. Below, we've listed the 8 general academic skills that we encounter most frequently.

For example: Data processing. All academics work with data processing, but we do so in different ways. Chemists log and refine the data they gather, and must be able to explain deviations and sources of errors. Philosophers look at the relationships that exist within data, and need solid conceptual understanding to communicate complex information in an actionable manner. Both perform the same task — data processing — but differently, according to the characteristics of their fields.

Consider each of your skills and write them down in light of your education, your field, and your experiences, so you can make them your own. Again, focus on what you can do and how that creates value for an employer. Use these examples in your CV, your cover letter, and your meeting with a potential employer.

How you weigh your skills can differ depending on your interests and your field. You might be passionate about analysis, giving you much more experience with this skill compared to, say, communicating results. In that case, if you're also passionate about communicating your results, but you don't have the skills to do so, you know where you need to make an effort to expand your skill set. For example, through volunteer work or an internship.

General academic skills

Project planning

One core academic skill is to define a problem, establish its limits, decide on the most appropriate way to gather data, and choose a method to process that data. You're used to working on a long-term scale and meeting deadlines. You have a lot of experience working independently (defining your task yourself) and doing so together with others.

Problem- and solution-orientated

You can comprehend, define, and establish limits on a problem. You can do so because you employ concepts precisely and consistently, and you can condense complex materials and problem statements to get to the heart of the matter. This is necessary when working with data and analyses.

Data processing

You have a systematic approach to gathering data, and you know how to structure the data you have to make it workable. You're critical of your sources, and you can evaluate when there is a need to expand your data set or understanding of a situation.

Analysis

You have a critical, methodical approach to analysis. You're experienced with designing analyses to shed more light on a problem. You can evaluate and prioritise your results, and you can summarise your conclusions in a nuanced, well-supported, solution-orientated manner.

Communication

You can communicate a brief, clear, actionable conclusion based on your work. Your strength lies in communicating to those outside of your field. 1) "Downwards"; that is, to others who need to increase their level of knowledge. 2) "Upwards"; that is, as a foundation for decision-making in politics or management. 3) "Horizontally"; that is, to fields other than your own — for example, as a link between consumers and producers, citizens and authorities, or developers and sellers.

Approach to a task

You can comprehend complex, lengthy, and large-scale tasks without knowing the whole answer up front, so to speak. You can independently plan out and perform a task. You're used to translating complex materials into brief messages or simple models.

The academic mindset

You've been trained to work in an exploratory, solution-orientated way. You can start on a task without knowing the answer up front. You can comprehend complex, multifaceted situations. For example, you might need to manage multiple stakeholders (and their agendas) in a shared project, or a project involving many suppliers.

Relational work

In some educational contexts, you're trained to take part in multiple different working contexts, practice sessions, study groups, reading groups, projects, etc. Seek this out and practise it! You'll work together with people who have different personalities and come from different fields. In a co-operative effort, it's good to know what role you will take on in advance.

Establishing your skills

MA holds events where you can work on establishing your job-related skills so you can present them to a potential employer.

Read more and sign up