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Your advanced degree is worthless without these five skills

There used to be a time when getting an advanced degree secured people’s future. They would get their bachelors and get their masters or doctorate and then the world was handed to them. Things have changed, writes Isaiah Hankel.

Academia is no longer a golden path to the good life. It’s no longer a hideaway for lifetime learners or for people who lack certain interpersonal skills. Academia is quickly becoming a dead end – at least for people who don’t know how to adapt.

In the United States, less than 30% of Ph.D. faculty members receive tenure. This is down from 42% in 1995 and 75% in 1970. Likewise, less than 50% of MBA graduates land jobs at big corporations, consultancies, and investment banks. This is down from 70% in 1998. Nearly 45,000 law students graduate each year and only about half will secure long-term jobs that require a law degree.

An advanced degree is not enough. To be successful in academia or business, you need more than a title. You need skill sets that you can’t learn just by sitting in a classroom, working in a lab, or reading a textbook.

Today, interpersonal skills are ranked as the most important factor in hiring and promotion decisions. Numerous surveys and studies show that interpersonal skills matter more than technical skills no matter the profession. But what are interpersonal skills? Most people define these skills as merely communication skills or people skills. But these definitions are vague and carry little value.

Interpersonal skills can be broken down into five key components. Mastering these components is crucial to successfully leveraging an advanced degree in academia or business.

1. Expressiveness

Striking up conversations with strangers and conveying feelings does not come easily to everyone. Expressing yourself effectively is a skill that needs to be practiced, otherwise it will shrink and eventually disappear.

Sure, some people are better at it than others, but this is because they practice it more, not because they’re naturally more charismatic. It’s always easier to sit back and say nothing and do nothing – to keep your ideas and feelings to yourself. This is the comfortable thing to do.

Being expressive takes energy and resolve and a willingness to fail and even embarrass yourself. But it’s worth it. Expression is the bottleneck through which all ideas must travel.

You can have the greatest idea in the world but unless you can get up the gall to share it, it will never spread.

2. Sensitivity

The ability read other people or to feel out a room is exceptionally important in both academia and business. Whether you’re giving a thesis defense, taking a bar exam, or presenting to clients, understanding your audience’s needs and wants is critical.

The problem is that most people forget about their audience. They are so focused on what they want to say and what they want to get that they forget to listen and give.

We’ve all experienced the pain of being in a room with someone who cannot read body language and who makes everyone around them feel uncomfortable. Try not to be one of these people – they don’t last long in any industry.

3. Clarity

The world is in a state of information overload. We used to fight for information, now we fight to stay away from it. We block email spam, listen to XM radio and watch Netflix to avoid commercials, and automatically skip over those first three, beige ad lines that accompany a Google search.

Messages come at us from all directions, begging us to pay attention. For most, the noise is unbearable – even painful. This is why clarity is such a valuable skill.

Clarity requires creativity and forethought. It also requires tenacity. You have to be able to dig through mountains of data and information to find a few sticky insights. Then you have to display these insights in a crisp and interesting way.

A simple message that is immediately understood has staying power. Everything else gets lost.

4. Self-control

Self-control is the ability to adjust your persona to match the mood and social makeup of any group. Once you are sensitive enough to be able to read other people quickly and correctly, you must be disciplined enough to behave in a way that makes them comfortable.

Comfortableness creates agreeableness. Showcasing the right parts of your personality at the right time to the right people is a powerful part of building rapport and communicating in general.

Success in academia or business comes down influencing people’s decisions. Self-control is the cornerstone of this influence.

5. Likeability

Likeability is the most seemingly unpredictable part of being personable. Most people think that when it comes to charisma, you’re either born with it or you’re not. The truth is that charisma can be practiced like anything else.

Likeability relies on relatability. Many businesses hire sales agents from within their client base because people are more likely to be influenced by people like themselves. But being similar to someone else does not, by itself, make someone charismatic.

Likeability also requires differentiation. There must be something about you that stands out, like an advanced degree, an endearing personality quirk, or a unique experience from your past.

The best way to be likeable is to be warm and relatable while also being strong and different. 

Isaiah Hankel PhD is the author of Black Hole Focus: How intelligent people can create a powerful purpose for their lives, published by Capstone priced £14.99


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