This question is inspired with gratitude by Ro Siv's "Is a question about what to do with my biology major inappropriate or offtopic?" on Meta, and reframe it in a way that is appropriate to the main workplace Stack Exchange site.

The basic question, in generic form, is simply what is stated in the title, no more, no less: some variation on the I have _______ level of training in _______ area. How can I tell what lines of work are open to me? in the title.

Furthermore, this question seeks answers respecting the words in an obvious close reason, specifically "Questions should get answers explaining why and how to make a decision, not advice on what to do."

  • You have completed the training and you do not know what lines of work are open to you??
    – Pepone
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 0:13
  • The blanks in the question look kind of weird. Even if this is a "hypothetical" question or a "generic" question, is there some way to phrase it in a more straightforward way?
    – Brandin
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 7:44
  • 3
    Vote to close as "Too Broad". There are all kinds of jobs. Some jobs require many years of training (e.g. medical doctor). Some jobs require only minimum training (do you truly need more than a month training to be a casher at a convinence store?) Please remember that Workplace SE is not for computer programmers only.
    – Nobody
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 13:19
  • meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/251874/…
    – gnat
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 16:45

1 Answer 1


Know what transferrable skills are, and learn what your transferrable skills are if you do not know them.

In most academic areas or vocational formal training, there is an outer surface to the skills involved. These sorts of things tend to be heavily represented on both job descriptions and resumes, but they are maybe 20% of the picture.

There are higher-level proficiencies that are behind the scenes, harder to see, much more important, and keys to where you can work well.

What's a live example?

For one example, my undergrad, liberal arts English professor relayed that one bank president preferred hiring literature majors as tellers. The reason for this, with pretty much zero literature appreciation stated or implied on the bank's job descriptions, was that literature majors have in general worked hard to get into character's heads in understanding what was going on in perceptive reading of literature, and people who love doing that make bank tellers adept at understanding what is going in in a customer's head, and communicating appropriately to what the customer wants.

This is a somewhat rare example of where the person in charge is looking for a transferrable skill, but as almost a secret advantage even if he discloses it, he looks for candidates who have a major that tends to build a particular competency that helps people succeed and thrive in a role.

More broadly, there are certain core skills that come up in education and formal training: skills like thinking critically, communicating in various venues, and so on. For instance, legal training, among many other topics, trains people to recognize and assess the strength of arguments. That is a workplace skill regardless of whether you end up licensed to practice law in a particular place.

There are dizzyingly many transferrable skills available; here's the first page of a Google search engine results page. If you want to get your bearings, I'd probably read through all ten results. The first page is particularly good at providing an interactive quiz to go through and exploit.

One influential book, What Color Is Your Parachute?, takes a good step further back and instead of saying "Here are the buzzwords you want in your resume to get continued jobs as a database administrator?" asks questions like "What do you really like to do?" and "What are you good at?" If you are not familiar with this work, I would obtain a copy and read it cover to cover. If your school or library has a job search section this is one read they should almost certainly have available, perhaps with the latest edition on reserve. And it's worth a few days, if you don't want to spend a few dollars on a used copy, to read in the library and soak in the basic perspective.

The Meta OP wanted to know what was open to him with a biology degree (undergrad), and looked at things that are explicitly stamped with "You are qualified because you know ______ level of biology." He mentioned lab technicians after looking away from grad school. And I mentioned, not in the direction I wish to go for this response, that there are some medical support professions that require surprisingly little training: in my neighborhood, an emergency medical technician requires 10 credit hours of coursework (paramedic is an upgrade from EMT after such-and-such hours of ambulance ride time, and further coursework after the ride time), phlebotomist (someone who draws blood) requires 12 hours of coursework, and electrocardiogram technician 2. The OP on Meta would probably blast through the medical training bit that someone with a GED can be admitted to, even if his coursework was not anywhere particularly near pre-med in emphasis.

But let's classify that as "things explicitly labelled as related to biology," and ask another exercise: If you studied biology, anatomically speaking, name as many scientifically meaningful parts of the human body as you can, from the whole body down to subatomic particles. And someone with serious biology qualifications will perhaps have an immediate unconscious reaction of "Ugh, does he have any idea how many items that is, and how long it will take?", and that is exactly my point. People who know biology tend to know an extraordinary number of systems and subsystems and wheels within wheels of complexity within the human body (or, if you prefer, the anatomy of a mouse or a sunflower.) And that's a quite significant transferrable skill.

I am trying to avoid outlining or listing what transferrable skills are because they are simply too many good ones out there and I want instead to just sensitize people to transferrable skills. The Meta OP, Ro Siv, seemed pretty humble about his achievements, and humility is something that is basically good for people. But in what he modestly outlined, perhaps with failures along the way (and who among us has not failed at something?), outlined that he successfully achieved an undergrad degree in biology. And what that telegraphed to me is that he successfully achieved proficiency in multiple transferrable skills in order to earn his degree, however modest he may be about his achievement.

Once you know your transferrable skills, investigate and research what you can do to identify jobs that run on a chassis of transferrable skills you possess or can gain.

This will involve getting off your butt.

The web seems to have an exuberant excess of pages listing or talking about transferrable skills. However, I've made multiple searches and I have yet to find a page listing "transferrable skills basis" matched up against "jobs you can do". I wanted to link to a good search engine results page, and then scaled back to an unsuccessful search for a single destination page advising how to do things. I didn't find even one. However, I can mention a few archaic approaches:

  • What Color Is Your Parachute? explicitly outlines how to visit libraries, make informational interviews, and do your best to talk with people who have succeeded. This may not be as convenient as Google, but even an old-fashioned drive to an informational interview may help.
  • Consult your college's career center or local library. A career counselor will probably have experience in fielding questions you might have. At least at some schools, alumni as well as current students have the right to use the career office. I remember as an undergraduate taking an inventory that listed categories of jobs based on five or so scores about what I might be interested. There may be something similar that is not online. Furthermore, even if your library does not have a career section, library and information science is a discipline that is about doing research and finding research, and a librarian should be able to generally help you find, "What would I like to do given this core set of transferrable skills strengths?" I don't know that the average librarian would be quite as good or as quick as the average career counselor, but a librarian could be a very valuable ally in researching questions like this.
  • Along the way, if you are able to ask appropriate questions on forums like this, include such conversations in your research. I might suggest that, at the risk of drawing down ire, that the StackExchange family of sites is a specialization and is not always useful. I'm a Christian with a second master's in theology, and I simply do not find christianity.stackexchange.com particularly useful because the questions that are interesting to me. (The Stack Overflow insistence as interpreted by Stack Overflow, "We prefer questions that can be answered, not just discussed" does not lend itself to the questions I discuss and try to answer in my writing.) You (meaning the Meta OP) have some valid and interesting questions, some of which are considered appropriate for the Stack Overflow sites, some of which are not, but all of which you should be investigating. Meaning use Stack Overflow sites like you use oxygen, but address other questions on other sites. I don't know what are other good job hunting sites (though Quora.com is one place for questions that don't fit here), but Indeed is one important jobhunting site and I would try asking your original question on the Indeed forum.

I think I'll end here; my goal has been to take a two step process and clarify that it should be at least a three step process. That is, instead of being a map that takes you from your major or training to what jobs you can do, it starts perhaps with your major or training (and hobbies, and interests and avocations), then moves on to look at your transferrable skills and your preferences, and then looks on what you can do from that basis to professions that will work with some subset of your transferrable skills.

In other words, instead of a map of:

Major → jobs you can do

we should have a map of:

Major → transferrable skills and things you enjoy → jobs you might do.

All the best!

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