Job Hunting Tips The Industry Mindset

The power of skill stacking for academics

Skill stacking empowers academics and post-graduate students to thrive by combining diverse skills, expanding career prospects, and making a broader impact in the working world.

Skill stacking, sometimes referred to as talent stacking, is a concept you may have stumbled on before, or at least thought about without realising. In fact, it isn’t too dissimilar from the idea that transferable skills are what make you employable as opposed to the academic certificate you’ve collected. With this in mind then, we’re going to break down what skill stacking is, why you need to know about it, and how this will help you in your post-academic pursuits.

What is Skills Stacking?

Skill stacking is the concept of taking a collection of unique skills, and when combining and packaging them together, you’re able to apply them in infinitely more contexts. It’s the idea that you may have an initial skill that is quite one-dimensional (e.g. specialising in research), but when you combine that with other skills (e.g. data analysis, creativity, and writing) you can leverage them in a way that makes you more employable.

To bring this example to life a bit more, you may have had a reasonably good research career to date. You may have published, presented at conferences, have mastered the peer review process and so forth. This will give you domain specialism in research and in your field of study. You can continue to progress ‘vertically’ up the specialism ladder, looking into post-doc roles, early career researcher positions, and more.

On the flip side of this, you can take all these domain specific skills (i.e. research and subject matter expertise), combine them with other skills, and then leverage this new skill make-up in a different context. For example, you might take your writing, data analysis and creativity skills gained from research and apply them to web-design, blogging or journalism. Similarly, you may take your domain specific subject knowledge about healthcare and combine it with your problem solving, qualitative research skills, and self-resilience to support a health-tech organisation launch a new mobile app that helps improve patient outcomes.

In short, skill stacking is the idea of combining your skills in a unique configuration which allows you to provide more value and discover more opportunities in your professional and personal life. Using this approach is significantly more holistic as it encourages us to think about how our skills compliment one another as opposed to compartmentalising them.

Why do you Need to Know About Skill Stacking?

The more you understand and think about how skill stacking is relevant to you, more opportunities will present themselves. Once we have awareness of skill stacking we an also start to think more creatively and imaginatively about our future prospects.

Before understanding skill stacking you might compartmentalise your research skills as a separate specialism from your artistic and graphic design hobby you do on the weekends. When faced with this dilemma you may feel as though you have to ‘decide’ between a career in research versus your hobby, or at least a career similar to your hobby. As mentioned above, this is one dimensional thinking where we focus on progressing each skill vertically – which is often done at the expense of other skills as we believe we can’t do them both at the same time.

However, using the skill stacking approach means you can take your research skills and love for art and graphic design and use them in combination to complement each other. Whether that’s doing science related communication that uses art work, or by conducting your own market research to help you understand your audience and in turn produce high impact high quality art work. This avoids this one-dimensional approach and enables us to capitalise on our broad and diverse skill set.

Another way to think about skill stacking is to think about any video game you’ve played. Typically, video games are skill based, where you must help navigate your character to ‘acquire’ new skills along the way. As your character acquires new skills, they’re more competent, thus allowing you to take on more complex challenges and problems. This framework takes advantage of a skill tree, whereby you can effectively map out and identify specific skills to prioritise or work upon and understand how they all fit together. Thinking about your own skill set and skill tree then can help you identify possible opportunities other than a post-doc which you may not have thought of before.

How Will Skill Stacking Help Me?

Using this framework of actively pursuing your own skills tree, or perhaps just reframing how you think about your skills will move you away from doubts about the value of your academic achievements and what you can do with them. Instead you can start focusing on how they compliment one another.

This is very much a growth mindset, whereby we’re looking for opportunities and areas where we can add value to organisations they may be missing out on. Certainly, this breaks the mould of being fearful, complaining, or even failure to take advantage of your unique opportunity. A skills stacking lens should provide you with more confidence and belief in your abilities and what you can do with those skills.

The greater the variety of your skills the better as you’ll be well positioned to add as much value as possible. In effect, the greater variety of skills allows you to have a more niche and unique skill-tree. By configuring these together in a way that makes sense to the wider job market means that you’re likely to be completing with nobody else as your skill set is that unique. Being able to identify what that is is the first hurdle. Once we’ve unlocked that piece we’re then able to focus on rebranding ourself around that image via LinkedIn and other professional platforms. We can also then embed that persona into our CV, cover letter, and more when looking for our future careers.

Skill stacking provides a unique and helpful perspective on not only how to understand your skills, but also how your skills compliment and fit together to produce a more holistic overview. The better we’re able to do this, the more opportunities naturally unfold as we’re able to connect our disparate skills to one another in a relatable and complimentary way.

Overall, being able to use skill-stacking to your advantage improves your overall prospects and the chances of you having a fulfilling and impactful career grow exponentially.

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