When you are applying for a job, it is very important to be aware of your transferable skills. Especially so when the role you aspire to involves a career change.
But first, which skills are we talking about? Transferable skills, or portable skills, are non-job-specific skills both relevant and useful across a range of roles in different industries. They are usually, although not necessarily, “soft skills”. Examples include good communication, organizational skills, computer literacy, creativity, teamwork ability… the list goes on and on.
Your transferable skills form the core of your overall skill set. Importantly, they are not uniquely gained through work experience in the strict sense. You develop them as you progress through your education, sports activities or hobbies, volunteering experiences, daily interactions with other humans, or even your family life.
If you are a parent, for example, you must be acutely aware of the time management, organizational, and crisis management challenges that raising children involves. Similarly, you actively hone your teamwork skills during those after-work basketball games with friends, or choir rehearsals you attend, etc. Organizing and/or hosting an event, like a larger family gathering or holiday, is an exercise in planning,budgeting, and, in many cases, quick decision-making and problem-solving.
Without taking the time to think about your daily activities in these terms, in an attempt to identify your transferable skills, you might have no idea that you actually carry them. And there is a good chance that you possess such soft skills that prospective employers consider valuable.
Don’t Take Your Skills for Granted
Things you do on a daily basis, in an almost knee-jerk manner, are all too easy to overlook. It might never occur to you that they could pose a challenge for others.
I, for one, have always been surprised that my friends find it extraordinary that I cook dinner every weeknight. “How do you manage it with the work and the children?” they ask. I suppose it does involve a bit of time management, and also a repertoire of time-efficient recipes I have tried and tested and keep doing so (you could call it a desire for continuous process improvement).
I also take pleasure in planning holidays, researching the destination and its offerings, defining the budget, investing time in finding hotels and restaurants with the best quality-price ratio, etc. And to judge from my traveling companions’ feedback, I’m pretty good at it too. In any case, it baffles me that many people find this a chore and prefer to pay someone else to do it for them.
When trying to determine your best attributes, think about feedback you got from others in the past. Assess yourself from an external perspective, trying to identify the things you take for granted about yourself. Do your friends approach you spontaneously for a listening ear or advice when they are in a difficult situation? This could translate to you being skilled in effective listening and asking the right questions. Does the whole family use you as tech support?
You should not hesitate to consider even what might seem trivial to you: something as simple as being able to write clear and concise e-mails is a sought-after skill that many do not possess.
First Job, Employment Gap, Career Change
Being conscious of your transferable skills is especially useful when you are applying for your first job. Although you lack actual work experience, a cleverly curated list of skills you have gained through life experience is much more than just something to bulk out your resumé with.
That said, you can also use them to compensate for any employment gap, such as a parental leave. I have already touched upon some of the transferable skills you almost inevitably develop while parenting. To consider a different example, say you spent a gap year traveling. Now try to think of your traveling experience as an exercise in planning, budgeting, cross-cultural exchange, and adaptability.
Interviewers will often ask you so-called behavioral questions in order to gauge your skills. Typically they ask you to describe a challenging situation you found yourself in. Then you will be requested to recount what action you took, and what came out as a result. If you are stuck for examples from a workplace scenario, you should not hesitate to draw examples from your life outside work. It does help if you have a clear understanding of what specific skill the interviewer is after – see more about that below.
An Exercise to Identify Your Transferable Skills
In preparation for your interview, try to list all the positive attributes that you carry. Taking it a step further and actually writing them down will help you remember them at the right moment. You can use the framework below as a basic guideline for considering your skills. It is loosely adapted on the Transferable Skill Framework developed by the University of Leicester. The three main categories in bold are broken down into three subcategories each, with some examples provided. You should feel free to develop it further by adding more examples you can think of, or breaking it down into more subcategories.
- Communication (such as Amiability, Customer Service skills, Listening, Verbal/Written expression)
- Teamwork (such as Dependability, Helpfulness, Trustworthiness)
- Leadership (such as Decision making, Goal setting, and Supervisory skills)
Skills Related to Exploration and Implementation
- Research and Analysis (such as Attention to detail, Analytical skills)
- Problem Solving and Decision Making (such as Prioritization skills, Accountability)
- Planning and Organising (such as Time management, Goal keeping, Organization skills)
Skills Related to Self-Management
- Learning, Improving and Achieving (such as Ability to learn quickly, Teachability, Resourcefulness)
- Resilience, Adaptability, and Drive (such as Flexibility, Perseverance)
- Enterprising (such as Creativity, Confidence)
Try to place the skills you have gained in previous experiences in the matrix above. If you are a visual type, you could also try color-coding them. Using three different colored pens, highlight the areas you feel particularly skilled in, where you are OK with room for development, and also where you feel there is a lot of improvement to be done.
Importantly, take some time to think of examples that demonstrate your identified skills. You should aim for at least one or two carefully thought through examples that will help you make a case for your particular skill during the interview.
Making the Case for Your Skills
Needless to say, when applying for a job, it is very important to thoroughly read the ad. You should be particularly attentive to the part that states “desired skills” for the role you are applying for. It is a good idea to read these in other ads for similar jobs, or even different jobs at the same company. Match the desired skills with your previously identified transferable skills, and be sure to feature them throughout your resumé.
If the role calls for strong communication skills, do not hesitate to cite examples when you had to demonstrate these, even if it was in a non-working environment, such as writing and delivering a public speech or thriving in a culturally and/or linguistically diverse environment. It is also a good idea to include a brief (5-7 lines) professional summary section at the top that highlights your top skills and qualities.
If your desired job means a radical career change for you, you would be well advised to consult with people who have already transitioned from your industry to a different career. They could help you see if there are any skills you gained from previous experience that you might be overlooking and also how they could apply outside
Know Where There’s Room for Improvement
Now that you have considered what you think others would say are your strengths, also take a moment to reflect on what others would say are your gaps. You could ask a candid friend or co-worker to help you with this. We all have skill gaps, and it is perfectly fine to not possess all the transferable skills in the world. Not every role requires creativity or tech-savviness.
However, you might have skill gaps that are effectively blocking you in your career advancement. Try to identify these – again, a candid external opinion is gold. If you find such blocks, make sure you actively work on removing them by developing yourself in the given area.
Obviously, there is no cookie-cutter formula for this. Improving a technical skill – such as Excel mastery – is a fairly straightforward matter (see some tips on building tech skills that are relevant on the job market today here). When it comes to soft skills, the answers might not be so easily found, but rest assured that most of them can also be developed effectively. Watch others who are particularly good at the given area – what are they doing differently? If your listening skills need improving, for example, start making a conscious effort to focus on what your interlocutor is saying and try to put yourself in their perspective rather than just waiting for your turn to speak. You will find that “rewiring” your spontaneous mechanisms this way, though challenging, is helpful both for career advancement and self-development.
To sum up: being well aware of your transferable skills can serve you in many ways. Taking a moment to reflect on your strengths and identify areas where there is potential for improvement is always useful – especially so when applying for a job! When thinking of examples, do not limit yourself to work experience. If you are a jobseeker looking for your first job or completely changing careers, mapping your transferable skills with the help of the framework presented above could help you structure your résumé just right and ace the crucial moment in the interview. If you are seeking to advance your career, identifying relevant skill gaps may be the very first step you need to take. Finally, remember to trust in your unique skills. You’ve got this!