As the markets continue to grow and change, our job search methods must do the same. When you apply for a job this year, it is important to identify your transferable skills. This is especially true when the role you seek involves a career change.
Transferable skills, or portable skills, are non-job-specific skills relevant and applicable across various jobs and industries. They are usually, although not necessarily, “soft skills.” Examples include good communication, leadership skills, computer literacy, creativity, and the ability to work in a team.
Your transferable skills form the core of your overall skill set. Importantly, they are not gained exclusively through work experience. 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.
Raising children, for example, requires the development of your time management, organizational, and crisis management skills. Similarly, you actively hone your teamwork skills during those after-work basketball games with friends or choir rehearsals you attend. Organizing or hosting an event, like a large family gathering or holiday, is an exercise in planning, budgeting, and, often, quick decision-making and problem-solving.
Without thinking about your daily activities in the context of transferable skills, you might not realize that you have them. It would be a shame to miss out on that opportunity. There is a good chance that you possess such soft skills prospective employers consider valuable.
Taking Your Transferable Skills for Granted
Things you do daily, habits you’ve developed automatically rather than through training, are all too easy to overlook. Whether they are hard skills or soft skills, it might never occur to you that you can leverage them in your job search.
Stay-at-home parents, for instance, cook dinner every weeknight. “How do you manage it with the work and the children?” their friends may ask. Easy. It involves both time management and project management skills!
When trying to determine your best attributes, think about any feedback you may have gotten from others in the past.
Assess yourself from the perspective of others, trying to identify the things you take for granted about yourself.
- Writing skills
- Active listening
- Critical thinking skills
- Working toward a common goal
All these are evidence of skills that will make you stand out in the job market.
Do your friends approach you spontaneously for a listening ear or advice when they are in a difficult situation? Does your family ask you for help with technology? These are transferable skills such as effective listening, asking the right questions, and computer literacy.
Do not overlook basic skills, even if they 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, putting you one step closer to landing your dream job.
Transferable Skills Journey: 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 gained through life experience is much more than just something to bulk out your resumé with.
You can also use them to compensate for any employment gap, such as parental leave. We 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 behavioral questions to gauge your skills. Typically they ask you to describe a situation you found challenging, the actions you took, and what resulted. If you are stuck for examples from a workplace scenario, you should not hesitate to draw examples from your personal life.
It helps if you have a clear understanding of what specific skill the interviewer is seeking. That way, you can quickly demonstrate that you have some of the most coveted transferable skills employers are looking for.
Are Employers Looking for Transferable Skills?
According to Tom Mercaldo, president of Aquinas Consulting, when it comes to transferable skills, tech skills rise to the top. “In my experience, specific technical skills and knowledge are the kinds of skills that are the most highly transferable.”
Examples of such skills could depend on career paths and might include
- Mechanical Engineering: ProE, Solidworks, UG-NX, FEA-IDEAS, thermal analysis
- Software Developers: SQL. JAVA, .net, Tableau, C++, CSS, Python, Ruby on Rails, XML
- Contracts Administrators: FARS/DFARS, RFP response/Generation
- Financial Analysts: Excel, Pivot Tables, forecasting, reporting, statement preparation, reconciliation
- Project Managers: MSProject, Primavera, Gantt Charts, Critical path analysis, PMP certification
- Sales: Salesforce, cold-calling scripts, presentation skills, negotiation skills, lead generation, prospecting
- Admin Assistant: Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, Sharepoint, Adobe PDF. Docusign, Photoshop, Quickbooks
This is not to say that soft skills don’t factor into the equation. According to Mercaldo, those may be harder to quantify.
While they may be highly transferable, they are much more difficult to leverage into jobs as most employers only consider candidates that have some level of specific technical skills, abilities or knowledge for a position. The thinking at many companies is that if they are going to hire on soft skills and train for a job, they might as well save money by hiring early career professionals with good soft skills. So in almost all cases, for an experienced worker to leverage a higher paying job, they need to bring some level of tangible transferable skills to the role, be these skills be in specialized knowledge, sales skills, management skills or technical skills.
5 Examples of Transferable Skills
In addition to technical skills, which Mercaldo highlights above, there are other types of transferable skills employers are looking for.
Before your interview, prepare a list of all the positive attributes you bring to the table. Your transferable skills will remain in your mind as you prepare for your interview, and by writing them down, you will be able to recall them when the time comes.
If you’re unsure where to start, use the framework below as a basic guideline for considering your skills. Loosely based on the Transferable Skill Framework developed by the University of Leicester, it’s been used by many prospective employees to level up their job search.
The main categories in bold are broken down further into subcategories, with some examples provided. You should feel free to develop it more by adding any examples you can think of or more subcategories.
1. Interpersonal Skills
- Communication (including amiability, customer service skills, listening, verbal/written expression)
- Teamwork (dependability, helpfulness, trustworthiness)
2. Leadership Skills
- Goal-setting (personal and corporate)
- Decision making
- Leveraging group dynamics
- Supervisory skills
3. Management Skills
- Planning and scheduling
- Motivation (both internally and externally)
- Risk assessment
4. Exploration and Implementation Skills
- Research and analysis (attention to detail, analytical skills)
- Prioritization and accountability
- Planning and Organizing (time management, goal setting)
5. Self-Management Skills
- Learning, improving, and achieving (ability to learn quickly, teachability, resourcefulness)
- Resilience, adaptability, and drive (includes flexibility, perseverance)
- Enterprising (creativity and 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 exceptionally skilled in, the areas that have room for development, and those you feel need considerable work for improvement.
Perhaps most importantly, take time to think of examples that demonstrate your identified skills. You should aim for at least one or two examples that carefully demonstrate a particular skill during an interview.
Making a Case for Your Transferable Skills
Needless to say, when applying for a new job, it is crucial to thoroughly read the job description and prepare a response that appeals to hiring needs. Pay particular attention to the section that states the “desired skills” for the role.
- Do you need to be proficient in specific Microsoft tools?
- Must you demonstrate proof of specific leadership abilities?
- Are you required to provide a portfolio of your previous work?
In addition, it’s a good idea to look at postings for similar jobs or even different jobs at the same company. Match the desired skills with your identified transferable skills, and be sure to feature them throughout your resumé. Check your Linkedin profile to see what skills your peers have most endorsed you for, and make sure those are included. It may even be a good idea to adjust your cover letter to take these needs into account. It’s never too early to start displaying examples of transferable skills.
For example, if the position calls for strong communication skills, cite examples of when you had to demonstrate these, even if it was in a non-working environment. Some situations may include writing and delivering a public speech or thriving in a culturally and linguistically diverse environment.
It is also good to include a brief professional summary section that highlights your top skills and qualities. This signals to potential employers that you’re aware of what they’re looking for, and your transferable skills can help meet those needs.
If your desired job means a radical career change, you would be well advised to consult with people who have already transitioned from your industry to a different one. They may help you identify any skills from your previous experience and how they can apply in your new field.
Know Where There’s Room for Improvement
Now that you have considered what 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 good to develop an awareness of the areas we need to improve upon.
There is no one formula for this. Improving a technical skill – such as Excel mastery – is a reasonably straightforward matter (as are most tech skills companies are looking for). However, when it comes to soft skills, the answers might not be so direct.
Most people can effectively improve their soft skills. Watch others who are particularly good at the given area and try to figure out what they are doing differently.
For example, if you need to improve your listening skills, start by making a conscious effort to focus on what the speaker is saying. Put yourself in their perspective rather than just waiting for your turn to speak.
You will find that “rewiring” your automatic mechanisms this way, though challenging, is helpful both for career advancement and self-development.
Being well aware of your transferable skills can serve you well.
Take a moment to reflect on your strengths and identify areas where there is potential for improvement. When thinking of examples, do not limit yourself to work experience.
If you are looking for your first job or changing careers, map your transferable skills with the help of the framework presented above. It can help you structure your résumé and ace crucial moments in the interview.
If you seek to advance your career, identifying relevant skill gaps may be the first step you need to take.
Finally, remember to trust in your unique skills.
You’ve got this!
Ready to Show Off Your Transferable Skills and Land Your Dream Job?
Now that you’ve learned how to show off your transferable skills to potential employers check out these further resources to make sure you’re interview-ready:
How to Ask About Salary in an Interview [With Examples]
Avoiding Job Search Frustration: 5 Tips to Stay Motivated and Get Hired