Looking for work, or looking to progress in your current role, is not always a straight-forward process. For recent graduates or those switching careers the dilemma is this: If you need experience to get a job, but a job to get experience, what can you do? For those further ahead in their career, it’s not always clear what experiences and attributes will help you stand out from the crowd when vying for a promotion.
It turns out your transferable skills are an important part of the key to solving both equations – here’s how to develop them and show them off in the right way.
What are transferable skills?
Transferable skills are abilities you have learned throughout life that are useful in your next job. These skills are relevant across all professions and workplaces, and are developed and taken with us (transferred) as we embark on new career paths. They may be hard or soft skills.
Examples of transferable skills
Hard skills are quantifiable and sometimes unique to a profession (such as foreign language ability, or knowledge of a specific computer program). On the other hand, while soft skills cannot be formally taught and are less quantifiable, they are increasingly sought after by employers.
There are many dozens of soft skills relevant to the workplace. They include:
- Written and spoken communication skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Organizational skills, time management skills; the ability to set and meet deadlines
- Short and long-term goal setting and achievement
- Customer service or sales skills
- Creative thinking, curiosity and imagination
- Research, information gathering, and analytic skills
- Attention to detail
- Negotiation and persuasion skills
- Meeting facilitation and presentation skills
Some soft skills are interpersonal, lying in the realm of how you deal and work with others. They include:
- Sensitivity to others
- Listening skills
- Conflict resolution
- Motivating co-workers
- Respectful delegation
- Reading body language
- Team work
- Dealing with office politics
The importance of transferable skills
It’s very important to understand and highlight your transferable skills when applying for work for the first time, changing career paths or returning to work after significant time away. Even if you are established in your current career, transferable skills are valuable as markers of your ability to work effectively in teams or to lead.
The good news is that in today’s workplace—with start-ups, remote working opportunities abound, and the normalization of having several careers over a lifetime—hirers now search for candidates who thrive wearing many hats and are able to swiftly adapt to new work situations, making transferable skills even more important than before.
Cultivating your transferable skills
Start by informing yourself about what soft skills are and being aware of your own. Now identify the skills that you are lacking in or need to improve upon, remembering to view them not as weak points, but as opportunities for professional development. The next step is to seek out ways to build these skills. Need to improve on your organizational skills? Research and implement different techniques for time management and task prioritization. Want to become a better leader? Seek out short-term opportunities with more responsibility in your current workplace.
Don’t worry if you haven’t progressed far down your desired career path: there are many ways to develop your soft skills during career breaks, after studies or even during your holidays.
An experience abroad is an unforgettable way to simultaneously cultivate a whole gamut of transferable skills. A semester abroad if you’re still a university student, or doing a shorter language course (with us, for example) will drop you into a new culture and way of living, which by the very nature of the experience obliges you to adapt to thrive.
You’ll come home with far more developed sensitivity to other cultures and ways of being, better listening skills (thanks to living in a foreign-speaking country), along with problem-solving and time management skills and a greater sense of how to set and meet your short to mid-term goals (thanks to studying towards your course work). Oh, and you’ll return home much stronger language skills as well, of course (in itself a key asset in our increasingly global working world).
A classic way to advance soft skills. Depending on your interests and future career goals you may wish to contact animal shelters, environmental projects, human rights organizations or food waste management services to volunteer your time. Such hands-on experience and commitment to social justice causes says a lot about you as a person and can develop key skills such as team work, perseverance, organizational skills and communication skills.
Are you a musician, chess, or math whiz? Did you grow up speaking a second language? Offer your services to primary or secondary school students or adults learning for pleasure. Your time management, goal setting, motivation, and communication skills will get a major workout.
Think retail, hospitality, or reaching out to a family friend who has a small business in an area of interest to you (accounting, dressmaking, delivery service, landscaping). Apart from cultivating soft skills as varied as communication and customer service skills, you’ll have fewer gaps in your CV and a referee to add to your CV.
Highlighting your transferable skills
With that in mind, before you cut and paste a list of transferable skills onto your CV, remember that the best approach is to show, not tell. It’s not enough to simply state these skills on your CV or in person – you must be able to explain and give details of when and how you used them – and indeed how they aren’t just useful, but essential to the role you are applying for..
For example, instead of talking about your “organization skills” or “meeting facilitation” skills, say: “As project coordinator for the launch of our company’s quarterly newsletter, I set and lead meetings across two time zones to establish roles and next steps amongst four team members, resulting in an effective and successful launch reaching 1,000 new subscribers in the first issue.”
This holds true for both your CV (even though you’ll need to keep it brief), as well as any interview situation where giving practical examples is key.
Today’s workplace is far different from the one our parents navigated. These days, it’s increasingly important to know yourself and what you can offer in a new position. Understanding and cultivating your transferable skills is an essential part of any job search today – and of a successful career in the future.