A skill is an ability developed through practice. If asked to give an example of a skill, most people will name technical skills that are gained through job experience and education. For example, a programmer might have specific computer skills, a property lawyer might be skilled at evaluating contracts, and a mixed-martial-arts fighter might have experience with boxing. These are all examples of technical, job-specific skills.
However, there is another category of skills that are useful across many different career contexts and are not necessarily learned in any systematic way. These are transferable skills, which include such useful abilities as time management and problem solving. Transferable skills are not just learned in the workplace; you can develop them in the course of everyday life.
Technical skills that apply across different disciplines can also be thought of as transferable skills. For example, the programmer could use his or her computer skills to become a systems administrator, the property lawyer could use his or her experiences with contracts to become a film agent, and the mixed-martial-arts fighter could become a martial-arts instructor. These skills are also sometimes referred to as portable skills.
For many young people, breaking into the modern workforce may seem like a daunting prospect. Likewise, a worker who has recently lost a job may be apprehensive about searching for another. If you are looking for a job, you may worry that you lack some of the qualifications that you may need in order to apply for a new position. However, assessing your transferable skills may help you discover opportunities that you may not have considered, and highlighting these skills on a résumé can make you
more competitive. Your transferable skills can even make you a candidate for jobs in career fields in which you have little or no previous experience.
Transferable skills are especially important for people who are just starting out in their careers. If you do not have a great deal of traditional work experience, you can often find examples of nontraditional work experience in your history if you look for them. If you present this background in a convincing way, it can help persuade an employer to hire you. Examples of nontraditional experience include volunteering for the elderly, hosting a play group for children, organizing activities as a summer camp counselor, tutoring a friend, and writing essays for a personal blog.
There are many different kinds of transferable skills, but they can be broadly separated into three different categories: working with information, interacting with people, and handling objects. Information skills might include experience with reading critically, composing documents, or preparing budgets, while people skills might include knowing how to serve customers, organize events, or finish projects on schedule. Object skills might include the ability to operate machinery, perform music, or handle inventory.
There are different grades of complexity in transferable skills. The ability to take instructions from a supervisor is an example of a less complex transferable skill, while experience in teaching students how to master a craft is a more complex skill. If you know how to take instructions, you might use that transferable skill to find a job as an assistant. If you have teaching experience, you could seek out work as a youth counselor or a business consultant .
You can best identify your own transferable skills by performing a self-inventory of the personal abilities that could make you useful to employers. A self-inventory is a list of skills that you have successfully used to accomplish various tasks throughout your life.
The key to a successful self-inventory is to brainstorm and write down as many examples as you can of potential transferable skills that you might have. Think about enjoyable activities you have participated in, experiences you have had at work or school, or life challenges that you have learned from. Examine each experience for instances in which you used transferable skills. A year spent as a school treasurer may have taught you to manage money effectively, while an internship at a nonprofit organization may have helped you gain expertise in providing support to management. Once you have put together a comprehensive list of your transferable skills, you should continue to add to it as you develop new skills through your life experiences.
It is important to remember that transferable skills are not limited to your employment history. Any area of experience can be a rich source of transferable skills, such as academic accomplishments, hobbies, sports, volunteer efforts, or family experiences. For example, a student who has a hobby of programming online games with friends could use his or her transferable skills to find an entry-level job in the technology industry, even if he or she has little formal computer-skills education. A job seeker who demonstrated persuasion skills as a fund-raiser could use them to find work as a salesperson.
When starting the process of seeking a job, you should first consider which career fields or job positions you might be interested in. Making a self-inventory of your transferable skills can give you insight into your own talents and the activities that you take pleasure in. By using your self-inventory to help you focus on your different passions and areas of strength, you can determine possible careers that you might want to research and pursue.
Once you have chosen a career field or job position, the next step is for you to determine what kinds of skills your potential employer may be seeking. You should study the job description to look for areas of responsibility where your transferable skills could be put to use. There should be always be a logical connection between your transferable skills and the skills required to succeed in the position you are considering.
Suppose that you have a hobby as a long-distance runner, and you organize a family fun run to raise money for a charity. You could take the transferable skills developed by that experience in any number of directions. If you were applying for a job as a manager at a sports equipment store, you could stress the organizational and leadership skills that were required to make the event a success. If you found an opening for a running instructor at a summer camp, you could focus on your running ability and experience working with children. If you were looking for a position as an administrator at a nonprofit, you could stress the interpersonal skills that were necessary in order for you to network with other organizers.
Although your transferable skills might make you a strong candidate for a job, you will still have to make the case that your transferable skills will be well suited to that position. When preparing a résumé that includes transferable skills, you should compose it so that the employer understands that your transferable skills will make you effective in the job role. You can include transferable skills in your résumé's summary of qualifications, or you might create a special section for skills. You could also list them along with the jobs or activities where those skills were acquired or used.
When listing transferable skills on a résumé, you should present them in a way that shows your awareness of the employer's concerns, and you should use language and vocabulary that is common in the industry. For example, suppose that you run an online craft boutique, and that you are applying for a job as a salesperson. Rather than stating your relevant skill as “selling jewelry,” you could rewrite this description as “providing customer service.” You should also be prepared to provide references who are willing to vouch for the effectiveness of your transferable skills.
When preparing for an interview, remember that the usefulness of transferable skills may be less obvious to a potential employer than technical skills or traditional job experience. It may be worthwhile for you to prepare a convincing narrative, or a story that makes a strong case for the value of your transferable skills. In your narrative, you should describe challenges that you have faced and explain how your transferable skills helped you to overcome those challenges and achieve a successful result.
There are numerous resources available that can help you research your transferable skills. These include books that focus on this subject and contain lists of different applicable skills. One classic example is What Color Is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers, which has a list of more than 246 transferable skills. It may be worthwhile for you to spend time in the library looking through employment books, and you can also consult employment agencies, who may be able to help you find other helpful resources.
Job seekers must also be realistic when assessing the value of their transferable skills to employers. For example, a person might be very sociable, but that does not mean that he or she is qualified to host a television talk show. However, a candidate with on-camera experience as a meteorologist or comedian could make a stronger case that his or her transferable skills could apply in a talk show context. In general, mentioning abilities that have little connection to the job will probably give an employer the impression that the job seeker is not serious.
It is important to remember that transferable skills are not always an effective substitute for technical skills. Applicants who have job experience, education in a relevant field, or a strong technical background will always have an advantage over other candidates, especially for positions that require a great deal of technical expertise. If you are seeking a job, you should strive to improve both sets of skills simultaneously so that you can showcase all of your abilities in the best possible light.