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Transferable Skills – Fact or Fiction?

22 Jun

If you are a recent graduate just starting on the career ladder, or an experienced professional seeking to improve your prospects, you have probably heard the term “transferable skills” more than once. Despite the phrase being used by recruiters, career advisors and even tutors, there still seems to be a degree of confusion as to what a transferable skill is and how having them can help to distinguish you from a crowd of applicants. Sound familiar? Then this blog is for you. 

Your skills and strengths...

Most people when asked, will make the assumption that in order to be skilled you have to have been trained in a particular area, or have a degree or some kind of certificate. While training and qualifications are important in the job world, they are not always the deciding factor. If an employer has two candidates with the same qualifications and one has demonstrated in their application that they are an excellent communicator, the employer may be more likely to pick this person because as we all know, good communication skills are a key factor in business. 

According to career coach Heather Livingstone, skills are a combination of different things:

Knowledge – what you know (markets, products, geographical areas)
Attitudes – how you approach things (enthusiasm, motivation)
Character – your personality/personal qualities (sense of humour, diplomacy)
Strengths – things you are naturally talented at (public speaking, numeracy)
Experience – what you have done (work experience, qualifications, training, volunteering 

It is important to remember that whilst all of these factors are key to understanding your skills, it is how you apply them that is most significant. How you write about them when you are filling out application forms, and how you speak about them at interview, can make a huge difference, so practice, practice, practice!

What exactly is a transferable skill?

The Transferable Skills page on the National Careers Service website has a nice definition of what a transferable skill is:

“Transferable skills are general skills you can use in many jobs. You gain these skills from previous jobs, projects, voluntary work, sport, your home life, hobbies, and interests. 
They enable you to be adaptable and flexible in case you need to change your job.”   

Of course this is quite a broad explanation, and might initially add to the confusion you feel about the term. However, keeping things broad is what is going to help you to realise exactly how many skills you have. For example, you could be the oldest child in a large family who had the chore of helping to cook the family dinner every night. If you then decided to go into the catering industry, you would already have some idea of how much food it takes to make a meal for a large group of people – that is a transferable skill. 

Some other examples of transferable skills are:

Adaptability
Problem solving
Management skills
Organisational skills
Personal Development
Research/Analytical skills
Excellent written/verbal communication
Leadership skills
Team work skills
The ability to take initiative
Being motivated
Critical thinking
Numeracy and IT skills
A good sense of humour (always important whatever job you do!)

Identifying transferable skills...

Think of the film Slumdog Millionaire, the hero of the film happens to know all the answers to the questions because he remembers them from life experiences he has had. Transferable skills work in a similar way. 

When updating your CV/applying for a new role always consider the skills you have against the person spec or criteria that the company has provided. They have been kind enough to give you a checklist of qualities they are looking for; all you have to do is convince them that you are the right person for the role.  

Think outside the box. If your current experience does not exactly match what they are looking for, try to think of situations you have been in that are similar and then work around that. Most people underestimate their skills, but now is not the time to be shy!

A note for the more experienced:

If you are someone who has been out of the job market for a long time, or who is changing careers, be sure to list your previous experience no matter how long ago it was. Demonstrating that you have a broad knowledge base, and are able to identify how the skills you have garnered over the course of your career can be applied to your new role, will go a long way to helping you get your dream job. 

A note for graduates:

Most employers understand that your professional experience will be quite limited, what they are looking for is a person who is able to take what they do know and make it work for the benefit of the company. They are interested in your potential! Illustrating how your particular skillset can enhance the business is therefore the most important goal of any CV. 

If you are still struggling to identify what your skillset is, ask a coworker or friend to help you make a list of things that they think you are good at. It will help you with your application and give your ego a little boost at the same time! Divide the list into three categories: personal skills, interpersonal skills and general skills. Separating them in this way will be a big help when it comes to writing your application, because employers are generally looking for individuals with a good balance of all three. 


Check out these blogs for more hints and tips on CV writing and Interview Techniques
Tagged In: Candidate Advice
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