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How To Put Your Transferable Skills to Work

From collecting stamps to scooping ice cream, your past experience has not only made you who you are, but taught you plenty of valuable lessons that may apply to the workplace. However, before you can effectively present these abilities to a potential employer, you must first identify what you have to offer. Read on to learn how to use your transferable skills to get hired.

Transferable Skills: A Primer
Simply put, transferable skills refer to the generally applicable skills you’ve gained in your life to date. They include (but are not limited to) skills you may have learned at a previous job, in academic settings, or even during leisure activities.

Many employment resources group transferable skills into five broad categories:

1. Communication–expressing, transmitting and interpreting knowledge. Specific communication skills include speaking, writing, listening, giving feedback, editing, and facilitating discussions.
2. Research & Planning–This skill set encompasses searching for information and understanding and preparing for future needs. Skills in this area include resource identification, analysis, creative visualization, goal setting, problem solving, and defining needs.
3.Human Resources–At its most basic, human resources involves helping people. Human resource skills include support, motivation, counseling, cooperation, delegation, and empathy.
4. Organization, Management, and Leadership–Encompasses supervision, direction, and guidance of others to achieve goals. Skills in this area include coordinating tasks, teaching, coaching, selling ideas or products, managing groups, and conflict resolution.
5. Work Survival–Encompasses everyday skills crucial to success in the workplace. Skills in this category include punctuality, effective time management, attention to detail, organization, and decision-making.

Which Transferable Skills Do You Have?
Whether you’re applying for your first real job or just looking for a midlife career shift, you may have realized, while reading the list above, that you have more transferable skills than you once thought.

The best way to identify your skills is to sit down and spend some time making a list of all your relevant life experiences. Include all previous jobs (even waiting tables or pumping gas), extracurricular activities, coursework, hobbies, and community involvement. Even experiences like living abroad or tending to a chronically ill family member can constitute valuable job skills if applied in the right professional setting, so make your list as complete as possible. Friends, coworkers, and relatives are often helpful resources at this point, as they may think of skills you’ve overlooked.

Before moving on to the next step, review your list. Did you include everything? Now is the time to really explore how your experiences have shaped you as a person. If you moved frequently as a child, for example, you may have learned to adapt well to new environments–a useful skill for jobs requiring travel or networking. Even some of your life’s darkest moments can prove central to your character. Those few years of adolescent rebellion, while full of inappropriate or even illegal behavior, might make you better able to counsel troubled youth as an adult.

When your list is complete, you can begin to identify the skills that you acquired from each experience. List your skills with the same forethought and thoroughness as you listed your experiences. Pay attention to which skills tend to repeat themselves, as this might be a good indication of a natural ability or area of interest. An excerpt from a sample list might look like this:

If you find the process difficult, don’t despair. Many websites and books offer skill inventory templates that you can fill out. Such resources can also be helpful since they provide lists of transferable skills and allow you to rate yourself for each one.

Effectively Presenting Your Skills
Once you’ve identified your strongest transferable skills, you’ll need to show potential employers what you have to offer. Your resume and cover letter are the best way to showcase those transferable skills that apply to the position you want.

Most job postings list the skills required of successful applicants. Use this information to your advantage. Tailor your resume and cover letter to match by highlighting those activities and experiences where you gained your most valuable skills. For example, if the position you’re after requires cross-cultural communication and time management skills, you might devote a paragraph of your cover letter to discussing your experiences teaching English in Japan.

Job interviews are another great avenue to showcase your transferable skills. While potential employers will ask you about previous work experience, you should also be prepared to discuss skills learned in other settings. Ultimately, employers may respect your confidence and self-awareness if you present yourself as a whole person who can learn from any experience. Sharing some appropriate nonprofessional aspects of your character has the added bonus of helping you relax and be yourself during an interview–always a plus when under pressure.

As a general rule, we are our own worst critics. When assessing your transferable skills, don’t be stingy. Give to yourself. Explore the nooks and crannies of your life and excavate hidden treasure troves of ability. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you find, and where it could take you professionally.

Publish date: June 27, 2008