Even if you haven’t had your first professional job, chances are you’ve gained some transferable skills from internships, volunteering, classes, and even extracurriculars. Transferable skills, as the name suggests, are skills you can transfer from one job to another. These may be soft skills, like collaboration and problem-solving, or hard skills, such as data analytics or coding.
This guide will help you learn more about transferable skills and how to identify yours so you can include them in your job application. We’ll cover:
- Transferable Skills Definition
- Transferable Skills Examples
- How to Identify Your Transferable Skills
- How to Include Transferable Skills in a Job Application
- Transferable Skills: The Bottom Line
Transferable Skills Defintion
Transferable skills are often called “portable skills” because you can bring what you’ve learned from one job to another. You can apply these general skills to various fields, working environments, and industries.
For example, problem-solving skills are valuable transferable skills because employers — more than 60%, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers — look to hire people who can help them find solutions. Yet a writer will use problem-solving skills differently than a data analyst.
When I’m problem-solving as a writer, I might try to solve how to make my articles more compelling so they reach and build the audience my company is looking for. If I decide I want to change careers to be a data analyst, I could use these same skills but in a much different context. Maybe I’d find solutions to why my company’s revenue is down by digging through the results of past sales efforts or figure out why a specific marketing tactic helped boost the company’s profits. In both scenarios, I’m using problem-solving skills to think critically, research, and enact solutions for my company; however, I’m applying them very differently.
Why Are Transferable Skills Important?
Transferable skills are important for two main reasons: they help you develop your career path, and employers are looking for them.
First, transferable skills help you in your career journey because they’re lifelong skills you can apply to almost any job opportunity you apply for. When you’re thinking about trying a very different industry or exploring a new career option, your transferable skills can show you’re qualified even if you don’t have experience in the field.
Transferable skills are also important to employers because they want to hire talented people who can provide value to their company. For example, if an employer has the option between two software engineers with the same hard skills, but one also is highly collaborative, adaptable, and great at decision-making, they’re likely going to hire the one with more transferable skills. These skills make you a well-rounded, successful worker — someone any company should want to hire.
Glekeria Kalathas, talent acquisition manager at Actalent, encourages students to include experiences on their resume that show transferable skills, even if they don’t initially think it’s relevant for what they’re applying for. For example, Kalathas looks for customer-facing experience on resumes when hiring — but she knows that this experience can come from so many different industries and positions, whether that’s bartending, retail, or working in a gym.
Transferable Skills Examples
Unlike industry-specific skills like accounting or investment banking, you can use transferable skills in various positions, even within different career paths. Here are some common transferable skills and how you might use them in the workplace.
Collaboration skills are what you use when working with others, whether virtually, in-person, synchronously, or in different time zones. If you’re bouncing ideas off someone else, consulting them to get feedback, or editing a project together, you’re collaborating with them. Collaboration skills make you an easy person to work with and an effective teammate — regardless of who you’re working with and what you’re working on.
While all jobs have different deadlines and productivity expectations, good time management skills will always make you a more efficient worker. Someone with effective time management skills knows how to delegate time to each task based on its priority. They set boundaries to get adequate focus time and always finish their work by the deadline.
Creative thinking isn’t just for creative careers. This transferable skill can help you think outside the box when any problem arises at work. Creative thinkers brainstorm multiple ideas, test and iterate new theories, and innovate solutions that break company tradition. While creative thinkers might not always nail the right solution the first time, they’re not afraid to try something new again until they have something original that sticks.
Like creative thinking isn’t just for creatives, analytical skills aren’t just for analysts. Analytical skills include hard skills like research and data analysis, but they also cover fact-based, logical thinking skills. You can use these skills to approach problems methodically and reasonably.
>>MORE: Learn how to show off your analytical skills in the interview.
Attention to Detail
Employers will always value work that is accurate and free of mistakes. Attention to detail skills help you focus on the small areas of a project or task and produce clean and organized work.
Adaptability is a highly in-demand skill, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic brought massive changes to how the workplace functions. Someone with adaptability skills can keep up with changes and pivot their focus when new challenges arise. Employees who can adapt quickly when more change inevitably comes — whether that’s where they’re working or the tools they’re working with — are highly valuable additions to any team.
Other Transferable Skills Examples
Because there are so many job skills that can be applied to different careers, the list of transferable skills examples can go on and on. Here are some more examples to add to your resume.
How to Identify Your Transferable Skills
Don’t worry if you haven’t had a professional gig yet — it’s likely you still have valuable transferable skills that employers are looking for.
>>MORE: How to Get an Internship Without Work Experience
“If you worked on a group project, you may have developed your leadership, mentoring, or project management skills,” Rachel Pelta, head writer at Forage, says. “The specifics depend on your role and the situation, but when you step back and examine everything you contributed to the project, you might find you have a lot of transferable skills that will serve you well throughout your career.”
Consider your experiences in school, volunteer work, extracurriculars, and internships. To identify your transferable skills from these experiences, ask yourself:
- Process: What was the work process like for these experiences? How did I contribute?
- Collaboration: Who did I work with? How did I work with them?
- Skills: What knowledge did I bring to these experiences, and what knowledge did I leave with? Did I learn any new tools, programs, or skills?
- Results: How did I contribute to the end goals or results of these experiences?
Questions like these will help you identify patterns of what skills you brought to or learned from your experiences. These are your transferable skills.
How to Include Transferable Skills in a Job Application
The best transferable skills to include in a job application are the ones you possess and the ones the employer is looking for. To find out what skills the employer wants, look closely at the job description to identify the hard and soft skills required. For example, if they’re looking for a “team player,” you might want to show off your teamwork, collaboration, and communication skills.
On a Resume or in a Cover Letter
Once you’ve identified the target skills from the job description, strategically place these skills on your resume. Don’t be afraid to include the exact skills from the job description.
“Recruiters decide who to advance through the hiring process by searching resumes for these specific keywords and phrases,” Matthew Warzel, CPRW resume writer, says. “It’s mandatory to add this core competency section.”
Warzel recommends including hard skills under a “core competencies” section and soft skills in the summary section.
In your cover letter, you can expand on these skills by providing examples of how you’ve put them into action. For example, if you’ve listed that you’re collaborative, you can discuss how your ability to work in a team ensured your group project was a success. Be as specific as you can when expanding on these skills, including quantifiable achievements! Did you increase workflow efficiency? Create 3x more assets than the previous team? Your cover letter should give the hiring manager a clear idea of how you’ve used these skills in the past and what impact you’ve had.
>>MORE: How to Write an Entry-Level Cover Letter (Example)
In an Interview
If the resume is the place to name your transferable skills, and the cover letter is to provide examples of how you’ve used them, the interview is the place to tie it all together. During the interview, you can demonstrate your transferable skills through precise storytelling.
You’re not saying “once upon a time…” but your answers should be descriptive and follow a clear arch from start to finish. When describing a work experience and the skills you applied, use the STAR method:
- Situation: discuss the context of the situation
- Task: share your specific role or responsibilities in the situation
- Action: describe the actions you took
- Result: share what happened as a result of your action
Even if you don’t specifically say that you “used adaptability skills,” describing a situation where you successfully pivoted in the face of change will show the employer you have these transferable skills.
Transferable Skills: The Bottom Line
Transferable skills are vital not only because they can apply to any industry but also because they’re timeless — they’ll help you throughout your entire career.
“The modern workplace changes rapidly. Between technology that changes how we get things done and communicate to a company pivoting due to industry changes, your transferable skills help you stay employable and relevant in any job and any industry,” Pelta says. “For example, at company A you used Microsoft Excel. But at company B, they use Google Sheets. It’s the same thing (a spreadsheet), just a different program. Your ability to work with spreadsheets is a transferable skill and framing it the right way on your resume and in the interview can help you land the job.”
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