Transferable Skills: More Than Meets the Eye

Transferable Skills List

When you’re browsing descriptions of jobs and internships, you might think you don’t have all the skills that employers are looking for.  In some ways, you may be right. You might not have all the direct skills that a job description requires; however, you may have a majority of them and could supplement the ones you are missing with skills that are transferable to the job. Many people refer to this as using transferable skills.

Essentially, transferable skills are qualities you have developed that should easily transfer to the needs of a different job or industry. This is important to think about in this day and age since most people will change careers quite often. In such a transient market, you will most likely have to re-invent your career and shape your skills to meet the demands of that industry or job–either by force or by choice.

So what are transferable skills?

Transferable skills are skills that you will most likely use at any job.

Whether you are looking to get into tech, non-profit, business, health or other industries, there are many skills and qualities you can highlight that are paramount to your success.

You may have gained transferable skills through your work in retail or food services, a class project, volunteer work, student leadership positions or other activities.

Because it might not seem apparent how the skills you have gained would apply to your resume, it may help to understand the skills that employers are routinely seeking.

When I was pursuing internships earlier in my career, I only had experience working in retail and food services on my resume. Nevertheless, I pitched myself for internships by understanding how these skills could apply to the job description and ultimately benefit the organization I might work for.

What do employers look for?

The employers I speak to say that they typically look for similar things when I ask what skill sets their “ideal candidates” possess.

According to an annual survey conducted by NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers), which surveyed companies that are members of their organization, these skills are the top five that employers seek.

  • Communication
  • Strong work ethic
  • Initiative
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Problem solving skills

When reviewing this list, I always think of how difficult it is to highlight many of these skills on your resume. For instance, it’s much easier to list a skill like Microsoft Excel or Access on your resume than it is to simply list “good interpersonal skills.”

The skills listed typically have more impact when demonstrated. I often tell students “Show me, don’t tell me!” Highlight achievements and functions of your past that fall into the subset of the above mentioned skills. Use your cover letter to explain some of the challenges that you have met.

For instance, did you:

  • Show initiative by implementing a new process in your fraternity or sorority?
  • Work part-time in addition to attending school?
  • Take the lead in a class project?

The great news is that if you have done similar things to these you can find a way to get these onto your application materials. If you haven’t done similar things, you can now start thinking how you can develop some of these skills.

The same employers who reported their top desired skills also stated that new college graduates typically were regarded as lacking in the following areas (top 5):

  • Communication skills
  • Flexibility/adaptability
  • Tactfulness
  • Initiative
  • Teamwork skills

Since you know what skills employers typically seek–and which ones they report that students typically lack–you now have a blueprint for ways to make yourself stand out from the crowd. Coupling your transferable skills with some industry- relevant skills will be a great way for you to put together the total package.

How can you showcase your skills?

There are many ways you can showcase your skills. I have written before about adding class projects to your resume to highlight some transferable skills. You may also think about adding service learning, volunteer opportunities, part-time/internship opportunities, activities, and more. The essential part is knowing how to frame what you did into a skill set that helps an employer understand your value to their organization.

Here is a list of transferable skills broken down by various categories. Think about this list and maybe reflect upon what you have done in the past. I would suggest reviewing some job descriptions for opportunities that you are interested in and then perhaps jot down some of the experiences where you gained these skills.

Are there some skills that you can think of to list on your resume from this list of experiences?

If you are finding this challenging, take some of the work that you have done and sit down with your school’s career counselor. They should be able to help you take the experience that you have gained in the past and frame it in a way that is transferable to your present needs.

Have you done this before? Does this make sense? Please share in the comments section.

[Note: This post was originally written for Dan Schawbel’s Student Branding Blog.]


2 comments for “Transferable Skills: More Than Meets the Eye

  1. Chad Lake
    June 16, 2011 at 9:31 am

    I recall this section in class. There are certain skill sets that you can carry from job to job and that alot of managers are looking for in their applicants across the board. These skills include personal skills, diligence, positive attitude. These skill sets are more general and more of a way of life rather than specific to just one job field. This is a great section. =)

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