Transferable Skills: Definition and Examples
Updated March 20, 2023
If you're looking for a new position, employers often look for certain basic transferable skills in your application. Transferable skills are important to include in your resume and cover letter because they can be an asset in any position, regardless of whether or not your new position is in the same industry or an industry you haven't worked in before. In this article, we define what transferable skills are, provide several examples of transferable skills and explain how to include them in your resume and cover letter.
What are transferable skills?
Transferable skills are abilities or talents relevant to all professions and facets of life. They include skills such as teamwork, time management, communication, adaptability and critical thinking, among others. On many occasions, they determine success in the workplace and, as a result, also determine who gets hired.
They are also called “portable skills,” since you can transfer them from one career to another. For example, consider a legal clerk who wants to transition to a marketing role in another company. In her current position, she uses her communication skills to relay client messages convincingly and promptly without errors. She uses her technology skills to maintain an accurate and up-to-date record of client information, bills and legal proceedings. She also uses her research and analytical abilities to find all the background information needed to win legal battles.
In her new role, she'll still need the same skills, but the situation may differ. In the marketing role, she could need her communication skills to persuade customers to make purchases. Her research and analytical skills would enhance her ability to conduct market research and perform strategic decision-making. Her technology skills may be useful in modelling marketing data.
Transferable skills examples
It's highly likely that you already possess numerous transferable skills, so the next step is to assess your strength in each of them. Find out which areas you need to build on, and put in the necessary effort. Developing competence in as many transferable skills as possible is important since it gives you the versatility required to stand out in a competitive job market. Plus, the combination of transferable skills you'll need will change from one employer to the next.
Here are some of the standard transferable skills that most employers look for:
Communication is the ability to express yourself or transfer information to others efficiently in the workplace. It is probably the most easily transferable skill of all. Employers highly value excellent communicators due to their ability to seamlessly work with others and move projects forward. These skills enable you to ask the right questions, read non-verbal cues and write with clarity. They also have an impact on the development of other essential skills, including leadership and teamwork skills.
Communication is a two-way process. Listening to others is as important as expressing yourself. Quite often, great decision-makers and team players are also good listeners. In other words, one way to evaluate your communication skills is to find out how well you listen to others.
Dependability lets everybody know you are available to accomplish what you say you'll do, the way you say you would do it and within the time you promise to do it. This means organizations can rely on you to get things done. They can rely on you to undertake new tasks on time with creative solutions, follow established protocols and procedures and always deliver quality results with minimum supervision. Dependable people are often trusted with leadership responsibilities such as managing projects and other organizational goals.
Critical thinking skills
Creative thinking is the ability to approach matters differently, as it means introducing new solutions to old problems. In the business world, that means coming up with new product innovations, new ideas, new revenue models, new marketing approaches or new growth strategies. Simply put, it means advancing anything new that will likely give your organization a competitive edge over your competitors. In organizational management, it means reinvigorating problem-solving procedures, logically thinking through challenges, asking the right questions and examining a set of possible solutions before recommending the most applicable one.
Professional duties involve considerable complexities that can only be resolved through teamwork. In most careers, you will be required to work with others in a team at some point. Therefore, demonstrating your aptness to work with others reassures your colleagues and employers of your usefulness.
Teamwork requires that you work efficiently and modestly with others whose responsibilities, areas of expertise and backgrounds may differ from yours. Effective teamwork is about creating commitment to the team's success, not just showing off individual strengths. Understanding team dynamics is, therefore, fundamental. In most cases, only excellent team players progress to leadership positions in a company.
Time management and organization
Well-organized individuals maintain an uncluttered structure in their workplace, relationships and other aspects of life. They are also excellent timekeepers who meet deadlines regularly and operate on tight schedules. They plan their time well and adequately prioritize their activities. Multitasking, which is often integral in the modern workplace, is unachievable without efficient time management and organizational skills.
Leadership is a combination of all transferable skills combined with professional acumen. For example, teamwork skills enable a leader to maintain a functional team, and communication skills help them relay instructions and distribute project information with clarity. Creativity and critical thinking skills enable them to frame challenges and propose necessary solutions.
Leadership requires that you inspire the confidence of others and make the team believe you are working towards their success. In most cases, your success in leading teams through difficult challenges or innovations is transferable between industries. To lead teams effectively, you should hone your transferable skills and combine them appropriately to push teams into achieving shared goals.
Related: Leadership Skills: Definitions and Examples
Many organizations rely heavily on technology to accomplish their objectives. Somebody with strong technology skills is likely to be quite competitive when looking for a job. At the basic level, you should be comfortable navigating new technologies. However, it should be your career-long mission to learn about the new technologies that are relevant to your career interests as they emerge, since technology changes quite often. One change in technology can transform the nature of many jobs, so staying up to date with these changes is essential.
How to highlight your transferable skills
Transferable skills can be your most significant selling point, even if you have no experience in a particular industry. You need to outline some of your most vital transferable abilities clearly. Remember some of the situations where you applied those skills and achieved tremendous results. Find out which skills employers are looking for in your industry. Most employers indicate the combination of skills they are looking for in their job postings.
Once you have figured out the in-demand skills, it is time to highlight them to your prospective employers. You can use your cover letter or resume to do that:
Transferable skills on your resume
Your resume is a record of what you are capable of regarding your skills, experience or academic knowledge. Include your transferable skills in your resume's career summary or objective section, the employment history section and the skills section.
In the career summary or objective section, include one or two of your most relevant transferable skills. If a job description emphasizes leadership and organizational skills, you could say something like this: “Highly-organized project manager with six years of experience in successfully building and leading several teams through high-impact projects.”
Instead of merely listing duties and responsibilities in the employment history section, find a way to cleverly fit in situations where you successfully applied your transferable skills. For example, you can say something like this: “Coordinated and led the marketing team's new marketing model, increasing sales by 21%.” This exhibits your leadership and teamwork skills. You should also list more transferable skills alongside other soft and hard skills in the skills section.
Related: A Guide to Soft Skills
Transferable skills on your cover letter
In your cover letter, include a few transferable skills, particularly those listed in the job description. For example, part of a paragraph in your cover letter might look like this: “As a marketing team leader at GTM Manufacturers, I successfully led a dedicated team of seven in developing a new marketing model which increased sales by 20%.”
Whichever way you list your resume skills, they will most likely come up during the job interview. You can provide more clarity on them then.
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