Career Changers: Identify Your Transferable Skills

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Photo: Anna Shvets |

Transferable skills are some of the most important things you can highlight on your résumé. When I teach workshops, I often find people have not heard this term before.

Here is a simple definition:

Transferable skills are simply skills you gain through previous jobs, hobbies, and volunteer or life experiences. These are skills that are not specific to any one job or industry; they can be used in a variety of settings and career fields.

For instance, I recently worked with a client who has been a teacher for the last 20 years. She retired from teaching and wants to work in a new field. However, she feels she has no other skills. I helped her think through the skills needed to be a teacher, and we discovered she has many talents that will transfer to other jobs. 

These included:

  • public speaking; 
  • researching, organizing, and presenting information; 
  • writing curriculum; 
  • encouraging and mentoring children and teens. 

These are all transferable skills! She could find a job that involves research. Or, she could work for an organization that coaches or mentors children, or become a spokesperson, educator, or community relations manager for an organization that works on issues she is passionate about. 

People often limit themselves by thinking they can only obtain jobs in their current career field. It is true that changing career fields with no experience in the new industry can be challenging, but highlighting your transferable skills helps make your case to an employer that you are qualified for the position.

Let’s look at another example.

Imagine you worked for a fast food restaurant while you were in high school or college. Some skills you learned there will only apply to the food service industry. Learning about food preparation, food safety, or operating and cleaning the kitchen equipment may not help you in future jobs.

However, you were probably also responsible for greeting customers, answering questions, handling money, working the cash register, and stocking supplies like napkins or condiments. 

You could take these basic skills and apply for a job in retail. Yes, the position wouldn’t be working with food, but you would still be operating a computer or cash register, handling money, assisting customers, and stocking merchandise. Or, these basic customer service and administrative skills could be applied to a position as a receptionist or an administrative assistant. 

I landed my first job outside of the field of journalism partly because of my ability to sell the employer on my transferable skills. The organization was seeking someone with experience in case management to help clients with job skills. I had no experience as a case manager, but I convinced them that the same skills I used to interview people and write stories (asking good questions, listening carefully, taking detailed notes) would serve me well in the role that required interviewing people to learn their background and career desires, listening carefully to assess their needs, and writing detailed case notes for their file. In addition—and just as a hobby—I’d spent time helping people write résumés.

Whether or not you are looking to change career fields, it is valuable to identify your transferable skills. Don’t forget to include skills you use in your hobbies or in volunteer work.

If you always seem to end up as the treasurer, secretary or publicity person in any organization you join, it is probably because you have some valuable skills to offer. Identifying these can add value to your résumé.

Need a few examples of transferable skills to get you started?

Here is a brief checklist:

  • customer service skills
  • communication skills – oral or written
  • sales and marketing experience
  • multitasking
  • computer skills
  • teaching
  • supervising
  • public speaking or presentation skills
  • research
  • event planning
  • fundraising
  • record keeping
  • teaching or training
  • coaching or mentoring
  • problem solving 
  • conflict resolution
  • analyzing
  • time management
  • good interpersonal skills
  • critical thinking
  • organizing information

These are not only great things to note on your résumé, but you also want to be able to talk about them during a job interview. As you identify these skills, think of ways you have used them in the past. Identify a few examples of stories you can share that show how you have used those skills and how they would apply in the role you are seeking.

Employers will not always make these connections on their own, so you will need some well-crafted examples to build that bridge for them.

Published by Career Coach Belinda

I’ve helped job seekers of all ages and career levels develop résumés, craft cover letters, and approach job interviews with confidence.

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