Definition, Examples and Job-Hunting Tips
The job market is pretty weird right now, but your transferable skills can help you navigate it.
Some sectors, especially tourism, hospitality and live events, are hurting. Others, such as delivery and grocery, are ballooning like never before. The total effect is that more than 40 million people are out of work, and the economy is in a recession – technically.
Career experts say that by identifying and emphasizing your transferable skills, you can find work in an industry or job field less affected by the pandemic.
“Transferable skills are incredibly important because even if someone’s experience is from an industry that is not hiring now, they have likely developed skills that would make them a strong candidate for open roles in another sector,” according to Liz Cannata, CareerBuilder’s senior HR technology and operations manager.
But identifying your transferable skills and then using them intentionally to find work in a different industry isn’t exactly a natural process. Here’s what you need to know.
First, What Are Transferable Skills?
The short answer: Transferable skills are skills you already possess that can be used strategically to land a different type of job or a job in an industry you haven’t worked in before.
Tony Lee is a vice president of the Society of Human Resource Management, or SHRM. In an interview with Codetic, he underscored how transferable skills differ for white-collar and blue-collar workers during the job hunt.
“For the most part, blue-collar workers rely on transferable skills. Period. And always have,” Lee said, noting that their work tends to rely on a specific skill set and less on accumulated industry knowledge.
Take customer service, for example.
“Customer service jobs are actually booming right now. So if you don’t focus on ‘where do I find my next hospitality job?’ and instead focus on ‘where do I find my next customer service job?’ you’ll do well,” he said.
For white-collar workers, it’s a mixture of industry experience and transferable skills.
“They’re bringing in not just the skill set but the understanding of the business. Typically, typically, a salaried employee isn’t being paid just because they can do one skill well,” Lee said. “It’s because they have a range of skills that applies to the specific business.”
In a recent live-streamed webinar on transferable skills and job hunting during the pandemic, Emilie Aries, career coach and CEO of BossedUp, took a deeper dive.
Overall, Aries cautions job seekers who are considering a big industry change or a brand new job.
“I don’t want us to overcorrect right now in light of a pandemic to a career that’s completely different than” your current skill set, she said.
In many cases, you can rely on what you’re already good at. That includes both your hard and soft skills.
“Soft skills have such a lousy reputation,” she said. “Absolutely include them.”
Some examples of transferable soft skills:
- Attention to detail.
- Public speaking.
- Conflict resolution.
- Time management.
- Ability to meet deadlines.
Hard skills might include:
- Programming languages like C++, Python, R or others.
- Commercial painting.
- Market research.
- Video editing.
Generally speaking, soft skills are skills related to people, communication and attitude. Hard skills are technical skills that are related to performing a specific task.
Identifying Your Transferable Skills and Possible Jobs
Being able to identify your transferable skills is a skill in itself. It’s a process that starts with a healthy dose of self-analysis and ends with a handpicked set of skills that will help you market yourself to your next employer.
Start big picture. Think of everything you’re good at in a professional sense. Ask a friend or family member what they think you’re best at. From there, Lee from SHRM recommends busting out a pen and legal pad to get to work.
Draw a big square with four quadrants.
- Label the top left “Skills I Currently Have:” There you can list just about anything. It could be as broad as driving a car, or as specific as typing 70 words per minute. Per Aries’s advice, soft skills such as work ethic and problem solving are fair game. Don’t underestimate them.
- Label the top right “Skills I Like to Use the Most:” Choose your favorite skills from the previous panel here. “You might be able to type 70 words per minute, but maybe you don’t like typing 70 words per minute. So don’t use that,” Lee said.
- Label the bottom left “Jobs That Could Logically Use My Skills:” This isn’t the space to get picky. List what makes sense based on your skill set. A successful industry or position change has to be a “logical transfer,” Lee said, noting that an Uber driver could be a great floral delivery person or could land a job at FedEx – but probably wouldn’t be the best candidate for a data analyst gig.
- Label the bottom right “Jobs I Think I’d Enjoy:” Here, you can be aspirational, but your list should be grounded in the previous quadrants and your skill set – or at the very least, new skills that would not be a stretch for you to learn.
“The bottom right is the target list,” Lee said.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t consider the list of jobs that could logically use your skill set, especially in times of an economic downturn. That bottom left box could be full of potential bridge jobs that can restart your cash flow while you launch a more judicious job hunt.
“Only you can decide how much risk you are willing to tolerate when it comes to holding out for the right job… or compromising a little bit to get some cash flowing in.” Aries said. “That is a discussion between you and your bank account and the bills that you have to pay.”
How to Showcase Your Transferable Skills on the Job Hunt
When the job market was tight, hiring managers were more likely to hire candidates with transferable-skills-based applications. Now, more people are competing for a smaller amount of job openings. You may be competing with someone who has years of industry experience, when you may be a newcomer.
Simply put: “The bar has been raised,” Lee said.
To account for that, you’ll need to tweak your resume and job-searching methods to best highlight your transferable skills and prove your relevancy.
“Think like a marketer on the job hunt. This is a persuasive campaign and you are persuading a prospective employer,” Aries said.
Aries recommends framing your transferable skill set as a solution to a business’s problem everywhere you can — in your Linkedin headline or updates, in your cover letter and especially on your resume. She’s a big proponent of the CAR method, which stands for challenge, action, result. It’s a template you can use to frame your skills on your resume and answer questions during an interview.
The CAR format naturally frames the information into a story, and when you’re looking for jobs, “you want to make sure you appeal to the human love of the narrative framework,” Aries said.
You can implement this even into the small job description sections on your resume. For example, you might have been a sales manager.
Do not: simply summarize your day-to-day responsibilities like “led a team of three sales representatives” and “onboarded new clients.”
Instead, try: highlighting an achievement in the CAR format. Aries recommends something like “transformed sales close rate from 38% to 74% by developing and implementing a new proposal and lead-tracking system.”
It has a challenge, an action you took and a quantified result. Quantifying your result by saying 38% to 74% goes a long way. You might not always be able to have a hard stat. That’s OK, too, but strive to include them wherever possible.
Only you can decide how much risk you are willing to tolerate when it comes to holding out for the right job… or compromising a little bit to get some cash flowing in.
The experts agree: The functional resume is the best format to showcase your transferable skills.
Functional resumes differ from typical ones by including the skills section at the top. Ideally this section should include skills that you possess and that are pulled directly from the job listing. Putting those transferable skills up top will quickly relay that you are a good fit for the job.
“Calling out these skills can help a job seeker attract the attention of a hiring manager even if their experience is from a different industry,” Cannata said.
Below the skills section, list your previous jobs and describe them using the CAR method. The jury is still out on whether the list should be chronological or ordered by relevance. Try it both ways and tweak as needed for particular job applications.
What’s not up for debate: showcasing your transferable skills – front and center.
“Anytime you have an economic downturn, transferable skills become more important,” Lee said. “Think about ways to make yourself as attractive as possible to potential employers and then work on skills that accomplish that. You’ll be ahead of the pack.”
Adam Hardy is a staff writer at Codetic. He covers the gig economy, entrepreneurship and unique ways to make money. Read his latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.