Future-proof your career with essential transferable skills

November 15, 2021 - 15 min read

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What are transferable skills?

How do transferable skills work?

Why should I include transferable skills on my resume?

7 types of essential transferable skills

Why do employers seek transferable skills?

How to add transferable skills to your resume

Your most valuable skills are the ones that you carry with you.

Whether you're moving on to a new project, taking on a new role, or taking the leap to a new job, you're never truly starting from scratch. Sometimes it feels like it though, especially if you jumped into a new industry or face a new set of software and tools.

But with deliberate attention to your day-to-day work, you can build a foundation of skills and capabilities that will serve you in any role, in any organization.

These “portable skills” are more commonly known as transferable skills. Sometimes called "soft skills," these valuable skills are anything but soft, and they can be developed. 

They encompass abilities and skills that you’ve picked up throughout your life that come in handy in any role or industry. For example, strong communication skills make you a better team member or leader, no matter the type of work or what job you’re after.  Any employer will value the ability.

Identifying what your transferable skills are and highlighting them on your resume will make you a more attractive and marketable candidate. But you don't have to be on the hunt to start building your foundation. Understanding and developing your transferable skills is also important to advance and find opportunities within your current organization.

Let’s dive into the meaning of transferable skills and which ones are essential when it comes to your career and personal life.

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What are transferable skills?

Transferable skills are talents and abilities that are useful across different jobs, industries, and even different areas of your life. 

Everyone gains a set of transferable skills throughout their life. You can learn them in school or from your experience in different jobs, mentorships, or volunteering. For instance, writing essays in college taught you research skills, while you might have learned project management skills in your current role.

Transferable skills are a mix of soft skills and technical skills, although employers often place more importance on soft skills. These human skills like persuasion or time management are more difficult to train because you develop and refine them through real-life practice. As a result, they are very sought-after.

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Because transferable skills are useful in different job roles and lines of work, they’re extremely valuable and in-demand with employers. The more transferable skills you can master, the more attractive you become as a job candidate. And the easier it is to transition to different roles or even change career paths.

These proficiencies aren’t just confined to your work. They can be useful in everyday life. For example, strong interpersonal skills can help you make friends more easily.

How do transferable skills work?

Transferable skills are relevant in every field or professional setting.

Take communication skills, for example. If you have strong verbal communication skills, you can work as a museum tour guide, engaging visitors by sharing information about historical artwork. On the other hand, you could use those same skills to motivate and engage your team while you work on a high-pressure corporate project.

Transferable skills are especially important when you’re changing jobs or going into an industry you don’t have much experience in.

Say you’ve worked in education your whole life, but you’d like to make the transition to sales. At first, making the switch to a different industry may seem daunting. What do teachers and salespeople really have in common?

This is where your transferable skills matter. And the more you have, the better positioned you are to successfully make a career change. As a teacher, you’ve learned skills like empathy and active listening. These are examples of transferable skills that will help you succeed in a sales role as well.

Once you identify all your transferable skills, the next step is to highlight them on your resume during your job search.

Why should I include transferable skills on my resume?

Think of your resume as a marketing tool. The better you position yourself to hiring managers, the better your odds of landing your next job. According to a 2021 Monster.com report, 70% of employers want candidates to better articulate their transferable skills.

Including transferable skills on your resume shows employers the types of competencies you already have. It also shows them your potential. Although everyone has some transferable skills, not everyone has the awareness to understand how to apply their skills across different situations and challenges.

Employers want to see that you understand your own growth and development and know how to apply learning from one experience into a new role. For example, if you’re a recent graduate, transferable skills show employers what you can bring to the table even if you have little work experience under your belt.

That being said, you should avoid jamming too many skills on your resume. Stick to the ones that are relevant to the job title you’re applying for, but be ready to talk in more depth about how they fit together when you get that interview.

7 types of essential transferable skills

So, what are the transferable skills that are the most important to have?

All transferable skills are valuable. However, some abilities will always be relevant and in-demand. Here’s a list of transferable skills that will make you a marketable job candidate to potential employers.

1. Communication

Communication skills are the bread and butter of your transferable skills toolkit. Communication is a top skill in any role or industry because it’s made up of a multitude of abilities, including:

Whether you’re communicating with clients, peers, or leaders, it’s important to know how to express your thoughts and ideas and listen with intent.

2. Creativity

A recent LinkedIn Learning report revealed that creativity was the most in-demand skill of 2019 and 2020. Creative thinking helps you solve problems and use the resources you have available in new and different ways. According to McKinsey, creativity is linked to superior performance and innovation.

While some people are naturally creative, the good news is that creativity can be fostered through learning and practice.

3. Adaptability

Change is inevitable in today’s world. Adaptability is how well you’re able to adjust to new circumstances. Someone who’s mastered this skill usually has the following characteristics:

4. Collaboration

Employers seek out job candidates that work well with others. Collaboration leads to increased productivity, innovative ideas, and overall better results.

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Teamwork also creates harmonious relationships at work. Solving problems together helps employees form a connection and feel a sense of belonging.

5. Analytical skills

In a 2021 Zety survey, 53% of recruiters and hiring managers picked analytical skills as the most important hard, transferable skill.

Analytical skills are the ability to use logic, research, and critical thinking to draw informed conclusions and solve problems.

6. Emotional intelligence (EQ)

Emotional intelligence, or EQ, isn’t an easy skill to teach, which makes it very valuable.

People with a high level of EQ know how to manage their emotions and are also able to perceive how others are feeling. These qualities make them a great fit for any role, including leadership.

7. Leadership skills

Leadership is a core competency because it’s a combination of all the other transferable skills. Resilience, empathy, and communication are just some of the values that make a good leader. These skills allow you to guide and inspire the people you work with.

Why do employers seek transferable skills?

Employers place a lot of value on transferable skills.

Many transferable skills are hard to learn and even harder to teach. So hiring someone with a strong set of existing transferable skills saves employees time and money.

Take the teacher from the previous example. Because they’ve mastered in-demand skills in their previous role, they already have a solid foundation for sales. Once they’re hired, a sales manager can easily teach them the technical side of sales through a training program.

Even if they’re technically qualified for a job, employers may overlook job seekers that lack certain transferable skills.

Transferable skills also show hiring managers you have versatility. Versatility is the ability to perform many roles and tasks within the organization.

How to add transferable skills to your resume

Unsure how to show off your transferable skills on a resume?

You’re not the only one. In a recent LiveCareer survey, almost 60% of displaced workers admitted they’re not sure how to include transferable skills on their resumes. Here are some helpful tips to help you highlight your talents and land a new job.

Display them prominently

Add your transferable skills in a prominent place. Placing them at the top of your resume in the “Professional Summary” section makes them a focal point for the hiring manager.

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Tailor your skills to the role you’re applying for

Don’t clutter your resume with all the transferable skills that come to mind. Only list skills that match the competencies listed in the job description. A common way to showcase them is under a separate “Skills” section.

Show, don’t tell your achievements

Hiring managers want to see results. Show how you’ve used some of these skills to drive results using the challenge-actions-results (CAR) formula.

The CAR method highlights the contributions you’ve made to previous companies. It also shows hiring managers you know how to put your transferable skills to good use.

Be descriptive

Listing “creativity” as a skill on your resume isn't enough. Your employer wants to know more.

Describe what kind of environment you worked in during your previous role. What required you to be creative? What positive impact did your creativity have? The more specific you are, the easier it’ll be for the hiring manager to see if you would fit into their work environment.

Transferable skills give you a competitive edge

Transferable skills are some of the most powerful tools in your arsenal.

These talents and abilities will always be in demand no matter what career path you choose to take. Developing transferable skills makes you a stronger job candidate and a more confident employee.

Start identifying your core transferable skills today. Are there any new skills you’d like to develop? If you need help discovering your strengths and reaching your full potential, BetterUp's personalized support and development can help you get there.

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Published November 15, 2021

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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