Changing careers? How to identify and sell your transferable skills

Interviewer with candidate applying for job

Countless businesses have been forced to shut down or reduce employee hours due to COVID-19 restrictions, making the job market increasingly competitive. With less job openings and more people looking for work, it’s no surprise that many are considering a different career path to get their foot in the door. Whether it’s a different role or completely changing industry, shifting your career path can be a good way to search for new work. However, it might also be a daunting prospect.

One of the best ways to stand out in a role or industry that you have little or no experience in, is to ensure you come to the table with skills that will still be valuable and applicable within the role. These are known as “transferable skills” and are those skills that you can apply to any type of work.

Here, we discuss the specifics of transferable skills, and how you can identify and showcase them to a potential employer to stand out in a competitive market.


What are transferable skills?

Transferable skills are a core set of skills, abilities and personal attributes that are used in most roles, regardless of the type of work or industry. They are those qualities that can be transferred from one role to another, and are extremely valuable when applying for a position you have little experience in. Some examples of transferable skills include:

  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Organisation
  • Leadership
  • Problem solving
  • Creative thinking

While these skills are more general in nature, they can actually be highly sought after by employers, so by identifying and showcasing these skills, you can make the best possible impression when applying for a new role.


How to develop these skills

Transferable skills are mainly gained through experience, so there are many ways you can improve them. In the work environment, this could mean putting yourself forward for projects or team assignments so you can build on your communication, interpersonal skills or organisational skills.

If you’re currently not working, look at your personal life to develop some of these skills. You might want to volunteer with an NGO to strengthen a range of skills and enhance your experience, or sign up to become a mentor to improve your leadership and coaching skills.

While you may not be skilled in a certain area now, there are plenty of avenues to evolve these transferable skills and gain further experience to present to a potential employer.  It is also a good time to improve on the skills you already have through online training to shift software skills for example, from basic to intermediate or intermediate to advanced. For those looking for senior jobs, further researching an industry or sector that you wish to work in may be beneficial.


Identifying your transferable skills

The best way to identify your transferable skills is to start by looking at your work history and making a list or spreadsheet of the duties and skills you attained from these jobs. After you’ve covered your work experience, then look to other activities or training you’ve received, as well as hobbies you’ve pursued. Once you have listed these skills down, review the spreadsheet and highlight the reoccurring skills. These will be the areas in which you have the most experience and can showcase.

As you start searching for new roles, make a list of core skills that the company wants from their applicants and compare it your listed skills. This will give you a clear visual of the skills you have that will apply to another role. Once you’ve determined your possible transferable skills, you will need to tailor your resume and cover letter so you can properly showcase them to the employers who are seeking these competencies.


Customising your resume

In order to present yourself as a promising candidate you will need to showcase your transferable skills on your resume. Begin by reviewing your current resume to determine the aspect that align with the new role or industry you are applying for and which might need altering.

Refer back to the list of skills you created when you looked through the job description. These are the keywords you want to include in your resume as you discuss your transferable skills. It is a good idea to mirror the wording on your resume that is used on the job posting, as this will help to make your skills sound well-suited to that particular role.

And this isn’t just for the human eye that will look over your resume. Many companies will use an applicant tracking system (ATS) that is programmed to look for specific keywords, usually from the job posting. If the job description says “provide customer service”, use the same term, even if this particular skill was given a different name within your previous workplace. This also applies to your cover letter, which should be customised to suit the role or industry as well.  You don’t want to risk your job application ending up in the “no” pile because of a few word differences.


Selling your skills in the interview

If you are successful in receiving an interview, this is the perfect opportunity to showcase your transferable skills and how they will add value to the role. Take the time to research the company and consider the types of skills they’re likely to value most. This should be done before you step foot into the interview room, so you are well prepared for what they might ask.

During the interview, you’ll likely be asked questions that will prompt you to discuss your transferable skills. Some examples of these questions include, “What can you bring to the company?”, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”, “Tell me about your leadership style”. When you respond with a transferable skill, always provide evidence of how you came to possess this skill and then reference it back to the role you are applying for. By giving relevant examples you can demonstrate to the hiring manager that you are well equipped for the job, and that your skills are definitely applicable to the role for which they are hiring.


Customising your resume and cover letter, and highlighting your transferable skills in the job interview, will give you the best chance of landing a job that may be more unknown to you. If you wish to access any of our other useful career tools, check out our careers resource page.

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