This post was revised from a previous post by Emily Seamone published July 1, 2016.
What Are Transferable Skills?
Most likely you have heard the term “transferable skills” before, especially if you have ever had to search for employment. These skills, as defined by the career development website LiveCareer, are those that you have “acquired during any activity in your life—jobs, classes, projects, parenting, hobbies, sports, virtually anything—that are transferable and applicable to what you want to do in your next job.” Identifying and effectively communicating your transferable skills is integral to a successful job search of any kind, as well as the management of your career throughout your life. It is therefore beneficial to take time every so often to review your past school and work-related skills, reflect on any new skills you have developed (especially during your time in graduate school), and consider how these experiences apply and relate to your current career goals.
Identifying Your Transferable Skills
The first step in identifying your transferable skills is to review your most recent resume or CV, and make a list of all the skills highlighted in these documents. In some cases, your skills will be directly applicable to your career goals; as you know, graduate school teaching experience is important for most assistant professor positions. However, if your plan involves securing a non-instructional position in the business world, you will need to help potential employers understand how your teaching skills relate. Otherwise, you may be unintentionally limiting yourself to particular industries and roles. You can facilitate comprehension by breaking down your teaching skills further. What exactly are you doing when you teach? What general skills are you using? Perhaps you have had to:
- Meet deadlines and interact with staff at various levels
- Handle multiple tasks
- Adapt, remain flexible, and think on your feet
- Write and design materials
- Conduct research and incorporate it into your work
- Apply organizational skills
- Manage people and projects
- Market or promote yourself and your work
- Apply critical thinking and problem solving skills
- Learn new software
- Keep abreast of best practices and apply them
- Communicate clearly to a particular audience and adapt material accordingly
- Mentor and support those you are interacting with and supervising
Notice that all of the above skills could be applied to numerous jobs and fields, which essentially makes them transferable skills. In fact, an employer would not automatically connect the above statements to education, but would rather be able to think about how these tasks fit within the context of his/her field, company, and position.
If you find it challenging to devise your transferable skills list, do not despair. There are many helpful resources online that will aid in this process. Read the classic article on transferable skills from The Chronicle of Higher Education, consider the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ list of career competencies, or check out one of the other additional resources below. You can also make an appointment with one of our career advisors to take a formal self-assessment, such as SkillScan, which is designed to help students identify their transferable skills.
Putting Your Transferable Skills to Work
Once you have a comprehensive list of your transferable skills, you’ll want to include these on all your job search documents and materials (e.g., resume, CV, cover letter, LinkedIn profile). Also keep these skills in mind when you are talking with work-related professionals, such as in networking situations and job interviews. Communicating your transferable skills with employers will greatly enhance their ability to see how you meet their needs and ultimately lead to job search success.
- Article from The Guardian that summarizes tips from the book Success in Research: Developing Transferable Skills
- List of examples of transferable skills from researcher Evelina Tapia
- List of examples of transferable skills from The Balance
- Article from Fast Company about highlighting transferable skills in non-academic job interviews
- Science magazine’s article about transferring skills beyond the lab