Stress Your Transferable Skills
By Joe Stein
If you have been a reader of this column for awhile, you’ve probably concluded (a long time ago) that I am not much of an advocate of a “cookie cutter” or “one size fits all” approach to your job search. I believe that a customized approach (both in how you market yourself and what positions you decide to pursue) is usually the best strategy for a Job Seeker to pursue.
There are, however, some core skills/behaviors/traits that are fairly universal. These transferable skills can generally apply to many positions, in a wide range of categories and industries. If you find yourself particularly strong in any of these areas, you should think about how you can build this into your brand and communicate out to prospective employers.
The following are some examples of the most commonly valued transferable skills.
• Communication Skills: Strong communication skills are slowly (some critics would say “quickly”) becoming a lost art. In this world of texting and slang, the pool of folks who stand out positively in this area appear to be shrinking. If you possess strong oral and/or written communication skills, you may have some highly desired transferable skills.
• Oral Communication – Many positions require some interaction with other people. This is particularly important in positions where there is some direct interfacing with customers. If you are articulate and thoughtful in your oral communication, you may find that even if you are not experienced in a particular area or industry, a company is willing to train you on the other aspects. For example, someone who has previously been in Broadcasting, may find their skills transfer nicely to Customer Service or Collections.
• Written Communication – Similar to oral communication, modern times has caused a degradation of the skills in this area. If you have successfully performed tasks such as writing Standard Operating Procedures, Request for Proposals, or company policies, then you may have a skill that other companies will covet.
• Listening Skills – Does anyone really take the time to listen anymore? In our fast-paced environment we often are moving on to our next task or thought without taking the time to finish listening to the other person. If you have references (such as a former Direct Report) who can attest to your strong listening skills, this will be a huge positive.
• Computer/Technical Skills: There are some skills that are pretty transferable. While I recognize there are some companies that run on Apple, the reality is that the standard is Microsoft. There are not too many jobs where you do not touch technology on some level. For example, if you have strong Microsoft Office skills (such as Word, Excel, Power Point, and Access), you can generally transfer this knowledge easily to another company. Just being able to communicate a history of aptitude towards technology may assist you when seeking a position in areas such as manufacturing or distribution.
• Teamwork: It seems that almost every job in today’s world involves some degree of teamwork. Now many decisions are the result of team discussion and a group vote, rather than a particular individual. If you have successfully experienced leading or participating in a team project, whether at work or school, this can be a transferable skill. If you are able to provide a good example of teamwork, you will probably be able to cover a wide range of transferable skills such as listening, conflict resolution, and problem solving.
• Problem Solving – The average day can often feel like one problem to solve after another. Regardless of what the situation may be, there is a core process used when problem solving that can be applied to most situations. If you are able to communicate issues you have successfully solved in the past and how you went about doing it, then you possess a transferable skill. Even better if it is a situation or issue that you solved which saved the company considerable money or reduced risk. The key is to be able to articulate your critical thinking steps and the analytics used in your process. Try to share an example with your prospective employer where you also displayed some creativity in solving the problem, perhaps by doing something that had never been tried before.
• Leadership – A strong leader can often rise to the occasion in many different scenarios. There are certain people who tend to surface as a leader, whether it is at work or even in a more personal setting. Stress how you have been able to successfully navigate a team, perhaps tying it to a problem solving experience. Leverage your references to speak positively about your leading of a team, or providing mentorship to an individual. If you are just starting in your career share how you led a workgroup in school, or served as a Captain on a sports team. Individuals who have led a group in the military should note this experience as they return to civilian life. You want the prospective employer to project that you have the “difficult to learn” traits that cause a team to feel engaged and motivated by your leadership.
Possessing these transferable skills can make you highly marketable in the open job market. Most of these core transferable skills are very difficult for an employer to try to train you in. They generally require considerable time and some expense. If a company is in a position where they have to train, they often will be much more willing to hire someone with strong transferable skills and “teach them the business”. Show them how your transferable skills will add value to the organization and you just may find yourself with the position you have been seeking.
As always, best of luck in your job search!