The summer of 2013 could have been a disaster for me. After being recruited away from New Orleans in late 2012 for a golden opportunity, I got dropped like a bad habit a year and a half later. There I was, a new resident of Dallas, on unemployment—unfamiliar territory literally and situationally. Luckily, I had transferable skills at my disposal to help me pivot my career almost seamlessly.
Thank goodness for Lesley Regalado. She was one of my first Dallas contacts, and she needed a recruiter for her growing company. My life changed when she said, “With your (mass communication) skills, you can do well as a recruiter.” At 43-years-old, I had a new mentor who showed me just how powerful transferable skills are.
If you’re an “Avengers” fan, think of transferable skills as your Infinity Gauntlet (you just can’t jack up the universe with it). And think of every Infinity Gem as a set of transferable skills that gives you power over your career path.
Transferable skills are those abilities that can be used across a spectrum of industries and/or disciplines. These are some of the skills that can carry you from one job to the next:
communication (written, oral, and listening),
organization (including time management),
research and analysis,
critical thinking (including resourcefulness),
emotional intelligence (including motivation),
leadership, and any other skill that can help people work toward a common goal.
Rogue Community College has an outstanding comprehensive list of transferable skills.
By investing in your transferable skills, you make yourself more marketable in the workforce. According to the World Economic Forum, a survey found that “miscommunication” costs U.S. organizations with up to 100 staff an average of $420,000 per year. Another study of 400 U.S. businesses with at least 100,000 employees each suggested that lack of communication skills among employees cost companies an average of $62.4 million per year. If you believe the tech industry is immune to transferable skills success, try this on for size. The WEF reported that in a study, science recruiters found 60 percent of respondents rated the “ability to work collaboratively as most important, followed by adaptability (45 percent) and interpersonal relationship building (41 percent).” Most of the respondents also believed that candidates lacked critical thinking. A 2018 LinkedIn study shows that 57 percent of 2,000 business leaders surveyed believe that “soft” (a term I despise, by the way) transferable skills are more important than technical skills.
A conversation with a hiring manager comes to mind. We had gone on for a few frustrating weeks discussing candidates for a position that required certain technical skills. One day he said, “Y’know, most of these (candidates) have the technical skills I’m looking for but they’re just not doing it for me. There’s one who doesn’t quite have the skills, but he has the attitude I need.” The hiring manager went on to say that he would rather have a candidate with fewer skills and a great attitude than a highly skilled “jerk.” That candidate’s emotional intelligence and communication won the day.
While transferable skills are powerful, recruiters and hiring managers want proof that you actually know how to use these valuable skills. The magical behavioral interview question is where authenticity is tested. Line up at least five stories that illustrate how you have successfully used transferable skills throughout your career and that could be a game-changer.
The great news is you can sharpen transferable skills outside of the workplace. Community groups or volunteer work provide great opportunities, and they can be effective if placed well in cover letters and résumés. The most important thing is to be able to demonstrate that your transferable skills will make a difference on any team you want to join.