Understanding your transferable skill sets and being able to apply that understanding to your career decisions can open up a whole new realm of job options and career possibilities for you.
Transferable skills are simply skills that are not specific to one particular type of job. They can be applied to a variety of different jobs. You can develop your transferable skills through experience at work, school, volunteering, hobbies or life experience.
If you are thinking about a specific skill that you have and you are wondering whether it is a transferable skill, just ask yourself whether you could use that skill in a few different types of jobs. If the answer is yes, then the skill is transferable.
Why are transferable skills so important?
It is quite normal and common to move to different types of jobs throughout your career. Fewer people in today's labor market follow a straight career path. Often the ability to function as a generalist who can work well in a variety of settings is key to career success. That means that understanding the value of your transferable skills can be crucial to your career success.
Instead of thinking of yourself (in relation to your career) as a job title, think of yourself as a person with a large collection of skills that you can offer a variety of employers and that will fit the requirements of a number of different jobs. When you understand your transferable skill sets and you can think of your career options beyond your previous job title(s) you'll see new jobs that are well suited to your skills and experience that you may not have considered in the past. You'll be able to open up a wider range of job opportunities for yourself.
So how do I determine my transferable skill sets?
Determining your transferable skills is really just a matter of brainstorming. Here are a few tips and resources for brainstorming your transferable skills:
Skills can be divided into hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are the things that you have learned and soft skills typically have more to do with your personality. If you would use the phrase "I can" when describing the skill, it's probably a hard skill (i.e. I can type 50 words per minute), and if you would use the phrase "I am" it is probably a soft skill (i.e. I am a reliable team player).
Skills can also be divided based on the general skill type. Most often skill sets are divided into data (working with information), people, and things (working with machinery or tools). Thinking about the skills you have within each skill type (data, people and things as well as hard skill and soft skills) can help you to brainstorm your transferable skill sets and avoid missing major skill areas. Don't worry if you have many skills in one area and fewer in another; that is quite common. If you'd like to see a sample chart to help you brainstorm transferable skills, you'll find a link to one at the end of the article in the related links section.
Once you've brainstormed all of the transferable skills you can think of, it's also helpful to look at job descriptions for jobs you have done in the past. Reviewing job descriptions can jog your memory and help you to think of some skills that you forgot to include on your list. There are links to sites with job descriptions in the Career Resources section of the Unemployment Site (check the bottom of this article for a link to the page). Simply use one or more of those sites to look up descriptions for jobs you have done in the past, and you'll get plenty of ideas about the types of skills you would have used on the job.
When you have a thorough list of your transferable skills, you can use that new self knowledge in a few ways. Take a look at the list of skills and see if any new career options come to mind. You may have all (or most) of the skills required to move your career in a new and exciting direction. When you are looking at job leads, instead of reading the job title to decide whether you are qualified for a particular job, read the list of skills and requirements that the employer has noted. You may be surprised at the number times you have all (or most) of the required skills for jobs that you had not considered in the past. Finally, use your new knowledge of your transferable skill sets to market yourself. Noting the relevant transferable skills you have brainstormed on your resume(s), in cover letters and during interviews can help you to effectively promote yourself to employers and land your next job.