Transferable skills: definitions and examples
Updated 14 August 2023
Transferable skills are those you can carry from one job to another, which is incredibly useful when applying for a new job or considering a career change. The good news is that you likely already possess many transferable skills. This article explores some of the top transferable skills that can help you advance your career.
What are transferable skills?
Transferable skills are soft skills that can be applied across various industries and roles. You often develop transferable skills as you work with different departments and roles. You can also gain transferable skills outside of work – in college or university, during a community project, when working on personal or creative projects or as a volunteer. As you acquire more transferable skills, your job performance improves, no matter the profession.
Related: 10 best skills to include on a CV
Why are transferable skills important?
Here are a few reasons why transferable skills are important in the workplace:
Improved efficiency and productivity: Many transferable skills help you be more collaborative in the workplace, leading to increased productivity for your team and the organisation.
Strengthened working relationships: Transferable skills allow you to interact better with colleagues, supervisors, clients, or customers. These skills can promote stronger professional relationships, leading to career development opportunities and leadership roles.
More well-rounded skill set: When you have transferable soft skills, you can take on new tasks and responsibilities better. These qualities show current and future employers that you may be competent in various roles or departments.
Examples of transferable skills
When applying for jobs, here are the essential transferable skills to include on your CV:
Leadership and team management
Dependability is the quality of being reliable and trustworthy. In the workplace, being dependable allows people to trust that you can do what you say you're going to do correctly and in a timely fashion. The skill combines punctuality, accuracy, responsibility, time management and organisation. As a result of demonstrating this skill, your employer and team members can continuously trust you with similar tasks in the future since they know you can accomplish the necessary goals.
Leadership and team management
Leadership and team management are the abilities to lead a team in performing a task from start to finish. These skills indicate that you can effectively manage and delegate tasks, organise a working calendar, solve team problems, set clear and actionable goals, and coach people whilst implementing decisions that affect others. Capable team managers motivate others to accomplish goals, collaborate, resolve conflicts, and support one another in reaching goals and improving.
Problem-solving is assessing a challenge and accurately developing an effective solution. When obstacles arise in any industry, companies need employees who can handle them efficiently, calmly and logically. Problem-solving combines other transferable soft skills like communication, critical thinking and research. In some positions, problem-solving may also involve industry- or role-specific technology, knowledge and/or previous experience.
Data analysis is the ability to inspect, transform and model data to acquire information and draw conclusions that support other team members or departments in the decision-making process. This skill involves other transferable soft skills like research, visual communication, written communication and critical thinking.
Data analysis is key to achieving the most business growth in many organisations. Many departments, such as customer management, information technology, production and research, need expert data analysts to interpret, extract results and develop accurate reports.
Communication skills allow you to pass information concisely to your superiors, staff and colleagues. In nearly all workplaces, you must communicate clearly via phone, email, instant messaging and in person.
There are four main skills required to communicate effectively:
Writing: This type of communication comes in many forms, depending on your industry and role. You may be required to write frequently in your workplace, whether writing a letter, report, financial document, email or memo. In general, being able to summarise your most important points, use accessible vocabulary and be grammatically correct are universal writing skills.
Speaking: This form involves being able to talk to others, using professional tones of voice and vocabulary, as well as reading and using body language, facial expressions and other gestures.
Listening: You should also have good active listening skills to fully understand a speaker's arguments, concerns, questions or directions.
Presenting: These skills you need to deliver effective and engaging presentations to various audiences. This involves clear speech patterns, confident body language, dynamic and easy-to-understand slide shows and other visuals and answering questions or defending arguments.
Time management refers to how a person plans, prioritises and organises their time and tasks according to deadlines. People with good time management skills can better identify which tasks to focus on daily, minimise distractions, track progress towards goals and deadlines and assess their work processes to improve efficiency.
Empathy is: understanding another person's feelings, thoughts, ideas and background in a given situation. It involves actively listening to others, considering an issue or situation from another person's perspective and respecting differing viewpoints. This quality is important in resolving conflicts, building more productive and diverse teams and improving relationships with team members and customers or clients.
Employers understand that business strategies are ever-changing. For this reason, employees must be able to adapt to changes, learn new skills and ensure that work is done efficiently, even as demands increase. Employees can also use their adaptability skills to complete different projects, work with new team members and cope with changing leadership.
Technological literacy is learning, operating and performing basic troubleshooting on computers, software and other technological equipment. Many employers seek candidates with prior experience with standard workplace technology or who can quickly learn to operate new tools and software.
You can learn to operate general office and documentation programs, conferencing applications, interoffice communication apps, email software and other industry- and role-specific software. Basic troubleshooting skills will help you operate printers, videoconferencing, and computer-related storage devices.
Being organised involves planning projects, tasks and goals, allocating time and resources and establishing a productive workspace. This skill is essential when you must coordinate a team and distribute tasks to achieve goals, improve productivity and efficiency or determine the best way to do your everyday work.
How to highlight transferable skills
You may apply to a job for which you don't have much relevant or industry-specific expertise, especially if you graduated recently or are switching careers. Employers may look at your transferable skills to see your potential or be willing to train candidates with transferable skills that demonstrate an ability to learn quickly. Here are a few ways you can highlight your transferable skills during the hiring process:
On your CV
There are many ways to showcase transferable skills on a CV. You can list these skills in the 'Skills' section, reference one or two in your professional summary at the top of the document, or identify them in the descriptions of your professional experience entries.
When including transferable skills on your CV, choose ones that are required for or beneficial to the role. For instance, address your leadership skills in a management position. You can also review the job description for key skills listed there. For example, if a job description for a customer service representative role lists communication, organisation, and time management, you should reference those in your CV.
In your cover letter
In your cover letter, it's good to include two or more transferable skills. You can mention a specific instance in which you learned and/or demonstrated these skills.
Example: "As a video editor, I frequently communicate with the special effects team, producers, directors, and sound engineers to set production deadlines and establish a timeline of editing and reviews. I also use production management software to track and report my progress toward completing projects".
Read more: How to write a cover letter in 5 steps
During an interview
Interviewers may ask you a variety of questions that you can use to highlight your most relevant transferable skills. Behavioural questions allow you to provide a specific example of using your skills in the workplace, so be sure to use the STAR method to explain the situation, the task you had, the actions you took, and the results of your hard work.
Example: "When I was a production assistant, I managed all of the production and publishing calendars. We once experienced a delay due to a client wanting a large change late into production. I collaborated with creators and directors to establish a new rush timeline to make, edit and review this new content. I monitored daily updates on progress, communicated daily with key team members to address any issues, reallocated resources to other projects and recalculated the budget to ensure we stayed within it. By the end of the rush timeline, the team had effectively met the client's needs and maintained all original deadlines".
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