Why ‘Transferable Skills’ Are the Most Important Tools You Can Have

Why ‘Transferable Skills’ Are the Most Important Tools You Can Have

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Direct training and vocational qualifications are the best, right? Well, not always. The term ‘transferable skill’ comes up often in job descriptions and interviews, but what does it really mean? And where do they come from?

It is the question that fills people with dread when it comes to answering with any conviction: what transferable skills do you have? Understanding what these skills and tools are is essential.

A definition of a transferable skill is an ability that is relevant and helpful across different areas of life, including social, professionally or at school or college. They are skills and abilities that are portable.

Sometimes, they are given ‘fancy’ names but when translated into every day speak, they are more common than you think. You need to make sure you highlight these key skills on your CV, on job applications and during an interview. This is what really tells your potential new employer about the skills and abilities you have.

If you feel like you don’t have enough ‘real world’ or transferable skills, there are many ways you can tackle the issue. From volunteering for a charity to taking up online interest courses such as autism awareness courses, creative writing courses and more. Your options aren’t as limited as they may seem! Taking up things like this will increase your awareness of yourself, and boost skills like communication and problem-solving.

Why transferable skills are important

Not to be confused with soft skills, transferable skills are important because they give you a competitive edge in the marketplace. By highlighting the abilities you bring from other fields of life, you show a potential employer you are;

  • Flexible – in a competitive job market, you need to stand out and employers want to recruit people who can flex within the role they have. When your skill set is diverse, your value to the company or organisation is greater.
  • Diverse – the more you offer an employer, the more diversity you offer them. And employers often value a diverse workforce.
  • Portability – with transferable skills, you can work across departments or areas and again, this is great news for an employer.
  • Employability – all of this adds up to a key fact: you are employable. With a strong CV awash with qualifications, a smattering of experience and a large dollop of transferable skills, you become an intriguing prospect to any employer.

Transferable Skills: 9 Essential Skills

There is a long, long list of transferable skills, which of these can you tick off? And more importantly, which of these have you included on your CV?

1.  Business strategy

A strategy is the set of objectives that a business has about how it is going to reach its objectives within the pressures and challenges of the marketplace. A business, small or large, will spend many hours creating and implementing its business strategy but a key transferable skill is being able to understand how this strategy is translated into a set of actions.

What did you do to translate a business strategy into actions?

2.  Leadership and team management

Effective leadership is about ‘taking charge’, as well as motivating others to reach their goals and those of a project or business. It means you can manage small group as well as strategize by delegating tasks to people so that the project is accomplished.

These skills are not demonstrated at work, but in other areas too. Volunteering, coaching a local sports team and being involved with community events and projects will all utilise leadership and team management skills. But have you included them in your CV or job application?

3.  Problem-solving

Some problems are easier to solve than others. There are barriers and challenges that can prevent solutions from bearing fruit but as someone with a keen problem-solving ability, you will be able to see the bigger picture.

You may also understand that it is a case of damage limitation as a result of being caught between a rock and a hard place. For example, the winter crisis that hits the NHS is expected and planned for, but inevitably there will be patients disappointed as a result of cancelled operations etc. Problem-solving can be tough.

How well do you think you can see the bigger picture and come up with solutions to problems? How will you tell your potential employer about these experiences?

4. Teamwork

It is a phrase that is used very often – I’m a great team worker! – but what does it actually mean and how do you highlight this transferable skill? You need to give real-life examples of when you were part of a team (try to think of work and social examples) and what you found challenging, as well as rewarding about the experience.

Teamwork can be challenging. What do you think are the qualities of a good team?

5.  Data analysis

Any business, irrespective of sector or industry, will have part of its operation driven by data. Having people who can look at this data and translate what it is actually saying is an essential component of any business. If you have a knack for understanding and deciphering metrics, then you have a transferable skill coveted by many businesses.

Some people are taught how to use and construct databases, but others are self-taught. If this applies to you, you need to be confident you are giving employers this important information on a skill set that you have. Even if you don’t think it is relevant, make sure you highlight it.

6.  Communication

Another standard line in a CV – I’m a great communicator/listener! – and in some ways, you may think this is hard to prove.

But there are some key areas you can highlight: for example, strong writing skills are always useful within a business but highlight how you use written communication from email to copywriting and more.

When it comes to highlighting your communication skills, try to use a solid piece of evidence rather than just highlighting what a great listener you are. Communication is not just about talking.

7.  Time Management

And finally, time management is a key transferable skill and one that many employers look for.

It is a skill that we learn not just in a work setting, but our personal lives as well as social and sporting circles too. But it more than just turning up on time.

When you have many things to do, how do you prioritise tasks? Is it a case of doing those that need doing first or completing those tasks for people who shout the loudest?

Time slips by, no matter what you do to try and stop it. And in essence, time management is about working smarter, not harder. It is also about organisation, another key skill that many employers look for.

When it comes to time management, what examples can you give that show you understand that are many ways of managing time?

8.   The Ability to Listen and Provide Feedback

We have already looked at the transferable skill of communication and how listening forms part of that. But there is another aspect to listening that we sometimes forget about – and that is, giving feedback.

Call it what you what – feedback, constructive criticism, appraisal – there are times when colleagues and staff do need to feedback given to them constructively. Do you know how to do this?

But what about you? When management discuss a new idea, what do you contribute to the debate? Feedback is a multi-headed beast and not one that everyone is comfortable in taming.

We want positive feedback; negative feedback is hard to take, as much as it is hard to deliver. But there are times when it is unavoidable. There are training courses for managers and the like that cover the ‘skill’ of feedback but it is also something that we do in our every day lives, it is just that we don’t see it as the same thing, perhaps.

How can you show that feedback, both positive and negative, is a skill that you use frequently? Feedback ties in with managing situations and trying to improve something or someone. If you coach a sports team, for example, how do you feedback or appraise the performance of their latest game? It is a transferable skill that you probably use more of than you think…

9.  Commercial Awareness

This is about understanding the world around us and how this is changing. As society change, our wants and need change and that affects the marketplace too.

For example, who would have thought years ago that as consumers, we would no longer be buying CDs and DVDs but streaming our films and music via the internet? Some of us would have no idea that this would take place but for some with a sensitivity and a commercial awareness in that specific sector probably would have done.

As a result, they ensured their business was in the right place when the change came. Other companies died away such as the video rental companies that failed to adapt or failed to do so quickly enough.

Showing commercial awareness is about highlighting what you understand to be the challenges and opportunities not just to the brand but to the sector as a whole. But HOW do you understand what these changes are?

These are, of course, just nine examples of transferable skills that employers look for. The key is not to just list them but to show potential employers ‘evidence’ that you have these skills in abundance.

Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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