Transferable skills are the skills that apply outside of your current job. Here's why they matter and how to showcase them during your job search.
When you move from one job to another similar or closely-related one, it's not all that challenging to figure out the skills and qualifications you should emphasize. You have plenty of relevant experience under your belt—the challenge is figuring out what deserves some precious real estate on your resume.
But what about when you're moving into a new industry? Or if you're pursuing a career change and an entirely new career path? Or if you recently graduated and are looking for your very first professional job?
In those situations, it's harder to figure out how to position yourself as a solid and qualified fit for that open role. How do you connect the dots between what the employer is asking for and your own core competencies, traits, and qualities? That's where transferable skills come into play.
Transferable skills are the skills and qualities that apply outside of your current position or career path. Put simply, you could take them with you (or, ahem, transfer them) from one job to another.
Unlike more technological competence based skills —whether that's programming languages, experience with specific industry software, email marketing experience, or anything else that's super pertinent to your career path—transferable skills apply more broadly outside of your existing role.
That's why you'll often see the term "transferable skills" used interchangeably with "interpersonal skills" or "soft skills." These less quantifiable traits are desirable and useful in a huge variety of industries and jobs.
People tend to write off transferable skills or soft skills as buzzwords or resume fluff, but they actually carry a lot of importance in your job search. In fact, 93% of employers say that soft skills play a critical role in their decision about who to hire for a job.
Transferable skills are especially beneficial for job seekers who don't have a ton of experience that's directly or obviously related to the jobs they're applying for. This could include:
Even applicants who are pursuing roles that are clear, no-brainer matches for them can benefit from rounding out their resumes and interviews with a little bit of emphasis on their transferable skills. That can help them stand out from competition that might check all of the technical boxes, but lack the interpersonal skills that potential employers are looking for.
So, let's talk a little more about the best transferable skills that employers are actively looking for.
While it might seem like an unhelpful and potentially even noncommittal answer, what soft skills employers want will depend largely on the type of job you're applying for. For example, a sales role will depend heavily on your ability to communicate and build relationships. In contrast, a data analytics role would rely on more attention to detail and critical thinking.
A lot of the process of determining what transferable skills to emphasize hinges on taking a fine-tooth comb to the job description (don't worry—we'll talk about that in detail a little later).
But, speaking very generally, there are plenty of broadly-applicable transferable skills that will almost always catch the attention of employers. Here are some examples of transferable skills:
Figuring out the technical skills, or hard skills, you bring to the table is typically pretty straightforward—especially since they often have education or other formal training attached to them.
Transferable skills, though? Those feel like a little bit more of a guessing game. Are you actually a diligent problem solver? Maybe? How can you tell?
Here are a few different strategies you can put into play to figure out what your most notable transferable skills are (before you showcase them in your job search):
These can be jobs, internships, projects, extracurriculars, or anything similar you've done. What tasks did you really excel at? What ones did you struggle with? What skills were involved in each?
Thinking through this will help you start to pull out some common threads. For example, you might find that you're more of a big ideas person than a details person or that you do better with consistency instead of constant changes.
Sometimes other people are better at seeing our strengths, so it's helpful to get some outside perspective in this process. Whether you go through previous performance reviews or comments from your college professors, take note of compliments and praise you received—as well as any improvement areas that were identified.
If you don't have any formal, documented feedback to review, consider asking other people for their viewpoints on your skills using the Work Styles 360 Assessment. Current and former coworkers, friends, and even family can all help you get a more realistic grasp on what you offer.
If you're still feeling stuck, taking a formal strengths assessment can illuminate some qualities you might not have identified yourself. A few popular strength or personality assessments include:
Before you go into the interview, do a little bit of introspection and self-awareness work on your work style by taking Teal’s Work Style Assessment.
Even the process of thinking through the situations and your answers can be revealing. You might start to identify some common threads on your own as you work through the questions (so keep a notebook nearby!).
Once you have a better grasp on the transferable skills you honestly possess, it's time to put them front and center so that employers take notice.
But before stuffing your documents and interview answers full of as many transferable skills as you can, it's important to keep relevance in mind. Ultimately, your skills only carry weight if they can be applied to the role you're interested in.
Use Teal's Skills Database to identify your current skills and potential skills that you want to acquire. Once you've identified those, enter them into Teal's Skills Identifier.
If you want to access this tool, click the "Copy Tool" button in Teal's Skills Workbook.
Now that you know what skills you have, it's time to turn your attention to the other half of the equation: What specific skills is that job asking for?
Take a close and thorough look at the job description. You'll find a lot of technical skills in there, but pay close attention to the soft or interpersonal skills that crop up.
Do they mention that they need someone who can efficiently handle a lot of tasks? Time management and organization are important. Do they explain that this role interacts with tons of different teams, clients, and other stakeholders? Strong communication skills and teamwork are crucial.
The point is to figure out exactly what the employer is looking for in an ideal candidate—even if you need to read between the lines a little bit. That will help you not just incorporate your transferable skills in your job search, but to incorporate the right transferable skills.
Ready to start working those in? Let's look at some tips for doing that in three different areas: your resume, your cover letter, and your interview.
There are several different places you can highlight your transferable skills on your resume—mainly your career summary, your skills section, and your past job experiences.
Your career summary and skills section lend themselves to more of a keyword approach, so you'll probably state your skills directly. Here's an example of what each of those could look like:
Your professional summary, or blurb, is your personal elevator pitch about who you are and what you want to do.
If you want to access this tool, click the "Copy Tool" button in Teal's Professional Summary Builder Workbook.
Here is an example of a professional summary for your resume:
Creative and detail-oriented email marketer with five years of experience managing email lists of 70,000+ subscribers. Skilled with building customer journeys, creating personalized email workflows, and making data-backed decisions to improve open rates and engagement rates. Thoughtful communicator, organized project manager, and dedicated team player.
Your resume skills section is where you list your knowledge or qualities that present you as a relevant fit for the job. That will undoubtedly include technical qualifications, but you can round those out by bulleting out some valuable transferable skills, or soft skills, as well.
Need help? Teal's resume builder includes a skills section and will walk you through it all.
But, when bulleting out past responsibilities, don't feel pressured to use exact terms. Your goal there isn't to simply state such skills—it's to show how you've used them. Here's an example that subtly showcases skills like teamwork, time management, and organization:
Senior Email Marketer, Dunder Mifflin | Scranton, PA
September 2019 - July 2022
Struggling to work the right skills into your own resume? Teal's Resume Builder will help you craft a standout document that includes a compelling skills section.
Use Teal’s Resume Builder to quickly compare the skills and keywords in the job posting to those in your resume. Make sure to add any relevant experience to your customized resume and to your application answers.
Your cover letter goes beyond the confines of bullet points and sentence fragments, giving you far more room and flexibility to fill in the gaps of your career story.
Use that opportunity to draw parallels between your own experience and what the job is asking for—even if it isn't the most obvious fit. Here are a couple of example paragraphs from a potential cover letter that highlights transferable skills:
As a registered nurse for the past four years, I have direct insight into the challenges of your healthcare customers. I'm eager to bring that personal experience and first-hand knowledge into this customer support role with your startup to have personalized, relevant, and meaningful interactions with your customers.
My background in healthcare has also equipped me with top-notch time management skills, intense attention to detail, and a high level of emotional intelligence. I know that those skills will serve me well as I work to make an impact at your fast-paced startup.
It's highly likely that employers will use an interview as an opportunity to observe your soft skills and interpersonal skills—rather than simply asking you to talk about them. Even seemingly small things like showing up on time and conducting yourself professionally can be difference-makers.
When it comes to the actual interview conversations, employers will lean on behavioral interview questions to dig down and understand how you've put your skills to work. Remember to not just focus on what you did in certain situations or in a previous job but the results you achieved. That helps to make an extra impact.
As tough as it is, resist the urge to qualify your responses with phrases like, "I know this isn't exactly related…" or, "I know it's not quite the same thing…" Keep a positive attitude, focus on what you do bring to the table, and avoid making excuses for your background. After all, they brought you in because they think you could have the desired skills and be a good fit for this particular job market.
Transferable skills are important and widely applicable, and that means they come in handy when you're looking for a new job with untraditional or potentially unrelated experience.
But, the fact that these skills are so broad makes them surprisingly challenging to tout and talk about during your job search. Use this as your guide and your transferable skills won't be resume fluff—in fact, they could be what sets you apart.
Ready to craft a resume that helps you stand out from the competition? Get started with Teal's free Resume Builder.