August 3, 2018 ・ Written by T.J. Duane

The Magic of Transferable Skills

And how to make yours shine.

The Magic of Transferable Skills

I hear all the time from folks who are worried that they’ll never get a job in their desired field. They may be totally smart and capable, but the same frustrating limitation stands in their way. It’s the classic “you need experience to get a job, and you need a job to get experience” Gordian knot.

The good news is the labor market is pretty healthy right now. Unemployment has fallen steadily in the past few years, so employers might be feeling more likely to give you a shot even if your skills aren’t a perfect match. But you’ll be especially well-positioned to snag that new job if you know how to sell your transferable skills.

Transferable skills are exactly what they sound like—things you’re great at that can help you be a high performer in very different jobs. Things like communication, management, design, and collaboration skills can help you make the leap across industries, or into your first job ever.

You’ve got secret (read: transferable) skills.

If you’re thinking, “That would be great, but I don’t have any skills” — calm down. We’ve got this.

Even if you’ve never worked, you’ve probably done things that you can list on a resume. Think back and see if you’ve done any of the following:

  • Volunteer work
  • Clubs / extracurricular activities
  • Art or science projects
  • Sports teams
  • Political activism
  • Other projects

The real trick? Don’t just list your affiliation on your resume. After all, “President of the Green Earth Club” doesn’t really mean much to a hiring manager. Just think about the many things you probably did as president of this club:

  • Created agendas
  • Took meeting minutes
  • Led a team
  • Planned events
  • Solicited donations
  • (I could go on.)

If you take the time to write out all the minutiae of what you’ve done in different professional (and non-professional) contexts, you’re guaranteed to find some transferable gems in there.

Draw direct lines from what you’ve done to what you’ll be doing.

Once you land an interview that’s a bit outside your comfort zone, you’ll want to spend time preparing stories that illustrate your transferable skills in action.

Because the depth and quality of your transferable skills might not be totally clear to your interviewer, it’s your job to make it obvious.

A great example—a friend of mine was a music major in school. After graduation she landed an interview for a sales position at Yelp. Not obvious at all! From music to sales? How did she swing that one?

She decided to tell a story in her interview about rejection. As a musician she had auditioned hundreds of times for various audiences. She had faced plenty of critique, and had to learn to be resilient in the face of adversity. She saw clearly that in a sales job, she’d be dealing with rejection every day. So she told a story about how well-equipped she was to hear “no”, bounce back, and get to “yes”.

She got the job. After all, hiring managers look for people who clearly understand what they’ll be doing, and how their skills will help (or hinder) them. It makes them feel so much better when you can confidently reply, “Yes! I am very familiar with scheduling software, I used Google calendar all the time to plan my college glee club rehearsals.”

Don’t forget that even if you’re just starting out, you’ve got it going on.