Updated 20 May 2020
As a graduate searching for employment, you will likely come across the term transferable skills and wonder what’s meant by this. This is a specific set of skills that don’t belong to a particular niche, industry or job; they are general skills that can be transferred between jobs, departments and industries (hence the name).
Employers often value these skills because they can be used in so many ways in the workplace. Transferable skills are those that you develop as you progress through employment, education or training. Communication, problem solving and teamwork are all examples of transferable skills because they can be used in any employed role, your education or vocational training.
As such, it is important that you emphasise your transferable skills throughout your application documents and during your interview. These skills can go a long way to persuading a potential employer that you are the perfect fit for their company, even if you don’t necessarily have the experience.
Transferable skills are the tools you'll need to adapt to any new job.
If you want to secure a graduate opportunity, you are going to have to demonstrate a specific set of skills needed for the role. Some of these skills will be specific to the industry while others (transferable skills) are those that you can build on and develop throughout your career.
Transferable skills tend to bring the following benefits for candidates and employers:
A complete list of transferable skills is beyond the scope of this article, so we’ve put together a list of the ten we consider most important:
Understanding business strategy is a fundamental skill, whether you are joining a small business or a large corporation. The term business strategy is used to describe a set of actions, plans and goals concerning how the business intends to compete in a particular market with a specific product or service offering.
Developing a business strategy and implementing it is certainly not easy, but understanding what is required to achieve this is the key. This transferable skill is about understanding how to put together a strategy that involves careful planning, knowledge of the market and defining organisational goals. These skills would be beneficial in any role, from sales through to finance.
Effective leadership and management involves taking charge and motivating others to achieve specific goals on an individual, team and company level. Possessing leadership and team management skills will mean that you can effectively manage groups and delegate responsibilities, plan and coordinate a variety of tasks, solve problems and resolve conflict, make and implement decisions and coach others.
These skills don’t necessarily have to be workplace-related. They can be acquired through a group project at university, a period of work experience or time spent carrying out voluntary work.
Every business encounters issues and if you can demonstrate your ability to solve problems, this will be a major bonus for your application. Some problems are easier to solve than others and often they relate to the achievement of goals and the barriers that prevent these goals from being achieved.
Collaborative working is a must for any organisation. Employers want to see their staff work together toward the achievement of common goals. Effective teamwork involves sharing credit and accepting responsibility for your own work, being receptive to the ideas and suggestions of your colleagues, building rapport with staff across all areas of the business and establishing effective communication channels to avoid duplicated work, mistakes or other problems.
Being able to analyse data is a key task in many different businesses. From identifying patterns to understanding customer metrics, the ability to evaluate information effectively will contribute in some way to the business.
The complexity of this analysis will depend on the company and the specific role, but an aptitude for interpreting information, extracting results and developing reports is a valuable transferable skill. An employee should be able to use databases to collect data, analyse it and then interpret the information they have collected. Data collection and analysis is relevant to many different roles, from finance and IT through to marketing and sales.
Being able to communicate well is perhaps one of the most basic employability skills. Verbal communication is about communicating clearly and concisely with others, whether it is a customer or colleague. In the world of work you will be required to present information to a range of audiences both inside and outside the business. Not all of these people will have an understanding of your work, so being able to communicate with clarity, articulating your ideas in a logical, organised and effective way is important.
Written communication is also important. Good writing skills are as important as being able to speak to someone clearly. Many employees will be asked to prepare reports and explain specific information about products, services and business operations. The majority of written communications are created to encourage the reader to take some form of action, so you must be able to demonstrate a natural ability to write persuasively and engage the reader.
Time management is a way in which you organise and plan your time to carry out specific activities. Effective time management boosts productivity, meaning that you can complete more work in less time, even when you are working under pressure. Good time management is about planning your day, minimizing distractions and carrying out regular reviews to make sure that you are making progress.
A significant factor in time management is prioritization, and it is only with practice that you can learn to prioritise your tasks more effectively, focusing on the most urgent tasks rather than less important activities.
Having a strong work ethic is often part of your own values. It is based on a personal understanding of taking pride in your work because you want to, rather than the rewards that you may receive.
Demonstrating a positive approach to work and being honest – as well as taking the initiative and caring about your co-workers – are all factors that convey a strong work ethic. In addition, learning new skills, showing a commitment to your employer and being responsible for your own work even when things don’t go as you planned, all illustrate a good work ethic.
Showing that you understand the marketplace in which your employer operates, as well as knowing what makes a business successful, is a key requirement in many jobs and even more important when applying for graduate vacancies. Once appointed you will be able to offer a more tailored level of customer service and support the business better if you demonstrate keen commercial awareness. This could include:
Listening is the ability to understand and interpret messages and it is key to all successful communication. Poor listening skills result in a breakdown in communication, as well as irritation or frustration. Better listening skills - and consequent feedback - can boost service delivery, increase productivity and create better information sharing.
Although transferable skills may be role-related, many of them can be used in a range of different industries. Below we’ve looked at which transferable skills are most likely to be preferred for three different industries.
Among the most desired transferable skills for the retail sector are communication, customer service and teamwork.
General management skills are highly sought after, as a good manager will be able to transfer easily between sectors. The key skill that can be transferred to different roles is leadership. An individual who can demonstrate the ability to lead, manage and motivate a team would be highly desirable to any recruiter.
Within this sector, skills such as problem solving, communication, data analysis and teamwork are essential. Possessing any of these skills would be useful when dealing with large organisations or a diverse range of individuals, from local community organisations through to corporate decision-makers.
Once you have identified what transferable skills you have, ensure that you incorporate them into your CV. If you have very little work experience, then a functional CV focused on your skills rather than your experience would be more effective.
Demonstrate how you used your skills in a specific scenario - giving a brief synopsis of the situation, what you did and the outcome. Try to make your CV achievements focused. Strategically place transferable skills throughout your CV, including in a brief professional summary section which describes you, your skills and your qualities in about six to seven lines at the top of the CV. This is designed to catch the attention of the recruiter and encourage them to read further.
When it comes to the interview, you can expand on your CV in more detail, providing specific examples of when you demonstrated commercial awareness or solved a problem. It’s one thing saying that you have a specific skill – demonstrating that you can use it effectively is very important.
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