What are transferable skills, really?

Beth Braccio Hering, Special to CareerBuilder

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Q. How does a quantitative analyst for a hedge fund get hired as a strategist for a professional basketball team?

A.  He convinces those doing the hiring that he has the skills to do the job.

The two positions may seem unrelated at first glance, but the New Jersey Nets wanted someone who could evaluate player stats and past performance to help determine the best combinations of team members to put on the court in various situations. With superior mathematical and analytical skills, the hedge fund analyst fit the bill.

Transferable skills -- abilities that can be applied to different work environments -- can be among a job seeker's strongest assets. Here's a look at some of the most in-demand transferable skills and how to acquire them.

What do employers want?

Simply put, "They want skills that can increase or develop business," says David Couper, a career coach and author of "Outsiders on the Inside: How to Create a Winning Career ... Even When You Don't Fit In." "Organizations want anything that will make them more successful and more profitable."

Some commonly sought-after talents include:


  • Execution skills: "These are skills related to getting things done," says Duncan Mathison, a career consultant and co-author of "Unlock the Hidden Job Market: 6 Steps to a Successful Job Search When Times are Tough." Think project management, adaptability and resourcefulness in the face of changing conditions, ability to stay within a budget and accountability.

  • Managing people: "And not just supervision of subordinates," Mathison notes. "This can include project teams, contractors, volunteers, cross-cultural teams, virtual teams and turning around broken teams."

  • Communication skills: "Writing, training/teaching others, speaking and listening are all important because being a good communicator can make a person more successful at his job -- whatever that job may be," says Brian Drum, founder and president of Drum Associates, a global executive search firm located in New York City.

  • Customer service and sales: "Your ability to build lasting and profitable relationships is almost always transferable," Mathison says. "This idea actually can extend to nonprofits and public jobs. Think about donors, voters, constituents, students and even vendors."

  • Negotiation skills: "If you can show a track record of saving your employer money by using your good negotiation skills, you become a more desirable employee," Drum states.


Developing transferable skills

Some transferable skills are acquired through education and experience. For instance, demonstrated computer proficiency in a previous position may give a prospective employer confidence that you can quickly master a new company's specific system.

Many transferable skills, however, are acquired by individuals through their own initiative. Look for corporate/professional training programs that focus on areas you'd like to improve, such as a seminar on how to be a more effective manager. Likewise, experts suggest reading books geared towards specific objectives, such as becoming a better negotiator.

Couper notes that volunteering or taking on special projects offers the opportunity to work on skills valued in the workplace. For instance, one of his clients was involved with a not-for-profit group and became part of its selection committee responsible for hiring leaders. He later highlighted this experience to an employer to land a job with human resource duties.

Presenting transferable skills

So is the hedge fund analyst turned basketball advisor a rarity? No -- any job seeker who can pinpoint a legitimate match between her skills and an employer's needs has the potential to be hired.

For example, Mathison recalls working with a former Navy SEAL who was having difficulty finding a job. While employers respected his elite training, they "just didn't know what to do with someone who knew how to land on sandy beaches and blow things up." But once he started making the connection for them as to how his background and training were applicable to their goals, employers took notice. He was hired by a high technology global company on the basis of his transferable skill of leading teams to get critical things done anywhere in the world with resourcefulness when unexpected events threatened to derail the project's timeline.

Job seekers looking to present transferable skills as a major selling point may opt for a functional résumé in which skills are grouped together rather than a traditional list of work history. Putting similar skills together instead of dotting throughout can create a stronger impression and may prove especially useful to candidates trying to transition into a new field.

Regardless of method used, candidates looking to cash in on transferable skills should remember the old adage "Show, don't tell." After all, anyone can profess to be a great communicator or an outstanding manager. People whose transferable skills lead to job offers are those with solid evidence of achievement.

Beth Braccio Hering researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder.com. Follow @CareerBuilder on Twitter.



Last Updated: 08/02/2011 - 12:43 PM


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