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How to talk about transferable skills

Deanna Hartley | October 12, 2016

Transferable skills

Transferable skills are essential to moving your career forward - here's how to leverage them.

Very few career paths are straight lines. They often involve pivots, lateral moves and sometimes even jumps to entirely new industries. Transferable skills – the abilities and experience that may not relate directly to a new position, but that will still prove beneficial to your success – are key to landing any new job, particularly if you're looking to alter your career trajectory.

Here are four tips to help you effectively communicate the value of your transferable skills:

Avoid jargon

Choosing simple words is one of the most important factors in effectively communicating how the skills you've developed through previous jobs will be beneficial to a new employer.

"Check with people outside of your industry to test whether they understand the language you're using," says Mikaela Kiner, an executive coach and founder of uniquelyHR, a no-nonsense HR firm for startups. "For example, those in nonprofit may describe raising money as development but the private sector knows this as fundraising."

Use referrals

If a friend or former colleague offers to recommend you for an open position they know about, don't just sit back and wait to hear from the hiring manager. This is a golden opportunity to work with your friend or colleague to ensure that you understand the new role and exactly how your skills and experience will come into play.

"Referrals and recommendations are never more important than when you're changing roles or industries," says Kiner. "When you send your resume to a friend, write an introductory paragraph in the email explaining your career shift and highlighting your skills to help tell your story."

Reformat your resume

While interviews may give you the best opportunity to provide a detailed explanation of how your skills will transfer to your new responsibilities, that doesn't mean you can't include those skills on your resume.

"A simple way to highlight the transferable skills acquired either in other roles, disciplines or outside of the office is a hybrid resume," says Alyssa Krane, certified HR leader and chief talent strategist at Powerhouse Talent Inc. "This type of resume displays related skills in a section at the top of the first page – what I like to call prime real estate. For example, a human resources resume may have a section titled 'Human Resources Skills and Knowledge.' You can then list courses you have taken, projects completed (noting [if they were] in an academic setting) and related work experience."

Show results

With any skill set, but particularly those acquired through a significantly different job or industry than the one you're applying for, providing examples of the results your work produced is always the most effective means of communication.

"Transferable skills should always be illustrated with a result," says Lori Bumgarner, career specialist and owner of career coaching firm paNASH. "If the use of your transferable skill helped make an improvement of any kind (i.e., increased revenue, saved time, increased customer satisfaction, etc.), you should include this on your application using numbers and figures to quantify your result (even if you have to approximate). You should also discuss further in detail on the steps you took to create such a result while in the job interview."

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