November 18, 2008

Tips for Success: Transferable Skills

Every Tuesday, we discuss tips and hints for making the most of your job search. We welcome input from our readers and want to hear about your most challenging job hunting issues.  To get a crash course on Career Planning 101, check out JobMonkey’s section on Job Hunting Tools.

Whether you are facing a career change or looking for your first job, one of the biggest challenges is writing a resume that truly markets your skills to a potential employer.  If you don’t have a lot of on-the-job experience, or if you want to pursue a career in a new field, then this task becomes even more daunting.

The good news is that even those of you without overtly relevant experience can still sell yourself for a new job.  How? With transferable skills. If you’re not sure what transferable skills are (or whether or not you have them), read on.

What Is a Transferable Skill?
The book What Color Is Your Parachute is one of the best selling career planning books on the market.  If you haven’t read it, run — don’t walk — to the nearest library to check out a copy. While you are reading through the book, pay special attention to the discussion about transferable skills.  According to author Richard Nelson Bolles, transferable skills are the abilities that we are born with and cultivate into skills with each new job. I would add that these skills can also be cultivated outside of the workplace, through education, volunteering and even extracurricular activities and hobbies. Bolles says there are three categories of transferable skills:

•    People Skills – including communication, supervising, and teaching
•    Data Skills – which can include research and record keeping
•    Things Skills – which means your ability to operate, repair and assemble equipment (including, but not limited to, computers and software)

How to Identify Your Transferable Skills
Now that you know what transferable skills are, sit down with a piece of paper and make three columns: people, data and things.  Write down the skills you possess in each of these categories.

Let’s take Jennifer, a recent college graduate, as an example.  Jennifer is seeking a job in Marketing Communications, but other than one college internship, she doesn’t have any direct experience in the field.  She majored in English and volunteered as a peer counselor in the campus writing lab.  She also worked as a waitress during the summers to earn money for school.

Under People Skills, Jennifer might write:

•    excellent written communication skills (if she won any awards for her writing or graduated with distinction, she might note it here as well)
•    good at listening
•    helping people
•    good customer service
•    problem solving (anyone who has worked in the restaurant business or in retail will definitely be good at problem solving!)
•    good time management

When making your own list, think about what you excelled at in your college education or specialized coursework, past work experience (even if it wasn’t a “career job”), volunteer assignments, extracurricular activities, and hobbies.

How To Find Jobs Based On Your Transferable Skills
Once you have made a thorough list of your skills, start cross-referencing this list against job ads.  Look closely at the skills each job requires. You may not have all of them, but you will probably find that many are closely related to the skills on your list. Jennifer, for example, may find that entry-level marketing positions are looking for individuals with strong research and presentation skills — both of which she possesses.

In addition to scouring job ads, networking within your industry is key.  (I know, I know, I write the word networking at least once in every post. That’s because it really is critical!)  Talk to anyone you can find.  Attend industry trade events.  Read every employer website you know of — and then Google for more.  Your goal is to learn all you can about the critical skills needed for this particular industry.  Once you know that, you can better assess how well your skills fit the profession.

How To Highlight Your Transferable Skills On a Resume

Rather than writing a resume with a generic laundry list of jobs titles and descriptions, consider including a bulleted list of skills for each position. My college career counselor had me write three or four skills for each entry on my resume, with a heading of “Transferable Skills Include:” Also be sure to emphasize these skills in your cover letter, where bulleted lists also work well.

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