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Transferable Skills - Explaining Your Value In New Contexts

If you’ve been successful at a job – or even a school assignment – you’ve acquired some transferable skill. Really, it’s that simple. But it’s so common for people to get stumped when trying to explain how their previous experience can offer value in a new context – most often, a new workplace.

For example, I recently coached a man who’d been an electrician for 20 years when he decided he wanted to be a pilot instead. He was thinking, “I was an electrician for decades. It’s nothing like being a pilot, therefore when I apply to be a pilot, I won’t have much experience to talk about – or any chance of getting the job.” Like him, most people would believe that’s facing reality, when it’s actually fear and insecurity clouding their ability to think about their skills in a new context. The man didn’t learn how to fly a plane as an electrician, but he did follow procedures, meet deadlines and service customers – all important transferable skills that could be applied to a new job.

So to help you get started speaking about your own experience, here are my three steps to effectively and confidently identifying and translating your transferable skills:

1. Identify your actions vs. skills. Sit down with a pen and paper and outline two columns. Label one column “Actions” and the other column “Skills.” Under “Actions,” list all the day-to-day job functions and tasks you perform – answering emails, making photocopies, restocking shelves, closing shop – whatever they may be. Then take a moment to think about how those actions translate into skills, and write those skills in the “Skills” column.

For example:

ACTION: Answering emails within 24 hours

SKILL: Being responsive to customers

ACTION: Cold-calling prospective clients

SKILL: Building a sales pipeline + developing new business

ACTION: Managing a cash register + closing up the shop

SKILL: Customer service + being trustworthy

ACTION: Creating a presentation for a company all-hands + moderating a Slack channel

SKILL: Leadership + agenda setting

ACTION: Scheduling + holding quarterly reviews for your team

SKILL: Developing + retaining talent

Now you’ve created a reference you can use as you move on to the next step.

2. Find specific examples that illustrate your skills. Say your skill is customer service. It’s not enough to say that you were great at customer service – or even that you won an award for it. You need to share specific examples of how your customer service skills helped you – and your employer – be successful.

For example, maybe you worked the front desk at a hotel, and a guest called you late one night to tell you that their car broke down en route. You called the local tow truck company for them and sent a rental car. Or maybe you worked at a bridal shop. You received notice that a dress that was supposed to arrive in a week would actually arrive after the bride left for her destination wedding. You called the parcel carrier and rerouted the dress so that it would be delivered in Hawaii. Those are good examples that illustrate your customer service skills.

3. Connect the dots for the interviewer. A lot of candidates will say, “This is what I did, and I did it well, and that success is foretelling of more success in the future,” and stop there. But you must connect the dots and draw the line all the way from A to B, from how the skills that made you successful at Company A will help you be successful at Company B. Remember, it’s very important to explain to the interviewer in their language how your skills will benefit their business. The more specific you are, the better.

For example, maybe you worked in a fast food restaurant, and you were really good at servicing customers quickly. Now you are applying to an office job, and you have to explain what serving customers quickly is going to look like in an office setting. You might say, “When I was at the restaurant, I prided myself on my ability to get the food out to customers still hot and fresh, so they could enjoy it. I’m going to apply the same mentality and approach to making sure your executives get the files they need when they need them.” The actions are different, but the skills are the same – operating with urgency and efficiency.

When you learn to identify and talk about your transferable skills, you are able to drive other people’s confidence in you from the beginning. That applies not only to people who interview you but also to people you will work with when you do land your next job. Knowing and being able to translate your value sets you up for success in all contexts.


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