The Eternal Mystery of Transferable Skills

If you’re anything like me, i.e. fresh out of university, you will have heard a lot about these mythical ‘skills’ and not actually have any idea what they are. Well, you’re in luck. During my many endeavours to improve my CV during my course, I have managed to compile a list of the most common transferable skills which I have had to demonstrate to prospective employers. Now, this list is by no means exhaustive, as a quick Google will reveal, but it covers most of the things which some sites then divide into even smaller categories.

  1. Self-management – this comes down to time-management, flexibility, and self-improvement. A really simply way to demonstrate this is doing extra-curricular activities outside of work or study.  Another way to do it is what’s called ‘up-skilling’ yourself, which basically comes down to learning new skills like a language or coding in your own time. Self-improvement is also about taking constructive criticism for your performance at work or during study, and applying it. And there’s nothing wrong with asking your boss or teacher if you’re not sure what they want from you.
  2. Teamwork – this one’s self-explanatory, but it means that you can work in a group to achieve a goal. Unsurprisingly, the ways that you can demonstrate this generally involve doing something in a team, like sport, or group work during work or study. If you don’t like the sound of either of those, you can also join a society or committee, and do it that way.
  3. Communication – this is both about being able to get information across, and being able to interact with a variety of different people. A way to demonstrate this that looks quite fancy is persuading a speaker to come to a society, or getting corporate sponsorship for an event. Some less intimidating methods include working in a customer service job, writing a blog (or articles, or radio programmes etc.) for the public, debating at a debating society, or tutoring schoolchildren.
  4. Organisation and planning – a bit like self-management, but more professional. This one’s about being able to organise people and resources, and achieve goals within a deadline. I’m sure you can spot the similarities with some of the skills we’ve already had. Well, that means that doing the same things as those also demonstrate this skill (woohoo!). Basically organising any event, regardless of how big or small it is, demonstrates this one. If you’re less social, editing content for a publication also does the job.
  5. Leadership – again, this is one which is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s about being able to organise and motivate others. You can demonstrate it by taking a position of responsibility in a society or at work. Organising events also falls into this one. Outreach and voluntary things also demonstrate it, like youth organisation or encouraging students to apply to your university.
  6. Initiative and problem-solving – the ability to analyse facts and situations, and come up with solutions by yourself. If you organise an event yourself, that definitely demonstrate this one. Setting up a society or business also covers this one.
  7. Commercial awareness – this one varies a bit according to what sector you’re working in, but it’s basically about knowing the likely demands on a business and ways to meet them. A good way to demonstrate this is to organise an event which has to turn a profit, such as a concert. Another good one for students is to negotiate discounts with local businesses for members of your society. At work, you could suggest ways to improve efficiency or save costs.
  8. Computing and IT – yep, it’s a scary one for many, but it depends entirely on your ability relative to the demands of your job. If you’re going into an industry based on computing, you need to know how to programme in a variety of languages, how to fix a computer if it goes wrong, and all sorts. If you’re not going into that industry and just want to up-skills yourself a bit, it’s less complicated. There are free programming courses online, and free trials of professional software to get the hang of how these things work. Even making a website for a student society would do the job here nicely.
  9. Languages – another intimidating one, particularly for English-speakers. A language degree helps here, even ancient languages like Latin and Greek. It can build confidence in learning languages and understanding how they work. If you don’t have a qualification, then there are a variety of courses online and in cities on a whole spectrum of prices, from free to what I would call quite steep for the number of hours offered. A lot of places which are there specifically to offer language courses have a test on their website so you can see what level you already are in a language and enrol on the best difficulty for you. When you’re feeling a bit more confident, you can organise a language exchange with someone who wants to learn your language, for instance over coffee a couple of times a week. There are similar services online as well, provided you have a webcam and microphone. The ultimate practice is travelling abroad to use your target language, either challenging yourself to not use English on holiday, or even going on an internship.

And there you have it. Think of these as the ‘Big Nine’, and that everything else spirals off from one or more of them. Treat them as keywords and prompts when you look at job advertisements. You don’t have to be brilliant at all of them, but if you can demonstrate that you’re at least trying to improve each one, then employers won’t immediately dismiss your application.


What do you think?

Written by Nefertari