What Are Transferable Skills?

In today’s competitive job market, getting hired takes more than checking the boxes in a job listing. Potential employers want to see that you not only meet the minimum qualifications -- they want you to bring something special to the table. Transferable skills can set you apart from the competition in your job search.

When applying for a job, it’s important to highlight the skills you’ve developed that are applicable to a wide variety of situations and tasks. Showcasing your transferable skills will help convince recruiters and hiring managers that you would be a flexible and well-rounded employee.

Transferable Skills Definition

Transferable skills are abilities that are relevant and useful no matter the job you have. These could be talents you’ve acquired through experiences in past jobs, schoolwork, or simply life experiences. They are often called “portable skills” because you can take them with you to essentially any company or field.

Among employers, transferable skills are highly valued because they indicate that a worker can contribute to the organization in a variety of ways, even when the company changes and evolves. An employee with a number of transferable skills is more likely to go above and beyond the expectations of their role. Demonstrating your ability to do more than asked is essential for landing a job.

Transferable skills stand in contrast to job-specific skills and highly specialized knowledge that would not be used out of a certain context. These could include how to operate a certain piece of equipment, how to coordinate a particular process, how to use a software program or any number of company-specific operations. While these skills are still valuable if you’re staying within a particular lane, transferable skills make candidates more broadly appealing.

Examples of Transferable Skills

Transferable skills cover a diverse array of abilities. It’s possible that you have several of these skills but don’t even realize it -- many of them develop naturally through the course of your career experience. Some may have even be instilled in you by your parents or schooling. Other transferable skills, meanwhile, will require intentional practice.

When applying to a job on LinkedIn or anywhere else, you should review the duties mentioned in the job description and consider which of your transferable skills would be most applicable to the responsibilities and goals of the potential employer. Transferable skills include the following:

  • Adaptability. Employers value workers who can adjust to new demands, goals and processes.
  • Problem-solving. Companies prize employees who can think of innovative solutions to complex challenges.
  • Critical thinking. Innovation comes from people who are able to look at a situation in a new way. Considering all sides of an issue will allow you to choose the best way forward.
  • Fast learning. The ability to quickly process new information and put it into action is applicable to any workplace.
  • Results-oriented approach. Some people prizes smarts or work ethic. But nothing says more than results. Demonstrating your value in terms of growth, revenue, and goals met will make it easy for employers to understand what you will add to their team.
  • Tech savvy. While specific technical skills are not always transferable, general comfort and familiarity with new technologies can be appreciated in a number of fields.
  • Research and analysis. Seeking out information and processing what it means

Many other transferable skills fall into a few broad categories of attributes that companies hold in high esteem. Take a look at this list of transferable skills.

Communication SkillsCommunication Skills

Honing your written and verbal communication skills will improve your chances of getting to the next level in your career path. In any workplace, those who can get their points across in easy to understand ways will make it easy for their colleagues to understand their value.

  • Public speaking. The ability to present your work and ideas to an audience will help it have a bigger impact.
  • Reporting information. Expressing data or conclusions in clear, concise language allows a team to all be on the same page.
  • Facilitating discussion. So you’ve gathered all of a project’s major players in a room. What now? The ability to get them talking in productive ways - and staying on topic - is hard to come across.
  • Interviewing. Conducting interviews that reveal important information or insights about job candidates will allow your team to bring on the best possible people.
  • Writing. Almost every job involves written communication in some fashion, whether it’s through memos, newsletters, or reports. Mastery of the written word is broadly applicable.

Interpersonal and People Skills

Being able to get along with your coworkers makes everything run more smoothly. But people skills go far beyond simply having pleasant relationships.

  • Teamwork. They say teamwork makes the dream work -- but that’s only true if the team members know how to collaborate. A track record of working successfully in groups stands out.
  • Customer service. While not all jobs are client-facing, a proven ability to communicate effectively with people who are paying for your goods and services will go far.
  • Listening skills. A strong team includes workers who not only are open to others’ perspectives but also make their colleagues feel heard and appreciated.
  • Providing feedback. Not everyone can expertly navigate the tricky task of offering constructive criticism, but when done well it improves the team.

Personal Responsibility

The best workers are able to hold themselves accountable for their own successes and failures. Certain transferable skills are a sign that a job candidate takes responsibility.

  • Self-motivation. Managers and supervisors appreciate team members whom they don’t have to babysit. There’s a reason why the phrases “go-getter” and “self-starter” appear on so many job listings.
  • Organization. Organized employees are often more efficient and more prepared in their work.
  • Time management. Employees who make the most of their time at work will be more productive.
  • Working independently. As much as working collaboratively is important, employers also appreciate workers who can take it upon themselves to tackle a task.
  • Dependability and reliability. Managers like to know they can count on their team members when they are assigned a task.  
  • Setting and meeting deadlines. A history of thriving under time constraints shows that a candidate will rise to the occasion.

Leadership Skills

It’s no small task to be able to get buy-in from a team of people with competing ideas and interests. Leadership can be exhibited in many different ways.

  • Management skills. Whether or not you’re officially in a management position, the ability to organize a team, delegate tasks and motivate people are useful to any organization.
  • Resolving conflicts. Comfort with diffusing tension and de-escalating combative situations can help teams move forward after a conflict.
  • Making decisions. After all sides and viewpoints have been aired, someone has to be comfortable making a call.
  • Leading meetings. It’s common for meetings to feel like a waste of time. A good leader will keep them on task and productive.


  • Teaching and instruction. Not everyone who is an expert in a subject can teach it. It’s a special skill that combines communication, expertise and patience.
  • Coordinating tasks. Breaking down a broad objective into roles for individuals will keep a team focused and on track.


Are Transferable Skills Important?Are Transferable Skills Important

Building an inventory of transferable skills is beneficial to your career advancement. They are the intangibles that will distinguish you among other workers that share your level of experience, expertise, and specialized knowledge.

How Can Transferable Skills Help You When Applying to a Job?

When applying to a job, most of the main contenders will be able to run down how they meet the qualifications required in the listing. To stand out, you need an X factor -- or maybe even several. Besides hard-to-pin-down assets such as personality or culture fit, comfort with communication skills, interpersonal skills, leadership, and problem-solving are your best bet in proving your value.

According to Fast Company magazine, having transferable skills is one way to “get a job you’re not qualified for.” A study found that 62 percent of employees have been offered a position they’re not qualified for, and 84 percent of companies are willing to hire and train a person who doesn’t have the required skills. What gives?

“Candidates who don’t meet all of the technical requirements can instead win over employers by demonstrating some of their more intangible skills,” the article said.

It makes sense when you think about it: How could you advance in your career if you already needed to have done the job before? Those transferable skills make a difference.

How Do Transferable Skills Help In My Career Path?

The benefits of transferable skills don’t end when you get a job offer. It’s up to you to showcase those skills on the job. Once you land a position, seize opportunities to let your abilities shine -- as long as you still complete your core duties, make contributions that deviate from your set role. Eventually, people will take notice and see that you have more to offer.

How to Get Transferable SkillsHow to Get Transferable Skills

Acquiring transferable skills isn’t as straightforward as learning more specialized, industry-specific ones. For many transferable skills, you won’t be specifically instructed how to do them. In fact, it might not even be clear that you’re expected to develop them. It’s on you to take initiative, figure out what areas to focus on, and determine the best way to develop these skills.

A few ways to hone your transferable skills include:

  • Say yes. One of the best ways to cultivate transferable skills is to accumulate new professional experiences that push you out of your comfort zone. Volunteer when opportunities arise at work that will allow you to expand your scope.
  • Books, classes and seminars. When you’ve identified what skills you want to work on or improve, seek out professional guidance. For most useful transferable skills, there are self-help books and other methods available.
  • Ask your mentors. If you’ve noticed that colleagues, bosses, teachers, or other role models have the skills you want, don’t hesitate to ask their advice for gaining them yourself.
  • Professional development opportunities. Even if you don’t realize it, your workplace may encourage employees to develop professionally. Ask your manager or supervisor whether the company supports any strategies to build transferable skills.
  • Set goals for yourself. Since transferable skills don’t always relate directly to your core duties, developing them takes discipline. To keep yourself on track, make sure to set benchmarks that show your progress.
  • Set aside some time. When you get caught up in your day-to-day activities, developing transferable skills can become an afterthought. To correct this, when possible and with a manager’s blessing, designate an hour during the day to focus on the abilities you want to build.
  • Speak up. Strong communication skills are one of the most highly valued transferable skills. While you can read about strategies for better communication from books and other resources, the only way to get better at them is to share your thoughts with people. Propose ideas, talk through strategies, and ask questions. Be engaged.

Sometimes transferable “skills” are more like past experiences you can point to, which show that you’re capable of handling various situations. Set yourself up for success by diving in to challenges.

The Benefits of Transferable Skills: Why Potential Employers Value Them

When prospective employers consider candidates, of course they want to ensure that the person they hire is up for the everyday demands of the job. But that is just a baseline expectation. Transferable skills are like bonus points -- they’re extra resources an employer is adding to its team when a certain candidate comes aboard.

A candidate or employee with a deep inventory of transferable skills will be able to contribute to the team’s goals in ways beyond their job description. They are more likely to remain useful and productive to the company amid changes in policies, procedures or expectations because of their flexibility. Their transferable skills allow them to do meaningful work even if certain more The Benefits of Transferable Skillsspecialized become less of a priority.

Transferable skills account for the hard-to-define factors that go into success. This could encompass keeping a team on task, motivating workers, ensuring clear and fluid communication among team members, or presenting ideas and accomplishments successfully to decision makers. Even if everyone is doing their insular duties well, these intangibles will make the work more impactful.

When a candidate has developed transferable skills, he or she has shown that they are willing to do more than what is expected. It is a good sign that they will be a motivated self-starter -- and a person likely to excel and move up in the company.

What Are My Transferable Skills?

Many transferable skills develop unconsciously through the course of your various career experiences. This means you might already have several under your belt, even if you’ve never made a point of working on them. But how do you identify which transferable skills you have?

Think back on the jobs you’ve held, your schooling, extra-curricular activities, and volunteer work. What were your responsibilities, and how did you contribute in ways that go beyond your regular duties?

Now, revisit the list of transferable skills above. Are there any included that you had to call upon to get the job done? If so, congratulations -- you can use those experiences to show a potential employer that you have that skill.

Are Transferable Skills and Soft Skills the Same?

“Transferable skills” and “soft skills” have very similar definitions and are often used interchangeably. But in reality, they are not exactly the same.

Soft skills are personality attributes and characteristics that contribute to a smoothly operating team. These are the opposite of hard skills or technical skills, which are specific learned abilities.

Nearly all soft skills are transferable. However, the inverse is not necessarily true. Some technical skills or hard skills, when applicable to a wide variety of different companies and fields, can also be transferable.Are Transferable Skills and Soft Skills the Same

For example, knowing how to draft an effective, clear memo is not a “soft skill” because it is not a personality trait. However, the ability is useful in most workplaces and is thus transferable.

How to Highlight Your Transferable Skills

As opposed to specialized skills, certifications or achievements, transferable skills are trickier to convey to a recruiter, hiring manager or interview. Anyone can claim, for example, to have good communication skills -- but how will a prospective employer know for sure?

  • Resume. Try to weave references to your transferable skills into your descriptions of your job responsibilities. This will have more of an impact than simply listing out vague references to transferable skills on a resume -- instead, it will show you actually applied them at work.
  • Cover letter. It can be tempting in a cover letter to rail off past work experiences to show that you’re qualified for a job. But to really stand out, you have to convey how those past experiences will set you up for success in the job you’re applying to. Do so by pointing out one or two transferable skills you used and developed in each position. Be sure to keep it concise.
  • Job Interviews. If you are brought in for job interviews, answer questions by talking about specific situations in which you were able to use your transferable skills. Use the STAR method, where you explain the Situation, describe the Task, outline your Approach, and share the Results.

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