Transferable Skills — What Are They, Exactly?

By Inspiring Interns

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There’s a hot new buzzword on everyone’s lips, and it sounds a little like this: “transferable skills”. We’re sure it’s something you’ve heard either on your career counsellor's couch or that big family dinner you were dreading, or even as the reason you were rebuffed from your latest job interview. 

The thing is, no-one’s really gone to the trouble of spelling out what transferable skills mean, have they?

Put down your resume — there’s no need to break out in a cold sweat in search of which past internship looks remotely similar to that new job you’re eyeing up. We’ve done the work of decoding ‘transferability’  for you.


Leadership skills

Let’s start with the most straightforward. If your employer’s looking for a demonstration of teamwork or initiative, the ability to prove you’ve been trusted with responsibility is the ticket. This might manifest itself in a variety of forms, ranging from key club positions you’ve held at university to managing events for a society.

Bear in mind that leadership also means the demonstration of other skills in which you may not explicitly need to take action. Have you, for example, delegated tasks efficiently and in a manner appropriate to your club/event/organisation’s aims? Can you explain the thinking or logic behind your choices for instances where you’ve said “no” to a budget proposal?


Interpersonal skills

The ability to work effectively with others is built into the heart of any organisation, regardless of how the workplace changes. (After all, if you’re collaborating over how to mend that cool robot that makes your company’s products, you’re still talking to another person, aren’t you?)

Your ability to effectively communicate with and affect positive change on and amongst other people will be what employers are looking for. As above, involvement in clubs and organisations, as well as creative groups such as the theatre, could help prove your ability to interact with others positively. (After all, all the technical skills in the world can’t make up for a poor team player!)

Beyond that, employers want to see that you’re motivated to participate in the groups you’ve chosen to be a part of, rather than simply there for the wage; that you have flexibility to work within a group (or set of stakeholder)’s needs and that you’re empathetic to said needs, and are professional and resourceful in the way you meet those challenges.

Eyeing that high-pressure retail job as an example? We can see where you’re coming from.


Organisation skills

These skills will vary depending on the type of industry and organisation you work for. So let’s strip it back down to the basics.

In short, they’re the abilities to: manage time effectively, analyse information, organise paperwork (electronic or otherwise), map out projects and think creatively to solve problems. Or in other words, all the skills you hope to acquire as part of your tertiary education.

Bear in mind that no employer will expect you to come to their organisation with a seasoned and nuanced knowledge of how all these things work together. So long as you can exhibit that you have the patience and diligence to file monthly data reports — say, from the fact you’ve worked as a tutor in an organisation before — will be enough to indicate you have the right mindset.

Out of the lot, the skills of time management and information analysis bubble to the top as the most important. The rest and others not mentioned here — like, for example, financial management — can be learnt on the job, but these two? They’re critical to your performing effectively within a department. After all, if you can’t quite make sense of your work nor understand its priorities, there may be further training your company isn’t currently at liberty to provide you with.



If it so happens that you’re having trouble identifying where these skills appear in your own CV, don’t stress. Why not make a list of the attributes you’d like to acquire and next to them, a list of how you can go about gaining experience? For example: to get hands-on with both time management and leadership, why not think about running a charity event?


Viv Mah writes for Inspiring Interns, which help career starters and interns succeed in the workplace. To browse their graduate jobs, including mobile jobs, visit their website.


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