When embarking on a career change into a new industry, you might think your previous experience is redundant, and worry that your lack of relevant skills will hold you back from getting hired.
The reality couldn’t be more different. This is where transferable skills come in.
Whatever your background or previous experience, you’ve developed valuable skills that can play a vital role in forging your new career path. When it comes to applying for jobs, these unique, transferable skills will set you apart from the competition and can demonstrate the value you bring to a company.
This article will explore what transferable skills are, why they’re so important for career changers, and how to market yours the right way. We also spoke to some successful career changers about how they leveraged their transferable skills.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- What are transferable skills?
- Why are transferable skills important?
- Five examples of the top transferable skills employees look for
- How to use transferable skills on your resume
- Final thoughts
Ready? Let’s dive in!
1. What are transferable skills?
Transferable skills are the skills you’ve picked up from your past experiences that can be applied to the role or industry you’re looking to transition into.
These skills don’t necessarily have to come from a previous career path; you can also pick them up from volunteer or charity work, hobbies, courses, or even just the day-to-day activities you do at home.
Transferable skills can be hard skills, like designing, marketing, or writing. They can also be soft skills, like multitasking, critical thinking, or problem-solving. Soft skills are especially useful because you can apply them to a wide range of job roles, regardless of title or industry.
Think of transferable skills as the foundation of your career-change arsenal. No matter where your career takes you, you can continue building on these skills—and highlighting them to prospective employers.
2. Why are transferable skills important?
Many career changers worry about not having enough experience to bring to their new career path—especially when it comes to competing with more experienced professionals for the same roles. Transferable skills play a vital role in helping you land your first job in your new industry.
Being able to identify and highlight relevant experience, as well as providing specific examples, will go a long way in convincing employers you’re the right fit for their company. It can also demonstrate what you’ve learned from your previous roles, and how you’ll leverage these skills to go above and beyond in your next position.
Looking at real world experience, we spoke to Nick Logan, a math teacher who transitioned into a data analyst. He shared his experience, saying:
Data analytics was appealing because it was a field that seemed pretty accessible for me: I didn’t need to go back to school to retrain, and I could build on the skills I already had.
It’s always helpful to pause for a moment and reflect on what skills, both practical and interpersonal soft skills, you have built up over time.
We asked some career-changers who are working in tech to share what they consider the most important soft skills are for a career in tech and how they leveraged them for their new careers. Check out what they had to say in this video:
In many industries, soft skills are widely considered to be equally as important as hard skills. These transferable skills are what sets job seekers apart as great team players, or even potential managers.
An employee could have all the qualifications in the world, but if they don’t have the interpersonal skills to work effectively with other team members, it can be more of a challenge to get hired. So, never underestimate the power of both skillsets!
To learn more, check out our step-by-step guide to successfully changing careers in 2024.
3. Five examples of top transferable skills employees look for
So far, we’ve explored what transferable skills actually are, and why they’re so important. At this point, you might be wondering which skills employees look out for and which ones you might already have.
Let’s take a look at five examples of highly sought-after transferable skills:
Interpersonal skills: Empathy and emotional intelligence
Interpersonal skills are the skills that make you a great team player—such as being a great communicator. Simply put, interpersonal skills are the skills you have in how you communicate and interact with other people, often known as soft skills or people skills.
When hiring, employers consider how you’ll work collaboratively with the existing team. Having demonstrable skills such as a good listener and a fast learner, as well as being able to effectively give and receive feedback, are particularly sought after.
Some of the other top interpersonal skills include the ability to show empathy, being able to motivate others, active listening, and sharing feedback across different levels and communication styles.
Speaking to Florian Bölter, who went from studying literature and working in publishing to a job as a product designer, he explained just how relevant these skills are:
Being open to feedback [makes for a good designer]. You need to be able to listen to people and be open to feedback and be able to also voice your feedback, too.
For example, when working with developers, you need to be able to say, “I’m sorry, but there’s something wrong with that button. You didn’t do that right, and we need to go over that.”
That’s a very essential skill.
These interpersonal skills went a long way in helping him transform his career in a matter of months.
Creativity and problem-solving
Problem-solving is a highly desirable skill, especially in the tech industry.
You might have to quickly fix a bug in real-time, or work collaboratively with your team to overcome a website’s usability issues. Being able to identify the root of a problem and propose tangible solutions is an invaluable skill—so if you’ve done a lot of problem-solving in the past, be sure to make it known!
It is a top skill to highlight on your resume, as it demonstrates your ability to identify and then effectively solve an issue, which is incredibly useful and highly valued across different roles and industries. It also shows that you are solution-orientated, and no matter what role you’re working in, challenges will arise which need solving!
Chad Stacey explained how his problem-solving skills helped him move from a background in history and tech recruitment to becoming a data analyst for The Telegraph:
I had studied maths at A-Level and I have a mathematical brain but felt like I hadn’t used it in years.
However, I developed an analytical mind while studying history at university. Even though it deals with qualitative data (as opposed to quantitative) you’re still utilizing that part of your brain—it’s problem-solving.
I enjoyed picking apart a source and working out how accurate and trustworthy it is and how you can apply it, which you can, of course, apply to data, so I decided it was the route to go down.
Project and time management
Maybe you haven’t officially had a “project manager” job title before, but if you’re a strong multitasker with the ability to manage your time, be organized, and liaise between various stakeholders, you can definitely list “project management skills” on your resume.
Project management skills are particularly useful in client-facing positions (i.e. freelancing or agency work).
This skillset is so important as demonstrates your ability to plan, prioritize and structure time in an efficient and effective manner. And when you’re looking for top transferable skills to highlight, this one is always in high demand, especially when working in positions with different stakeholders and in roles that require a degree of multitasking.
Leadership and team management
If you’re changing careers or applying for entry-level positions, you might struggle to highlight any distinguishable experience as a leader. But leadership skills don’t necessarily come from being a manager or CEO.
Leading on specific projects and initiatives, delegating tasks to colleagues, or volunteering to take on more responsibility—all are examples of valuable leadership skills that you can bring into your new career.
Having leadership experience is a transferable skill that companies are looking for, irrespective if it’s from a different industry and you’re in the process of a career change. Top leadership skills include strategizing, steering a team, motivating others, prioritizing, and building trust.
Public speaking and presentation skills
Public speaking is a rare skill and one that goes a long way in almost every sector. In tech, you might find yourself having to present your work to the company, lead team strategy workshops, or even speak at events. Being a strong public speaker is considered a desirable quality for senior leaders, so any experience in confidently speaking in front of groups is bound to make your resume stand out.
As can be seen, transferable skills are an important part of career change as they showcase what you already bring to the table, in addition to your newly acquired skills.
Norman Wollaston moved from hospitality and retail into UX design, and explains how his transferable skills where an essential part of of the process:
The more I learned about UX, the more I thought OK, this is something that I can definitely get into! I love the creative aspect of it, and that it brings in research and user understanding and empathy.
That stood out to me because of my previous roles in hospitality and retail, actually—even when I was working for a jewelry designer, I learned a lot from her about business.
Elements of those industries are some things that you think of as a UX designer—business requirements and criteria, empathy for the user, understanding the problem, and finding a solution.
It all just kind of clicked for me.
4. How to use transferable skills on your resume
So, how can you use your transferable skills to get a new job? Paired with your portfolio, your resume is the best way to showcase your skills as a career changer.
Even when you fall short of a job’s baseline requirements, you can still persuade the hiring manager you’re right for the role solely based on the transferable skills you highlight in your resume.
To help you market your skills in the best possible way, here are three best practices to keep in mind when creating your resume:
Only highlight what’s relevant
You might be tempted to include a laundry list of every soft skill you might have picked up in your adult life, in the hope that at least one of them will stand out. But doing this is a sure-fire way to get your resume quickly disregarded.
Instead, cherry-pick the skills which offer direct value in the position you’re applying for: For example, if you’re on the hunt for a data analytics position, you might want to highlight specific experiences where you’ve had to solve problems, think critically, or carry out research.
Be strategic with language
As you read through job descriptions, it’s good practice to take note of the language employers are using when listing desired skills. That way, you can find subtle ways to work the same language into your resume; being strategic with the keywords you use to describe your skillset.
This will help your resume stand out to hiring managers, and demonstrate that you’ve taken the time to understand what employers want.
Include specific examples
Having transferable skills is all well and good, but most employers want to be able to contextualize these skills with specific examples. For example, instead of saying you take pride in your leadership skills, provide an example of when you’ve had to take initiative and lead a team to deliver on a specific project.
Bonus points if you can provide proof points of the impact your leadership had (even if it’s in a completely different industry)! You can learn more about creating a tech resume here.
5. Final thoughts
So there we have it: Everything you need to know about transferable skills, and how to make the most out of yours.
When embarking on a career change, you might feel like being a newcomer to the field puts you at a disadvantage in the job market. Hopefully, this has illustrated how your past experience can be a help—as opposed to a hindrance—on your career change journey.
Your previous experience, and what you learned from it, are part of your unique personal brand. Remember: Employers don’t just hire robots who perform the job’s basic tasks and nothing more. They hire humans; and the skills, backgrounds, and perspectives those humans bring to the table.
To learn more about how to market yourself as a career changer, check out these relevant articles: