We gain transferable skills through a range of experiences – not necessarily in a sector or relevant work place. The key is to identify where you have demonstrated these skills in the past, in your own experiences and illustrate these in your applications.
What are transferable skills?
Basically the skills that all employers are looking for in their graduates. They are sometimes called ‘soft’ skills by students, and ‘employability’ skills by employers and the HE sector – but whatever you call them, they are a basic requirement, together with a good degree result, and ideally work experience, to secure the job!
What skills are employers looking for?
All employers have a range of skills they would like to see evidenced on applications – you already know the main ones, such as team working, problem solving, leadership and communication. But there are others that can be specific to certain occupations and this is where some background work is required before you start your application.
Employers will ask competency questions to check if you understand how transferable skills work: ‘Tell me about a time when you had to work in a team, what was your role?’ You can answer that. Structure your answer using the CARE or STAR formats and it will flow easily – but remember to use an example from any part of your experience – the recruiter is interested if you have the skill of working in a team, not whether you have previously worked in a team in their environment. If you understand and can verbalise how you have applied the skill – you are showing you understand how it can be transferred to another situation!
Identify the skills you will need to demonstrate
The Prospects website is one place to identify the generic skills that appear regularly in job descriptions. If you are unsure of the role you will be applying for, aim for a broad list – maybe using a range of roles in the sector you are interested in. For example, if you are interested in working in marketing, Prospects offers a range of job role descriptions within that, such as Marketing Assistant, Market Researcher and Marketing Executive.
The range of skills required is similar in all three:
Communication and Interpersonal Skills/ Analytical skills/ Ability to use initiative/ Capacity to work under pressure/Creativity /Drive /Accuracy and attention to detail/ Flexibility/ Numeracy/ Team working skills/ Influencing and negotiating skills/ Business Awareness/ Organisational Skills/ IT literate and an interest in psychology and behaviour.
If you are at the stage of applying for a particular internship or graduate programme, then you can probably be more specific in your approach, Check the job description and person specification for clues of the skills required!
Prepare your own competency questions
Highlight each of the skills specified, preparing an appropriate question for each one:
- Give an example of when you had to work with accuracy and attention to detail.
- Tell me about a time when you had to influence others?
- Talk me through a situation where you had to demonstrate good organising skills.
And so on until you have a question for each of the skills you will need to evidence.
Prepare your answers
Next, go through the questions and provide an example from your experience of how you have applied each of the skills. Maybe you had to check some accounts for a Student Society and you had to be accurate in your work, or perhaps you persuaded a customer in your part-time job to try a new product? You possibly organised a social event with some friends and took a leading role (that’s also evidence of team-work or team leadership!). Try to record different examples for different skills where possible. Although different skills can always be demonstrated in the same experience – recognising the skill is what’s important here.
Identifying your transferable skills is something you can do throughout your time at University. Draw on skills you’ve acquired through your academic studies, work experience and extra-curricular activities. Record them using your own preferred system – Warwick has the Tell Your Story e-portfolio. You will then have a skills reference document listing your unique experiences to work on when making your applications. Lots of examples are fine – you can select the most appropriate ones and tailor these to the particular application you are working on. Give it a go and chances are you will be surprised at just how many examples you have and how much experience you have already!