Transferable Skills: The Key to Landing Your Dream Job was originally published on The Muse, a great place to research companies and careers. Click here to search for great jobs and companies near you.
For many people, making a career switch might feel like you’re starting over from scratch. But that’s not true: You have transferable skills. “Most job seekers think the skills they use for their current job only translate for that particular job title or industry, but the basics for operating in most functions is pretty universal,” says Yolanda Owens, Muse career coach and founder of CareerSensei Consulting. “Once you understand that, it’s easy to leverage and translate your skills to market yourself for other job titles and industries.”
Knowing your transferable skills—and how to highlight them—is helpful when entering or changing careers or industries or even pursuing personal advancement and leadership opportunities outside of the office.
Here, we define what transferable skills are (and are not), plus give lots of examples—and provide expert advice from Muse career coaches on how to highlight them in your next job search.
Broadly, a transferable skill can be defined as a skill you used in one role or industry that would also be useful in another type of role or in a different industry. Transferable skills can fall under a number of categories and can come from any expertise or experiences you have.
Some transferable skills are “the superpowers you possess that would be valuable to any employer,” Owens says—for example, strong communication skills are helpful in pretty much any type of job. Others are useful in multiple contexts even if they’re not universally applicable—like Excel mastery, which can be leveraged in a wide range of roles or careers. They can be hard skills, which are often quantifiable abilities such as functional or technical skills, or soft skills, which include character traits and interpersonal talents.
Transferable skills can come from past leadership roles, volunteer endeavors, side hustles, communication and language abilities, sports involvement, interpersonal skills, interests, activities, and beyond. “Your transferable skills aren’t exclusive to your most recent role,” Owens says. And they are important at any stage in your career: Transferable skills can help you grow within your current role, join a project or opportunity that interests you, or market yourself for a new job or industry entirely.
Take it from Michelle Norwood, principal designer and planner at Michelle Norwood Events based in New Orleans. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur and full-time wedding planner, she worked a 9-to-5 job as a floorplan accountant—her “dream job” at the time. Norwood credits her transferable skills—her math, budgeting, accounting, and analysis skills; her expert planning and multitasking abilities; and her warm personality and ability to connect with people—as the keys to finding both success and fulfillment in an entirely new industry.
Norwood’s story also demonstrates that hard skills or professional certifications that might not seem universal can still be transferable in some cases. In Norwood’s situation, the ability to budget and be her own accountant was invaluable, even though she wasn’t making a living as an accountant any longer.
What is not considered a transferable skill? Specialty skills, such as those that are only applicable to one specific job. For example, if you’re a dental hygienist “cleaning teeth is a critical skill that won’t likely transfer to anything else,” says Muse career coach Jennifer Smith, founder of Flourish Careers and former talent acquisition and HR leader, who has recruited, hired, and coached hundreds of professionals into positions including human resources, finance, engineering, IT, sales, and operations.
However, a dental hygienist could still have a lot of skills that could be transferable in the right context, Smith adds: “A dental hygienist likely has amazing customer service skills and the ability to make patients feel safe and comfortable, which are highly transferable to a new role or industry.”
Transferable skills are especially important for individuals looking to change careers or industries. For example, if you’re a volunteer leader for an annual nonprofit gala, you can use that leadership and planning experience when you apply for a project management job (especially if you don’t have similar experience from your current job).
They’re also important for entry-level candidates, who are just getting started in their chosen field, but bring transferable skills from other life and work experience. The skills you developed working as a resident assistant can transfer to an entry-level HR role, or that software you had to learn for classes might be used in professional roles as well.
To home in on what transferable skills you might have, think about where you want to go and what skills are required to be successful in that new role. If you aren’t sure, pull up a few job descriptions for the type of job you want and look at what requirements appear often, or set up informational interviews with people working in your target industry and ask what skills are most important. Keep these in mind as you identify your transferable skills. Where has your experience—professional, academic, or personal—aligned with the skills needed for your next opportunity?
Consider your technical and other hard skills. What processes, tasks, programs, and software do you have expertise in? For instance, Norwood easily made the switch from accounting to managing a business’ financials and working with clients’ budgets. “Numbers make sense and budgeting is easy for me. So the two [careers] work very well together.”
Don’t forget to consider your interpersonal skills and other soft skills, too! Do you have a knack for public speaking or an abundance of patience? These things might translate to a teaching or training role, for example. In Norwood’s case, her empathy and communication skills were vital in pivoting from a corporate role to wedding planning. “Weddings are emotional, and my secret weapon was always in my back pocket: my bubbly personality. I was able to connect with my clients on a personal level,” she says.
When crafting your list of transferable skills superpowers, Owens also suggests thinking about timely skills you have that are especially needed in the job market. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, “with many employers adapting to remote work environments, being a guru in change management is a great skill to highlight.”
Taking some time to reflect on your abilities—and what you could use them for beyond what you’re already doing in your current role—can also help you be ready to jump on a new opportunity or decide that it’s time for you to make a change. “Everyone has transferable skills and should be aware of what they are,” Owens says. “You never know when you’ll need to leverage them for a project, stretch assignment, or unexpected opportunity that crosses your path.”
For job seekers, transferable skills can be your ticket to proving that you’re the right candidate for the role. After identifying the transferable skills you need to be successful in your next job, think through how you’ve demonstrated those skills both at work and in your personal life, and prepare to relate them accordingly throughout the hiring process, Smith says.
“Don’t be afraid to showcase the journey of how you’ve acquired and utilized these skills throughout your career, inside and outside of the office,” Owens says. Your LinkedIn profile, resume, cover letter, interview, website, and any networking opportunities are all places you can highlight these skills to show why you are the best person to hire.
Adding important transferable skills in your headline or “About” section on LinkedIn is an important step to being discovered by recruiters or hiring managers. Pro tip: The skills section on LinkedIn is keyword searchable, so be sure your top three skills are relevant to where you want to go!
On your resume, designating a skills section can pay off in more ways than one. “Giving the transferable skills their own real estate on the resume will make it easier for employers using key search words and shine a spotlight on your areas of strength,” Owens says. She also suggests that soft skills, such as problem solving and multitasking, can be included, as long as they aren’t too general (e.g. “people skills”) and align with the requirements of the role. You should also expand on how you’ve used your transferable skills in the bullet points describing your past jobs and other experiences.
Though skills sections most commonly go on the bottom of a resume page, you might consider moving yours up if you want to lead with your transferable skills. You also have multiple resume format options to choose from. Entry-level and career changer candidates may decide a combination resume (or even a functional resume)—which gives space to detail your skills front and center—is best for them, while candidates with relevant work experience may opt for a chronological resume format.
Smith also encourages candidates to be strategic about their cover letters, which she says is the perfect place to tell a story about how you plan to leverage your transferable skills to add value to the team.
You should also create an elevator pitch around how you’ve shown your abilities in the areas most crucial for your next role. For example, if you’re looking for a job where leadership is important, you might craft your spiel around instances when you demonstrated that skill—both in and out of the office. Maybe you took the lead on training new hires at your last company or you manage a recreational softball league on the weekends. Then, use your elevator pitch in networking opportunities or an interview. If there’s a specific job description to reference, you can frame your elevator pitch around it.
Interviews are also an opportunity to use the job description to anticipate the skills the hiring managers will be likely to ask about, Smith says. You can practice your elevator pitch and answers to common interview questions so they include how you leveraged your transferable skills to achieve results.
Throughout every stage of the application process, “be sure to reflect the tone and language from the job description,” Smith says, whether that’s in your resume, cover letter, or interviews. “For example, if you are highly independent and have a knack for getting the job done without direction, and the job description is asking for someone who is self-motivated—use the wording ‘self-motivated’ versus ‘independent,’” she says. “The more you can speak the language of where you’re going, the better you will position yourself for success in your search.”
Here are some examples to get you started thinking about your own transferable skills. Remember, this list isn’t exhaustive and many skills can be transferable if they’re relevant to the next step in your career.
Communication skills help you exchange information with people both inside and outside your company. The ability to get your point across well will be relevant in any role where you have to interact with people or create or present content on behalf of or to your team or company.
- Content Writing/Development/Creation
- Grant Writing
- Language Proficiencies
- Phone Screening
- Proposal Writing
- Public Speaking
Interpersonal skills help you work well with team members, managers, direct reports, clients, and stakeholders. If your job requires interacting with people in any way, these are likely to be of high importance.
- Business Development
- Client/Account Management
- Conflict Management and Resolution
- Customer Service
- Partnership Development
- Process Development
- Relationship Building
- Sales Skills
The ways in which you have exercised your ability to manage and lead can set you apart, and are also industry-fluid.
- Change Management
- Company Culture Leadership
- Employee Training and Development Facilitation
- Mentorship Skills
- Team Management or Leadership
- People Management
- Project/Program/Operations Management
- Strategy Leadership
- Talent Acquisition/Hiring Committee Leadership
Other Soft Skills
These talents and strengths can tell your future employer where you shine outside of the technical requirements of the job.
- Attention to Detail
- Creative Thinking
- Goal Setting
- Problem Solving
- Time Management
Technical and Task-Oriented Skills
These are tools and tasks in which you are proficient that could add value to your next opportunity, regardless of industry.
- Adobe Creative Suite
- Content Management Systems (such as WordPress, Drupal, and Squarespace)
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software (such as Salesforce)
- Database Management
- Equipment Installation
- Google Analytics
- Graphic Design
- Ideation and Concepting
- Microsoft Office Suite: With software this broad, you might want to specify tasks such as making pivot tables, creating macros, or performing data analysis in Excel or creating presentations in PowerPoint.
- Project Management and Collaboration Software (such as Trello, Asana, Airtable, Jira, Slack, and G Suite)
- Reporting and Analysis Skills
- Social Media Management and Scheduling
- Professional Certifications: Certifications often speak to skills that can be transferable to other industries, such as Project Management Professional (PMP) certifications indicating that someone has project management skills, organization skills, and leadership skills. Credentials like Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) or Google Analytics Individual Qualification can prove you’re an expert in the skills they’re named for.
- Website Design
When your purpose meets your passion in your career—meaning your work is matched with your genuine interests—it can be very rewarding. This dream may seem far off, but more than likely, you already have some of the tools you need to get you closer to where you want to go.