Identify your transferable skills

Identifying your skills is probably the most important mission toward achieving your career goals. Why? Because skills are the foundation of the job market. The simple definition of skill is "the ability to do something well; expertise," and as you might guess, employers are looking to hire that expertise. Yet, like recognizing accomplishments, many people do not credit their own abilities. The reason accomplishments snowball is that you keep developing skills. So, let us take the time to appreciate our personal capabilities.

In general, there are three different types of skills employers seek in candidates.

Content or technical skills

The first of these is often called content or technical skills because they deal with the competencies that are specific to the job, employer, industry, etc. For example, a nurse would need to know how to change bandages and colostomy bags, while a salesperson would need to know the specific return policy and the point-of-sale system at the retail store in which he or she works. It might surprise you to know that of the three types, these skills are considered the least important for a candidate to have prior to employment. This is because most employers agree that content skills can be learned through training – especially if a candidate has transferrable skills.

Transferable or functional skills

Transferable or functional skills are those abilities that you can apply to different situations. Imagine that you carry a suitcase with you that contains all the skills you have obtained from all your various activities and accomplishments. When presented with a new task, you are able to use a previously mastered skill to accomplish that task. In other words, you transfer your previous knowledge and abilities to obtain another new skill.

Since we develop skills from our existing skills, knowing and communicating these skills are not only critical for a successful job search, but for successful career planning. Unfortunately, many workers can be myopic about their job titles and do not see other career possibilities. For example, one job-seeker who was trying to accomplish a career transition found herself stuck because she identified herself as a reporter. In order to successfully plan for another career, she had to look beyond that job title to realize that she had a strong collection of transferrable skills such as writing, editing, researching, investigating, interviewing, juggling multiple tasks, meeting goals and deadlines and managing time and information – skills that could easily be applied to a wide variety of jobs in many different careers.

Adaptive, or self-management, skills

The most important skills employers seek are often called adaptive or self-management. As the name suggests, these skills deal with personal character and are not easily obtained. Ask any recruiter and you will most likely hear a list of descriptive characteristics such as personable, energetic, honest, responsible, quick, contentious, ethical, dependable, etc. Unfortunately, it is insufficient to merely claim these skills in your job search. Character must be observed to be believed. So how does one demonstrate believable adaptive skills on a resume or in an interview, you may ask? Through your transferrable skills – of course!

Every job requires a certain set of skills, and it is much better to categorize yourself in terms of these skill sets. Very often we master skills and then forget the transferable foundations we created. It is through those foundations, however, that you can construct or reconstruct the path to your career goal. For example, an engineering student seeking that first internship will want to emphasize relevant abilities such as analytical, problem-solving, and knowledge of drafting principles among other transferable skills in his or her application.

Motivated skills

Yes, this means that you do have many, many skills. In fact, one estimate is that the average person has hundreds of skills. Not all our skills are created equally, however. Many would agree that we generally have a core set of abilities for which we enjoy and excel. Often called motivated skills, these are the sweet spot for candidates to emphasize in their job searches. Here are some strategies for identifying your motivated skills:

  • Focus on verbs: Action words represent skill. What verbs are you demonstrating right now?
  • Give yourself credit: If you've done something at least 3 times it is generally considered a skill.
  • Brainstorm your abilities: Review your daily activities. What did you do? What did you enjoy?
  • Dissect desired skills: Identify the foundation skills necessary for proficiency in the areas for which you want to develop.

When you begin taking stock of abilities, you will quickly realize one simple truth: you do have the skills necessary for that next realistic step in your career plan. We'd like to hear from you! For more help identifying your career skills, visit or contact Career Services at or (313) 577-3390 to schedule an appointment with a Career Planning Counselor.

References and resources