What are transferable skills? How to improve employability skills

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As a student and graduate, ‘transferable skills’ is a phrase you’ll find around every corner.

But knowing exactly what counts as a transferable skill can be difficult. As can understanding their value for both you and your future employers.

In this article, we’ll break down the meaning of transferable skills.

We’ll run through some key examples, get a grip on their value to employers, and offer tips to help you sell your skills to interviews.

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What are transferable skills?

Transferable skills are a set of skills and abilities that can be applied to a variety of jobs and occupations across a range of different industries.

These skills help us navigate school, social settings, and professional settings. They can be broken down into hard and soft transferable skills.


  • Hard skills:

Skills often gained through direct experience in a role, or by undertaking training and working for qualifications. These are measurable skills often displayed through technical knowledge – e.g. mastering Microsoft Office.


  • Soft skills:

Personality traits and habits unique to us as individuals. Less measurable than hard skills, because they often relate to how we interact with people.

What are examples of transferable skills?

If you’re worried that the skills portion of your CV is looking sparse, don’t panic.

Transferable skills aren’t as elusive as they might sound.

Transferable skills aren’t as elusive as they might sound and highlighting these skills is integral to creating a good CV.

You likely already have several transferable skills. We all acquire them through education, previous employment, internships, and volunteering.


What are hard skills?

  • Being a tech-savvy candidate is a huge asset in a climate where most working systems are computer-based.

    Knowledge of various software reassures employers that you have the aptitude and preparedness to learn new IT.

    Microsoft Office Suite, HTML, Google Analytics, social media apps, and Content Management Systems (CMSs) can all be listed as technological skills.

    Job descriptions will usually also list specific software essential to the role.

  • Given how many roles operate through computers, even roles not directly mathematical will likely demand analytical skills and require numerical literacy.

    It’s an interchangeable skill that fundamental to understanding how an organisation is operating.

    The ability to understand graphs, make calculations, and interpret simple statistics are huge assets to a wide range of industries.

    Numerical can be evidenced through experience with spreadsheets and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). That’s why it’s profitable for you to complete an online PMP certification to up your project management skills and use them in whatever new career you choose.

  • These count as hard (learnable) communication skills.

    It is not necessarily crucial to know a second language.

    But these skills show more comprehensive communicative abilities useful for networking. They are great skills for CVs!

What are soft skills?

  • Verbal communication is the touchstone of interpersonal relations and a key skill for CVs.

    “Communication” covers a lot of bases, so identify your exact strengths.

    This might include liaising with colleagues across departments.

  • The stakes can be high if you miss a deadline. In sales-based roles, time does equal money. In research-based roles, work might be void past a deadline.

    Working to deadlines is, therefore, of the utmost importance and a great interchangeable skill.

    Organisation entails delegating workloads for individual or team-based work, multi-tasking to meet simultaneous deadlines, or prioritising workloads to triage critical tasks.

    Time management goes hand-in-hand with a disciplined work ethos and working well under pressure. Using facts and figures to describe these instances helps improve your CV.

  • Working for a company means recognising your role within the team and the importance of cooperation.

    Sharing knowledge, ideas, and resources is foundational for progressing into leadership positions.

  • Accuracy is the key to producing high-quality work in any job.

    Referring to work where you’ve had to proofread and fact check, for example, can evidence strong attention to detail.

  • If there is a dilemma at work, you need to think on your feet to keep things running smoothly.

    Problem-solving might entail resolving technological issues, misplaced files, workplace conflicts, working around a changed deadline, or identifying miscommunicated information.

    Before an interview, think about issues that might arise in the role and how you would resolve these issues.

  • Not every day will be the same, so being flexible and remaining open to various responsibilities is crucial. Proving you can be adaptable is a key skill for CVs!


Why are transferable skills important?

The skills above reassure employers that, even without some listed experience, you can integrate into a working environment.

Employers also want to know you will mesh well with their team. Outlining your transferable skills can paint a better picture of you as a person.


  • Willingness to learn and re-learn

​Transferable skills show current and future employers you are suited to various roles or departments. Soft skills, especially, evidence a positive work ethic needed to adapt to new tasks.


  • Strong working relationships

Communication skills show tact and openness when interacting with colleagues, clients, and superiors.

These skills can promote stronger professional relationships and give employers confidence that you will succeed in any career development opportunities.


  • Improved efficiency and productivity

Soft skills foster a collaborative working environment, and articulate communication and effective time management promote productivity for your team and the wider business.


How to show your transferable skills

The number of transferable skills can seem daunting. So how do you sell your skills in your CV or an interview?

Here are some key tips:


  • Cracking the CV code

Most graduates opt for a CV based around work experience.

However, in cases where an employer asks for particular soft skills, a skills-based (functional) CV might better showcase your character profile.


  • Be specific and evidential

Anyone can say they have skills, but employers will want proof.

You need to apply your CV skills to a specific situation, explaining where and how they were utilized.


  • Highlight the value of your skills to the role

Research the company to have a fresh perspective on the relevance of your skills with each application.

This will translate into a committed, engaging cover letter understanding the responsibilities of the role.


  • Highlight how this job will help you develop these skills even more

Employers are interested in why you’re drawn to their company.

Drawing on transferrable skills can express a genuine incentive and interest!

If this job will teach you new transferable skills, or develop skills needed to progress in your career, let them know!

Applying these tips to an example

Take a geography graduate now wanting to branch into a financial career.

They might not possess the qualifications or experience employees immediately consider relevant.

But, transferable skills learned from a geography degree could help them thrive in the finance industry.

Conducting fieldwork shows an aptitude for fact-checking and proof-reading results, as well as numerical literacy through data analysis. As well, organising a fieldwork project translates into strong event management skills.

A dissertation shows written communication skills and the ability to translate quantitative ideas into quantifiable forms. University society participation can also reflect an outgoing personality valuable, to networking and client-facing responsibilities.

This is just a short example of how attributes can become key skills for CVs.


Ultimately, realising your transferable skills is a great way to improve your CV and your employability skills! 

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