Career expert: How your transferable skills can help you make your next steps

Reading time: About 4 mins

Career Coach Heather Livingston explains why employers love to see transferable skills, and how they can help you decide what to do next in your career.

Transferable skills are the kinds of skills employers love to see. They can be general or specific and can come from previous jobs, projects, voluntary work, sport, home life, hobbies and interests. The key thing is that you can take them with you to use in a future job role. 

As a Career Coach working with adults, I speak to a lot of people who are facing changes in their careers. People often come to me and say, ‘I need to know what my skills and strengths are, and then I can see what jobs I can do.’

But actually, these things go hand in hand.  

Understanding your skills and strengths

It is really useful to understand what you have to offer an employer. A skill is not just having expertise in the use of a specific piece of equipment.

Skills are a combination of different things:

  • Knowledge – what you know (markets, products, geographical areas)
  • Attitudes – how you approach things (enthusiasm, motivation);
  • Character – your personality/personal qualities (sense of humour, diplomacy)
  • Strengths – things you are naturally talented at (public speaking, numeracy)
  • Experience – what you have done (work experience, qualifications, training, voluntary work)

Most people have a tendency to underestimate their skills but this is not the time to be modest!

We discuss the importance of being able to identify and describe skills and strengths, as this is essential to a successful job search but is also a fundamental element of developing effective Career Management Skills.

Exploring your horizons

Careers research can be the next step to finding what is out there. Often people are limited in their knowledge about the world of work, especially if they've worked in one particular sector or industry for a while. So, we look at opportunities they already know about. But, perhaps more importantly, we also explore ways to find out about opportunities they don’t yet know about.

It is easy to have preconceptions about what a job involves and the labour market in general. I advise that people use careers websites such as My World of Work - I really like the job profiles in the My career options section. These describe essential information about each job, including:

  • What the work is like and what tasks you would expect to perform
  • What kind of person does well in that type of work – their skills and personal qualities
  • Typical pay scales
  • What you need to get in and to get on – qualifications, training
  • The main types of employers
  • Links for further information

If you’ve got a particular job in mind, you can search for it specifically but, even if you haven’t, it can be useful just to browse around the job profiles. This can give you career ideas. On each profile there are related careers. This means that if one job interests you but isn’t quite ideal, you can see if a similar job might suit you more.

Check it out

You can use the details in a job profile like a checklist to see which of these things match your own experience. Are these skills that you have? Do the personal qualities match your strengths? Is all of this adding up to the kind of job you want to do?  For each task or skill, check whether you’ve done it in a previous job. If you haven’t, can you think of a time you’ve done something similar, in a different environment? 

Filling in the blanks

This also helps you identify things that you haven’t done at all. Is there a particular qualification required for this kind of work?  Do you lack experience in a particular element of the job?  Would you be embarking on something completely new?  If it is still a job that appeals to you there are ways you can develop those skills, whether it’s through taking a course, volunteering or maybe getting some work experience.

Another part of the jigsaw is to research the labour market. Is the job you want to do available locally or within a reasonable travelling distance, or would you need to relocate to take up a post?  This can be an important part of making a well informed, realistic decision about the ideal job for you.

A little extra research

I find that, once you’ve identified jobs you’re interested in, it is really useful to talk to someone who’s in that type of work. Use your network: friends, family, people you know including ex-colleagues, who may be doing that job. They can tell you about the work they do or may be able to introduce you to someone else who can help. Don’t worry if there is no-one in your current network who can help – I support individuals to develop new networks by approaching people for information and advice either in person by email, letter or telephone, or through an online networking site like LinkedIn.

Talking to people helps you get information about what it’s really like to do that job and typical routes in to that type of work. You get the benefit of their expertise, and you can figure out if the job sounds like it’s for you. It may even give you access to job vacancies so you’ve nothing to lose.

Heather Livingston

Heather Livingston
Heather Livingston
Career Coach