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Transferable Skills

No Transferable Skills

From Career Tips, 2024 Volume 2, February 2024


Confused Woman
Photo by Nicolas Hoizey on Unsplash

Here’s a pet peeve of mine:

Candidates who promote their transferable skills.


Do you have transferable skills you can apply to my industry / organization type / job area?


Of course you do.


But as soon as you present that way, you have dug yourself a deep hole.


Transferable means that the skills have been used elsewhere, and will be transferred to my needs. That immediately suggests you haven’t done exactly what I need, just something vaguely similar. That implies a learning curve, as you figure out how to apply them in my operation.


Instead of my focus being on what you can do for me, I’m now thinking about where you have been using those skills and whether that is relevant. I’m already in a judgment mindset, weighing your ‘transferability’ against the possibility of instead hiring someone who has already been applying those skills in a directly comparable industry / organization type / job area.


I don’t want to hire someone who has done something that is somewhat analogous to what I need done, I want to hire the person who can demonstrate that they will produce the specific results I need, and solve my particular problems.


Transferable skills are indeed valuable. But they lose much of their value when they are presented that way. This is all about messaging, and at what point in the conversation you make your argument.


What do you think when someone presents in their elevator pitch that they are seeking to bring their skills in X from industry A to industry B? Doesn’t that immediately raise the specter of whether they realistically can make that transition?


And it’s so unnecessary: they could simply say they are seeking to do X in industry B. Or better yet, talk about the sort of results they could achieve in industry B. Let the follow-up conversation get into how they are going to make that transfer, once someone is intrigued by the results.


Instead of telling me how your skills are transferable, tell me directly what you will do for me. Tell me the results you are capable of producing and the problems you are capable of solving.


Show me a concrete example of what you have done that is relevant to me. Sure, it may come from another industry / organization type / job area, but focus your message on the thing you will or have done, not the context in which you did it.


And don’t apologize for the fact that what you did was not in the exact area for which I’m hiring. Be confident in the results you produce and challenges you overcome and focus on those. 


Just by starting the story with the place from which you are seeking to transfer your skills puts a spotlight on that place, and then can make it sound like you are trying to excuse the fact that it isn’t directly comparable.


Why do you need to open your story with “When I was working in publishing…”? What does that opening add to the story? You could just say something like “That’s very similar to a situation I faced, where I needed to (insert challenge)”.


Ultimately, be prepared to show me the direct analogy to what I need done, just don’t focus on the ‘transferability’.


Click here for more on this and other job-search-killing phrases



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