Making transferable skills work for you

Transferable skills are so called because they T R A N S F E R from one job to another. They also transfer from one area of life to another. For example, you communicate with your boss by sending him an email. You communicate with your partner by leaving a post-it note written on the fridge before you go out. Communicating by writing is a transferable skill.

By Sally Longson

Examples of transferable skills are:

  • Communicating in writing (email, letter, fax, post-its, for example)
  • Communicating verbally (speaking)
  • Numeracy
  • Teamwork
  • Solving problems
  • Customer care
  • Building relationships
  • Networking
  • Presenting
  • Planning and organising
  • Prioritising
  • Handling phone rage
  • Building relationships
  • Delivering what you promise
  • Empathising

Their importance has been reflected in the development of work-related courses at colleges and universities. In the UK, for example, vocational qualifications are including sections on communication skills, numeracy, information technology, and solving problems. But there's more to it than that.

The way you use these skills will impact strongly on your success. You can deliver what you promise - but are you proud of it and glad you could help? People will always tell from the emotion in your voice as to whether you are or not. The way you handle an individual will depend on the mood that person is in; whether it's a business or social occasion; the relationship you've already built up with them; how urgent the matter at hand is; how busy each of you are; and factors like that. The moment you pick up the phone and hear their voice, you're antenna will be taking all these factors into account, but you probably won't even think of it because in fact you'll do the whole thing very naturally. However, your judgement of the situation will have a direct outcome on the success of the call. By empathising with the caller and listening to their tone, manner, language and behaviour on line, you can make their day a great one and strengthen the relationship between you - or not. You'll need to handle it appropriately throughout your working day. Most of the time, your heart will give you a gut reaction in terms of what you're doing because you're thinking about it emotionally.

You have, therefore, the ability to change the way people are thinking by the way you handle them and the situation they put before you. A cheerful, positive, can-do approach, using humour if appropriate, and showing you care about them and their situation will go a long way. This is particular important, given now much work is done in teams (often put together at very short notice) and the emphasis on customer service. Every single person you deal with is a customer of yours, whether they work for your company or not.

Let's take an example. You need to organise a meeting. What qualities will you need in order to organise it?

Self-motivation - to achieve your goal of setting up the meeting

Persuasive - if one person can't make it but everybody else can make it, can you persuade that one person to shift what's in their calendar?

Persistent - if you're not getting anywhere

Clear - so that you can be specific with the meetings' details of the what, when, why

Warmth - if you're meeting and greeting clients coming to your office for the meeting

Helpful - if somebody calls to find out more.

The way you handle things and use transferable skills can make a difference to the way you feel about yourself, as well. For example, you want to communicate with a supplier because you're fed up - the office biscuits haven't been delivered again. How are you going to communicate your feelings?

  • Call and shout at whoever is responsible on the basis that the louder you shout, the more likely they are to understand and do something about it.
  • Assertively, pleasantly but firmly, expressing your disappointment the biscuits haven't arrived, finding out why, and ensuring when they will be delivered.

The way you tackle the call makes a difference:

  • Which portrays you in the most professional light?
  • Which portrays your organisation in the most professional light?
  • Which is likely to get the supplier moving fastest so getting the result you want?
  • How will you both feel when you come off the phone after each one?
  • Which will be better for your blood pressure and stress levels?

As you're building a relationship with someone, you can look for subjects of mutual interest or clues the client gives you to strengthen the bond between you. If you take an interest in people as individuals, and combine a professional approach with warmth and a care for them, you'll get much further and they'll think, "This person really cares about me. I like that!". You're all in this together - making the wheels of organisations and businesses work like clogs in a wheel - so it's important to build bridges where you can. Additionally, of course, you never know where such an approach might take your career.

Some people are more apt at using such skills than others. The better a leader is at these sorts of skills - communicating, presenting, empathising with others - the greater a leader he will be. Skills like this are even more important than the boss's IQ. Most of us would rather deal with a boss who is human, fun, tells us what he needs etc as opposed to one who hides in his office and doesn't want to talk to anyone. At all. Ever. In the business world, the first will always be the most successful. He is using his transferable skills intelligently. He is using emotional intelligence, to listen out for what people are telling him.

Transferable skills will always travel with you.

The beauty of improving transferable skills is that we can use them in every aspect of our lives. By soft skills, we mean those skills you use in every day life: communicating with others, negotiating, solving problems, handling difficult people, speaking in public. If you feel as though you could use a course on them, your local adult community college may run some courses. They are usually short, but the beauty of them is that you can use everything you learn in work and at home. You'll find yourself practicing the skills you've picked up on the course with your children, the difficult customer, your partner.

Finally, volunteering can be a great way to boost your transferable skills, because you can put them to the test in fairly safe situations and practice them. It also improves our flexibility in handling a whole range of people and improves our awareness of ourselves in any situation.

Further reading & interactive tools:

If you’re plotting a course for your career, preparing for your annual review or seeking a new job check out the following features:-

Current Role:
Study Your Organisation
Take stock of how your role has expanded
The annual review
Making your annual review work for you
Where are you now

Preparing for a new role:
Focus on your future career
My next move
How to get the most out of career events
Changing your career
Moving On

Share this page with your friends


Share this page with your friends.