Use this exercise to ID and leverage your transferrable skills

graphic image with clocks, gears, people, hands, envelopes and more, to illustrate learning and skills

As the pandemic and other economic factors continue to shift the workforce landscape, here’s something you can depend on for stability: your transferrable skills.

headshot of Moira Kelley
Moira Kelley, educational counselor, UW–Madison Continuing Studies

But in a survey of displaced workers by LiveCareer, more than 50 percent of people couldn’t identify their transferrable skills or weren’t sure how to include them on their resume.

To bridge this knowledge and confidence gap – whether you’re looking to change jobs, get promoted or go back to school – I’ll share an exercise you can use to determine your transferrable skills and find jobs or educational opportunities to match them.

First, what are transferrable skills? Think of them as your portable talents: You can take them with you from one job to another, no matter your title or field. They’re easily accessible and useful in a variety of positions. Transferrable skills can be found in all skills categories, including communication, technical, problem-solving, interpersonal and more.

To identify and leverage your transferrable skills, here’s an exercise loosely based on The Parachute Skills Grid by Richard N. Bolles (2019). Think about the work you’ve done that you have found most enjoyable. Make a list of some of these experiences and accomplishments, thinking beyond jobs to volunteer work and hobbies. From that list, choose three experiences or accomplishments and write a story about each one.

If the experience is broad – like graduating from college – focus on one class or activity and include as many details as possible. Then, go through each story and identify specific skills you used, such as writing or project management. Have others read your stories and share skills they recognize, too. Notice any skills across these experiences that rise to the top – those you truly enjoy and have leveraged to do your best work.

The list of skills you take away from this exercise are your transferrable skills. You can group them in broader categories, like management or communication, then have that list handy as you explore educational opportunities or job descriptions.

One place to explore careers and jobs that might match your transferrable skills is O*Net OnLine. It allows you to browse by job family and find occupations that fit your skill set. O*Net also includes information on wages, employment trends and training.

As you inventory your transferrable skills, I hope you feel confident in your ability to leverage your transferrable skills. No matter how “unmatched” your skill set might appear, don’t discount the potential for these skills to land you a job. And don’t forget – many transferrable skills are highly desired by employers.

As technology gets more sophisticated, transferrable skills will become more relevant. In fact, a 2018 report by McKinsey & Company found that the need for these skills will increase in the next decade. We all have acquired transferrable skills. Take time to identify them, highlight them in your resume and be prepared to talk about how they make you a valuable employee, no matter your profession.

The Lifelong Learner is a monthly feature written by UW–Madison’s Continuing Studies staff. Moira Kelley, an educational counselor, can be reached at moira.kelley@wisc.edu. This article first appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal on March 12, 2023.