Learn what transferable skills are, why they matter, and how they could help you land your next job.
The global pandemic has forced a mass re-appraisal of work. As a result, many are beginning to ask themselves whether they can successfully change careers and, if so, what skills do they have to offer new employers?
The answer likely lies in your transferable skills.
Transferable, or “portable skills,” are all the skills that you take with you from one job to another. For instance, the ability to clearly communicate ideas to others, solve unexpected problems, or work well in a team are all examples of transferable skills.
While technical skills allow you to accomplish specific technical tasks, such as coding with Python or creating wireframes for UX design, transferable skills are the skills that ensure you do your job well. As a result, transferable skills are highly prized by employers: after all, a programmer with the ability to work in a team is likely more valuable than a programmer who doesn’t code well with others.
Learn how transferable skills are viewed by employers, how to identify your own, and find a list of five common transferable skills with examples to help you better identify your own.
At the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of how to highlight your transferable skills to potential employers as you search for your next career.
Here are six common transferable skills, with examples of how they might show up in different roles. Use this list to help identify your own transferrable skills.
Critical thinking is the ability to evaluate, synthesize, and analyze information in an objective manner in order to produce an original insight or judgement. Individuals who are critical thinkers will often prompt themselves and others to think more deeply about an issue, ensuring that a product, idea, or policy is thoroughly conceptualized.
Examples of critical thinking include:
A teacher who crafts a curriculum to fit the unique needs of their students
An employee who routinely questions the popular opinion in meetings to ensure that decisions are sound
A data scientist who asks original questions of datasets
A union representative who asks important questions of employers to ensure the safety and wellbeing of factory workers
Problem solving is the ability to find solutions to complex or difficult issues. A person who is a skilled problem solver is likely good at identifying the underlying reasons a problem exists and then executing a plan to resolve it.
Problem solving can come in many forms, including:
A cashier who quickly devises a way to take orders when the point-of-sale (POS) system shuts down
An accountant who creates a more efficient filing system
An intern in a political campaign who constructs a database to improve voter outreach
Adaptability is the ability to quickly adjust to new situations. A person who is adaptable is not only comfortable entering unfamiliar environments and facing new challenges, but also often succeeds in such situations.
Examples of adaptability include:
A worker in a warehouse who is equally comfortable packing products, taking inventory, making deliveries, and negotiating shift schedules
A dispatcher who quickly responds to driver requests and offers alternative routes while switching between multiple applications
A recently hired employee at a company who quickly gets up to speed on an important project
Teamwork is the ability to work well with others and put the good of the project ahead of personal interest. A person who is good at teamwork is capable of supporting teammates, motivating others, and both giving and receiving constructive feedback.
Some examples of teamwork include:
A waiter who works under pressure with a team of bussers, cooks, and dishwashers, while tactfully maneuvering a range of personalities and interfacing with customers
A builder who must work with many others to ensure the timely completion of a home
A stagehand who must work with a team to ensure that a stage is quickly set during an opera performance
A copywriter who must simultaneously produce original material for a client and also adjust to client feedback
Attention to detail is the ability to assure the quality of the finer aspects of a project. An individual who exhibits a refined attention to detail is able to focus on the minute—though crucial—aspects of a project or product that many others may overlook.
Some examples of attention to detail at work include:
A worker in a ceramics factory who assures the quality of each tile by checking them for imperfections in glaze, size, shape, and material
A bookkeeper who makes a habit of going through a company’s accounts line-by-line to ensure that all financial records are in order
An editor who reads through written content to correct any errors in spelling, grammar, or phrasing
A programmer who reads through lines of codes to fix any mistakes
A garment worker who checks that the stitching on newly manufactured coats are correct
Management is the ability to effectively handle other people and processes, such as time or plans. An effective manager of other people might be adept at supervising, directing, and scheduling. At the same time, they are likely skilled at understanding how each team member fits into the larger picture of the organization or project they are undertaking.
Here a few examples of management from the real world:
A stage manager for a theatrical production who must ensure everything runs smoothly during a live performance
A parent who must plan, schedule, and juggle numerous responsibilities for a family
A shift leader who must ensure their team understands what they are doing and stays on task
A club president who regularly runs club meetings, facilitates discussions, and plans activities
A grocery store owner who must schedule employees and regularly order produce from suppliers
Whether you are looking for a job opportunity or are considering a career change, you are likely wondering what transferable skills you already possess.
In this section you will find a list of numerous transferable skills alongside an exercise to help you identify some of yours.
The first step to identifying your transferable skills is to understand what some of the most common transferable skills actually are. The list below offers a wide variety of transferable skills:
|Attention to detail||Data analysis||Ability to think quickly||Supervising||Critical thinking|
|Collaboration||Classifying||Facilitating group discussions||Dependability||Problem solving|
|Instructing others||Record keeping||Counseling||Diligence||Adaptability|
|Decision making||Researching||Empathy||Quick learner||Defining needs|
|Management||Synthesizing||Developing Rapport||Patience||Imagining alternatives|
|Public Speaking||Coordinating||Interviewing||Persistence||Conflict resolution|
Adapted from the University of Missouri-St.Louis 
Now that you have an understanding of some of the most common transferable skills, it’s time to identify some of your own:
1. Identify 10 skills from the above list that you most exhibit.
2. Write down all the ways you have used each skill in both your professional and personal life. Try to be as comprehensive as possible, making sure to include all the ways you embody the skill. (If you need some examples look at the section above).
3. Identify the five skills that have been most impactful for you in your professional or personal life.
4. Jot down key achievements for each skill on your short list.
5. Rank your five skills from most impactful to least impactful. The purpose here is not to judge your skills but instead to have a clear sense of what skills have served you well so far.
Congratulations! You now have a list of your most impactful transferable skills. As you are applying to jobs, look for opportunities where you can convey your transferable skills either on your resume or during your job interview.
Tip: One way to identify valuable transferable skills in your desired area of employment is to read through job postings and identify the skills they highlight. Once you have made a list of the desired skills, use the above exercise to identify the ways you have used those skills in your personal and professional life.
For more inspiration, consider asking a friend, family member, or coworker what they think your best skills are. Sometimes, the people closest to us can see our strengths better than we can.
Transferable skills are what many often refer to as the “soft skills,” a term that intentionally contrasts with “hard” technical skills. As a result, many get the mistaken impression that transferable skills are less important than technical skills. This belief couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, employees with strong transferable skills have been found to greatly increase workplace productivity and overall profits.
A 2017 study found that garment workers trained in skills like communication, time management, problem solving, financial and legal literacy, and decision making were considerably more productive than workers who received no training. Ultimately, researchers found that the garment factory reaped a 256-percent return on investment as a result of workplace skills training .
In the near future, transferable skills will become even more important to employers as automation replaces previous jobs with adept machines. For example, a 2018 report by Mckinsey & Company found that the need for transferable skills will increase markedly in the next decade, while the need for repetitive and manual tasks will decrease .
|Skill||Change in total hours worked (2030 vs. 2016)|
|Physical and manual skills||-14 percent|
|Basic cognitive skills||-15 percent|
|Higher cognitive skills||+8 percent|
|Social and emotional skills||+24 percent|
|Technological skills||+55 percent|
Although transferable skills have proven to be effective in the workplace and needed for the future, McKinsey & Company noted that human resource professionals found it difficult to identify potential employees with in-demand transferable skills. The top three “missing skills” according to HR professionals are as follows:
Problem solving, critical thinking, innovation, and creativity
Ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity
The message is clear: neither employees nor employers should underestimate the value of transferable skills. Transferable skills can increase workplace productivity, are becoming increasingly valuable in the job market, and offer an opportunity for job seekers to stand out from the applicant pool.
Now that you have a thorough understanding of what transferable skills are, why they are valuable to employers, and how you already use them in your life, it is time to highlight them on your resume. Whether it is your first resume or simply your most recent, you might benefit from taking a course on resume and cover letterwriting.
If you’d like to expand your technical skills, consider a Professional Certificate to help you get job ready for a high-demand field like data analysis, project management, UX design, social media marketing, or IT support.
Whatever you do next, though, just remember that you likely already have a wide range of skills that will be as valuable in your next workplace as they are in your daily life today.
1. University of Missouri—St. Louis. "Transferrable skills, http://www.umsl.edu/depts/career/Students/Transferable%20Skills.pdf." Accessed November 29, 2021.
2. Michigan Ross. "Soft Skills Training Boosts Productivity, https://michiganross.umich.edu/rtia-articles/soft-skills-training-boosts-productivity." Accessed November 29, 2021.
3. McKinsey & Company. "Skill shift: Automation and the future of the workforce, https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/skill-shift-automation-and-the-future-of-the-workforce." Accessed November 29, 2021.
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.