Getting that job: make the most of your skills

In today's job market, it is likely that you will experience different roles and working environments. To reach your full potential it pays to be flexible and adaptable, especially if you're looking at a change in career. A good way to start is by recognising your transferable skills.

Transferable skills

Transferable skills are skills built up over your lifetime, including those gained through the workplace or through leisure and social activities. Examples of transferable skills are:

  • communication - being able to communicate by speaking, in writing or by email in the right way for the audience
  • teamwork - being a constructive team member, contributing practically to the success of the team
  • leadership - motivating and encouraging others while taking the lead
  • initiative - seeing opportunities and setting and achieving goals
  • solving problems - thinking things through in a logical or creative way to work out the most important problems
  • flexibility and being able to adapt - changing and adapting to new situations
  • being self aware - knowing your strengths and skills and having the confidence to put these across
  • commitment and motivation - having energy and enthusiasm when carrying out projects
  • interpersonal skills - relating well to others and building up good working relationships
  • numeracy - understanding and using information such as numbers, statistics and graphs

Identifying the skills you have now

You probably already have valuable transferable skills that could make you a good candidate for a job. Think back through the jobs you have done, your hobbies and the other things you're involved in. Then, using the list above, write down the skills that you have. Here is an example:

You have always worked in administrative jobs in offices as part of a team, so you have good teamwork and communication skills. In your spare time you also help to run a Brownie pack. This means that you have other skills that you can transfer to a job: initiative and leadership skills to name two.

Employment skills and experience

Ask yourself the following questions to think about skills you have developed, including those built up in jobs you have had before:

  • did you develop any skills that will be useful in the job you're looking for?
  • have you worked as part of a team?
  • did you need to share information with others?
  • did you follow or give instructions well?
  • are you a good timekeeper?
  • do you have IT skills?
  • did you get any qualifications?
  • were you praised for any part of your role?

Personal and social skills

It can be difficult to identify your own strengths. Ask yourself the following questions about life outside work:

  • do you get on well with people?
  • are you on a local committee or a member of a community organisation?
  • are you part of a team (for example, a sports or quiz team)?
  • do you have skills from caring for your family (for example, organisational skills)?
  • have you done any voluntary work?
  • have you been to any evening classes or training?

Friends and relatives may be able to help you work out what strengths are also your transferable skills.

Careers advisers may know of organisations which may be able to help you identify and gain the skills you need.

Identifying skills you will need in the future

When you're looking at the skills you have, you may also identify areas where you're not so strong.

First you need to decide what kind of job you want. Once you know what type of job you'd really like, do some research into the skills and experience that these jobs normally need. Compare these to the list below for suggestions on how to develop the skills you need.

Developing new transferable skills

You can develop new skills in a variety of ways. You may want to consider:

  • doing some voluntary work
  • taking part in a hobby, committee or group
  • doing some part-time work
  • registering with a recruitment agency and doing some temporary work
  • going on a training course

All of these activities can help you develop new skills and experience, and they'll boost your self-confidence and social life too. Remember that developing your skills helps you to find work, stay in work and get further in your career.

Applying your transferable skills to a job application

If you're applying for a type of job that you haven't done before, transferable skills can help to show an employer that you have the right skills for the job.

Assume that in your previous jobs you gained switchboard and typing skills but didn’t have any contact with customers, which is now required for the job you are applying for. 

For the last three years, you have been a representative for a local Christmas club, where you help people to save up over the year, so that they can pay for the extra cost at Christmas.

This shows  your customer contact, in that you can talk to customers face-to-face and handle complaints. You are therefore showing your transferable skills.

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