Transferable skills: putting things into context

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Printed with permission from the Office of Career Development Caption: Rei Hernandez enjoys helping new Sharks navigate the waters of NSU as an ExEL Career Advisor.

Rei Hernandez joined the Office of Career Development in July as a full-time ExEL Career Advisor. Hernandez works with first-time college students to help them understand the Experiential Education and Learning program and find opportunities that will allow them to gain valuable hands-on experience and skills.

Picture this: You’re a few months away from graduation and are finally getting serious about your upcoming career search. You’ve written a first draft of your all-important resume and have confidently began searching for positions on Handshake and LinkedIn. You might notice that many of the job postings ask that applicants have some of the same desired skills: teamwork, leadership, written and verbal communication and problem solving. “Great,” you think, “I have all of those skills. I’m going to add them to my resume so employers will see how qualified I am.” Then, you notice that there’s already a built-in “skills” section on your resume template, so you quickly add your newly-realized abilities and save your document. “I’m definitely going to get noticed now, right?” Well, maybe not.

What are transferable skills?

Skills like communication and leadership are known as transferable skills for their ability to be useful in a variety of positions, and should be positioned within your various experiences as part of your descriptive bullet points. This is because, within a bullet point, you can give an employer context for the skill. Context means explaining the “how” and “why” of your skills.

For example, let’s say you were the vice president of NSU’s Pre-Dental Society and wanted to write a bullet point demonstrating your ability to communicate. An example of a bullet point which put your skills into context may read something like this:

  • communicated with dental faculty and student members of the leadership board through emails, phone calls and in-person meetings to gather and disseminate information on various Pre-Dental Society initiatives and opportunities.

I think you can see how this would be more useful to a potential employer than simply seeing the word “communication” listed on your resume or CV.

In the Office of Career Development, our advisors often ask students to put themselves into the shoes of employers when drafting a resume or CV.  We ask students to do this as they review their own documents for two reasons: to make sure it makes sense, and to help them realize what points warrant an explanation. While you may know that you are a talented leader who has excellent collaboration skills, your prospective employer has likely never met you and will need context to back up those claims.

So, what should go into the “skills” section?

In general, employers are looking for what are known as “hard skills” or “concrete skills” in a standalone “skills” section on a resume or CV. These types of skills can include specific software or hardware knowledge, a second or third spoken language, or maybe even certain licensures and certifications. Examples can include phrases like: “fully proficient in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel” or “bilingual in English and Italian.”

What are the best skills to have?

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the skills employers looked for most in their  2017 candidates were the ability to work on a team, problem-solving skills, written communication skills, strong work ethic, spoken communication skills, leadership, initiative, analytical skills, adaptability and detail orientation.

Conversely, only 70 percent of employers heavily weighed a candidate’s college GPA. This doesn’t mean that you should neglect your studies, but rather supplement your class activities with extracurricular activities to help strengthen your resume, CV and your cover letter or personal statements.

How do I gain these skills?

You can acquire and hone your transferable skills in a variety of ways:

  • Internships are one of the best ways to gain transferable skills as employers understand that the primary goal of an internship is to gain experience. A good internship supervisor will expose you to as much of the day-to-day experience of working as they are able.
  • College clubs are another avenue to explore. However, you should make the effort to gain a leadership position rather than simply being a member to have more opportunities to earn these transferable skills.
  • Volunteering experiences are an excellent way to gain skills and often require less of a commitment than an internship or leading an organization.
  • Studying abroad can provide you greater cultural awareness and can be an excellent opportunity to practice a second language.
  • Group projects allow you to practice many the transferable skills we’ve covered including leadership, communication, collaboration skills, analytical skills and problem-solving, so don’t underestimate their value. If you are participating in a group project, pay close attention to your role and what you are contributing as that project may become a strong addition to your professional documents.

Remember, your professional documents, resume and CV are your primary marketing materials to prospective employers. Being able to provide context to your transferable skills can be the difference between securing that all-important interview or not. Taking some time to truly describe your skills effectively will save you time — and frustration — during your job search.

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