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8 Transferable Skills to Help You Change Careers

By Tim Stobierski
August 6, 2019

The decision to make a career change—whether by moving into a new role at your current organization, moving to a new company, or changing industries altogether—can be exciting. Yet for those who have been out of the job market for a number of years, this type of change can also feel overwhelming. 

Along with choosing the right companies and roles to apply for, it’s important to consider how to update your resumé in a way that exemplifies to hiring managers the value you can add to their organization. Depending on the type of professional move, this may mean finding creative ways of translating the tasks that you perform in your current role to better align with the tasks you expect to perform in your next one.

Tasks and job descriptions rarely match up perfectly, however. Instead, career experts suggest thinking of your resumé in terms of skills rather than tasks. Ask yourself: What skills do I utilize in my current role that could translate well into my next one? The skills that you identify in this exercise are known as “transferable skills,” and learning how to identify them can make a substantial impact on your job search.

What are Transferable Skills?

The term transferable skills refers to any talent or ability that can be applied to multiple jobs, roles, or industries. These skills are not dependent on the specific function that you perform but are instead more deeply ingrained. Often, these skills are refined over the course of your career. 

Consider This:

As an example, imagine that you work as a book editor within a publishing house, but you would like to make a career change into a different industry. Though the bulk of your experience might be related to publishing—pitching titles, copyediting your authors, directing the book’s design, etc.—you have likely built a number of transferable skills over the course of your career that enable you to thrive in many other industries as well. For instance, you likely have advanced communication, writing, and project management skills from years of ushering books through the publishing process. These skills may translate to a role in marketing, journalism, or even corporate communications. No matter which path you choose to pursue, however, the transferable skills and experiences you gathered in publishing will still benefit your next role, even indirectly.

Top Transferable Skills for Career Changers

Transferable skills come in a variety of forms. While some are more closely aligned with a particular industry or role—making them ideal to highlight when you are simply seeking to change organizations—others are broader in nature and are thus most relevant during more substantial career changes.

Read on to learn about some of the top transferable skills to include on your resumé when applying for a job.

1. Industry Expertise

If you are seeking a new role within your current organization—or you are transitioning to a different organization within your current industry—being able to demonstrate your relevant expertise will be essential in landing the job you want. (It is also not uncommon to hear this referred to as “domain expertise.”)

Luckily, industry experience is one of the easiest transferable skills to showcase. Simply being able to demonstrate the amount of time you’ve been in this field and the kinds of projects that you have led in your current and past roles will likely be enough to communicate whether or not you are truly an expert.

2. Communication Skills

Regardless of the industry that you work in (or hope to work in), having proper communication skills is essential for success. 

In roles that are communications-focused, it’s easy to see why. Any marketing or public relations position, for example, will likely require advanced communication skills due solely to the nature of the work.

This is the case in careers that aren’t so outwardly communication-heavy, as well. Even highly technical roles, for example, require that you be able to effectively communicate with coworkers, management, key stakeholders, vendors, contractors, and other individuals, even if that’s not the main aspect of your work. Whether these communications are verbal, written, or visual, all employees need to be able to demonstrate that they can effectively articulate their ideas and substantiate their reasoning in an efficient and effective manner. 

Instead of merely listing “communication skills” on your resumé, it’s important that job candidates find creative ways to demonstrate those skills during the application process. A well-written cover letter will speak to your written communication abilities better than simply listing the skill on your resumé, for example. If you are applying for a communications-focused role specifically, consider also compiling a portfolio of samples that you can share with the hiring manager to further illustrate the extent of your experience. No matter the type of position you’re applying to, being able to highlight this skill will go a long way in demonstrating your abilities as an employee.


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3. Analytical Skills

Analytical skills are similar to communication skills in that they’re important no matter what industry you work in or job you apply for. Analytical skills are now critical to success, as data drives modern business in ways that were unthinkable even just a few years ago. Many industries and roles, including those you might not expect, now utilize data on a daily or near-daily basis, making analytical skills an essential part of your transferable skills toolkit.

As an example, healthcare providers now have access to greater patient information than ever before which they use to remove inefficiencies and improve patient outcomes. Healthcare professionals with analytical skills are able to interpret that information in ways that can spot which patients are at a higher risk for complications and put protocols in place to prevent them. In another example, communications specialists can now segment their customer audiences and very easily A/B test communications campaigns, analyzing which version of their content performs best in order to make more informed decisions moving forward. These are just two examples in a myriad of careers which can benefit from employees with analytical skills.

Showcase your analytical skills within your resumé and cover letter by detailing projects which required you to rely on these abilities. You should also list out any relevant software programs you used in your last position and the role that they each played in your work to show you have a practical understanding of these tools.

4. Project Management

In most roles, regardless of title or job description, you will likely have some responsibility overseeing at least one piece of a project. Whether you are managing a team, developing or launching a product or service, or supervising an organizational change, the skills you acquire leading a task (or teams) to completion can be effectively transferred to a number of roles.

While there are many skills that could fall into the realm of project management, two of the most important are time management and general organization. Each of these skill sets demonstrates that you know how to stick to a schedule, establish priorities, and simply manage your and your team’s time in order to meet deadlines and complete tasks.

The best way to communicate these project management skills to hiring managers is to reference projects that you have managed in the past within your resumé and cover letter. Depending on how often you will use these abilities within the work of to the job you’re applying for, you can either go into detail about projects you’ve managed in the past or simply mention them as part of a larger example of work you’ve handled. Even if these skills seem unrelated to the role that you are applying for, a successfully completed project can speak volumes about your capabilities.

5. Leadership Skills

An effective leader is hard to come by, which can make an applicant with solid leadership skills a desirable hire in many organizations. For this reason, properly demonstrating your leadership skills on a resumé or cover letter is a key component to standing out in a hiring process.

If you currently work in a leadership or management position, that experience should be easy enough to convey in a resumé. For those who are not currently in a leadership position, however, try to identify specific instances in your past work experience where you were required to take on the responsibilities of a leader, and be sure to speak to those instances in your cover letter and any follow-up conversations.

6. Teamwork and Collaboration

Many organizations specifically seek new hires that have demonstrated themselves to be team players who know how to collaborate, and understandably so. They want to hire people who will not only excel in their own roles, but who are willing and able to step up for the good of the company when needed.

For this reason, many companies will ask questions during an interview designed to help them understand whether or not you value teamwork and collaboration to the extent that is required for the job. Be prepared to speak to examples in the past that have allowed you to showcase your willingness to collaborate and work toward the greater good of the organization.

7. Creativity and Critical Thinking

In recent years, many companies have come to recognize the value that creativity and critical thinking can bring into an organization.

For individuals working in creative industries—such as the visual arts, design, or marketing—the need for individuals with these skills has always been more clear, considering you need creativity to perform the duties associated with those roles.

Yet even in industries that are not typically thought of as “creative,” this skill set can be incredibly valuable. Creative individuals are known for coming up with ideas that push limits and approaching problems from new angles, which can all lead to unexpected innovations and solutions.

It is important to note, however, that creativity doesn’t just mean “coming up with ideas,” because creativity without followthrough is useless. For this reason, it’s important to be able to demonstrate in your application to hiring managers that you not only know how to come up with creative ideas, but that you have the tools and focus to translate those ideas into action, and that action into results.

8. Adaptability

Adaptability refers to an individual’s ability to adjust to changing situations. Because organizations of all sizes and industries undergo change on a near-constant basis, it may well be one of the most important skills on this list.

In a startup company, for example, the environment can be extremely fluid, with roles shifting on a monthly or even weekly basis as challenges emerge and the business plan evolves. Established corporations may also find themselves experiencing organizational change or pressures that force them to pivot in some way. Having a team in place that is both willing and able to adapt to these challenges is critical to weathering the unknowns that come with doing business.

Be sure to highlight any situations in which you were able to adapt to meet the changing needs of your organization in your resumé or cover letter. The significance of this particular ability may also lead hiring managers to address this with you in your interview in the form of an interview question such as, “Describe a situation in which you had to think on your feet,” or “How do you deal with high-pressure situations?” While neither question outright asks “How adaptable are you?”, both subtly request that you provide insight into how easily you manage change.

How to Demonstrate Transferable Skills

Your resumé and cover letter are your first impression with hiring managers. For this reason, it is vital that each of these documents effectively communicate who you are and why you, above all other applicants, are an ideal hire. This will include which transferable skills you have and how those skills align with the work of the specific role.

While both your cover letter and resumé are integral in conveying your transferable skills, it’s important that your resumé is not just your cover letter in bullet format. Your cover letter should include descriptive examples that speak to your transferable skills, where your resume should list outright a variety of other transferable skills that perhaps don’t align directly with the job description but that you would be able to speak to in further depth during an interview. 

Your application materials themselves can also be used as tools to demonstrate—rather than list out—your transferable skills. Focus on the quality of your writing in your cover letter to showcase your communication abilities, detail achievements and showcase initiatives on your resumé to speak to your ability to work as a part of a team, manage projects, etc., and be flexible and attentive when it comes to scheduling your interview in order to showcase your adaptability. The thought you give to these aspects of your application at this stage will go along way in helping you reach the next steps in the hiring process.  

Another way to efficiently demonstrate a number of transferable skills during the application process is by earning a degree that is in some way related to the career or industry you are pursuing. Hiring managers quickly scan resumés to look for key points that speak to skills and knowledge to narrow down a large stack of applicants. Educational achievements (like whether or not you have earned a degree, what kind of degree, etc.) are not only critical differentiators, but they also speak to your commitment to continual personal and professional development. 

Thinking about heading back to school to gain the skills you need to make a career change? If so, we assure you, a college degree is worth it and within your reachTo learn more, explore Northeastern’s bachelor’s degree completion programs or get advice from an admissions counselor today.


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About Tim Stobierski

Tim Stobierski is a marketing specialist and contributing writer for Northeastern University.