Updated Jan 11, 2023
Let me tell you a little story about a guy named Chris. AKA me.
It was 2018. I had spent 15 years in university… studying God knows what. Okay, actually I do know. I got a PhD in religious studies.
And when I look back, I imagine 17-year-old Chris dreaming about getting a humanities degree so he could hang out in libraries all day. I want to slap him in his stupid face. I want to tell him that going to grad school is dumb. Dumb. dumb.
So here I was. 32 years old. 4 degrees. Letters after my name. And nobody gave an actual shit. It didn’t help me get a job. Telling people I studied “religion in Mediterranean antiquity” usually led to them throwing my resume on the “we’ll-keep-you-on-file” pile. Yeah, that one.
But then I learned a magic word. Transferable skills. Because, the thing is, my degree did give me transferable skills. Actually, they were pretty damn good ones. And the ones I didn’t have, I added by using online learning platforms.
Welcome to the modern labor market. Where by the time you can study for a degree, it might already be redundant. I hope you haven’t already experienced this. But if your life has been anything like mine, I’m guessing you have. And you have to go through the painfully shitty process of reinventing yourself, trying to step into a new industry and actually get paid what you’re worth.
If that’s you, let’s talk. I want to talk to you about what those sooper smart labor experts are saying are the top transferable skills. And, since you probably have SOME of these, I want to tell you how to maximize them.
You see, I really believe that skills, not degrees are the future. So fuck the degree. I mean, do it if you want. But make sure you know what your transferable skills are and how to use them.
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- 21 Transferable skills to kick 2023 in the face with
- 1. Leadership
- 2. Project management
- 3. Writing
- 4. Problem Solving
- 5. Data Analysis
- 6. Teamwork
- 7. Communication
- 8. Public Speaking
- 9. Critical Thinking
- 10. Reliability
- 11. Emotional Intelligence
- 12. Time management
- 13. People Management
- 14. Organization
- 15. Learning
- 16. Decision making
- 17. Empathy
- 18. Coding
- 19. Sales
- 20. Listening
- 21. Financial Literacy
- How to figure out what your transferable skills are
Transferable skills definition…
Transferable skills are the skills and abilities that you have developed that can be applied to just about anything. Since we’re talking about jobs here, they’re the things you can do that are relevant to your ability to do a job, whether it’s a hard skill (ie. coding) or a soft skill (compassion).
21 Transferable skills to kick 2023 in the face with
Oh god. Did he just say leadership? What the actual fuck is that?
Well, I heard a definition once I really liked: “Leaders are people who make decisions.” And, to expand on that a bit, leaders take ownership.
You know that awkward moment at work when the boss says, “Hey, I need someone to take over Jen’s account while she’d off caring for her sick chihuahua?” And you know how everyone looks like they want to sink into the table?
The person who puts their hand up and does the damned thing, and does it well. That’s leadership.
The person who steps up. The person who actually cares enough to make something happen. That’s leadership. Turn on Shark Tank and you’re looking at a bunch of leaders, people who stepped up and made decisions. In their case, they’re also entrepreneurs. But you don’t have to own your company to be a leader.
Be the person who makes shit happen, whether for yourself or someone else.
- Top 10 Rules for Highly Effective Leadership (LinkedIn Learning)
- Leadership Foundations (LinkedIn Learning)
2. Project management
So, take leadership. And add the ability to manage a project. The person who can start something from conception and see it through to completion. That person is a project manager.
Project management skills need leadership. So if you checked #1, good for you!
There are all sorts of fancy project management skills you can learn. Companies throw out these damned buzzwords like candy: scrum, agile, PMP. So yeah, there are some specific certifications you can get that will make you a “qualified” project manager.
But at the end of the day, if you have the skills to manage a project, you can be a project manager. And there are lots of jobs that require the skill of project management – with or without a certification. And since most of them pay pretty well, that makes project management a valuable skill!
Project Management Courses
- Foundations of Project Management (Free from Google!)
- Project Management Foundations (LinkedIn Learning)
- Scrum: The Basics (LinkedIn Learning)
- Become an Agile Project Manager (LinkedIn Learning)
Most people can write something. Most of us can put words next to words and it makes some sort of sense.
But can you WRITE? Can you convey ideas, or educate, or entertain? Better yet, can you tell a story?
Writing is one of the most transferable skills out there. A ton of jobs need some sort of writing, whether it’s writing reports, emails, sales letters, exciting copy, or whatever. It’s why great freelance writers are in such high demand.
Writing’s not going anywhere.
Now I hear you saying, “But Chris, AI can write now!”
And let me tell you, yes it can. But I’ve played around a ton with AI, and AI writes like an average writer. Not someone I’d hire to write for this website. In the future, that may change. But for now, this year, great writing is still in HIGH demand. And you can take it anywhere you go.
Here are a few awesome writing courses from the place I learned SEO – Skillshare.
- Creating Content That People Love to Read (and Google Loves to Rank)
- Copywriting For Beginners: How To Write Web Copy That Sells Without Being Cheesy
4. Problem Solving
Look, I know this isn’t you – let’s be honest. But I’ve worked with so many people who come up against an obstacle and say, “What the actual heck am I supposed to do now?” It’s a natural human impulse.
But there’s another category of wonderful, shiny people who bump up against an obstacle and say, “There’s got to be a way around it.”
They are the problem solvers, the people who are going to figure it out OR find the resources to figure it out. And being a problem solver is a great thing.
5. Data Analysis
Every day, there are a gajillion-trillion gigabytes of data created. Okay, I just made that number up. But the point remains – we make a lot of data.
Some of that data can be analyzed by the machines. But we still need humans to do data analysis, to figure out how data relates and to tell stories with it. That’s why, pretty much every industry needs data analysis for something. From the rental car industry to big tech to wall street to government… Data is there. Data is everywhere.
Learn to wrangle it and you’re golden.
Remember in school when you got stuck doing a project with Greg, that dipshit who didn’t do anything but showed up and ruined your presentation on the French Revolution? Yeah, I knew him too.
What your teachers were trying to teach you was teamwork. And whether that particular instance succeeded or failed, the point remains, teamwork is still a transferable skill. It can be challenging to work with others, and if you have the gift of not just coexisting, but bringing out the best in others and yourself, you’re golden.
Teamwork is so valuable, even in remote work, since the ability to collaborate and communicate with coworkers is vital to thriving on a remote team.
Ahh communication. The ability to help another human being understand something. It’s a magical thing. Communication requires not only understanding something well, it also means being able to communicate it in a way something else can understand it.
If you’re someone who can do this, you’ve got a powerful transferable skill.
8. Public Speaking
There’s a Seinfeld joke about public speaking. Since most people say they’d rather die than have to speak in public, that means at the average funeral most people would rather be in the box than giving the eulogy.
I happen to be one of those weirdos who likes public speaking, primarily because I’ve done it enough to get comfortable with it.
But whether you’re a born speaker or whether you’re working to get better, it’s a skill that you can take pretty much anywhere. From presenting at meetings to speaking to clients to representing your company at a conference or trade show, public speaking will take you places.
And no matter how good of a public speaker you are right now, you can improve!
9. Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is the ability to take in information, analyze it, and make a judgment on it. It requires keeping an open mind and making assessments of what you hear, read, etc.
It’s REALLY valuable to any company. Orgs NEED people who can take in information and make judgments on it.
This one’s pretty straightforward. But probably one of the most underrated skills. If you look at why people get fired, half the time it has to do with reliability. If your boss can’t trust you to show up when you say you will and do what you say you will, they can trust you. And trust is at the foundation of every single working relationship.
Be reliable, no matter what else you do. It will make for bosses or clients who love you.
11. Emotional Intelligence
Understanding your own emotional state and its impact on the people you deal with is called emotional intelligence. It’s vital for regulating your relationship to your workplace and to others.
Emotional intelligence is often pointed to as one of the top skills a leader can have. So if you’ve got it, you can take it with you anywhere you go.
12. Time management
There are only so many hours in the day. If you can use them well, you might have the skill of time management.
People wear busyness like a badge of honor. Let me tell you, I’ve been around WAY too many people who like to brag about how busy they are.
I’m way more interested in being effective than busy. Managing time well to focus on what’s important, and learning to free up more time to do that, is a guaranteed step to success.
We all have the same 24 hours. Learn to manage them and get THE IMPORTANT stuff done, and you’ll be an asset wherever you go. Dave Crenshaw’s course on time management is fantastic!
- Time Management Fundamentals (LinkedIn Learning)
13. People Management
So you can manage your time. How about people?
People management is something every single organization needs. So if you look for opportunities to oversee people, to manage and lead, you’re developing a skill that’s in high demand.
It can be a bit intimidating if you’ve never done it before, but climbing the career ladder to the top and breaking $100k/year OFTEN requires some sort of people management.
Lean in. You got this.
I’m going to admit, I’m not organized. So this is NOT really one of my transferable skills.
That’s okay. I admit to it in interviews. And it’s something I’m working on all the time.
Every organization needs organized people. People who can keep records straight. People who can make events happen or make sure no customers fall through the cracks. However it shakes out, if you’ve got the skill of organization, flaunt it!
Did you know that learning is a transferable skill? Yup. True story.
The ability to learn, especially if you can teach yourself, will never go out of style. An employee who can learn will go out and take initiative to try new stuff, confident in their ability to figure it out.
An employee who knows they can learn will go looking for the right information to teach themselves, to upskill.
That makes LEARNING an awesome transferable skill.
16. Decision making
While it’s related to management and leadership, if you can weigh the evidence and make a decision you’re a rare employee. Most people sit around waiting for someone to tell them what to do.
Whether you can make a decision and act on it, or if you need to check with your boss and say, “Here’s what I think we should do,” it’s a great skill to have.
The best way to explain what empathy is probably to explain what it’s not. Have you ever had an interaction with someone who was TOTALLY TONE DEAF towards how you were feeling? Imagine the waiter who makes you wait an hour for a table, then makes you feel like you don’t deserve it. They lack empathy.
Empathy is basically the transferable skill of understanding how others must be feeling, and responding accordingly. In the workplace, empathy comes in handy for recognizing when your coworkers are overworked or tired, or when a customer just needs someone to listen. Heck, you might even be empathetic to your boss, recognizing that they have to answer to people too – which can be stressful!
Imagine the working parent who has a kid home sick. Their boss could say, “Too bad. You were expected to be here, so figure it out!” But an empathetic boss might say, “Hey, this sounds like a tough day for you. I’ll pick up the slack and you do what you need to do today.”
The skill of empathy does that. It’s a superpower. Empathetic people just sort of get other people, without needing to be told. And that’s an awesome skill to have.
I’m saying it, so you saw it here first. Tech isn’t an industry anymore. Every company needs tech for one thing or another. That means that tech skills, like coding, could be seen as transferable skills too – since you can take them from one company to another.
Why not learn a coding language? You can get started free on Datacamp.
It’s a skill as old as trade, but sales is always a good one to have. Obviously, pretty much any revenue-generating organization need sales. So that could be your jam.
But if not, there’s a hella good chance you’ll use the sales skills in other ways. Presenting to a board. Selling ideas to senior management. Sales training never goes out of style.
Here are a few courses to grow your chops!
- Sales Fundamentals (LinkedIn Learning)
- Business-to-Business Sales (LinkedIn Learning)
- Communication Skills Machine: Master Persuasion and Influence for Entrepreneurship, Business, & Life (Skillshare)
Listening is something everyone thinks they can do. But let’s be honest, most people aren’t great listeners. At our worst, we often don’t hear someone, instead waiting for our turn to talk. And even if we mean well, even if we hear the words someone’s saying, it doesn’t necessarily mean we understand what they mean.
Being a great listener is a transferable skill that will pay dividends wherever you take it. And you can even take a course on it on LinkedIn!
21. Financial Literacy
Rounding out our list of transferable skills, let’s talk about financial literacy. Every organization you could ever work for will have to deal with money. Even government and non-profits need people who can understand finances.
That makes financial literacy a skill worth having. If you can read a budget and understand it, or – better yet – if you can be trusted to create them, you’ve got a skill that can go pretty much everywhere.
How to figure out what your transferable skills are
So if you’re still with me, I want to talk about one more thing. How the heck can you figure out which transferable skills you have? Here are 5 ways to do this:
1. Map your transferable skills through learning and networking
Name your transferable skills right now.
Once upon a time, I would have said research, writing, and editing. I was an arts grad. It was all I knew.
If your list is small or feels predictable, that’s okay. Here’s why.
If you want to identify transferable skills, you need to do some networking (AKA informational interviews). If your mapping of skills is only based on you looking out at the world as an academic and guessing what might be relevant, you’ll have a pretty limited list.
You’ve probably never heard of your future job. You’re sure as heck not going to type it into a search engine. And you’re definitely not going to identify which skills it requires.
When you meet people and ask them about what they do, you’re going to find new ways to see the world and your skills. Inevitably you’ll hear them describing some work you’ve never heard of in your life and say, “Hey, I could actually do that.”
For me these were things like convening a group of policy leaders, writing white papers, or advising senior leadership on an appropriate course of action.
As a matter of fact, I found out that I write a rock-solid policy brief in a government setting.
Don’t think of your transferable skills as a list you need to come up with sitting in your room. Think of it as a conversation between your background and your future that’s best had with others. And constantly ask yourself, “Can I do that?”
2. Make your resume and LinkedIn match the new language you’ve learned from networking
When my kids were little, we occasionally played a game that requires you to push shapes through a hole into a hollow box. The shapes need to line up, or they won’t go through the hole.
This is sort of what it feels like to me to find your transferable skills. You’re going to ask a lot of questions, but then at some point, the shape will just drop through into the box with a satisfying “CLUNK.”
When you have that “eureka” moment in an informational interview–take notes of some of the language the person was using.
Write down keywords–every workplace has its own unique set of terms, and knowing them is one of the best ways to signal that you’re an insider, or that you should be.
Then, run home and edit your resume accordingly.
When someone says to you, “We don’t have any need for academic research, but we really do need proposal writing,” run home and make sure your resume says “proposal writing.”
Because I bet you can do that.
When they say “we need a lot of program evaluation,” consider how many of the skills from your PhD might qualify you to do program evaluation (collecting data, interviewing people, synthesizing results, making recommendations).
These keywords are your new friends, especially if a career sounds interesting. Put them on your LinkedIn.
I gave an example of how to do this on this post on finding your personal value proposition.
3. Your transferable skills can come from anywhere
I’ve had a lot of jobs that make me great with people. I was a waiter, a travelling salesman, a telemarketer who sold meat over the phone (yes, I’m not kidding), a camp counsellor, a lifeguard, a Hickory Farms sales associate, a rock climbing instructor, a guitar teacher, and the list goes on.
Each of these things helped me develop my people skills. Going to school didn’t. Doesn’t matter where you get the skills. They’re fair game.
Be creative in looking across your wide background to find your skills. You are a whole person, and if you’ve developed skills at ANY point in your life they are part of you and they belong to you. Don’t be afraid to use them. Dig deep. And paint a broad picture of who you are.
4. Focus on skills that are needed
As you network and focus on job postings, make sure you recognize that not all of your skills will transfer, and you don’t need to use every single one for each role. Nor do you need to list every transferable skill you have for a resume.
I may have once had some editing skills (although I question this when I find typos in old Roostervane blogs). But I’ve rarely needed these.
There may be skills that you don’t need to use. That’s okay.
You don’t need to cram your resume with every transferable skill you have. If you’re applying for a job, focus on the skills that fit within the job posting.
5. Build complementary skills on the side
This should go without saying, but you can build skills on the side as you study. Take initiative and teach yourself some complementary skills.
That’s why we included links to courses above!
Over the years I’ve taken many online courses in digital marketing and SEO. As you might guess, I use these a lot for Roostervane–but they would also be interesting to employers.
Don’t just stick to learning things you love. Be hard on yourself here. Take your medicine. I learned the basics of business accounting so that I can manage the day-to-day finances for my business. It’s not my idea of exciting, but it’s vital to know.
6. Take jobs to build your skills.
Each and every job you will do is paid training to grow your skill set. Believe it or not, you probably don’t want a job that completely encompasses your entire skill set.
Work is way more exciting when you can do some things really well, but part of your job requires you to stretch, grow, and build new skills.
Most people think you learn and then you get a job.
But don’t forget how much a job can help you learn.
7. Not all skills are valued the same
I’ve talked about the skill of writing before. It’s a fantastic skill and I believe that solid writing skills will set you apart once you get into a workplace. Employers have noticed my writing and recognized it as an asset.
But few places will hire you BECAUSE you’re a good writer.
Usually, it’s just a nice bonus to have.
Because everybody thinks they’re a good writer. Our writing abilities generally match the communication level of our brains–and we all think we’re good at communicating. The things we say make sense to us.
Take stock of what skills have high value, and work on those. I’ve said before that two principles of economics apply to how your skills are valued in the marketplace: demand and scarcity.
I do believe that many people with advanced degrees starting out in non-academic work need to pitch themselves as generalists—making themselves fit into skills that are in demand.
This is especially true of the liberal arts, which often have no direct specialty application to real-world jobs. At first, you may need to pitch yourself as a researcher, project manager, copywriter, or some other generic skill.
Figure out which skills are worth the most!
Hopefully this post gives you a sense of what transferable skills you have and how to use them – not to mention how and where to develop new ones! So go and develop some great skills! You got this 🙂