Transferable Skills: How Part-Time Experience Lands The Career

By Megan Patiry on February 8, 2014

This article is brought to you by College Pro. Looking for an edge over your competition? With College Pro, you’ll learn business skills you can take with you in any future career. To learn more about College Pro, click here or call 1-888-277-7962.

Suggesting additional menu items to a customer while memorizing their order has most likely become a robotic function of sorts; indeed, it’s something you do several times a week for extra cash in between classes where you learn the “real” skills you’ll need for your future career.

This is not to say those specialized skills aren’t useful; however, lets tap off that autonomic button for a moment and recap what you just did when you successfully sold that customer an additional item. You were using essential skills in the fields of communication and marketing to sell a product, plus that of multitasking in the form of memorizing their order while doing so.

Essentially, you just performed three transferable skills in the span of 30 seconds, and it is these skills that can pave the route to your dream career. Working as a server isn’t the only option for acquiring these skills, either.

Transferable skills are the skills that, as mentioned in the above example, transfer from one environment to another across a wide range of platforms. In essence, they are the skills you learn in certain situations that carry over into your other activities, including jobs.

Now, you may be thinking the skills you learn from being a server (or any other seemingly non-related job) have no bearing on the technical skills you learn in the classroom, but you’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again: it’s experience that counts.

According to The Career Center: University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, “the strongest candidates have ‘real world’ experience in co- curricular activities: co-ops, internships, practicums, part-time jobs, full-time jobs, service learning, and volunteering.”

The idea behind transferable skills is to take the experience you’ve received through these seemingly unrelated jobs and activities, and tweak them to fit into the skills you need for a major career. In this way, your simple part-time job and church group leader position are turned into valuable undertakings that color your resumes and interviews with relevant experience.

“Do not think about a job or experience based on what you did, but rather what you gained and learned that a future employer may be looking for,” Psychology at IUPU advised in a PDF guideline for using transferable skills.

“Do not get trapped into simply explaining your qualifications by what you did for your past employer.”

Image by genie_solution via Flickr.

Transferable skills may, in fact, be even more important than specialized skills in some fields. A case study conducted by Petia Petrova and Dorota Ujma, University of Luton, took a survey amongst undergraduate students studying tourism, asking them which skills they perceived as essential to landing a career in the tourism industry.  The result?

“The majority of respondents (68%) stated that their specialized knowledge of the tourism industry would prove advantageous to them in securing employment in the industry … yet such knowledge is regarded by tourism and hospitality employers as being much less important in comparison to other skills” (Baum 1995; Li and Kivela 1998; Petrova and Mason 2005b).

The study goes on to state that the majority of skills at the top of their most-wanted list included those that fall into the “general intellect” category–namely effective communication and problem-solving skills. This shows that employers look for a wide range of transferable skills as a base for potential employees, before they even consider the technical details. So how can you showcase these skills?

Identify Your Skill Set

The first step to using transferable skills is to identify them. Nothing may come to mind at first, but Dawn Clare, a career and life coach, said in an article, to “evaluate your whole life, not just professional experiences.”

This requires you to look not only at previous employments, but also at any activities where you contributed or held some type of responsibility. This can even include certain projects you participated in at your university, or even sports you played.

Going back to the server example, we can see that previously-deemed simple tasks can be used as valuable skills. The task of explaining the menu to the customer becomes an interpersonal communication skill and the additional suggested menu options become sales experience.  In the same sense, organizing your church’s potluck dinner gives you leadership, inventory and management skills.

Show Transferable Skills On Your Resume

Jamie Yasko-Mangum, a self-image and training consultant and owner of Successful Style & Image Inc., stated on Career Builder, to “organize your resume by skill area or accomplishments rather than chronologically or functionally.”

“Categorize all applicable skills, highlights and experiences and group them in categories such as ‘professional highlights,’ ‘skills summary’ and ‘professional experience’ and place them at the top of your resume,” he said.

This type of organization puts your experiences first and shows how they apply to the current position, instead of merely listing your previous education or background, which may not immediately provide you with the skills for the job the employer is looking for.

Highlight Achievements

When the time for the interview dawns, be sure to highlight achievements you have made in any project, job or assignment through the use of these skills. For example, show what you can bring to the company by highlighting an instance where you brought an original idea or concept to a group, or how you solved a problem. Don’t be afraid to reference projects you performed in school if you feel you’re running short on relevant experience, either.

For specialized guidance on how you can implement these transferable skills, visit Cambridge University’s Key Transferable Skills webpage.

Transferable skills can be found virtually anywhere you look regarding your past experiences; it’s simply a matter of looking behind the action you’re performing and asking yourself what skill is necessary for you to perform it.

Before long, you’ll have a list of skills to rival any robot.

Run your own business, get control of your future, make an impact on your life. To learn more about College Pro, click here or call 1-888-277-7962.

Megan is a freelance writer, organic foodie, health activist, and spontaneous traveler. She also has a passion for adventure, hiking, yoga, and paradoxically, chocolate in all its raw, gluten-free forms.

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