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Resume Tune-Up: Transferable Skills

07/12/2020 | Careers & Employment

Resume Tune-Up - Transferable Skills

What is a Transferable Skill and Why Should I Care?

If you are trying to get a job that is very different from past work you have done, you need to be able to identify and talk about your “transferable” skills. A skill is the ability you have to do something well. To figure out what your skills are, you should ask yourself what are you good at doing? What abilities or talents have helped you during your life?

A skill is “transferable” when you can use it in different situations. If you are good at driving a forklift, but you want to get a job where there aren’t any forklifts to drive, you must figure out what makes you good at driving a forklift and if those skills can be applied to another task.

Skills typically can be broken down into layers or groups. For example, while driving a forklift is its own skill, it is also part of the larger group of skills called machine operation. Machine operation describes many different skills and if you have experience operating one kind of machine, you should consider what other skills from that larger group that you might have. Machine operation skills you have gained from learning to operate a forklift, such as fine motor control, maintenance, and following safety procedures, are all abilities you could potentially use to operate other machines.

It is important to be able to name your transferable skills so that you can include them in your resume, cover letter, and other job application materials. It is just as important to be able to talk to someone about your skills. Once you know what your transferable skills are, you should think of examples of how you have used them professionally in the past and you should also try to imagine how you could use them in the future. For example, in a job interview, you should be prepared to explain how your skills would make you good at the job you are trying to get.

Can’t I Just Pick Some Skills From a List?

You can find lists of skills online, like the Transferable Skills Checklist from IUPUI that might help you to think about the transferable skills you have. The problem with just picking skills from a list is that you may be tempted to list the skills that sound good to you or that seem like a match for the job you want to get. Instead, you should list skills that you thought of yourself, based on your actual experience. Doing this makes you seem more confident and versatile to employers in an interview because you will be prepared to explain your strengths and how you could use them in a new job.

Remember to be honest when it comes to your resume. Employers often ask questions about the skills you list in interviews. If you can’t specifically explain what a skill is and how you have used it in an interview, leave it out of your resume!

What Are My Transferable Skills?

Here is a short exercise to help you think through your experience to find your transferable skills. Try using this organizer and look at these examples to help!

Step 1: List Your Daily Tasks

Write down what you did during the day at your job. You can think about a certain job you did for a company (like “When I was a line cook at the burger restaurant, this is what I did every day”) or you can think about a type of work you’ve done (like “When I used to work as a landscaper, these are the things I spent most days doing”).

Step 2: List Your Sometimes Tasks

Next, think about any tasks or projects you had to do sometimes, but maybe not every day. Write all of these things down, too. Maybe you had to plan or attend a staff meeting every week or you had to take inventory every month. These “sometimes” tasks are important because often they are different from your more regular, daily tasks. Then, think about other parts of your life where you may have gained skills and write those down, too. What about your hobbies? What have you learned how to do from helping family or friends? Do you volunteer?

Step 3: Identify Your Skills

For everything you have written down, think about what skills you needed to use to complete those tasks. What skills made you good at doing all those different parts of your job? Did you have to work with other people or share information with others? Did you have to follow instructions or rules? Did you have to meet goals or deadlines? Did you make decisions or solve problems? It may help to look at skill lists, like the ones linked below, to help you match your tasks to common transferable skills.

By the end of this step, you will have a list of your transferable skills. Many people will stop at this step because now they have some skills to write on their resume, but it’s important to complete Step #4 if you truly want to be prepared for your interviews.

Step 4: Think About the Future

Take the list of skills you have made and think about how you could use each of them to do something different. Specifically, consider how these skills would make you good at doing the new job you are trying to get. Practice talking about this with someone else. The more practice you have explaining why your skills make you a great choice for the new position, the better prepared you will be for the interview!

Resume Tune-up Books at the Library

Looking for help creating a new—or strengthening an existing—resume? This list highlights a variety of resume writing resources that can help you communicate who you are and what you have to offer. It also includes an invitation to sign up for an online appointment with an IndyPL Career Center Assistant. #indypladults


DeCarlo, Laura

Don't let the Resumes for Dummies title fool you. This book provides well-ordered, in-depth advice on creating winning resumes. It also offers insights into navigating the job search process in this digital age. Resumes for Dummies is also available as an eBook through Overdrive/Libby.

The Perfect Resume

Resumes That Work in the New Economy!

Quillen, W. Daniel

Drawing on his 20+ years of experience as an HR Director, the author of The Perfect Resume walks you through the basics of resume mechanics, keywords and action words, listing your accomplishments, and more to help you craft a resume that gets results.

Modernize your Resume

Get Noticed ... Get Hired

Enelow, Wendy

This resource is packed with examples of modern resumes that are designed to grab a hiring manager's attention. Each chapter focuses attention on a different aspect of your resume.

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