Transferable skills alone won’t win that job

Here’s how to sell transferable skills to new employers and land a job in a new industry.

Massive layoffs and fewer jobs in many industries mean it’s possible (if not likely) that you’ll have to leave your industry or specialty area. Many job search experts and career coaches say “transferable skills” will help bridge the gap, but what does this phrase mean if you’re the one receiving the pink slip?

Here’s how to transfer your current skills to win your next job:

Start with your transferable skills, but don’t stop there.

You are not your job title.

If you’re facing a layoff or you’re already there, don’t limit your identity. You are much more than a job title. Actually, this rapidly changing, fluid job market makes it dangerous to tie yourself to a title.

Begin by viewing your work experience as a set of competencies and roles that you have mastered and that can be useful from one occupation or industry to another. This is what is meant by the term “transferable skills.” They afford you versatility and adaptability, and they open up new possibilities.

But selling the skills alone is not enough.

Tie benefits to each transferable skill.

Sell results instead of skills. Especially today, skills are just a commodity.

Employers buy results and are less impressed when a candidate promotes a laundry list of skills. Therefore, you should define how those transferable skills have been assets to your employers.

Another way of looking at this is to ask yourself, “How am I an asset to a company’s balance sheet?” Focus on how your work either helps the company make money or save money. Think beyond even your skill sets and job duties, and list every possible example of how you have helped to save time for your employer (Time equals money).

By including several specific achievements, you separate yourself from your competitors and are much more likely to gain the attention of your next employer.

Sit down with a legal pad and write down all of your achievements from current or past jobs. For example, if you’re looking for a job as a project manager, make a list of your completed projects and ask the question, “So what?” after each one. What you’re after is the achievement.

Focus on the end result, the benefit to the client or employer as a result of something that you did or contributed.

How did the client or employer benefit? How was someone’s life made better? Ideally, we want to end up with an answer as close to dollars as possible. If necessary, make an educated guess, as long as you’re comfortable with the figure.

If you can’t put it in terms of dollars, then how about using a percentage? “Achieved a 25 percent time savings by reorganizing the front filing system”.

If not a percentage, then how about a number? “Reactivated 155 client accounts.”

Now review your list. Try to come up with a solid list of five or more achievements. Ideally, pick those to which you can attach a measurable result.

If you can include a concise list of five to seven good achievements that emphasize return on investment (ROI) generated by something you actually did, you’ll score a lot quicker than just by trying to sell a laundry list of transferable skills.

Sell these skill + benefit packages

Education and transferable skills, while valuable, do not translate into benefits. Once you’ve taken some of those skills and tied a benefit to them in the above exercise, it’s now time to define yourself in one concise statement or sentence.

Ask yourself what you can do for this employer that your competitors can’t. You have a unique set of skills, experiences and talents. Now turn them into a “unique selling proposition” for the employer. A good USP says, “Here’s what I can do for you” by highlighting one major benefit that you bring to this employer.

Often called a “personal branding statement,” your USP provides the first impression of who you are and what you offer a potential employer. This is also how you describe yourself in any networking meeting you attend. A good USP will get you remembered and put you on the “to-call list.”

A unique selling proposition is deceptively simple, yet it can be really tough to come up with one. It is a one-sentence description of the essence of you. This is your brand, your slogan — so take the time and thought to develop the right message for yourself. That one sentence should say three very important things: 1.) Who you are 2.) your biggest strength and finally, 3.) the biggest benefit that you bring to the employer.

For the greatest impact, that benefit should be something measurable. And the very best measure is dollars.

Here is an example of a USP:

“Hands-on Operations Manager with strong people and team-building skills who has helped produce revenues of $2.8 million with a 22 percent margin for my previous employer.”

Notice that this simple sentence covers all three elements we discussed and ends with a desirable benefit that most any employer would love to have.


If you have to look beyond your present industry or job title for your next position, identifying those transferable skills is a good exercise. But remember: It’s only a starting point. Take a step further and think about how each of those skills actually benefits your employer. Then demonstrate how each of those skills answers an employer’s specific need and how it has made life better in some way for them. That means turning those skills into achievements and finally, summarizing them into a one-sentence USP that can stop a potential employer in their tracks and whet their appetite to know more.