Transferable Skills and How to Sell Them

How do you sell your skills to a new industry? Prove that you know more than they think you do.

Don’t believe them.

When companies tell you they aren’t hiring because of the recession, don’t believe them. What they mean to say is that during a recession they are very, very discerning about who they hire and who they keep on their team. However, every company is always hiring as long as they believe they are getting an amazingly talented person who fits well within their culture.

Transferable skills are what will make you a person of interest in multiple industries. I define a “skill” as something you do with a high degree of competency and passion. A “transferable skill” is one that can be taken from one type of job and applied successfully to another job.


  • Title: X-ray Technician
  • Current Industry: Medical
  • Desired Industry: Hospitality
  • Nontransferable: Evaluating X-ray scans
  • Transferable: Solving complex technical issues

An X-ray technician with an interest in operations jobs won’t be able to use his training in reading scans, but he can redirect his ability to understand and solve complicated technical issues.

Your job is to know your skills, hone your skills, showcase your skills, and charge for your skills — in that order.

Too often, I’ve seen people charge for skills they plan on developing later. They might get through the door once with that approach, but they won’t build a great career that way.

Think of your skills as a new product your company wants to sell and eventually make a lot of money with. First, your company would work to understand what product would be of value to its customers. Next, it would work to create and improve the product. Then it would let customers know that the product was available by showcasing it in a variety of ways. And finally, it would charge an appropriate amount in order to generate a profit for the business. These are the same four steps I want you to consider in accelerating your career.

Step 1: Know your transferable skills.

The first step is to understand what you do well and with passion. This has nothing to do with your current age, years of experience, title, income, height, gender, race or anything else. When you strip away everything else, what you’re left with is the value you bring to any situation and that is the combination of your strengths and your passions.

Write down your answers to this question, “What do I do well with passion?”

As I mentally scanned across the more than 150 executives I’ve personally coached, I’ve landed on one I will use as my example in this article, even though the person’s name was not Art. Here’s how he identified his transferable skills:

Art’s Transferable Skills (what he did well with passion)

  • Very organized. Always shows up on time prepared for the discussion.
  • Exceptionally good listener in private conversations and large forums.
  • Starts each day with a checklist and stays focused on getting things off the checklist.
  • Very good at facilitating group discussions and drawing input from a variety of people.
  • Can both take and give direction in a professional, classy manner.
  • Can explain plans to a group in a friendly, down-to-earth manner.
  • Willing to change approaches depending on the makeup of the group.

Step 2: Hone your transferable skills.

Once you know the transferable skills you bring to the party, the next step is to make each of them better. Just as Apple continually works to improve each new iteration of its iPhone and Disney/Pixar Animation Studios works to improve each new film it makes, you need to sharpen your transferable skills continually.

Art worked very hard over a number of years to improve his good listening skills in order to become a fantastic listener, his skills at facilitation to become the person everyone wanted to facilitate meetings, and his public-speaking skills to be an even more polished speaker to whom more people could be comfortable listening.

Step 3: Showcase your transferable skills.

Of course, having well-honed transferable skills will not help your career if no key decision-maker knows about them. You have to put these skills into motion where the right people can see you in order for them to consider you for new positions. Unfortunately, most of these opportunities come disguised in “no- or low-pay” options. Who cares? Think of them as “career-accelerating” options. Just as a great new product needs to be nurtured in the marketplace until customers know about it, your skills have to be demonstrated over and over until the right people notice them.

Make a list of every opportunity you can think of to demonstrate your skills, both within and outside your current organization. The objective is to get people talking about your skills. Here are a dozen or so ways I’ve seen people demonstrate their skills:

  • Join a local professional association and volunteer to run a fundraising event. Demonstrate your organizational and leadership skills.
  • Offer to emcee an important community event. Do a killer job in your opening and closing remarks and in keeping the event moving smoothly and on time.
  • Volunteer to mentor up-and-coming employees in your organization. This is what Art did. After three of his protégés proved to be highly successful employees, Art was promoted into a far more senior management position.
  • Offer to work with long-term difficult clients. Demonstrate your ability to solve problems and create win-win scenarios for the company and the customer.
  • Start a not-for-profit organization on a volunteer basis and make an enormous impact in your neighborhood. I saw one person collect hundreds of baseball gloves, bats and balls and then take them to the poorest neighborhoods in the Dominican Republic. A lot of people sat up and took notice of his organizational and inspirational skills.
  • Join a local Toastmasters group and/or take a Dale Carnegie Course on public speaking. You will meet a few dozen people from a variety of organizations, and they will hear you speak on topics of your choice. One really good speech can lead to several really good conversations that might lead to all kinds of things.
  • Become a board member of an association about which you care deeply. Take your responsibility as seriously as you do your own job. Demonstrate that you can be on time, prepared and willing to tackle touchy subjects.
  • Within your organization, take a lateral assignment overseas to show you can operate successfully in multiple cultures.
  • Take a pay cut to move into a different department in order to let new people see your specific skills.
  • Offer to do a breakout session at a national trade conference to demonstrate your skills in front of a variety of decision-makers and recommenders in other companies.
  • Get involved in community groups such as a religious organization, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America, Optimists Club or Rotary Clubs. In casual conversations, be willing to add value to what the other person wants to achieve.
  • Head up a high-school or college reunion. Demonstrate expertise in social-networking tools and other technological ways of enhancing the event.
  • Write articles for your in-house publications and trade publications both within and outside your industry. Articles are a great way to deliver value to other people.

Step 4: Charge for your transferable skills.

In the end, your transferable skills are of great value to a number of organizations. Don’t take them lightly. You’ve spent years honing and showcasing these skills. They quite literally are your stock in trade. But don’t toss them around lightly. Just as a great product deserves to demand a great price, you definitely will have earned the right to request a strong compensation package. If you don’t take seriously the value of what you bring to an organization, how can you expect other people to do so?

You can deliver value at low prices during the showcasing stage, but when it comes down to the hiring stage, you need to ask for what you honestly believe you’re worth. Don’t start low with the expectation your income will rise dramatically. If your new employer can get your transferable skills on a full-time basis at a low price, why will she double your salary in a short time? Your new boss knows the value she is receiving because you’ve already showcased it. Now you need to request the value you think you deserve in the form of compensation.

There they are. Four steps to leverage your transferable skills and accelerate your career.