How Can Transferable Skills Help You in a Career Change?

By Kelly Tabbutt

for hire sign
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Adaptable Job-Seekers Can Thrive Even in an Uncertain Economy

We are living in very uncertain times. On top of the uncertainty around the pandemic and the economy, many unemployed or underemployed people, especially in the most affected industries (for example, travel, entertainment, events staff, etc.) may find that their traditional options are quickly diminishing. Furloughed and laid off staff — or anyone else tired of their current situation — may decide that a career change is required.

Many people are facing a time when they must learn to be creative and adaptable when it comes to looking for jobs. This creativity in career path means that job-seekers must take stock of their transferable skills gained and refined in previous work or training. Transferable skills refer to skills that can be used in a variety of jobs across various industries and career paths. Soft and hard skills are two types of skills that can both be generalizable across various sectors.

To be adaptive in an uncertain economy, one must inventory their soft and hard skills gained and refined in previous work and training (or even gained outside of work).

This blog will explain the difference between soft and hard skills, discuss how both of these skillsets can be used to transition to a new career path, and how to express your skills in a way that will make you a competitive candidate in any field.

Soft Skills Versus Hard Skills

Soft skills are those skills that have to do with how you work. Soft skills indicate your work personality and work ethic. “Work personality” has to do with the attitude and perception you have toward your work. It is the way you approach your bosses, your co-workers, or your subordinates, as well as how you approach clients. It also has to do with how you approach the work itself and workplace challenges. “Work ethic” has to do with the value you place on your work as demonstrated through personal qualities such as timeliness, efficiency, productivity, work quality, and initiative.

Hard skills are those skills that have to do with what work you can do. Hard skills are about technical and professional capacities, including skills specific to your industry that you have acquired on-the-job or through training and/or education. Hard skills include your level of proficiency with certain technology or computer programs and field or job-specific procedures for carrying out work.

Those in high-tech or other specialized industries in which hard skills are prized may assume that soft skills don’t count as much. However, the truth is that soft skills factor into employability across many industries, especially for things like performing well on job interviews or interacting with colleagues or customers. Interpersonal and communication skills are examples of soft skills which are essential for any type of work, even if the job is a highly technical one which also requires specific hard skills.

What are the Most Transferable Soft Skills?

As I just mentioned, soft skills are, by nature, highly transferable because they are sought after in a variety of workplace settings, industries, and sectors. The eight most in-demand soft skills, according to Indeed and LinkedIn, are: creativity, communication, interpersonal skills, problem solving, teamwork, learning, organizational skills, and personal management skills. Here’s a bit more about each of these soft skills and why they’re so in demand:

  1. Creativity is about your ability to both produce pioneering projects and solutions, and to remain open to adopting innovative ideas, alternate paths, and novel methods.
  2. Communication refers to clarity, efficiency, and tact in how you relay information to co-workers, colleagues, and/or clients (customers).
  3. Interpersonal Skills focus on your capacity for emotional intelligence, your level of self-awareness, and your awareness of the importance of self-presentation to display both leadership and cooperation.
  4. Problem-Solving is both about your ability to produce creative and workable solutions and your ability to persist until you reach a solution — and remain calm and open-minded in face of setbacks and other issues.
  5. Teamwork is about working harmoniously as well as productively with others.
  6. Learning relates to both your ability to pick up new skills and information and your desire to do so.
  7. Organizational Skills relate to all aspects of work ethic. The ability to organize your work tasks is also the ability to prioritize your work so that you can efficiently produce quality work, maintain productivity, and meet deadlines – all of which demonstrate your initiative.
  8. Personal Management Skills relate to your ability to harness and maintain initiative to carry out your work to your highest capacity and meet deadlines.

Soft skills are important because they tell employers how you work with others, how you approach your work, and about your perceived work ethic.

Soft skills are more universally needed, and therefore more transferable, than hard skills. They are also easier to acquire than hard skills in most cases as you can develop them a variety of ways. Most likely, you already have these skills, but have never thought of them as specifically important. So, if you’re making a career change, consider taking stock of your soft skills to be better able to highlight them in the job application process, and especially in any interviews.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

What are the Most Transferable Hard Skills?

Hard skills are much more straightforward because they are more specific to particular sectors. For example, according to CNBC, the ten most globally in-demand hard skills are capacities for:

  1. Blockchain (the record-keeping technology behind cryptocurrencies such as BitCoin)
  2. Cloud Computing
  3. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  4. Usability (UX) design
  5. Business Analysis
  6. Affiliate Marketing
  7. Sales
  8. Scientific Computing
  9. Video Production
  10. Analytical Reasoning

Unlike most soft skills, hard skills, such as the most in-demand hard skills listed above, often require specific training and/or education. However, like with soft skills, you can take stock of your hard skills and repurpose them for a career change with a bit of creativity (and a desire to learn).

Re-Packaging Hard Skills for a Different Sector

The trick to carrying hard skills over to other sectors is to think about the more generalized skillset that comes along with your specific hard skills, and then applying that more generalized skillset to other career fields. Looking at the list of the ten most globally sought-after hard skills, we can see that generally they revolve around business (blockchain, UX design, business analysis, affiliate marketing, sales, and analytical reasoning); science, including computer science (artificial intelligence, scientific computing, and analytical reasoning); and production – most often web content production (UX design and video production).

The trick to carrying hard skills over to other sectors is to think about the more generalized skillset that comes along with your specific hard skills.

One obvious way to be more attractive to employers is to acquire more hard skills. So, for example, if you have a science background, you have developed analytical reasoning skills through learning the scientific method. You are likely also good at research, so taking an online course on AI or blockchain could help you develop more technical skills that can be used in many different employment contexts. If you are a freelancer, you may consider branching out in different fields (e.g., a science writer can take on a business writing project) to gain more specific technical experience. Being flexible and willing to learn is essential for acquiring new hard skills.

It may not always be feasible to develop more skills, especially when you’re unemployed and may have many other competing demands in your life such as looking for jobs. The good news is that if you don’t have the resources or time to acquire new skills right now, all you need to do to stay competitive in the job market is to think about your existing hard skills differently, as I talk about next.

Generalizable Skillsets to Get Your Foot in the Door

While there are, of course, many higher-level positions which will require that you come in with very specific capabilities and knowledge, there are a number of medium to lower-level (foot-in-the-door) positions where you could obtain on-the-job or external training while working to develop these specific skills relatively quickly – as long as you have a baseline capacity in the general skill area.

With this mindset, there is another way to organize this list of skills to see that they revolve around skillsets involving: web program adeptness, web content production, scientific knowledge, and analytical skills. These skillsets are indicative of the nature and direction of the job market today: tech and web-based, business-minded, and scientifically-driven.

Baseline Capacity + Drive to Learn = Greater Chance of Employer Investment

The key to adapting hard skills to another sector – specifically one which requires unique but parallel skills – is to demonstrate your capacity with the required type of skill and your drive and ability to quickly master new skills. The hardest and most time-consuming aspect of learning a new hard skill is becoming familiar with the technical jargon and building a comprehension of the purpose and mechanisms behind production using that skill.

When transferring to a new employment sector, you will almost always need to convince your potential employer that it is worth it to invest in you by investing in your on-the-job learning. If you can demonstrate a baseline knowledge of key technical language and understanding of the purpose and mechanism of work using this skill, you have already overcome the biggest hurdle. Employers will be more likely to invest in you – including training you – when you can demonstrate that it will not cost them significant time and resources. 

Conclusion

Knowing how to look at and (re-)package your work skills is extremely valuable.

Even in more certain times, knowing how to look at and (re-)package your work skills is extremely valuable. It allows you both the power and freedom to pursue opportunities as they present themselves. Soft skills are by nature more generalizable. Hard skills (which are becoming an increasingly valuable commodity) are by nature more difficult to apply across sectors because of they are job and field-specific. However, if you can demonstrate a solid baseline capacity, and are willing and driven to put the work in to hone new skills, many hard skills can be re-packaged to apply to different fields in a way that will convince potential employers that you are worth the investment.

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