Identifying and Articulating Your Transferable Skills

What are transferable skills?

“What relevant skills do you have for this position?” You will probably hear this question, or something similar during a job interview. And you may feel concerned about how you will answer it in a compelling way. What skills can you identify and discuss? Adaptability. Communication. Decision making. Flexibility. Initiative. Innovation. Leadership. Negotiation. Organisation. Problem solving. Teamwork. Time management. We often hear about a range of skills, attributes, competencies or strengths that are needed for our future careers to show that we are job-ready. The good news is that you have plenty to offer even when it may be difficult to identify, quantify and/or qualify, or talk about them.

Reflecting on and refining your skill sets can help you explore a range of non-academic jobs. When you browse job descriptions, what you may discover is that you already possess many of the required traits and experiences even if you don’t meet the exact (or all the) requirements outlined a job description. Don’t forget how important it is to be able to tell your future employer or co-workers that you are a well-rounded individual with more than just your technical expertise in a specific field.

So what are transferable skills? Transferable skills are abilities and attributes that will transfer from one environment to another such as academics, work, volunteerism or extra-curricular activities. In other words, these are skill sets that you can use in a range of different environments and careers, regardless of the specific job. Identifying transferable skills will help you present and talk about these different qualifications. They certainly enable a potential employer to distinguish between candidates with similar qualification backgrounds. Having a strong awareness of these can improve the competitiveness and impact of your resume/CV and/or cover letter, as well as give you “speaking points” for interviews, networking and career management discussions. In every setting that you will face professionally, the ability to effectively articulate your transferable skills, along with connecting these to specific examples of experience or accomplishments, can help you succeed in a job search process.

How can I reflect on my skills?

Completing graduate work requires you to acquire and hone a range of technical, accredited or certifiable skills—specialized knowledge and abilities. These are hard skills that you pick up from your academic and professional work/studies, such as analytical reasoning, research, information literacy, communication and a range of other discipline-specific skills. And quite often, we are fairly adept at documenting these on our CV/resume and speaking to related, especially in an academic setting.

Effectively documenting and talking about soft skills seems to be more challenging. These are abilities associated with behaviour or thinking, often tied to personal attributes and cognitive skills. And when we are asked to speak to these in the context of non-academic careers, the difficulty may significantly increase. The dilemma lies with the fact that most of these broad soft skills are often acquired through a combination of our academics, professional work and co-curricular opportunities, and we find it difficult to relate skills directly to specific experiences.

LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Forbes, Accenture, Deloitte and many other companies publish annual rankings of top 10 or 20 soft and hard skills “most likely to get you hired”. In recent years, these charts have identified in-demand soft skills like:

  • creativity
  • change management
  • persuasion
  • decision-making
  • collaboration or teamwork
  • adaptability
  • planning/organizing
  • emotional intelligence
  • positive attitude
  • conflict resolution
  • integrity
  • dependability
  • growth mindset
  • innovation
  • intercultural competency
  • leadership

Many of these skills may not be adequately captured in your submitted application (CV/resume or cover letter), but potential employers can ask many interview questions to get a better picture of the broader skill set that you bring to the table.

Could you think of an example from you own experience that would showcase each of the skills mentioned above?  For example, when exploring creativity, can you think of scenario when you solved a problem, created a new opportunity, or offered a unique perspective? Have you ever developed a new way to perform a task? Could you offer an example of when you were open-minded? Similarly, when reflecting on your emotional intelligence, can you identify a situation that involved your ability to perceive, evaluate and respond to your emotions or the emotions of others? How do you typically navigate the complexities of social interactions in a working group or project team?

How can I begin the process of identifying and categorizing your transferable skill?

There are several different ways of categorizing and conceptualizing transferable skills. In all of these, the key objective is to identify key transferable abilities within yourself, and to demonstrate them to the people who may want to hire you. So how can you do this? In the simplest way, you could simply classify them according to hard skills and soft skills. Nonetheless, there are many other categorization schemes that you could explore. We will follow a three step process to help you identify transferable skills related to teaching.

Step 1: Identify broad categories of skills. Explore a range of different categorization schemes to adapt one that best suits your experience.

Example 1: The New Skills Now Taxonomy, Accenture
(Adapted from Accenture, New Skills Now (2017))
Accenture identifies six skills families in its taxonomy of future skills sets. In each category, they have three levels of mastery: foundational, m

Example 2: Guide to transferable skills
(Adapted from Princeton University)

Example 3: Canada’s Employability Skills
(Adapted from the Conference Board of Canada)


Step 2: Identify specific skills within each of the various categories.

Example of Skill Set related to Teaching/Communication Skills
(Adapted from Preparing a Teaching Dossier, Centre for Leadership in Learning, McMaster University)


Step 3: Now, you are ready to make connections between transferable skills and experiences. Whether you are doing this in your application materials (resume/CV or cover letter) or in an interview, you will need to learn how to present and talk about your skills and experiences. Explore the three strategies below.

Strategy 1: Understanding the value of your experience
(Adapted from Work Study Professional Development Workbook, University of Toronto)

It can be challenging to reflect on and make connections between experiences and transferable skills. Take some time to think about your diverse experiences, what you accomplished and how this relates to a future potential career.

Strategy 2: Accomplishment Statements
(Adapted from Work Study Professional Development Workbook, University of Toronto)

When describing your experience on your resume, it is important that you use action verbs to describe both what you did and the result/impact of that experience:

Strategy 3: STAR method for interviews
(Adapted from Work Study Professional Development Workbook, University of Toronto)

During an interview you are often asked to describe a time when you demonstrated a particular competency. The STAR method is a great way to ensure you include all of the relevant details in your answer. Remember that most of your answer should focus on the Actions you took and the Results.