Use transferable job skills for your job search

When people know I write about jobs and careers on the web, it is natural to get asked at social events about all things job related. So when a friend sat down and started talking about his job search, I knew I needed to listen carefully because he was — just like you — looking for answers to a vexing job search question.

“I’ve got all of this experience,” he noted. “But it doesn’t seem like I’m qualified for anything except what I did before getting laid off. I supported a proprietary mortgage system that isn’t used anywhere else and the job openings are for systems I’ve never used. I just look at the qualifications and throw my hands in the air.”

Understandable, isn’t it? Companies today want 5,000 qualifications — exact qualifications — for their job openings and people don’t have all of them. And, I’d contend, nor should they.

Now, my friend is so competent at what he does that any company should jump up and down to get him in the door. But they won’t do it because he is having a hard time showing transferable job skills. When I mentioned transferable job skills, he noted that the counselor at the initial unemployment compensation meeting said that most people have over 300 transferable job skills.

Yup, and you do too.

Transferable job skills defined

Transferable job skills are those that can “transfer” from one job to another without much adjustment. If you write code, the language you use to write the code is a transferable skill from one company to the next as long as both companies use the same coding language.

But many jobs are not that cut and dried. So job seekers need to discover what their true job skills are that can transfer from one job to the next, regardless of the qualifications needed for a particular position.

Get perspective before getting detailed

What my friend was doing was looking at his specific, in the weeds, qualifications and comparing them to the specific, in the weeds, qualifications of the job posting. It’s a losing position.

When I coached him, I noted first that his job skill wasn’t that he supported a proprietary mortgage system. Instead, he supported a “highly complex system that needed superior analytical skills to service customers.” In other words, my friend is not your average analyst working on simple systems. No, it was proprietary. It was hard to learn. He did. Your system? Piece of cake to learn.

Another area to look at is customers. My friend’s customers were highly paid (read: impatient, unwilling to learn, and hard to please) mortgage lenders who, back in the day, were making tons of money — impeded only by this proprietary mortgage system. The skill here isn’t just supporting customers; anyone can say that. His expertise is the “ability to work with highly stressed customers to resolve system issues enabling both them and the bank to make money.” Keeping customers happy and making the company money is a great transferable job skill.

When you look at your resume, think of it this way: Can the job skills you state on your resume be understood by someone not working at your company? If it doesn’t, recruiters and gatekeepers to the hiring manager won’t understand your job skills and you’ll never get that first interview for the position.

Move your view up 10,000 feet. Look at the forest of your job skills, not the inner most branch of a single tree.

Once you see the forest, get specific

While my friend had his job skills perspective one inch from the ground, saying that you “work well on a team” — a transferable job skill — doesn’t cut it either.

The job skill needs enough specificity to be credible to the person reading the resume. “Works well on a team” is not good compared to “works well on teams that are high performing, highly competent people.”

The key ingredient in getting specific enough is to ask “why?” Why do you work well on a team? Why does the team need to be high performing? Why does the team need highly competent people? Answering the “why” question then prepares you for the interviews to come. Your transferable job skill is specifically stated — and that stands out.

Show results for your job skills

Showing just your transferable job skills is not enough, however. Every hiring manager wants to know the results you achieved in your position.

Results mean numbers out of a reporting system tied to how important the work was to the department or company. It is not enough to say that revenue from your work increased. You have to say it increased 3% and how that happened from your work.

The starting place for this information is — if you have written a good performance review — to look at the goal attainment. Numbers should be there. So should the importance of the work to your department or company, otherwise you wouldn’t have had the goal, would you?

Transferable job skills, specificity and results make you competitive

Results, and the impact to the department from your work, show your success on the job. Hiring managers want successful people to help them reach their goals. Showing transferable job skills with good results on the job places you in a better competitive position to not only get the interview, but get the job.

How easily can you show your transferable job skills?

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  1. [...] Finally, your job skills are a whole set of resume keywords. If you program in Ruby on Rails, you need to say that on the resume. If you have disaster recovery project management experience, disaster recovery needs to be in your resume. And if you are trying to break into a new field, your old keywords won’t match up to what is needed in the new field. [...]

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