Transferable Skills: What They Are And How You Can Obtain Them


When people hear the word “skills,” they often think of specific, rigid abilities like knowing a programming language or being able to fix a certain type of machine. While these types of knowledge are certainly nice to have on your resume, there’s another set of capabilities that might be even more important: transferable skills.

Developing general strengths that apply to many industries and professions gives you greater flexibility. Your realm of possibilities widens, you become more valuable to clients and employers, and you gain confidence from knowing you can do all sorts of jobs effectively. If you’re looking to take positive steps in your career, you can start by making a conscious effort to acquire these flexible skills.

What Are Transferable Skills?

As the name suggests, transferable skills are abilities you can apply in various facets of your life. You’ve been acquiring them naturally since you were born, and you probably use them every day without noticing.

Examples include:

  • Critical thinking
  • Communication
  • Problem-solving
  • Leadership
  • Adaptability
  • Attention to detail
  • Tech literacy

Why Transferable Skills Are So Important

Between the rise of new technologies and pandemic-related disruptions, the face of the economy is rapidly evolving. Unprecedented numbers of people are leaving their jobs, reassessing their lives, and pursuing new careers. In the midst of so much change, you can’t count on your specific skills applying to a new profession. Transferable skills, on the other hand, will prove useful wherever you go.

Today’s employers understand the volatile nature of the modern world. A specific skill that’s critical today might be practically useless in just a few years. What will always have value, on the other hand, are general capabilities around communication and problem solving. By cultivating these skills, you’ll make yourself an asset to the widest possible range of clients and employers.

Tips for Acquiring Transferable Skills

People sometimes think skills like critical thinking and adaptability are innate qualities that you have to be born with. Don’t make this mistake. Sure, some people might be naturally inclined to think and act in certain ways, but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve your own capabilities. After all, they wouldn’t be called “skills” if you couldn’t learn them.

With that being said, it can be difficult to know how to acquire these general, human-centric capabilities. Obtaining specific skills is often straightforward – if you want to learn to program, take a class; if you want to type faster, learn the proper techniques and practice. Transferable skills are less concrete, and there’s no way to learn them directly. All the same, there’s plenty you can do to add them to your toolbelt.

Try to Be a Leader

It seems obvious that trying to act as a leader in the workplace will improve your leadership abilities. What’s less clear – but not less important – is that taking on leadership roles can help you acquire other skills as well. When you put yourself in charge of a team, you force yourself to think critically, communicate effectively, and pay attention to details. You also start to feel accountable to the team, which only motivates you to improve your performance. As you make a habit of acting as a leader, either formally through gaining new positions or informally by taking charge and motivating your peers, your all-around skills will flourish.

Make Communication a Central Focus

Almost all transferable skills either center around communication or require effective communication to be employed. Nobody works in a vacuum, and even independent workers depend on the human infrastructure around them. If you master the art of communication, you’ll become a more valuable asset in any field.

Improving your communication skills requires willing yourself to do better. You probably already talk to your colleagues regularly, but you might not make a conscious effort to actively listen, respond with clarity, and bring everybody into the conversation. When you make a point of forming these habits, you quickly become a better communicator – and the people around you will notice.

Practice Outside of the Workplace

The great thing about transferable skills is that they’re so general. Just like you can apply them anywhere, you can also learn them anywhere. That means you can improve your leadership skills while coaching your child’s soccer team or hone your communication abilities at a family reunion. The key is simply to make a conscious attempt to grow, practicing wherever the opportunity presents itself. When you make this commitment to self-improvement, there’s no telling what doors could open for you.


About the Author: Ben Clabault is a freelance writer from Sandwich, Massachusetts. He has spent much of his adult life traveling through Latin America. He currently lives with his fiance in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. His areas of expertise include travel, marketing, SaaS, and global cultures. You can find his work on Copyfolio and reach out to him on LinkedIn.

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