Not (Yet) Your Dream Job: How to Communicate Transferable Skills Early in Your Career

Jul 30, 2021 | Job Search Strategy

Let's talk transferable skills

Identifying and highlighting your transferable skills is key during your job search. Here’s how to get started, especially if you’re thinking “I haven’t worked a job in my field yet!”

By: Katelyn Skye Bennett | Contributor for Let’s Eat, Grandma

Attention all young job seekers: Don’t discount the jobs where you’ve gained transferable skills, even if you haven’t worked in your dream field just yet.

Your formal and informal work experience likely translates to your career path more than you might realize! Volunteering and education also help you gain skills that you can communicate on job applications.

If you’re wondering how to explain a job on your resume if it doesn’t have anything to do with the job you want, don’t despair. The trick is in emphasizing your transferable skills. You just need to consider what core strengths you’re using, and then frame them in a way that employers will understand throughout your resume, cover letters, and in interviews.

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How to Assess Your Transferable Skills

People working together. Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Communication and teamwork are top transferable skills to showcase. Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

To get started, let’s think about the hard and soft skills you’ve gained that could apply to other jobs. We’ll go through some examples and then finish by showing you how to integrate these into your applications.

First, to check it off the list, consider what technical skills you might have, like using a Hoyer Lift, having a forklift license, or knowing a particular coding language or software. Some of these may transfer easily into your job applications.

For example, experience changing diapers for seniors and using special equipment to lift and transport them can be easily rephrased into medical terms regarding patient care. This is a rather direct career step.

Reporting at a nursing home can also translate to case notes in social work, student reporting in childcare or education, or management level organizational and communication skills, whether related to health care or in other industries.

While the technical details might not be relevant, like the particular reporting software used, the overarching skills that went into the job might.

If you’re a new graduate, whether from high school or higher education, think about your professional, academic, and extracurricular experiences and consider what skills might be rephrased for your preferred position. List out every hard skill you can think of and compare them to the ones on the job description you’ve pulled up today.

Next, look at your soft skills, like various aspects of communication, teamwork, compassion, problem-solving, and attention to detail. What does your desired career require, and how have you practiced those highly transferable skills, even through a job that looks different at face value?

The key is to isolate your strengths from within and then name or reframe those.

Let’s break it down with some specific examples for both college graduates and high school-educated Americans.

Examples for College Graduates

For example, in social work and nonprofits, skills like reporting, case management, direct service with clients, and the experience of working under a grant tend to apply across the board.

Maybe you’ve started out working with a SNAP employment program but ultimately want a job working with new moms. You can show how your experience with SNAP services has given you a better understanding of programs like TANF and WIC, both of which work with parents. Moreover, working with low-income families in general might have given you direct experience with new moms, which you can emphasize.

You might have worked in lobbying or activism but want to move from influencing the decision-makers to being one. These experiences can bolster your resume for policy-related jobs. Data analysis and consulting are also transferable skills that could contribute to your government resume.

Or perhaps you’ve gotten your degree in education, but you haven’t had the professional experience you expected, having graduated in a pandemic. Nannying, tutoring, substitute teaching, working as a student assistant or teacher’s aide, and leading summer camps have all taught you transferable skills that you’ll use as a lead teacher now that schools are reopening!

Examples for High School Graduates

Photo by Ani Kolleshi on Unsplash

Even if your current job is just a stepping stone to your dream job, you’re gaining plenty of skills that employers will find valuable later on. Photo by Ani Kolleshi on Unsplash

This is true if you have a high school education as well!

Let’s say you’re interested in health care, for illustration’s sake. (If you’re not interested in health care, apply this framework to your chosen trade or career using the strength-based assessments mentioned at the beginning.)

Many young adults choose to pursue phlebotomy, become a certified nursing assistant or medical assistant, or complete the full training to be a patient care technician, with hopes of saving up money to return for nursing school later in life.

Some of the underlying strengths of a medical assistant include compassion and creativity in verbal communication, writing ability or computer competency, attention to detail, and focus.

Transferable skills for youth who are interested in becoming a CNA can include caregiving experience, whether for family members or professionally; soft skills like compassion and problem-solving, as many CNAs work with vulnerable patients; and any physical labor or people-related work like customer service, early education experience, changing diapers, and more.

While in school for any kind of medical degree or certification, any form of hospital work can provide the connections to help you network upward once you are certified and gain related experience.

Whether you land an administrative position, a job in the kitchen, or role doing security up front, you’ll gain valuable experience working with patients and their families and a more detailed understanding of the medical system as a whole.

You’ll also have a health care company listed on your resume, enticing employers – or even that same medical system – as you apply for more targeted positions as you work toward your certification!

Examples for Everyone

Again, this applies across the board, no matter what industry you’re pursuing.

Your previous work in customer service or at a call center has gifted you with the people skills and patience to work in education or in local government today, and it can shed insight for marketing careers.

Past warehouse experience will benefit you as you apply for forklift certifications and upper management positions. The physical skills you’ve gained, like sorting, labeling, and lifting, and as well as organizational and interpersonal skills like project planning and communicating with a team apply both in and out of production and manufacturing.

Perhaps you’ve worked as a production associate or picker/packer ensuring quality of goods. This attention to detail might be helpful as you apply for jobs as a librarian, mechanic, phlebotomist, or surgeon today!

Putting It All Together: Showing Transferable Skills on Your Applications

Got a sense of how to assess your strengths? Let’s apply them to your job applications.

To get started, grab a paper and pen. Carefully read the job description you’re applying for. Write down the skills you have that they’re seeking and jot a note about where or how you practiced them. Be creative and don’t invalidate any of your experience, even if it’s unpaid.

Use key terms from the job description or search online for skills used commonly in your industry. Then go through that list and assess which ones you can claim for yourself and incorporate them in your application, even if you gained the skill in an unconventional way.

On your resume and cover letter, connect these examples to the industry as much as possible. Feel free to adapt terms like client, customer, and student as appropriate on your resume for easy skimming on the part of the employer.

Further Resources

  • Gallup strengths finder. This assessment tool, often offered by universities or workplaces, is excellent at drawing out your core strengths. It’s useful for interviewing and excellent for recognizing transferable skills both for your own guidance and for the jobs you pursue. The High 5 Test is a similar but shorter, free version.
  • Career quizzes on your state website, such as Illinois Worknet. These can help you examine what industries you are best suited for, where your interests align, and what skills you may already have without realizing!
  • Get some help from Grandma! Our Grandma’s Grad Guide is an affordable, downloadable DIY package that features tips from our expert resume writers.
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