The problems with transferrable skills
It’s one of those words that gets thrown out there with very little explanation. So much so, candidates with little knowledge or understanding of transferable skills will not know how to use this information or talk about them during an interview.
It’s a highly competitive job market right now and there are higher than usual pressures and demands placed on employees.
Hiring managers need their workforce to take on high workloads, be extremely adaptable, and get up to full speed fairly rapidly.
Hiring decisions have never been more important to get right the first time.
The hiring process costs a lot of time and money for most organizations. Hiring managers are constantly trying to minimize the risks associated with poor recruitment decisions.
Let me be frank – if a hiring manager is given the choice between a candidate with experience and one with some loosely fitting, generic set of transferable skills – SORRY they will almost certainly select the candidates with the direct experience.
UNLESS, and this is massively misunderstood when talking about transferrable skills, you avoid the common problems below.
However, not only should you be avoiding these big problems, you should be making the link between your behavioural competencies and the nature of the job crystal clear. I’ll talk about this point later in the blog.
Here are five big problems with transferable skills:
1# Talk is cheap
Simply sharing your opinion during an interview is worth very little. Particularly if you are sharing your opinion about your skills and capability.
I’m good at this and that just simply won’t do.
Sorry to burst your bubble!
Who cares about what you think or your opinion at this stage (nothing personal!!) – we don’t know you…yet…
Just saying you have transferable skills means absolutely nothing. And, while I’m at it, saying you match the skills on the job description, just isn’t enough.
Throwing out some trendy, on-point buzzwords in the hope they will sound ultra-positive will not fool most recruiters or hiring managers.
Even worse if you try this tactic on a CV or Cover Letter. Trying to convince someone you don’t know to take a gamble on you being the right candidate to solve all their problems is slightly misguided. Ambitious absolutely! But let’s be realistic here too.
In the words of Simon Cowell “There’s a difference between being confident and deluded…”
Recruiters and hiring managers do not have the time to work out whether someone has the potential to do well and it’s also ridiculously challenging to do on paper, let alone during an interview.
Keep reading as I’ll share and explain the importance of providing evidence later.
2# No context
This is a big mistake made by candidates that don’t explain the nature of the achievement well.
They miss out on important aspects of the situation when sharing their achievements. Important aspects that make a huge difference and can be the difference between an average example and an outstanding example.
Context is critical because it tells the receiver, the hiring manager, what importance to place on something, what assumptions to draw (or not) about what is being communicated, and most importantly, it puts meaning into the message.
That’s why it’s essential to be able to paint a very clear picture of the situation and circumstances surrounding the example.
Without explaining the context of an event or achievement it’s unlikely someone outside of your organization, sector, or industry will really grasp or understand the situation.
Here are some examples where context was an important aspect of an example:
- Outstanding planning and organizing skills: I’ve coached hundreds of service personnel leaving the military. The context here is essential to add to every example shared. When they are working away from their home country they have to plan meticulously. They need to think ahead and consider lots of eventualities occurring to either reduce the risks or mitigate them.
- What did you have to demonstrate to be promoted: There was a time a client was talking about a promotion they’d achieved. It wasn’t until I started probing that he told me there were 300 people internally that were being considered. It was a big organization! It’s great to share a time when you were promoted. However, to make it really stand out you need to explain the reasons and criteria you had to meet to be awarded that promotion.
- Precision engineer. It’s all in the detail: Another time I was coaching an engineer and he shared an example with me. He talked about stopping the production line for what seemed like a tiny issue and sounded a bit OTT (Over the top!). I probed for more information. He then shared the implications of sending out a batch of components with a tiny fault (even on a small percentage of parts) through to the customer. The costs and penalties were huge, not to mention the reputation and implications of losing a big-paying client. Adding the context here made the example commercial and demonstrated his decision-making skills, and his ability to consider the bigger picture.
- Paint the picture: One of my clients was talking through an example that was supposed to be demonstrating the ability to manage a high workload. She said she’d normally be working on two reviews a week. To me, that didn’t sound that busy! However, when I probed and asked her to outline what was involved with each review it was clear how much work she had to do. Each review was about 90-pages, there were lots of primary and secondary sources of information she had to check for accuracy, and lots of relevant policies to adhere to. This additional information was critical to share in the next interview.
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3# Same done-to-death skills
Everyone claims the same set of common skills – boring!
I’ve got great communication skills. I’m good at problem-solving. I am a people person! I’m this and I’m that!
The transferable skills they mention are so broad they could fit almost any job out there – and there are lots of jobs!
You will NOT stand out if you churn out the same bland and usual transferable skills. Hiring managers have heard it a hundred times before.
You as a candidate must make the link between your transferable skills to the job you are applying for clear. You can leave no doubt in the hiring manager’s mind that you can do the job.
Do the work for the hiring manager. You need to present a compelling case that you have the capability to be productive in this job.
What does this require?
If you asked this question, brilliant! It means you are willing to do the work and research what the job involves.
You need a very clear understanding and some knowledge about the new job (the job you are transferring to!). Otherwise, you don’t stand a chance.
I moved into HR without any HR experience. I’ve shared before that I didn’t even know what HR did when I started applying; HR doesn’t make things, they don’t fix things, and they don’t sell anything!
However, I quickly took on board feedback and comments, and did some networking with recruitment agencies, and researched fully what was required to be in HR.
Some of you reading this article will know at the time I produced a SWOT analysis and was honest about what I had that matched the job, what I fell short of, and what I was willing to do to close the gap.
It was mainly having the CIPD qualification and I’d looked at all my options to be able to fund this training course. Re-mortgaging my property, Career Development Loans, Bank loans, working overtime, evenings and weekend work, etc.
4# No proof or evidence
I’m surprised this still happens today. You need to provide evidence and proof of your competence and capability.
It’s NOT just talking about how many transferable skills you have that match the job criteria.
The best way to do this is by providing specific examples that demonstrate you’ve been there and done it for real.
I know what you’re thinking! Without direct experience, you cannot share the best examples.
You CAN if you do your research and homework about the nature of the job.
As outlined in the last point, you must select examples that clearly link to the job you are applying for. You can amend your examples to demonstrate behaviours, events, and similar scenarios that transfer.
However, to do this effectively you must first understand the nature of the job. You can do this by conducting your own research, or you can network with people in these jobs and sectors.
And, if you know me at all, you’ll know LinkedIn is a great place to find people and network!
5# Assuming transferable skills trumps other candidates with experience
A mistake made when coaching individuals about transferable skills are that this automatically makes you a perfect fit. There are so many variables with making hiring decisions, it really isn’t just one thing.
People also think there are just two different groups of people when making a hiring decision.
“Ask a Manager” explains this well.
“And it’s not like it’s a question of smart, capable people with no direct experience but transferable skills against not-so-smart-or-capable people with direct experience.
There are smart, capable people in both groups, so of course the smart, capable people with direct experience are the most attractive.”
In this market, there are tons of well-qualified and experienced individuals. That’s your competition. There are ‘risks’ associated with taking on someone with no proven ability or experience in that field.
In this current climate, there’s no need to take risks. There’ll be plenty of well-qualified individuals.
You as a candidate must make the link between your transferable skills to the job you are applying for clear. You can leave no doubt in the hiring manager’s mind that you can do the job. The examples you select must be relevant, make sense, and match the nature of the new job requirements.
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