Key transferrable skills (KTSs) are the skills which are seen as being integral to the make-up of effective individuals and team members regardless of the specifics of the role or industry – employers across a wide range of industries tend to agree that they are the most desirable attributes for employees to have. This means they are developed and valued across a wide range of jobs and activities and can successfully be transferred from one situation to another.

KTSs really come into play when you’re changing career direction or applying for your first job or a graduate position. In these situations you may be missing some of the more specific skills and experience involved in the roles you are going for and therefore you’ll need to show that you have gained skills from your previous experiences which will be valuable in this new setting.

So what skills in particular are the key transferrable ones?

Searching around you’ll see various lists of KTSs which are all a little different due to the different way that people define, group and name skills. There really is no definitive list but here’s a sample of what you’re likely to find.

  • communication
  • interpersonal
  • self motivation
  • computer literacy and technical knowledge
  • knowledge acquisition
  • teamwork
  • literacy and numeracy
  • conceptual thinking and problem solving
  • languages
  • research
  • self management and motivation
  • Leadership and management
  • Flexibility
  • prioritising

You might think yourself to possess many of the skills in this list and you’d be right, we all do to different degrees. But the important thing is to know that you can really only tick that box if you can point to previous experiences where you’ve proven that you possess that skill. That’s the ‘transferrable’ part: got skill, will travel. The good news is that this is easy to do once you know how.

Here’s an example from my own experience.

Having studied Fine Art and Art History and then gone into teaching I decided to make a risky switch into web development. I emphasised my KTSs (sometimes called leveraging KTSs) that are important in website maintenance and development really played a part in making that switch a successful one. My prior experience in art and teaching provide skills which transfer easily into web development – particularly in the key area of communication. The arts, teaching and web development are all strongly about communication. So in my career switch I was really able to leverage the ability to communicate well through a variety of means and contexts as my key transferrable skill. From there you can get more specific, such as the ability to adjust communication style to match the audience etc. I must say that for me the communication aspect that ties these different areas together isn’t a coincidence but is probably the reason why I have these interests in the first place and you might be able to find the thread that runs through your interests and career options in a similar way.

Should I just say I have a lot of those key transferrable skills then?

Not willy nilly no. You don’t want to water down your CV with a bunch of really generic skills. If you can, use them to add some weight (gravitas, not bulk) to your CV where a role might be asking and you might be lacking. As I’ve already mentioned it’s imperative that you can backup any claim you make, but to illustrate the point I’ll give an example from a great deal of CVs which come through our doors. These often say that the applicant has great communication skills, but when that claim isn’t backed up with evidence in the way of experiences then that’s easy to dismiss as a generic filler as if you’ve run out of good things to say about yourself.

Try instead to give an example of how you’ve demonstrated or developed that skill such as:

An ability to communicate well and facilitate discussion as demonstrated in my role of tutor for 300 level Psychology courses.

The more you can match your skills with the finer detail of the role the better but knowing how to emphasise you KTSs means you’ll have a go to technique for those areas where you might have less experience. 

Our stuff

I’ve mentioned the Career View issues before but if you’re a graduate applying for work and you need to leverage your key transferrable skills these can be helpful. Each issue focuses on a degree subject and lists the skills you’re likely to gain in that subject and how those skills are developed. this can be useful when it comes time to show you’ve got the key skills.

Browse the Career View series

Thanks for reading – feel free to leave a comment and add to the discussion or ask a question.

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Advice, CVs, Graduate jobs, Job application, Looking for work, Skills development, Work experience


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