Transferable Skills: What To Look For When Hiring

CoachHub · 27 October 2022 · 5 min read

It’s tough out there for hiring managers. More than 11 million jobs are open in the U.S. on any given day, and people are jumping between companies at an unprecedented rate. Nonetheless, reeling in good candidates is essential to an organization’s ability to compete and grow. But how do you measure “good”? Applicant tracking systems make it easy to search for top talent with the hard skills necessary to do the job, but they’re not great at picking up on valuable soft skills. Talent acquisition is about the subtleties, too.  HR managers who insist that people have skills specific to their industry—even if those skills are transferable between industries—aren’t doing themselves any favors, either. 

Hard skills vs. soft skills

Hard skills are those taught via formal training and education. Knowing how to weld, for instance. Understanding accounting principles. The ability to use the scientific method. It’s easy enough to determine whether someone has the hard skills needed to do a job. Hiring managers should be able to establish that through resumes, applications, online profiles and phone calls. Certifications and advanced degrees signify greater knowledge in one’s field. Experience and increasing responsibility indicate the ability to tackle complex projects.

Soft skills are those that enable people to connect, collaborate, and manage themselves and others in the workplace. They include the ability to work in teams, solve conflicts, meet deadlines and deal with change. Generally, people don’t get degrees in soft skills. They’re learned through trial and error over a lifetime. They can also be gained via mentoring, coaching and on-the-job experience. They aren’t specific to an industry or role.

transferable skills

What are transferable skills?

Simply put, transferable skills are those portable skills that people can use in a wide range of settings. Some are hard skills. Candidate experience that includes supply chain logistics is applicable across numerous industries, from retail and technology to shipping and mining. Pricing analytics come into play whenever there are goods and services for sale. Technical skills, cybersecurity experience, and management skills are in demand by just about every company everywhere. 

Some transferable skills are soft skills. Communication skills are as important to a marketer as it is to a lawyer. Analytical thinking matters as much in the boardroom as it does in the operating room. Savvy negotiating skills are in demand whenever two parties face off. Mentoring is necessary for any company that wants to develop leaders from within. Intangible skills such as work ethic, enthusiasm, time management and resiliency are valuable in a variety of environments, too.

High potential employees have often cultivated a raft of transferable skills and work experience that companies are champing at the bit to take advantage of. For hiring managers drafting job descriptions, perusing candidates and setting up job interviews, the trick is figuring out how to find great people without inadvertently weeding them out.

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Matching hiring needs to transferable skills on a resume

Conventional wisdom in HR holds that the more detailed the job description, the more apt one is to find the right person for the job. Hiring software has also prompted hiring managers to stuff in every conceivable keyword. But how effective is either scenario? Are your detailed job descriptions turning away prime candidates during the job search? Keep in mind that job seekers are likely to make similarly limiting decisions when putting their resumes together. We’ve all been conditioned to align as closely to a job description as possible. This puts even more of an onus on hiring managers to uncover transferable skills on a resume. They should determine if someone has what it takes to be effective, not a bot. There is no substitute for human discretion.

Consider the phrase “preferred, but not required.” Job descriptions are rife with it. A candidate with superlative negotiating skills may feel confident about moving from their role as a contract negotiator for a chemical company to a contract negotiator for a healthcare provider—until they come across the phrase “healthcare experience preferred, but not required.” How many solid candidates will take themselves out of the running at that point? As for keywords, if the hiring manager insists upon “healthcare experience,” they may automatically eliminate a lot of people who would perform quite well in the role.  


Brevity may be the key

When it comes to job descriptions for talent acquisition, brevity may be the key. Hard skill must-haves should be featured prominently, but think broadly about the personal and professional attributes that enable people to thrive in the role, too. In an industry undergoing significant transformation, resiliency in the face of change may rise to the top of the list. If a company is in acquisition mode, the ability to interact effectively across cultures may be important.

Give thought to what people in other industries do, too. As we noted earlier, many hard skills are easily transferable across sectors. Could a candidate successfully switch career paths if they knew a bit more about the industry? Is the return on investment in their education worth it in the long run? Could they bring in a fresh perspective that sparks innovation? Could they help a company reel in clients they hadn’t known how to in the past? To borrow a phrase, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Company culture matters as well. What traits does a candidate need to flourish? Companies that encourage robust debate may not be the right fit for someone uncomfortable with conflict. Conversely, the fiery and outspoken may not suit an environment that values interpersonal skills, cooperation and teamwork. 

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Become adept at spotting transferrable skills examples on resumes and online profiles

In a tight labor market, coaching for hiring managers is invaluable. Transferable skills examples are easier to spot when managers know what to look for. They’re also easier to solicit. 

Expert coaches can help HR pros understand the skills that transfer well from one industry or role to another and teach them to pinpoint the words, phrases and scenarios in resumes and online profiles that hint at the transferable skills they’re seeking. Coaches can also roleplay candidate conversations to teach hiring managers how to elicit meaningful dialogue and listen for opportunities to explore potentially transferable skills in depth. They can provide feedback on job descriptions and hiring strategies as well. 

Learn more about using personalized, scalable digital coaching to get a leg up in talent acquisition here.

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