Transferable Skills: Abilities You Can Plug-and-Play

Having a highly specialized set of skills can certainly be beneficial if you are looking for a very specific kind of job, such as a perfume designer, dog food taster or pearl diver. Although these are all real jobs, there’s not much you can do with these particular talents if you decide it’s time to try another line of work.   

For most of us, it’s better to have a broad set up skills that could easily transfer to a wide range of industries and fields.

“Transferable skills are like accessories with USB cables that you can plug into any device with a port and play,” explains Cathy Francois, career advising specialist for UMUC’s Career. “It’s your set of universal skills that can be applied to just about any position and organizational setting.”

When you’re looking for a job, it’s important to be able to identify, demonstrate and articulate transferable skills to potential employers on a resume and during an interview. This helps them see how you can potentially readily use relevant skills as you move into different work environments throughout your career.   

Identifying your transferable talents

Transferable skills come in many forms, and there’s a good chance you already have a long list of them at your disposal. Some are soft skills, which involve how you interact with people. These include the ability to work well in a team, communicate effectively, manage your time and lead others toward a shared vision.

Hard skills are skills that you are taught and that can be measured. Many of these are also transferable among different roles and across industries. They include project management, software knowledge, accounting, auditing, marketing skills, inside sales and data mining, to name a few.

“Keep in mind that these skills can be derived from outside the workplace through hobbies and volunteer work, as well as in an academic setting,” notes Francois. “For example, the same leadership skills you used to chair a volunteer committee for a professional association can be used as evidence of your ability to lead a similar size team in a corporate setting. In the same way, a volunteer treasurer with experience using advanced skills in Excel to track and manage a budget for a local chapter of their sorority can employ the same skills to create financial reports and charts for a large corporation.”

Beyond broader skills and abilities, transferable skills could also be specific niche skills, such as the ability to use industry-specific software, work with specific populations or speak a language that’s not broadly spoken. 

Cultivating take-anywhere expertise

Transferable skills make you valuable to prospective employers across the board. If you don’t have many, it’s worth your while to take the time and effort to develop them.

“Professionals should proactively cultivate transferable skills both inside and outside the workplace,” advises Francois. “This could mean taking on special projects, enhancing current processes or joining a committee to sharpen your skill set.”

Many employers offer professional development courses to keep their employees at the top of their game. If yours doesn’t, you can find opportunities to build your transferrable skill set by attending conferences, taking online classes or webinars and participating in events offered by professional associations.

“Keeping your plug-and-play skill sets sharp throughout your career elevates your level of expertise as you gain new experience and practice your transferable skills in different environments,” sums up Francois.

In the end, any transferable skills you have can only add value, both to you and to the employers who benefit from your portable capabilities.

UMUC’s Career Services team is always here to assist you on your professional journey. Visit CareerQuest today to explore the career tools and resources available to assist in your career progression. If you have any questions, please contact your UMUC Career Services office at 240-684-2720 or