When I was in college, the vast majority of my classes were effectively training for a career in research and scientific data management. Seven years after graduation, though, I find myself drawing instead on the transferrable skills I picked up in other classes: public speaking, writing, leadership, information management, and so on. To put it simply, transferrable skills are those things that you can utilize no matter what specific career path you find yourself on.
Transferrable skills are often left by the wayside in competitive college majors. In order for a computer science major to get a leg up in the post-graduation workplace, for example, it’s often preferable to jam in another programming or algorithms class than it is to insert another public speaking class. Even if the program does require classes on transferrable skills, those classes are often looked down upon as “blow off” classes – ones that have to be finished in order to get down to the real classes within the major.
I believe this is a mistake. As change in this world accelerates, people are spending less and less of their life strapped to one particular career. They have the freedom to choose other avenues – starting a new career, starting their own businesses, and so on. In that environment, transferrable skills become more and more valuable. In fact, a well-polished transferrable skill makes for brilliant resume fodder no matter what your job – communication skills and leadership experience are a plus for almost any post-college job you might apply for.
Obviously, course loads often aren’t very flexible in a college environment, so my recommendation would be for college students to seek out other sources for picking up and mastering transferrable skills – extracurricular activities, internships, and other sources. Beyond college, transferrable skills are useful for everyone to work on at any stage in one’s career
Here are six significant areas of transferrable skill well worth working on, both to improve yourself and to prepare for your future.
Leadership Can you actually lead a team? Can you herd a group of people towards a greater purpose? Are you self-motivated enough to do this? Can you set goals and actually achieve them? Can you plan large projects and push them forward?
How can I get it? Join a community or student organization and take charge of a large project. Later, run for a leadership position within that group. The best way to learn leadership skills is to learn them in the laboratory of life, and organizations provide the perfect opportunity.
Administrative skills Are you able to prioritize the tasks in front of you? Can you analyze information and then describe it in layman’s terms for others to understand? Can you interpret rules and use them effectively?
How can I get it? Get involved in the planning of as many large projects as you can. Project planning teaches you many of the administrative skills you’ll need in life. If there is a large project, volunteer to help with the planning – if there’s already a planner in place, learn everything you can from that planner.
Information management Can you actually research a topic? Can you take a pile of research and use it to answer worthwhile questions? Can you communicate those facts to others? Can you manage a budget and handle financial records? Can you use a wide variety of computer programs?
How can I get it? If there are opportunities to present anywhere around you, take them, even if you aren’t familiar with the topic. Of particular use are topic areas where you’ll have to do some research in order to get the presentation right. Another great avenue is to volunteer to be the secretary or (particularly) the treasurer for a group. Such activities will require you to carefully manage a large amount of information on behalf of a large group.
Creativity Can you come up with interesting ideas of all kinds? Are you good at coming up with marketing ideas? Are you good at formulating the next step in a process? Are you good at creating visually appealing layouts?
How can I get it? Create some websites for groups – and learn how to do it along the way. Whenever there’s an opportunity for brainstorming, get involved and throw out ideas. Creativity is something that is best learned by practice – so practice it.
Interpersonal communications Are you willing to speak in public? Can you communicate your ideas well in writing? Can you lead a conversation? When you communicate with others, do they understand your ideas?
How can I get it? Participate in conversations and meetings instead of just sitting there. Volunteer for any and all public speaking opportunities that come your way. Volunteer for difficult and arduous tasks of documentation – that’s the best way possible to practice writing to communicate information.
Personal development Can you use the experiences in your life as a source for growth and personal change? Do you have a personal moral code that you actually follow? Can you effectively and honestly evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of others (both people and things)? Can you deal with stress?
How can I get it? Don’t shy away from challenges – step up to big projects. Keep a journal and use it to explore what you really think about things, particularly the people around you.
Every moment you spend learning the above skills is a valuable moment. You’ll find yourself returning to these skills time and time again throughout your life – and they’ll provide a surprisingly strong backbone for your career and personal success.