Tips for Recognizing, Communicating, and Developing Your Transferable Skills

Posted on: 2017/09/26

Anne Carbert is a career counsellor who has been working with DTRC members since 2008. These are her tips to help dancers identify all of the skills they've acquired and honed throughout their artistic careers. 

1.       Understand the difference between technical skills and transferable skills.

This is an important starting point for identifying the many skills you have to offer if you are making a move in a new career direction. Lots of people who have worked in a specialized field—and have put significant effort into enhancing their abilities and knowledge for that particular field—can easily minimize or lose sight of all the other skills that are useful in any work situation and valued by employers and entrepreneurs.

Transferable skills are just that: transferable from one work setting to another. Often they are skills you have learned informally and, perhaps for that reason, you might not think of them as skills. They are! And you likely have more transferable skills than you think. These include such things as being punctual, cooperating, and speaking/writing/listening effectively, identifying resources, solving problems, coordinating tasks, and on, and on.

This helpful online resource offers some categories, lists of skills, and exercises for taking stock of your transferable skills. Career books like The Job-Hunter’s Survival Guide by Richard N. Bolles and What Next? by Barbara Moses also have lists and exercises focused on skills. No doubt, you have at least some transferable skills in the various categories of communications, research and planning, human relations, and leadership, along with many work survival skills that employers just cannot take for granted anymore. Don’t forget that many creative skills like conceptualizing ideas, designing, and improvising are increasingly important in today’s world of work that requires innovation and agility.

2.       Learn to communicate your skills and support them with examples.

Once you identify your skills, you can highlight and communicate them with examples from your professional experience. Focus on the transferable skills that you most enjoy using or that you find come most naturally to you. Be aware that another way we lose sight of our transferable skills is by minimizing things that we do naturally or easily. If something feels simple, it can’t be that valuable, right? Not so. What comes easily to you will take someone else much more effort. Also, by focusing on skills you enjoy and do easily or fairly well, you avoid being overwhelmed by a long list of what you can or could do. Capable people can do lots of things! If you are exploring new directions, you want to focus on that combination of what you can do and what you want to do.

So, identify a few transferable skills that you do well and enjoy using and then call to mind specific times you used each of those skills. Take a few minutes to flesh out each memory by using the STAR method.

Jot down:

·         The Situation or context of the example

·         The Task or need you had before you

·         The Action you took while using that skill

·         The Result or impact you achieved.

A few short examples like this will build up your confidence in your transferable skills and give you some specific proof of your abilities to share with potential employers.

3.       If you are considering new career directions, find out which skills are useful for which occupations.

Now that you have identified some of your top transferable skills, this is the point where you need to use those transferable research skills for some exploration. Brainstorm on your own, with friends and mentors, or a career counsellor to come up with several possible occupations where your top transferable skills come together or are in demand.

Search using career books (take a trip to the library), occupational databases (like Career Cruising, often available at libraries or career centres), or even start with a Google search using your top transferable skills as keywords. With a bit of effort, you should start to generate a list of jobs involving the transferable skills that are strengths for you and that you find enjoyable. From there you can identify two or three professional fields to investigate thoroughly to see if they might be attractive new career fields for you.

4.       Remember that skills can be learned and practiced.

You have learned and practiced your transferable and technical skills over all your studying and working years. The most encouraging part of this is that you are a living example of learning and practicing, which is how we grow any new skill.

You can learn new skills for new career endeavors, if you want to. You can communicate to potential employers that not only do you bring a wealth of transferable skills, you also know how to learn and master new skills to achieve results. You are never limited to a particular set of skills if you are willing to put your mind and efforts to learning. As author and entrepreneur Seth Godin said in one of his blogs:

"If you can learn it, it's a skill. If it's important, but innate, it's a talent.

The thing is, almost everything that matters is a skill. If even one person is able to learn it, if even one person is able to use effort and training to get good at something, it's a skill.

It's entirely possible that some skills are easier for talented people to learn. It's entirely possible you don't want to expend the energy and dedicate the effort to learn that next skill. But realizing that it's a skill is incredibly empowering and opens the door of possibility.

What are you going to learn next?”

Be sure to give yourself credit for the full range of skills you have already developed—both technical and transferable—and also for your ability to learn new skills for whatever adventure is ahead.”

Anne Carbert is a career counsellor and coach with a particular interest in the careers of artists, activists, and other so-called “unconventional” types. She works with clients throughout southwestern Ontario and beyond, and offers e-courses and other career resources online. After her own career transition from law to counselling, Anne started her independent career counselling practice in 2007. Her career is now a collage of self-employment, part-time contracts, volunteer advocacy projects, and visual arts. Anne has a law degree and a Master of Education in counselling psychology, both from the University of Toronto. More information is on her website at www.annecarbert.ca.


Helping dancers make necessary transitions into, within, and from professional performing careers since 1985.