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Careers Café

Figuring out your transferable skills helps to envision yourself in another job

Liz Koblyk wants you to take a leap of faith, and imagine yourself doing something else with your life.


Working with extremely competent, intelligent clients has shown me that, no matter how competent and intelligent a person is, it takes a real leap of faith for them to imagine themselves in a career path other than the one they’re currently in.

We hear about the importance of storytelling – from marketing, to job seeking, conflict resolution, user experience and who knows what else. The value in storytelling lies in the fact that we all tell stories already to make sense of our lives. For all that, it’s easier for us to imagine some stories than others. We’re not great at imagining happy endings to career stories that start with: “What if I did something else for a living?” Perhaps that’s because Chapter Two of that story is, “But I can’t do that.”

This is why giving serious thought to your transferable skills is so important – not because it’s a phrase that gets tossed around in job finding clubs, and only partly because transferable skills can show a future employer that you’re worth the risk of hiring. Transferable skills are the evidence that can help you take that leap of faith and envision yourself accomplishing things you haven’t accomplished before in a field you’ve never been employed in.

Figuring out your transferable skills takes some effort, and is easier with the help of people who know you well or who know the right questions to ask. You can find free resources online or ones that cost a bit of money. And, of course, you can dig through your experiences yourself. One of the easiest ways to initiate the digging is to have your resume (and maybe your transcript) in front of you, go through the experiences on it one by one, and think about when things went wrong. What did you do to fix things?  Which of your skills withstood the pressure of challenging times and got you through them?

Maybe you’re convinced that everyone has those skills. Well, think again. In fact, think about a few people who really annoy you. They probably have a different set of go-to skills. What would you do to solve a problem that they wouldn’t?

You will use your transferable skills again and again. And you can use them now to envision yourself, still being you, doing something else, and doing it well.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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