Identifying and Marketing Your Transferable Skills

Last Updated May 8, 2007 4:35 PM EDT

The ongoing globalization of the world economy means that market demands are changing monthly, weekly, and sometimes even daily. People who invested years of time and tens of thousands of dollars training for "hot" careers are discovering that their skills are no longer in strong demand.

Today it's not enough to have only those skill sets required to complete your job. In order to stay marketable in changing times, you must update and expand your skills continually and be thinking, throughout your career, about how to transfer your growing experience, critical thinking abilities, and people skills to new market contexts. You need to ask yourself new questions as circumstances change and arrive at creative, dynamic answers that will guide you through a productive and meaningful career. Staying marketable also requires the motivation to put in extra time and effort to keep your skills not only up to date but competitive as well. In fact, your most marketable and most transferable skill may be your passion for learning.

What You Need to KnowHow can I ensure that I stay marketable?

Your answers to the questions below will help you as you consider the best path to take in order to maximize your chances in times of rapid change.

  • Why are you in the field you are in now?
  • What gives you the most satisfaction in your current job?
  • What gives you the least satisfaction?
  • Who do you meet in the course of your work whose jobs may be a likely path of transition and growth for you?
  • Would you be willing to leave the career path you are currently on to pursue a more promising or fascinating opportunity?
  • What topic areas are you most naturally curious about?
Why do I need to be concerned with transferable skills?

The rapidly changing market and economic environments make it essential for you to know if your skills and ambitions are compatible with your company's objectives. If not, you need to know how to package and repackage your skills to build your career elsewhere. Transferable skills strengthen your core function skills and make you a desirable employee across industries and functions.

As soon as you acquire a new skill, think about how it could make you more attractive to employers (both current and potential)—and start marketing it!

Will I have to go back to school for formal education?

Not necessarily. Many different programs deliver skills training, including those that require formal certification. Employers offer courses, as do distance-learning institutions. Do not underestimate the contribution of good old-fashioned on-the-job training to increased knowledge. Not learning new skills sitting in a classroom does not make them and less valuable.

What to DoList All Your Skills

Make a list that includes every skill you have, even those you do not currently use and those you think you may never use again. This list is a complete inventory of the keys to your marketability.

Categorize Your Skills

In one color highlight the skills you use in the work you love. In a different color, circle those that need regular updating, for example, software skills or your professional skills that require continuing education.

Prioritize Your Skills

The skills that you both highlighted and circled are your top priority. You need to be sure you keep them up-to-date and relevant to the changing marketplace.

Turn To Your "Value Mesh"

Your value mesh is that network of connections and opportunities that are thought to be logical next steps in your career path. Identify the jobs in your value mesh that you find most intriguing. Then ask the people who already hold these positions what skills are most in demand.

Continue Your Education

Take advantage of all company-paid or reimbursed training programs to update and/or add to your technical and professional skills and certifications. Take advantage, too, of the tax benefits offered by the federal government to those pursuing higher education.

Request Stretch Assignments That Will Develop Your Marketable Skills

By getting challenging assignments that take you out of your comfort zone and beyond your current area of responsibility—in other departments, for example—you can expand not only your skills but also your list of contacts.

Ask Colleagues for References

You need to acquire not only transferable, marketable skills, but a list of people who will confirm that you in fact have those skills. As you complete your stretch assignments, ask your new colleagues who have witnessed your success for letters of recommendation or introduction, if appropriate.

Document Your New Skills

If you have decided that your future lies with your current employer, ask the supervisor of your stretch assignment to put a report of your accomplishments in your personnel file.

Become Involved in Professional Associations

You need to count among your skill sets not only your measurable technical expertise but your ability to come up with new ideas and innovative solutions which rely on your having a broad knowledge and understanding of your industry or profession. For this reason it is important to participate in professional association meetings and development programs in order to keep abreast of the latest changes and advances.

Make Ongoing Professional Development a Top Priority

Choose an employer who understands that one of the best things it can do for its employees and the company is to give employees an opportunity to develop their skills. If a potential employer exhibits indifference to this principle, you will know that your chance of developing your potential while working for this company is slim at best.

What to AvoidYou Are So Busy That You Fail to Stay Competitive

With news nearly every day of a technological advance or new discovery in one field or another, you risk becoming obsolete if you ignore your need to stay current in your field. It is true that the demands of work and family are time-consuming, but it is vital that you commit to a regular program of professional development—even if it is on your own time—in order to stay competitive and marketable.

You Focus on Acquiring Only Technical Skills

Your commitment to upgrade your skills must include all your skills. This means that in order to stay marketable, you need to acquire interpersonal skills, such as the ability to persuade or negotiate, as well as keep your technical skills up-to-date.

You Sign a Noncompete Agreement That Effectively Takes You Out of the Marketplace

Your skills are transferable only as long as you can offer them in the open marketplace. Some employers, however, insist that new employees sign a noncompete agreement, which can reduce an employee's ability to find new jobs later. Organizations obviously have to protect intellectual property from competitors, and competitors are an obvious place for employers to find future employment. So their interest in comprehensive noncompete agreements is understandable.

However, depending on the laws of your state, such an agreement could preclude you from working in your profession for an indefinite period of time. Ask for time to review the agreement with your attorney before signing. At the very least, read every word of the contract very carefully and insist on changing or striking any clauses that would prevent you from using your marketable skills in future jobs.

You Limit Your Prospects by Thinking Only In Terms Of the Past

In order to stay marketable and develop your skills. you must look forward not backward and build on your potential for the future and your passion for growth and learning. Each new experience should be viewed as an opportunity for further self-discovery and self-understanding. This is the foundation on which you build your plan for marketing and developing yourself in the future.

Where to Learn MoreBooks:

Fallows, Stephen, and Christine Steven (eds.). Integrating Key Skills in Higher Education: Employability, Transferable Skills, and Learning for Life. Dover, NH: Kogan Page, 2000.

Pedler, Mike, et al. A Manager's Guide to Self-Development. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 2001.

Web Site:

The Skills Zone:www.pch.gc.ca/Cyberstation/html/szone2_e.htm