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How to Talk About Transferable Skills in Job Interviews

How to Talk About Transferable Skills in Job Interviews main image

Guest post: Beth Leslie

Imagine that for as long as you can remember, you’ve dreamed of working as a chocolate taster. By some stroke of luck, a position has come up and you’ve landed a job interview. You walk in, smile, shake hands, avoid fiddling with your tie. Then the interviewer leans over, and asks you to talk about your previous experience.

You freeze. Truth is, you’ve never so much as set foot in a chocolate factory before, and you haven’t the first clue about the day-to-day of the job. But then you have a bright idea. During your gap year, you worked on a vineyard in Australia, and you picked up some of the tips and tricks of wine tasting.

You regale the interviewer with concepts of secondary aromas and taste balance. The interviewer looks impressed. The job, it soon becomes clear, is yours.

This is the importance of transferable skills. Learn to talk about them properly, and you can land jobs without that pesky past experience companies always asking for!

1. Think about what you’ve got

First things first: assess yourself for transferable skills. A transferable skill is anything you can do that is not specific to a particular role; examples include commercial awareness or teamwork.

If you’re struggling to identify which skills you have, think of a task you performed regularly, and generalize it. So if you worked on the checkouts in a supermarket, where you were expected to scan items at a certain speed while making small talk with customers, your transferable skills would include working to tight time constraints, interpersonal skills, and managing client relationships.

Don’t be afraid to look beyond paid work for transferrable skills. Your degree and any extracurricular roles you took on are also great sources.

2. Think about what the employer wants

A quick Google of the key skills employers look for will reveal dozens that could apply to you. The temptation can be to try and cram as many of these buzzwords as possible into a job interview. Don’t. You’ll come across as though you’re just trying to tick boxes and haven’t thought about the specific role at all.

Before you walk into an interview, take some time to research the company and the job itself, and think about the sort of skills they’re likely to value most. Chatting away about your online blog is great if you’re going for a copywriting role, but not so impressive if you’re trying to become an accountant.  

Another tip is to react to information the interviewer gives you about the role (if they don’t volunteer this, you should be asking about it). If they’re telling you about how much of the job is based on group projects, play up your teamwork skills and don’t waffle on about what an independent worker you are – you could give off the wrong vibes if they think you’re implying you’d rather work alone. 

3. Follow the PEE rule

This is nothing to do with bladder control, but refers to a writing method you may remember from school: Point, Evidence, Explanation.

Never mention a transferable skill (“I’m really good at detailed research”) without giving some evidence that you actually do possess it (“as shown by the 1st class I received for my dissertation”) and without referencing it back to the role you’re interviewing for (“which would stand me in good stead for preparing those client briefs you mentioned”).

Remember that until you make a good impression, you want the job more than the interviewer wants you. Therefore, it is your responsibility to prove that you really are as talented as you’re claiming, and that those talents are exactly what they need in their new hire.

4. Learn conversational sleight-of-hand

Sometimes an interviewer will ask you directly about a transferable skill, as in “Are you good at giving presentations?” As long as you remember to PEE, that sort of question is easy to answer.

But sometimes the interviewer will phrase a question in a way that throws you: “Tell me how you would present a business case to a client.” The trick is to realize that these two questions are essentially identical. When faced with a confusing question, always take a moment to think about it – pausing before answering gives your brain a chance to kick into gear. Once you’ve identified the skills required for the task they’re asking about, you can revert to your PEE formula.

Be careful to keep referring back to the specific task they mentioned, to prove that you listened to what they said!

5. Talk about skills you will have

The only reason an interviewer cares about a candidate’s skills and experience is if they believe such skills and experience will make them good at the job they are trying to fill. For them, everything is about your potential, and as such you should emphasis this as much as possible.

During the job interview, talk about times when you were given a new task or project to learn and got to grips with it quickly. Especially in entry-level roles, interviewers won’t expect candidates to have every skill and expertise they require. What will be super important to them is hiring someone who is a keen and quick learner – so make sure you have plenty of evidence to suggest that their dream candidate is sitting right in front of them!

Beth Leslie is a content writer for the UK’s leading graduate recruitment agency, Inspiring Interns. Check out their blog for more graduate careers advice. If you are looking for an internship or want to explore the graduate jobs London has to offer, head to their website. 

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