When Transferable Skills…Aren’t

My last post looked at transferable skills and telling your story. But are transferable skills what they’re cracked up to be? Are they truly transferable? Are they actually skills?

When employers look for these common traits, does that mean everyone is looking for the same thing? Nope.

Can things like customer service, motivation, and self-awareness really be classed as skills? These ‘skills’ are generic, thus problematic.

Maze (photo by MarcelGermain) CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Which direction to turn? Where is the context? (photo by MarcelGermain) CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

When it’s hard to identify your transferable skills, how they came about, and what they have helped you to achieve, does that make them less than transferable? Creative Studies lecturer, Mimi Thebo, sums it up neatly:

“So where does it all go wrong? Well, the problem with transferable skills, is that they don’t. Transfer, that is. People tend to associate a skill with the context in which it was learned. Take the Creative Writing workshop as an example. Many of the skills and abilities mentioned above are learned in workshop. But this is a very restricted setting, and students may feel these skills are uniquely valuable in this setting. Indeed, they may not be aware of the skills and attributes they have acquired.” [SOURCE] [My emphasis]

Moving from one context to another is a challenge in itself. You’re telling a different story each time. Where you place yourself in the context is just as important as considering where other people might place you. That takes more than transferring a skill.

Multiple contexts are even more confusing. Take customer service. Who is the customer? What is your aim?

I have used so-called customer service skills in so many ways over the years that I know how different each situation is. One size does not fit all. Whether it’s answering queries from household-name clients, dealing with questions from library customers, sorting out issues with students I’m responsible for, or helping an individual with a request via a phone call I wasn’t expecting, these situations require different approaches and cannot be boiled down to a single ‘customer service skill’.

While there is overlap, there is also a lot of subjectivity. We are dealing with constructs.

Skills are particular abilities and often measurable in one way or another. There is still subjectivity in skills, but not to the same extent as more generic terms. Take what I said yesterday:

“So much potential, so much choice, so many stories to tell.”

“You can highlight your strengths and transferable skills in numerous ways. You have so many stories to tell. Which stories are you telling?”

Transferable skills are ‘soft’. The stories you tell make a difference, the way those stories are interpreted by others make a difference, what people are looking for in you makes a difference…Everything makes a difference.

Therefore, nothing is directly transferable either for you or for those you are communicating with. By the same token, this highlights a problem with the term ‘skill’.

Identifying what you can do, what you have achieved, and how you are developing all require skill, but not a wholesale reliance on a particular set of criteria as if they form a bunch of boxes that can be easily ticked off, one by one.

Go back to where I quoted Prospects at the beginning of my last post:

“Every vacancy requires a unique set of competencies but some transferable skills are commonly requested”

These traits may be commonly requested, but that doesn’t mean an employer has a common view of those traits. Their view of these skills is no less unique than the set of more specific competencies they have listed.

When you don’t take this into account, you risk relying on a false understanding of ‘transferable skills’.

When you do take this into account, you are in a better place to define yourself through both using transferable skills and rejecting their existence at the very same time.

Patchwork (photo by leslie.keating) CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Create your own patchwork (photo by leslie.keating) CC BY-NC-ND 2.0