Building a career on transferable skills

Posted: 17th Aug

Whether you are seeking a brand new start in the community services sector, or simply seeking a change of field it is important to recognise the skills you already have and how they can be an asset in other roles. Below is a quick guide to help you take stock of your skills and work out how they can assist you in making a career move.

1. Recognise your most valuable skills
The longer we work in an area the more expert we become. We may even start to define ourselves in terms of that expertise and see it as our main professional strength. It can be therefore be difficult to contemplate making a move into another area as a novice. In reality, however, even the most ‘expert’ people in the community services sector rely largely on a set of personal, transferrable skills to do their jobs. These include communication skills, organisational and planning skills, interpersonal, teamwork or customer service skills, and creative or problem-solving skills.

Building a diverse and satisfying career path can be about harnessing and building on these transferrable skills rather than relying on job-specific expertise which, given the pace of change in our sector, may quickly date and lose relevance.

2. Identify your transferrable skills
There are certain basics that are needed for every job in the sector. These include ethical practice standards, recognition of diversity in all its forms, working under regulatory frameworks, adequate record keeping and the ability to meet individuals’ and communities’ right to self-determination in service and practice. Revisit the competencies you gained through education and think about the many ways applied that knowledge in your current and previous jobs. Then look at roles you would like to do and think about how you would apply your skill set.

Think too about other more technical skills and knowledge you may have developed that are not specific to your current job, and would also be useful in other contexts and settings., for example, financial management, IT skills, job design, interviewing, induction and training, workplace safety, use of social media etc.

3. Recognise key personal qualities
Your ability to harness your transferrable skills to move successfully into a quite different roles or settings can also depend on personal qualities of confidence, empathy, adaptability, flexibility and being a quick learner. How do you rate yourself in these? How can you demonstrate you have them?

4. Invest in your transferrable skills
Time spent in using and developing your personal skills is not wasted but an investment in ongoing employability. Make use of professional development opportunities that come up at work or in your voluntary or recreational activities to hone these skills via, for example, supervising or mentoring staff, advocating for clients, writing reports or submissions, managing volunteers, networking, participating in corporate or strategic planning processes, chairing meetings, coaching teams, fund-raising, or organising events and group activities.

5. Put together a portfolio
Building a portfolio as you go can also be a useful way of visually demonstrating your skills. Including things such as published reports and submissions, plans you have developed, promotional material you’ve produced or peer reviewed articles can be a powerful way of. If you decide at some point to study for further qualifications a portfolio can be a great help in obtaining Recognition of Prior Learning.

6. Are you ready for new opportunities?
How long since you updated your CV? Use the tips above to review your CV, making sure you give enough emphasis to the skills and experience that equip you for diverse responsibilities and a wide range of jobs in the sector

The key selection criteria in job advertisements are based around the skills needed to perform the work and will usually include hard and soft skills – so keep this in mind when you start to itemise your own skills. Soft skills are particularly important and so should not be dismissed as ‘work well in a team’ or ‘excellent interpersonal skills’ – you will need to demonstrate this through examples.

Keeping a personal data base of workplace experience and skills that can be drawn upon to answer the key selection criteria can help reduce the stress when applying for a new job. Use it to document useful examples of soft and hard skills and the context within which they were developed or used to effect.  

A few simple steps prior to job search will make applying for that new job easier and more effective when the time comes to change your career direction.

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