Most recruiters look for employees with relevant skills in their specific industry because of its direct impact on how the person will perform their jobs. However, by only focusing on specific competencies, you could overlook a vast talent pool of applicants with transferable skills.
According to LinkedIn’s Future of Recruiting report, today’s recruiters are 50% more likely to search by skills than they are to search by years of experience. 75% of recruiting pros predict that skills-first hiring will be their company's priority in the next 18 months. And 94% agree that understanding the skills employees do and don’t have is necessary to make informed talent decisions.
With the ever-changing job market trends and skill shortages, employers and HR must consider employing people with transferable skills to address the skills gap within the organization and continue operating without disruption.
What are transferable skills?
Transferable skills are basic skills that can be applied in various jobs. They are acquired through experience as an employee moves from one career to another. Such skills can take many years to master, and once learned; they can be used in different situations, projects, or industry sectors.
There are many transferable skills, from hard skills like accountancy, sales, and project management to the ‘softer’ skills of ‘communication,’ ‘teamwork,’ ‘problem-solving,’ and ‘leadership.’
What are the most important transferable skills?
Recruiters are often wary of bringing in people from other sectors because they feel it will be costly and time-consuming to onboard them.
But they forget that people with the right transferable skills will bring new energy and outlook to the role. Candidates happy to switch jobs and try something new are often a good bet because they’re motivated to move outside their comfort zones. Self-motivated people require less supervision and oversight than other employees. They tend to take the initiative and get things done without being asked.
Fortunately, some essential skills employers look for are all considered transferable skills. The National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook 2023 reported that more than half of the employers surveyed would look for the following skills on the candidates’ resumes: problem-solving skills (61.4%), teamwork (61%), strong work ethic (52.4%), analytical/quantitative skills (50.4%), communication skills (50%) and technical skills (50%).
Employees with the ability to recognize problems, analyze them, assess different probable solutions, select the best solution, and implement it.
People with empathy that can co-work effectively will make the team more productive. Candidates who can prove they can collaborate effectively will be a valuable contribution to any company, with employers reassuring them that they will ‘fit in’.
Strong work ethic
These are employees who take their careers seriously. They work long hours and perform tasks that are sometimes outside their scope of responsibilities. Their passion for their jobs means they’ll excel in their roles and most likely get promoted to higher positions.
These types of people are invaluable in the world of computing and automation - also, in general situations, companies will benefit from people that can solve problems quickly. People that are comfortable with computers and can learn quickly when it comes to new software and systems are highly sought after by employers.
Employees with good communication skills can interpret information and relay it quickly and accurately. It enables them to deliver their ideas well, confidently speak to all management levels, and listen effectively.
Technical skills are specialized knowledge and competencies used to solve complex problems or accomplish specific tasks or processes. They are usually related to computational and technological or displaying craftsmanship.
What are the benefits of hiring candidates with transferable skills?
Hiring candidates with transferable skills can offer several benefits to organizations. Here are some key advantages:
1. Reduced training time
Candidates with transferable skills would need less time and resources for upskilling. They can use their existing skill sets to learn new information and workflows quickly. They become productive team members faster, saving the organization's time and money in onboarding.
2. Adds diversity
Diversity is known to improve innovation and thereby boost productivity. Research indicates that diverse companies are more likely to be prepared for change - and are also more likely to be market leaders. If a current team comprises people with exceptional ‘hard’ skills, it could be a good idea to mix things up and hire someone with transferable soft skills.
3. Promotes adaptability and agility
Applicants with transferable skills can quickly adapt to new positions or work on multiple projects. It's easier for them to adapt to changing organizational needs or take on additional responsibilities. This agility can help companies navigate business uncertainties and market changes more effectively.
4. Enhanced problem-solving
Candidates with good problem-solving skills are also gifted in critical thinking and decision-making. As such, they have a solid foundation to analyze complex problems, identify solutions and make informed decisions. Their ability to approach challenges from various angles leads to more effective problem-solving techniques.
5. Improved retention
By recognizing and using the transferable skills of new hires, employees grow and thrive in new ways. They will be more engaged, motivated, and satisfied with their jobs. That generally means they’ll stay with a company longer - saving on hiring and business costs.
6. Leadership potential
Transferable skills are often associated with leadership traits such as communication, teamwork, and adaptability. Hiring candidates with these skills allows employers to identify future leaders within the organization. These individuals can contribute in their immediate roles and as potential candidates for management positions or leadership development programs.
7. Knowledge exchange
Candidates bringing knowledge and experiences from their previous positions can foster collaboration of ideas and best practices, enabling organizations to build a broader knowledge base. The exchange of knowledge can increase efficiency, improve processes, and create a culture of continuous learning.
How to attract candidates with transferable skills
Hire Outside your Industry
Ensure your current hiring strategy isn’t filtering out highly capable and accomplished professionals looking to shift careers or industries. At first glance, career-shifting candidates may not look like they have the right skills for the role you’re trying to fill. But many high-performers in one industry are capable of transitioning successfully to another.
These highly motivated workers often enjoy the challenge of learning something new. They bring qualities like curiosity and critical thinking that enable them to quickly learn the industry-specific knowledge required to successfully transition to your open positions, even if they come from different industries than those you’d typically target.
Write better job descriptions
Take great care when crafting job descriptions if you want to attract new people into your industry. In your job ad, emphasize that you’re looking for candidates with transferable skills from outside your sector.
Outline the job responsibilities and describe how these responsibilities require the application of transferable skills and the impact they have on the organization.
Mention in your job post the potential for advancement, training programs, mentorship, or exposure to new projects that can help candidates further enhance their skills and progress in their careers.
Leave ‘industry experience’ out of the advert if you want to attract a diverse audience and make it clear you are seeking candidates from all walks of life. If you’re short on time, consider using applicant tracking system software to help you create and distribute optimized job postings.
Emphasize the significance of soft skills
Giving importance to soft skills is critical as they can hugely impact a candidate’s overall effectiveness in the role. While technical skills may get the job done, soft skills allow employees to collaborate and contribute to the company’s long-term success.
To help evaluate soft skills during the hiring process, identify the soft skills essential to succeed in the position: communication, creativity, or time management, for example. Craft interview questions that focus on the soft skills you've identified.
Ask candidates to give concrete examples of situations where they have demonstrated these skills in their previous jobs. Or incorporate hypothetical situations during the interview to evaluate how applicants would handle certain scenarios that require specific soft skills.
Additionally, consider contacting the applicant’s references to ask about their soft skills, like how they work under pressure or teamwork skills. Don’t forget that soft skills also play a vital role in determining how well a candidate would fit into the organization’s culture, so assess whether their soft skills align with your company values.
Recruit for potential
Recruiting for potential can be a valuable approach when HR considers hiring applicants with transferable skills. With the right work environment and support, candidates with these abilities can excel in their new positions and help achieve company goals.
To hire for potential, search for applicants who possess transferable skills that can be applied to the role you’re hiring for like problem-solving, critical thinking, or project management. Assess their learning agility by asking about their experience learning new skills, adjusting to changes, and handling unfamiliar challenges. Look for examples that show their ability to learn and apply their skills effectively.
Moreover, look for self-motivated candidates who desire to constantly improve and have a growth mindset. People with a growth mentality are open to feedback and are willing to learn from mistakes, hence the potential to grow.
Finally, support employees’ development through training programs, mentoring, job shadowing, and ongoing feedback. Foster an environment that encourages solid learning and provides opportunities for employees to maximize their potential.
Learn how to screen job candidates for transferable skills
Screening for transferable skills requires a comprehensive understanding of the skills you're seeking, a thorough assessment of candidates' work history, and effective interviewing techniques.
Screening start by reviewing resumes. Pay attention to education, previous work experience, and achievements demonstrating transferable skills. Look for indications that they have successfully used these skills in their past roles.
Build a set of criteria based on the identified transferable skills so you can create a standardized process for evaluating candidates during screening. You may use a rating scale or checklist to check the presence and proficiency of each skill. During the interview, you can ask how their transferable skills contributed to their achievements and the overall success of their projects or teams.
Use pre-employment test to measure transferable skills
Pre-employment tests can give insights into the candidate’s attitude and cognitive and problem-solving abilities, which are indicators of their potential to apply and adapt their skills to their new roles. It is recommended to consult with assessment experts to determine the most appropriate test for measuring transferable skills in your specific hiring needs. Here are some examples of pre-employment tests:
Cognitive tests help measure the job seeker’s cognitive abilities, including critical thinking and decision-making. Behavioral assessments predict fit for any position by objectively measuring a candidate’s workplace behavior. Work samples and situational tests involve presenting applicants with tasks that simulate real work scenarios, and they are evaluated based on their capabilities to complete the task, analyze the situation, and other relevant transferable skills.
How to onboard new candidates
During onboarding, set clear expectations for the candidate about their role, responsibilities, and performance objectives. Discuss their transferable skills and how they align with their position and business needs.
Ensure they have access to the resources, tools, and technology they need to perform their job effectively and train them to use them effectively. Provide continuous learning and development opportunities to help them further develop their transferable skills and gain new competencies - training programs, workshops, simulations, and conferences.
The future of employment will likely differ widely from what we recognize today and will introduce numerous opportunities for people with the right transferable skills. Experts predict employers will seek soft skills over the coming decades - from problem-solving and teamwork to communication and leadership.
Employers must realize that many technical skills can be learned quickly, e.g., by using a company’s small business phone system. What they should be looking out for instead of these ‘hard’ skills are the soft skills candidates possess. And transferable skills not only show what a candidate can already do - but demonstrate what they can bring to the role moving forward. The key for employers is to be open-minded and look for talents you may not have considered before.