Posted On 27th January 2013

The annual beano of the world’s business and political leaders in Davos has just finished. Since the world’s economies hardly have any good stories to tell, I can’t think it’s been too cheery an event. Perhaps most poignantly for readers of these pages, the Director-General of the International Labour Organisation has stated that the “jobs crisis is far from over”. Furthermore, in the UK we sit between a fall in unemployment and a fall in GDP and things could not feel more finely balanced.

Much focus is on youth unemployment and the very real risk that there could be a significant cohort who will experience painfully long-term unemployment at the start of their adult lives. It cannot come as much comfort when the debate turns yet again to the mismatch between education and the skills required by employers, especially when these include fundamental skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic.

However, this mismatch does not confine itself only to the young. There are jobs which might have seemed like a sure bet even in my working lifetime which no longer seem so certain. The experienced job seeker may have a good record of employment on their side but if past certainties fade, their prospects may scarcely seem better. As an adult you are likely have more responsibilities (a home, a family) and the opportunities to take time out for training or simply uprooting and moving for work may therefore be less attainable.

So you end up with recruiters, counsellors and well-meaning officers in your local Job Centre saying something about transferrable skills and seeing what else you can do.

Except – if many of the CVs we see are anything to go by – they don’t tell you how. As a result, many CVs say that the writer is “seeking new opportunities where I can put my transferrable skills to use”. This gives rise to two questions: what are they; and how?

No attempt to use your “transferrable skills” can start without a proper audit of what your skills are. Brainstorm them. Write them down. You may discover that you have a whole suite of skills relevant for a different kind of job but you never had that job title. Work out which you like doing (so might be useful for a long term career move) and which you are good at, even if you’re less keen on using them long-term (after all, I’m working from the premise that you need to put food on the table).

The next step is to work out what benefits you would bring to an employer if you were hired to use those skills. If you haven’t followed a typical career path for the kind of job you want to get, your pitch needs to be all the stronger – and not about what they can do for you but what you can do for them.

Then, don’t ramble. Match what you say very carefully with the requirements of the job you want. Assume nothing: the jargon and abbreviations and even the “big name” employers of one career may not mean much in another. What matters is the scope and scale of your experience: number of people and size of budgets managed; progress made; outcomes attained.

Finally, maintain clarity around your motivations. With computers at our disposal, we have no excuse not to tailor our applications to the job specification. That way you are far more likely to strike a chord with the people who are in the gift of the job.

There are no golden arrows in this game but this one will fly further than simply trying to tell someone that your career to date has given you “fantastic transferrable skills”.

Heidi Nicholson

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