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What Are Transferable Skills And Why Are They Important?

by Chloe Lee. |

In order for you to increase your competitive advantage as an employee or potential candidate for future job hunting, transferable skills are important. What exactly are transferable skills? They are sets of skills that are portable from job to job and are useful in most (if not all) roles or companies.

As organisations adapt to be more dependent on technology, there are some roles that will eventually become obsolete or redundant. Unless you are aiming towards mastering niche IT skills, chances are that transferable skills would give you more of a long-term advantage in your careers. For example, many phone operating or customer service roles are now being taken over by pre-recorded algorithms or online bots. Whereas the most sought-out skills are now related to digital-competencies such as programming or coding, so unless you see yourself picking up Java or C++, you ought to focus on some transferable skills.

Here are some examples of transferable skills and tips on how you can improve on them:

1. Excel

Although this requires some technical skills, mastering excel can actually be very beneficial. Whether you work in the post office or the retail industry, you could come across excel for multiple things, and it sure makes your life easier! For example, mail mergers to send out personalized emails in bulk, project planning, creating dashboards or for simple tracking. Excel is not only for auditing or for 'geeky' work, but can be used to make you work more effectively and efficiently. 

How to hone this skill?

  • Sign up for e-courses: If your company has any online training courses you can sign up for, take advantage of it! If not, a quick Google search will direct you to sites that offer free courses.

  • Watch YouTube tutorials: Don’t know how to add filters? Just search it up. Looking for a formula to conveniently sum all your data? Ask Youtube! Need to scan through thousands and thousands of tabs and rows and columns of information? I’m sure there is a tutorial for you out there.

  • Ask for references: Your colleague has probably done things with excel before, just reach out and ask if you could refer to them. Also, instead of copying someone else’s structures and formulas word-for-word, always think of innovative ways on how you can present your data more effectively.

2. Creativity

Learning how to think out of the box also suggests you are one to come up with fresh ideas. We assume people are either born creative or are simply straightforward in their approach, but a creative mind can actually be cultivated in the right environments. In fact, your creativity in how you deliver your points and how you perceive information would make you stand out. Being creative is not necessarily reserved for those in the Art scene, but can be tapped into by anyone who constantly wants to improve and innovate.

How to hone this skill?

  • Expand your horizons: Read different materials and subscribe to a variety of mailing lists – even if it doesn’t seem interesting at first, you’d never know what you can find. Watch vlogs, tutorials, podcasts, anything to help you be more aware of what is happening in the world.

  • Look at what other industries are doing: When looking for inspiration, you can look beyond your direct competitors who are within the same industry and observe what other people are doing. The fashion world can inspire the engineering world as much as the manufacturing industry can inspire the beauty industry – the world is your oyster!

  • Just go for it: just act on your gut instinct and see where it leads you. Mix purple and green together, mix stripes and polka dots together; be bold with your ideas, and go for it.

3. Writing good emails

This is the most underrated skill but it is so important to know how to write good emails. How do you ask your boss to revert back to you ASAP without sounding too rude? How do you tell your client that their demands are unrealistic without getting on their bad side? How do you tell your colleague they should probably buy some cologne without offending them? These are all achievable with good writing skills! Your superior, colleague or client are busy people and have to filter through many emails every single day. Whatever you have to address, you need to ensure to capture their attention, create the right sense of urgency, and persuade them to take action. I have friends who spend a lot of time crafting emails (be it to superiors, clients, or just a friend) and spend too much time wondering if they’re too aggressive, too polite, or too naggy. Life is too short to be spent drafting email after email just for them to remain in the outbox for days.

How to hone this skill?

  • Get your friends to read your drafts: Ask if the point is being sent across – is it too long? Too short? Too casual? Should the tone be more assertive? Take constructive feedback with an open mind and practice.

  • Read emails: Observe how other people address certain topics or issues and mimic it. Improve it along the way and diversify your approaches as you go.

  • Practice different writing structures: Could you apply the inverted-pyramid writing style where you structure your information from most to least important? Perhaps you could start with a quote to inspire your audience or pose a provoking question to stir some interesting thought-processes? Experiment with different styles and see which one yields the best results (ie: more readership).

  • Utilise different psychological or behavioural theories: For example, the nudge theory suggests using a positive reinforcement to promote certain behaviours, like asking if your customer would like extra-large fries (instead of just medium fries) with their burger. Use this to your advantage and structure your questions in such a way to obtain answers you are looking for instead of beating around the bush.

4. Critical thinking

It is important to make rational and logical judgements that are derived from detailed interpretations and analysis of information you have received. In a business setting, every decision you make has potential ripple-effects that would either largely benefit your company, or cause adverse effects. Critical thinking is especially needed in the face of solving critical problems, where you would have to be well-informed about the situation and make wise decisions. It is also having an open-mind to consider many different opinions, perspectives, even feelings sometimes, to come to a conclusion that would be best for your company.

How to hone this skill?

  • Being well-informed: Stay up-to-date on what is happening around you and what is occurring on a global-level.

  • Be teachable: Despite all the knowledge you have already acquired, remain humble and teachable because there are lessons to derive from every person or situation you encounter. Do not be blinded by your pride.

  • Learn from other people’s mistakes: Read up on why certain companies fail and why certain individuals do not succeed in their goals – and learn from them.

5. Giving constructive feedback

There is a delicate balance between being direct but also kind – you do not want to be making any of your subordinates or colleagues cry; nor do you want to unconsciously encourage negative behaviours. It is important to create an environment where people can be honest to give and receive feedback so that the organisation is constantly improving as a whole.

How to hone this skill?

  • Apply the Complimentary Sandwich: Start with a praise and to address what your mentee has done well. This is followed by some constructive feedback on areas of improvement and action-plans needed to get better at those items. End with a compliment and assure them that you are approachable and have an open ear and a shoulder to cry on.

  • Ask for feedback: in order to know how to give good feedback, you first need to experience receiving feedback on your work. Did you make them feel comfortable in this process? Did you wish they phrased it differently? Remember your experiences and make it better for the next person.

6. Leadership skills

In order for you to be a good leader, you would need to know excel (to a certain extent), be creative in your approaches, draft effective emails, think critically and provide constructive feedback. It is therefore a combination of good people and technical skills. It is also one of the most important transferable skills as it shows that you are a competent individual who not only manages your own role(s) well, but is also good in delegating and following up with others and coaching them in the process.

Possessing good leadership skills will be beneficial in your climb in any career ladders you are on, as it shows that you are capable of aligning the organisational goals to those of your own and translate it into results shown by you and your team.

How to hone this skill?

  • Familiarise yourself with your team and their competencies: The mark of a good leader is entrusting the right task to the right person, or being able to train them to excel in a particular area. This means having the ‘eye’ to spot talent, which comes from knowing your team in terms of their personality, skills and goals.

  • Have honest conversations with people: Sometimes, your subordinate is not enjoying their task, project or client and the stress they experience might be burning them out. When you make yourself available and act on the comments they give, they know that they can trust you – and this will lead to them respecting you.

  • Know your stuff: Being looked up to as a leader comes from actually knowing your stuff, and not just from talking big. If you are truly competent, your followers will be able to see it and will respect you for it.

Having these transferable skills allows us to adapt and integrate into new environments easily because we take less time picking things up. Your visions will be respected, and you will be a terrific problem-solver and a true asset to your organisation.

To kick-start this journey on mastering these skills, here are three steps:

  1. Choose a skill.

  2. Give yourself a SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely) goal.

  3. Have a friend keep you accountable.

Of course, as every other skill, transferable skills would require a lot of time and dedication to pick up; however, practice is key, and as long as you do not give up, the mastery of these skills should be as easy as A-B-C.

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