Are you struggling to showcase your skills?

Don’t skip on your skills

Recruiting the right staff is essential for businesses so employers try to get it right first time. They do this by carefully checking that the skills and experience you have are relevant and transferable to their business. This means that successfully identifying and articulating your skills is vital to get through the initial selection stage.

Trouble is, this is the bit most students who drop in for a CV review say they struggle with. The good news is that it’s easier and, dare I say it, fun when you know how.

top of the pile

Follow our do’s and don’ts to get you started.

What are transferable skills?

Put simply, transferable skills are skills that are developed in one context, and are transferable into another.

Note that this is a two part idea – the actual skills themselves and that they’ve been gained in one context but are still relevant in another.

Identify your skills

Identify your skills

Do – complete a quick internet search for transferable skills that employers value (this can and does change).  Then start to list the skills you have.  If there are any that keep appearing that you don’t have, consider how to fill the gap.  Can you volunteer, work, study, join a society etc to develop what you lack?

Don’t – stop there.  The ‘one list fits all’ approach is often not tailored enough for employers – remember they’re looking for someone to fit their needs exactly to minimise risk to their budgets!  Check the job advert – what exactly are they asking for?  If there aren’t any clues there, check out online job profiles for similar roles. (Prospects have a great range of job roles featuring a list of expected skills for each).  What skills are listed? Are they mainly from one ‘group’ of skills or are they asking for an ‘all rounder’?  Are any particular skills emphasised more than others?

Consider where you developed your skills

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Do – look at everything you’ve done.  Consider your academic studies, work experience, volunteering, employment and extra curricular activities.

Don’t – ignore areas other than employment.  I often hear “but I didn’t think that was relevant” when discussing a student’s passion for football, for example.  My response is always “how can training for a team for 5 years and winning the local league as Captain not show commitment, teamwork, leadership skills and a level of achievement?”

Articulate your skills

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Do – ‘show not tell’ and ‘use the words they use’.

‘Show not tell’ means putting your skill into context which helps avoid the cliché trap.  Far better to say ‘developed excellent customer service skills handling approximately 30 sales enquiries and customer complaints per day’ than ‘excellent customer service skills’ or merely ‘worked on customer service desk’.  This helps employers see that your skill is transferable to their role.

‘Using the words they use’ means exactly that!  Consider the words used in the job advert, on the company website and industry blogs.  If you find that you’re repeating yourself look up different verbs in a thesaurus.   After all,  a CV for a conservative accountancy firm probably needs to read differently to one for the same job role in a cutting edge design house.

Don’t – make either of the two most common mistakes I see.

Firstly, don’t just list job duties in your employment history – this is where you need to talk in terms of transferable skills.  Successful completion of particular job duties only scores highly in transferability if you’re applying for a similar job.

Secondly, don’t fall into the cliché trap by listing ‘excellent team player’ and ‘great communicator’ – yes, you and everyone else who’s applying!  Stand out by backing it up with context and spelling out the transferability, everytime!


Follow the Employability and Careers blog and watch out for the next one in our ‘Employability Series’:

‘On CV’s: Bragging vs Self-Promotion’


One thought on “Are you struggling to showcase your skills?

  1. Pingback: How to answer the 3 most difficult interview questions | Employability and Careers at the University of Essex

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