What skills do employers want? 10 transferable skills to future proof your career and how to get them

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What are transferable skills and why do you need them?

What does it mean to be employable today and in the future? It means you have a set of core skills that employers are looking for. Yes, you might also need specialist knowledge and skills for specific roles but in every job ad you see you’ll find the same set of core skills requirements cropping up

These are transferable skills. Skills that you can transfer from job to job, the basic things you’ll need to impress an employer and show that you can survive and thrive in the workplace.

We’ve talked to employers and looked at a wide range of job ads and created a list of the top ten skills most employers are asking for. You don’t have to have them all, but you’ll need at least some of them for most jobs…

Here’s the list, with tips from our team on how to develop these skills and demonstrate them when applying for jobs.

The top ten transferable skills

Adaptability

What is it?

The ability to change the way you do things to fit different situations and environments.

Why do employers want it?

As technological change is getting faster and faster, ways of working, industries, and job roles can change rapidly. Employers want people who are willing and able to move with the times.

How do I get it?

If you’re not naturally adaptable, change can be stressful, but adaptability is something you can build up with practice. If you find it hard to cope with change, try switching your routine in a way that is manageable, and gradually build up your tolerance. 

Putting yourself in environments where there is no plan may be stressful, but it can help you realise that things usually work themselves out in the end.

How do I demonstrate it?

Putting yourself in situations in a formal or informal environment where you have to adapt to changes will provide you with examples. This could be something like organising a charity event, planning a trip, playing in a sports team or playing video games. Think about the things you do that have required you to adapt, and describe how you responded.

Problem Solving

What is it?

The ability to find solutions to issues, questions, or problems that arise in the workplace. Like how to improve customer service, how to make a process more efficient, or how to create a new product.

Why do employers want it?

Problem-solving is at the heart of every organisation. Providing a product or service requires the ability to solve problems for a customer, user, or client, and all organisations want to improve what they do, so there are always problems to solve.

How do I get it?

Practice! You’ll normally get lost of problem-solving practice while in education. Did you have to do a project about an issue the world faces? Did you have to solve maths problems? Did you have to design and create something? Then you have developed problem-solving ability. 

How do I demonstrate it?

Describe a situation when you’ve faced a problem and resolved it, in education, in your hobbies, or in a job - and make sure you say what your solution was and how you came up with it.

Self Management

What is it?

The ability to manage your time, organise your workload, and act professionally in the workplace.

Why do employers want it?

This is a basic requirement for most employers, they need to be able to rely on you to arrive on time, get your work done without having to be managed closely, and behave in a way that is appropriate to the working environment.

How do I get it?

These are practical skills and there are ways in which you can build structures to help you. Create a diary (either on your phone, laptop, or on paper) to record your commitments and appointments. Set reminders for things you have to do. 

Make a weekly or daily list of tasks to be completed, and prioritise them so that you get the important and urgent things done first. Finally, observe how someone you admire behaves in the workplace and follow their lead in terms of appearance, language, and behaviour.

How do I demonstrate it?

Explain your time management techniques, say that you make lists and use calendars to remind you of key commitments. 

Commercial Awareness

What is it?

An understanding of the industry in which the organisation you want to work for operates in, the issues it faces, the ways in which business is done, and the key organisations.

Why do employers want it?

This shows an ability to understand how and why organisations operate in the ways they do, and the ability to apply outside events to your work within a business - helping to make sure opportunities and threats are spotted and not missed.

How do I get it?

Research! You can search online for trade press, professional bodies, or industry news about a particular company, the issues it faces and who its competitors are. You can also make an effort to learn about their products, how they promote them, who to, and how they are funded. You should read the company’s ‘about’ pages on their website, and follow them in the news and on social media to stay up to date.

How do I demonstrate it?

Draw on the knowledge you’ve gained during your research when applying for jobs. Most employers will ask you to say something about why you want to work for them, so you can use this as an opportunity to say something about the industry and show why you’re interested in it.

Teamwork

What is it?

The ability to work well with others, recognising their strengths and your own, and supporting them to solve problems.

Why do employers want it?

Organisations rely on their people to pull together to achieve their goals, so the ability to work with others is really important in some roles. Reducing workplace conflict, ensuring that everyone is involved in decision-making, and that everyone had the opportunity to contribute fully help organisations succeed.

How do I get it?

Spending time in team environments, observing how others behave in teams, and gaining an awareness of your natural role within a team will help you understand how you can operate best as part of a team - tools like ‘Belbin Team Roles’ can help you with this.

How do I demonstrate it?

Describe a time when you’ve worked as part of a team, and the role you played within the team. Not everyone has to be a leader all the time, so focus in on what you bring to team environments and talk about your strengths as a team player.

Creativity

What is it?

The ability to come up with new ideas and ways of doing things.

Why do employers want it?

Creativity is one of the things that computers can’t do! Human beings have unique creative abilities that can help organisations come up with new products, services, messages, or ways of doing things.

How do I get it?

It’s a myth that you can’t learn creativity. It’s also a myth that only ‘artistic’ people are creative. Maths, for example, is a highly creative subject. You need to come up with new ideas and ways of solving maths problems - so there it is, creativity. 

You can build up your creativity by practicing coming up with as many different ways of doing something or naming something as possible. You can write, build things, sing, dance, make music, paint, do makeup, anything that requires you to think of something new and unique.

How do I demonstrate it?

You can show your creativity through the things that you’ve created, the ideas that you have come up with, and your willingness to look at things from a new perspective. Keep a list or portfolio of examples of creative work you’ve done, or ideas you’ve developed and draw on this in applications and in interviews.

Communication 

What is it?

The ability to interact with others, clearly, professionally, accurately and using appropriate methods.

Why do employers want it?

Good communication skills of one kind or another are a basic requirement of most jobs because you’ll need to get your message across to others inside or outside the organisation. Clear, effective communication is essential for successful businesses, so for most employers this is a crucial skill.

How do I get it?

Your use of language, written and spoken, will be important in the workplace, so making sure that you check over the spelling and grammar on your written work is important - you can use tools like Grammarly to help with this. You’ll also need to ensure you have good speaking skills. Practising by recording video of yourself explaining a topic then watching it back can help. Look out for fidgeting, and words you use that make your communication less clear - um, er, and ‘like’ are common ones, and practice reducing them. 

How do I demonstrate it?

You’ll normally demonstrate this to employers through your written application - so make sure you or someone else double-checks for errors, and then through the way you speak and your body language at interviews and assessments. 

Positivity

What is it?

The ability to keep a positive outlook and approach work with optimism, even when facing setbacks.

Why do employers want it?

People who are positive bring extra energy and momentum to teams in working environments, and those who are negative can make everyone else feel the same way. 

How do I get it?

Think about how you respond when things go wrong, or how you approach things in general. Do you always fear the worst or hope for the best? If you fear the worst, remember that having some caution can also be valuable to businesses, but if this is always your default position, think about ways in which you can weigh up both the pros and cons of a situation.

How do I demonstrate it?

Presenting an optimistic but realistic picture of the future when in interview scenarios will provide the balance employers are looking for. Show that you can recognise potential threats, but also opportunities that the organisation faces, and be ready with solutions for both.

Reliability

What is it?

Being dependable, someone who can be relied upon to do what they say they’ll do, and perform consistently.

Why do employers want it?

Reliable employees are hugely valuable to employers as it means they know what they can expect from individuals, and can plan for the future. They know you’ll turn up on time, complete the task in the right way, and help solve problems when they arise.

How do I get it?

Reliability is all about consistency. So putting in place the tools and planning so that you can be reliable are important. Simple things like alarm clocks and calendar reminders on your phone to help you plan ahead can help. Offering to stick around and help out at work if there’s a problem or filling in in an emergency are all ways in which you can build examples of your reliability in for future employers.

How do I demonstrate it?

Making sure you arrive on time to all interviews and appointments with potential employers can show your reliability. It’s also good to have some examples at the ready of how reliable you can be. That might be anything from having a 100% attendance record at school, college, or university, or an example of when you’ve stepped in or held the fort when something went wrong for an employer or in a club, society, or group you’ve been involved with.

Analytical Ability 

What is it?

The ability to look at data and use techniques to understand it and draw out insights and information that may be useful.

Why do employers want it?

Technology has created a mass of data that employers can access to understand more about their industry, customers, staff, and suppliers. They need people who can interpret that data so that they can learn from it to make decisions to help improve their business.

How do I get it?

You won’t need in-depth data analysis skills for all jobs, but most employers will expect you to be able to look at a set of data and work out ways in which it could be used to provide useful information. If you need to brush up your skills on this, you can take free online courses to learn the basics. 

How do I demonstrate it?

For roles where this is a core skill you might be asked to do a task as part of an interview or assessment that asks you to analyse some data, in which case, this will be your way of demonstrating your abilities. 

Otherwise, it’s a good idea to have an example or two of a time when you’ve analysed some data and used it to make a decision. This could be as simple as keeping track of your finances, noticing areas where you were over spending and working out a budget.

Next Steps

You can use your Sort profile to find out what’s needed for your favourite roles, opportunities, or employers, and start noting down the ways in which you could demonstrate these skills, and where the gaps are. 

If you know you’ve got a big gap in one or more areas, start by making a plan to take your first step towards building up your skills.

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