Transferable skills are something of a hype, but they can help new hires to navigate roles, to move between roles seamlessly, and to adapt as the organization changes.
Today’s digital organizations are dynamic, constantly changing, and often reorganizing. Not only are roles quickly made and then removed within a decade, but employees are asked to fit versatile roles inside organizations.
Communications teams are often no longer made up of a graphic designer, writer, and editor, but rather three people who do all three equally well, with a bit of specialization in one or the other.
This shift changes how people work. It also changes what they need to succeed in a role. 30 years ago, when most “standardized” job requirements were set, employees were still planning to work 40 years and retire with the gold watch from a single company.
Today, most organizations expect people to stay for shorter periods where individuals will move on or be asked to leave as technology, roles, and department change or the company asks new things that old people cannot provide.
The workaround, is, of course, to hire people who can make those changes with the company, taking on education and adapting to new technologies and new job roles. As long as the qualifications remain the same, the only thing your employees need are a core set of soft skills they can transfer between roles.
Communication is the most common requested skill on job posts. It helps teams work together, it ensures good listening and speaking skills, and it means people understand conflict resolution. Nearly everyone will say they’re good at communication on their resume. The thing is, most people have no real idea of what good communication is.
Communication is a vague idea encompassing a broad scope of soft skills, all of which are equally as important. You can ask for communication, but it’s important to test and assess for applicable skills. These include emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, verbal communication, and written communication.
Your organization will likely prioritize different aspects of communication depending on work methods, team size, hierarchy, and where people work. Therefore, it’s important to make your own list and assess based on your organization’s long-term needs.
It’s easy to look for someone who is certified in one technology or another. But tooling changes. Just because someone is competent at the tools you use now doesn’t mean they will be when you change to a different framework in 3 or 6 years.
Instead, you should look for people who can easily adapt to and learn new technology. This is relatively easy to look for because a) the person exhibits willingness to utilize new tooling as part of an interview, b) already lists multiple tools and types of tools on their resume, c) adapts to and navigates new digital interfaces (such as your digital assessment portal) with relative ease.
Individuals who can confidently approach and learn new software and digital tools will long-term be more cost-effective and more effective inside your organization. This is important whether you’re already planning to switch tooling, think your operating system might upgrade during their tenure, or think your role will change and might require adding on new tools and tasks.
Teamwork is another standard job requirement, and is, again, difficult to test for. Most hiring managers rely on asking about previous experience in teams. Yet, for many teams, teamwork should be about interaction, collaboration, making friends, and connecting with new people.
This is especially important in small, mobile teams, where people frequently have to collaborate with people outside their team, to engage and get to know others quickly, and to move between teams easily. Open office days, where candidates come into the office and you can see how they perform and work in new environments is one great way to test this.
Criticism and feedback are difficult but crucial elements of navigating change, moving between teams, and learning and adapting to new things. Teams should be able to steer the direction of technology and the company by providing insight, feedback, and criticism. This also applies to a one-on-one level, where people need to be able to share feedback in constructive ways in order to build relationships and work together.
Why is this important for navigating change? People need to be able to move into new things critically and with an eye for improvement, rather than simply taking on any new thing. This extends to people, tools, technology, and business products.
Not everyone needs to be a creative, thought, or people leader. But most people should exhibit leadership in some way. Leadership, in the sense of being able to connect to and drive or motivate people is one of the most valuable skills in any organization. Many people reflect it in vastly different ways.
For example, some are good at strategy and numerical thinking, others are good at empathy and have a high emotional intelligence, and others are good at getting people onboard to new projects.
Actual team leads need to be good at all of them, but most people should exhibit some of these traits. Why? It helps them to be effective and productive in teams, even when moving between teams, changing roles, and working on their own. It means they can take charge of some aspect of their work and be responsible for it with little to no accountability and they can pass that on to others.
Time and Project Management
Time and project management are must-haves for most modern roles. Top-down management is fading into the past and people are more-often required to be accountable for what they do when and how. This means looking for people who know how to prioritize, who can organize projects, and who can properly manage their time to achieve the things they want in a day.
Good time and project management means that someone will be good at those skills, even when the job they are doing completely changes.
Personal Drive/ Motivation
Personal drive and motivation are essential for navigating changing roles. Someone who goes on autopilot and does the bare minimum every day is going to flounder when change takes place. That person will never actively learn the things they need to succeed in a dynamic work environment. And, they’ll adapt more slowly than motivated colleagues.
Personal drive and motivation usually show up in enthusiasm for the role and work completed, a history of personal development, willingness or eagerness to learn new skills, and someone who sees a new role as an adventure with a new company.
While no employee has to have an in-depth knowledge of their industry, it’s extremely positive if they do. If your employee is moving into a new industry, it’s also difficult to expect them to have more than a basic knowledge of the industry.
However, they should have some knowledge of your company and what they do. People who aren’t interested enough to perform basic research will never be interested enough to follow the industry, to follow changes and trends, or to adapt to those changes and trends as they happen.
Commercial awareness is a positive thing in most roles, because it means the candidate can actively suggest and participate in the change that keeps the company alive.
Critical thinking, or the ability to analyze concepts and ideas (typically against a standard of quality or rationality), helps employees in most roles. It can help individuals in changing roles because it means they can approach new things and new ideas critically and rationally.
So, when your candidate is shifted into a new team because the one he was onboarded to is downsizing, the new team can hand him an idea and he examines it and learns to understand it.
Critical thinking is a broad term that can be broken into concepts like analysis, asking questions, understanding new concepts, etc. You should define what it means to your organization when prioritizing testing for it in assessments.
How well does your candidate function without routines? How well do they function moving from one tool to another? Can they adapt to new technology, new people, new work methods, new workspaces, quickly? Some people cannot.
While these people won’t necessarily be bad for a role, you wouldn’t want to put them in a small team designed to tackle a 6-month project before dissolving and forming a new team to tackle another project. Adaptability is key to moving with digital changes.
Your organization’s needs, rate of change, and industry will determine how important employee adaptability is. This means transferable skills might be very important in the context of transferability or not at all important.
It’s crucial to assess internal needs and to create a matrix or other prioritization method before hiring. At the same time, many of these skills are transferable because they are, at least partially, learned through experience and training. If people have potential, they can develop those skills.
Once you have someone with these highly transferable skills, you have someone who can easily move to a new role inside your organization when theirs goes away, who can adapt to new tools and new people, and who can succeed in whatever environment they end up in.