How to broaden your talent pool with transferable skills
It’s rare to find a candidate who ticks every single box in a job description. But often, candidates have skills from previous roles that have enabled them to adapt, work well with others and solve tricky problems.

Those transferable skills could make them perfect for a role, even if they don’t have exactly the skills and experience you were originally looking for. Targeting these skills can be a useful strategy, especially when the job market presents challenging conditions for hiring.

We look at how transferable skills are becoming more important to employers, and how to uncover these skills in candidates.

What transferable skills are – and why they matter

Transferable skills are those core skills that go beyond a single role or industry. They’re useful in almost any role, and include things like communication skills, teamwork and resilience.

Roles often evolve and change, and transferable skills help employees adapt to new responsibilities, says Kelly Van Nelson, Managing Director Operations (Asia Pacific) for contract management company Serco.

And as technology evolves, the technical skills required for roles will continue to change, she says. “With the increase in digitisation across our world, transferable skills are increasingly important.”

Embracing transferable skills is good for organisations, too, says James O’Reilly, Global Head of Talent at accounting software company Xero.

“Assessments that focus on years of experience or are too heavily weighted on technical competencies are taking a very narrow view of the world.

“Businesses that have progressive assessment and hiring practices – including providing opportunities for candidates’ transitioning careers and transferring skills – will come out on top, particularly in such a candidate-driven market.”

Key skills to look for

Recent SEEK research shows the top five skills that matter to employers are transferable skills. These are:

  • communication skills
  • teamwork/collaboration
  • critical thinking
  • attention to detail/thoroughness
  • self-motivation/initiative.

These key skills can be used across roles and for different employers, and bring immense benefit for organisations, Van Nelson says.

O’Reilly agrees that employers are looking for skills such as the ability to understand customer needs, to collaborate, problem solve, challenge and influence, and to adapt to and embrace change.

How to uncover hidden skills

  • Get to know candidates
    Not everyone finds it easy to talk about their skills, and some candidates may not even recognise their own hidden talents.

    That’s why hirers who put time and effort into understanding candidates may find hidden talents. Asking interview questions like “What specific skills from your current role could you bring to this position?” can help make candidates feel more comfortable to open up about what they can offer.
  • Do a skills audit of current employees
    There might be skills already there, right under your nose. Try not to overlook the skills that might be hidden within your organisation, waiting to be uncovered, Van Nelson says.

    "In the current climate, it is important to think about reskilling and redeploying your talent, rather than making roles redundant and then rehiring,” Van Nelson says. “Understanding the skills available in your business is paramount to future-proofing your business.”

    A skills audit is a great way to uncover the skills you currently have, before starting the hiring process, she says. You can start this by mapping out the skills your organisation needs, and carrying out a survey of staff to uncover potential skills they may have.

    It’s important to view the person in the role, not the role itself, Van Nelson says. A staff member working in one role may have skills and experience that go far beyond that role – making them a valuable asset to your organisation, she says.
  • Write job ads with transferable skills in mind
    Job ads that focus heavily on technical skills and experience may not attract candidates with “softer” transferable skills.

    “There is both an art and a science art to writing job adverts,” O’Reilly says. “Businesses are constantly experimenting with what works best to attract the right candidates for the job – to clearly outline the opportunity and what skills and experience are needed to meet the demands of the role.

    “In my experience, long shopping lists of technical requirements and years of experience do not yield the best outcomes.”

    Use job ads to outline the specific transferable skills you’re looking for, Van Nelson says. “Transferable skills are just as important as qualifications and experience, and job ads need to be written with these in mind.”

    A candidate will try to address the selection criteria and requirements in your job ad. As the person hiring for the role, you’re best placed to identify the transferable skills that could benefit the role.

    “If you’re too prescriptive in your detail, then you may be missing out on that perfect candidate who could fill your role and be an asset to your organisation,” O’Reilly explains.

With more challenges hiring in a difficult job market, targeting transferable skills is one way for hirers to expand their talent pool and fill those roles. Transferable skills such as communication skills, critical thinking and initiative are valuable in almost any role.

Whether you uncover hidden skills already within your organisation, or attract new candidates with the right job ad, looking beyond the obvious and embracing transferable skills may help you fill the roles your organisation needs.

Source: Independent research conducted by Nature on behalf of SEEK interviewing 4000 Kiwis annually. Published September 2022.

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