Transition into Tech
Leverage your transferable skills (your competitive edge) 1

Leverage your transferable skills (your competitive edge)

So we’re attacking today one of the most important topics in your career transition: identifying the skills you bring with you from your previous positions, whatever they were. Sure, you’ll need new skills – and plenty of them, at that. However, you’ll bump into the idea of transferable skills over and over again as you visit my site, since this is a cornerstone for your career transition success. I’m hoping that by the end of this post, you’ll fully agree and will be excited about exploring all the cool skills you’re ready to put on the table.

Sounds good, so what are transferable, or portable, skills?

Well, they are what we sometimes refer to as soft skills – the skills that are not directly job-related but that define your relationships with others and your approach to work. You see what I mean, right? Communication would be a soft skill – while bookkeeping or programming are what we’d call hard-skills.

Why are transferable skills important?

So, I mentioned that they are crucial in your career transition into tech; let’s entertain this thought for a bit. The first thing to consider is that, when you’ll sit in an interview room with your recruiters, for your first position in tech, there’ll be one thing, and one thing only, on their mind: what’s in it for me?

Allow me to explain: in order for you to empathise with their position let’s do a quick exercise: think of something you’re really good, something that you’ve invested years to learn. Maybe it’s playing the flute, or speaking a foreign language, or bouldering, or sculpting matches. Whatever it is, you’ve put in a lot of work and a lot of time to get to the point where you’re at. And that gives you a sense of pride, a sense of achievement. They say it takes some 10.000 hours to become an expert – and you’ve put in the hours and are pretty good at what you do.

Now imagine someone coming in and telling you – yeah, I’ve started working on this about 6 months ago and am loving it, I think I’ve got what it takes – give me a chance to show you. Imagine you’re surrounded by others who’ve been also put in the hours and climbed the steep slope to competence slowly and painfully… You see where I’m going with this, don’t you?

Say you’re determined to make it as a web developer but are interviewing with a company ran by people who’ve been at it for as long as they can remember. They know it’s hard work, they know it’s only time that can really make you good. And you come with a 3 months online course – be it however good, and you think you can MATCH their skills? Complement them? Bring something new? This thought will be the most prominent in their minds: what’s in it for me? How can this funny new person be relevant to our business? What can this person bring that is uniquely hers or his, in terms of added value to our team?

Can this person, with infinitely less formal training than we had and pretty much no experience make a difference? Be valuable to us?

YES, YES YOU CAN!

Yes you can, because:

  1. Employers know that, if you have the basics down, a solid foundation to build on, they can pass on knowledge and competence. They also know that they really, really cannot impact your working style, your values system etc. – especially beyond a certain age (you know what I’m talking about, don’t you?)
  2. The other thing they also know is that for a team to be truly effective, you need a diversity of perspectives and chances are THIS is where you can score high.

So knowing this, you’ll now be happy to explore the little pearls of experience you can bring to your future employer. These are your transferable skills, and we’ll slowly dig them up together. Wrap them up and present them in the right light – and you’ll be on your way to your first job in no time. Of course, NO ONE will hire a complete beginner (meaning zero competence; you’ll definitely have to put in the work), but your transferable skills will complement your new ones nicely, and will give you the added value that will make the scales tip in your favour.

So you’re saying I really have something to offer?

You sure do! Think widely – not just from your previous job(s); think of everything you’ve ever done – including internships, volunteering, parenting, helping family & friends, in school, in your social life etc.

The key is to be able to identify the skills and be ready to provide examples of how you came by them and how they were put to use.

There are two ways about this: you can start with your inventory of transferable skills, and pick the ones that are more relevant for the position you’d like to apply for; or you can start with your prospective field, figure out what’s needed and then dig to see where you can find some of that experience.

My personal preference goes to the first approach, since it allows you to dig deeper and find a whole lot of skills that might shape where you’ll be heading in the world of tech. I find this less limiting and quite empowering, as before you know you’ll have a list of valuable workplace skills that you can call your own and freely discuss in an interview.

Enough said; tell me about these transferable skills.

Sure. In this post I’ll focus on some skill catégories; further down I’ll give you the links to some further resources for you to go out and explore your own.

1. Communication skills

First, there are all the communication-related skills – some of the most sought after skills on the job market and particularly so in the world of tech; you’ll be hard pressed to find a tech-related job announcement that does not include a communication requirement.

Why is communication so important?

  • Well, in the workplace, communication allows you to understand properly and to be understood by others, to forge strong relationships and build rapport (with colleagues, with clients etc.), to avoid or resolve conflict. It is an asset particularly because it helps avoid misunderstandings and ensure that everyone’s on the same page, thus allowing progress towards the completion of the shared goal
  • In the tech world, in particular, communication is essential because of the pace of change, because often you have around the table people with varying competences – with managers having a set of skills, developers another and clients possibly neither; communication allows information to flow optimally between team members, team members and management and clients. Increasingly important as your career progresses
  • In your transition it is crucial because it allows your new goals to be known, your old and new competences shine through
  • Lastly but not least importantly, it’s not all about the work; communication is also crucial in your personal life. It’s a life skill that has a major impact on your overall quality of life.

So what does communication include?

Well, it covers a wide array of skills, ranging from:

  • Listening and understanding what is being said, asking the right questions
  • Structuring content in a logical fashion and adapting it to audience and medium of delivery
  • Writing making appropriate use of grammar, spelling, punctuation  
  • Presenting information to a public
  • Making good use of voice and body language; decoding others’ non verbals effectively
  • Making use of the languages you speak, translating
  • Giving / receiving feedback
  • Training, coaching

2. Interpersonal skills

Ordinarily, these include communication but I won’t have them here since we have a separate category just for them. There are countless skills that could be enlisted in this category, depending on the target career, your role, your level of responsibility etc. I have extracted here some of those that make the most sense in tech careers, and particularly so in your transition.

Why are interpersonal skills important?

  • In the workplace, they are powerful ‘weapons’ in interacting with those around you. They allow you to relate effectively and efficiently to others, to resolve conflict, to constructively accept and give criticism. They also help others, to get along with people with different personalities, to help build consensus and so on
  • In the tech world, these make a whole lot of sense, as IT products and services tend to be the result of the work of a number of professionals with different backgrounds, roles and unique perspectives. In such an environment, interpersonal skills like collaboration, conflict prevention and management, tact and diplomacy, negotiation and so on, are critical to the organisation’s success.
  • In your transition these are helpful since they play such a role in the healthy life of an organisation, that anyone that can display them will have a solid foot in the door (assuming, of course, technical / professional competence will follow…)
  • They carry over in your personal life, with people with strong interpersonal skills being and being perceived as more optimistic, positive, charismatic and overall appealing.

What do interpersonal skills include?

  • Managing conflict – a normal part of any relationship, but that needs to be handled properly in order to prevent it spinning out of control and harm the relationship
  • Negotiating – the skills needed to get two parties to come together to iron out their differences and craft an agreement acceptable to both
  • Manage own emotions / emotional intelligence – preventing emotions from taking control of situations
  • Tact, diplomacy – helping build and nurture mutual respect; ‘the art of making a point without making an enemy’
  • Assertiveness – simply being able to stand up for yourself or others in a calm and positive manner, without being either aggressive, or passively accepting whatever you’re being dealt
  • Empathy – ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, to see the world, albeit temporarily, through their eyes
  • Collaboration, cooperation
  • Influence – a subtle way to exercise power in order to achieve success, without being formally in control
  • Sensitivity to multiculturalism and diversity issues

3. Planning and work organisation

These skills are the sine qua non, or indispensable conditions to achieving your goals as they help keep you focused on task, set your priorities straight, and equip you with the tools you need to handles pressure (such as deadlines).

Why are planning and work organisation important?

  • In the workplace – frequently success boils down to proper planning, to setting achievable goals and correctly estimating the resources needed to complete the project – all the while helping with efficient utilisation of these resources and with relevant decision making
  • Particularly so in tech, where delivering the right product / service at the right time, within budget can sometimes place significant pressure on teams; they help reduce risks and keep people motivated, encouraging creativity and innovation
  • In your transition – these skills help you successfully navigate the doubts, the learning, the doubts, the searching, the doubts, the interviewing…. you got the idea!
  • And don’t even get me started to their relevance for your personal life – where, with no direct boss to steer you, it’s up to you to set your own objectives and mobilise the needed ressources, manage constraints and prioritise…

What do you mean by planning and work organisation?

  • Setting and achieving goals
  • Prioritising – identify crucial tasks and order them in a logical order; monitor and adjust as needed
  • Accurately estimating time and ressources needed
  • Managing time
  • Managing stress

Ok, so now you have an idea of what I’m talking about.

The next steps will be for you to go through your experience and identify your treasure trove of transferable skills. Armed with those, when you’ve identified the tech career you’re heading into, you’ll research the top required skills and you’ll be able to assess where you stand and what you have to work on to fill that skills gap. What I want you to remember is that:

  • Employers are looking for potential, it’ll be up to you to demonstrate it by leveraging your transferable skills
  • The good news you can learn / develop all these soft skills; the even better news is that you’re bound to already have many of them under your belt
  • The slightly less good news is that developing these skills takes time and they can be difficult to demonstrate unless by experience – by examples from your ‘previous life’. But not to worry, very soon I will be adding more resources here, so stay tuned!


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