The Importance of Reviewing Candidates’ Transferable Skills When Hiring

Ken Truss, ChapmanBlack
May 1, 2019
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When hiring, it’s quite common to simply choose a candidate based solely on whether or not they have direct industry-specific “hard” skills and experience. However, transferable skills—soft skills like communication, time management, work ethic, teamwork and problem solving—are quite often what can set a candidate apart from the rest. This week on the blog, Ken Truss of ChapmanBlack discusses the importance of transferable skills, especially in today’s fast-paced market where industry sectors and technologies are constantly changing. The likelihood of finding candidates with all the skills and experience you want is slim.

When hiring, it’s quite common to simply choose a candidate based solely on whether or not they have the direct industry-specific experience. While these hard skills are undoubtedly important when looking for a new hire, they do not necessarily equate someone to being a perfect fit for the role or mean they are better than someone with less experience.

Focusing on experience and directly relevant skills certainly makes it easier to filter through large volumes of applications and resumes, which is admittedly one of the most challenging aspects of hiring. However, transferable skills are quite often what can set a candidate apart from the rest—even from those with more relevant experience. It is therefore highly important to look out for transferable and soft skills when hiring, especially as their importance is only set to grow.

What is a transferable skill?

Transferable skills are core skills that can be applied to a variety of situations, jobs and industries. As these skills aren’t subject specific, they aren’t always learned through study and work experience but are sometimes developed through a variety of activities that could be from a job in another industry or activities undertaken outside of work. Examples of these skills are communication, time management, work ethic, teamwork and problem solving.

Why are they important?

In today’s market, people are changing jobs and roles so quickly and so often that career paths are no longer as straightforward as they once were. In fact, 47% of all professionals ages 35-44 say they aren’t sure what their career path should look like, even after spending more than a decade in the workforce.

With an increasing number of people looking to jump ship and change careers, it will only become more necessary to look out for transferable skills and understand how they can benefit you and your team.

It is also important to consider that some of today’s fastest-growing industries and sectors have only appeared in recent years, so the likelihood of finding candidates with all the skills and experience you want is slim.

A skills gap in the market doesn’t mean you’ll never find a suitable candidate, however, it merely signals that it’s time to be more open-minded about the skills you’re looking for.

Take the Autonomous Vehicle industry, for example, a new fast-growing industry whose need for talent is far greater than the number of available AV candidates. This might seem like a major problem, but despite this, there are still plenty of people out there who would excel in these roles, you just have to be more flexible with what you’re looking for. While a candidate might not have the exact coding skills you’re after, they might have other coding skills that can easily be transferred and developed to make them industry specific. All the candidate needs is the ability to apply their already existing knowledge and their passion to learn (both transferable skills).

Taking the time to upskill and onboard your new starters properly is what can set you apart from your competitors and help you secure the best talent for your business. A recent study by CapGemini reported that 58% of employees were willing to change jobs to a company with a better skill development initiative, showing that upskilling is not only vital for attracting candidates but also retaining them.

Even if a candidate isn’t changing industry it’s simply not enough for them to just have the right experience, they need to be a good culture fit to ensure long-term retention. Whether a candidate will be a good culture fit can’t be determined by their experience but by their career interests and personality.

Transferable skills not only show what a candidate can already do but also demonstrates what they are able to bring to the role. By highlighting a candidate's potential rather than what they have already achieved, transferable skills open up more doors for hirers and can give opportunities to great candidates that would have been previously overlooked.

It’s no wonder then that according to research undertaken by SEEK, on average, hirers believed that transferable skills and formal qualifications should have an importance weighting of 63% and 37% respectively.

Where to look for transferable skills

As they are not always explicit, transferable skills can be hard to spot, especially with large volumes of applications to get through. While this makes it important for candidates to advertise these features in their applications, it is beneficial for you, as employers, to read in between the lines and think what a candidate could bring to the role. Working with a technical recruitment specialist can help you better understand what skills can be transferred over to help fill your roles faster.

It’s obviously difficult to gauge a persons’ soft skills by looking at a written resume. There are an increasing number of companies using psychometric tests to measure applicants’ soft skills, but the best way to do this is in an interview. These soft skills such as personal motivations and career interests are much easier to pick out from a conversation. Open-ended questions that focus on getting a sense of a candidate’s transferable skills are invaluable and are the most accurate indicator you have on how well they can adapt to a role.

Be open-minded

By opening up your job search to include more transferable skills, you open up yourself to include talent that you might never have considered but might bring something to your business that you didn’t know you were looking for.

Ken Truss, ChapmanBlack
Ken Truss, ChapmanBlack

Ken Truss is Managing Director, N.A., of the international recruitment consultancy ChapmanBlack. With a diverse background in talent acquisition spanning over 9-years, Truss continues to learn and innovate the hiring process with all perspectives in mind: Candidates, Employers, and Recruiters. He is born and raised in Detroit and a loving father of 3 beautiful children.

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