transferrable skills: the new buzzword

October 19, 2009

Almost everyone I’ve spoken to lately – which I admit largely means “recruitment agents, jobseekers, local enterprise support agencies, freelancers on varying places in the overworked/given up spectrum, and a few employers who are thinking deep thoughts” – has the same idea about What This Recession is Good For. I have it too. I’ve delivered the spiel to several people, including a recruitment consultant who was downcast because her career is in fashion, and she’d been signing on two weeks earlier.

So, what can this recession possibly be good for?

I’ll tell you. It’s the perfect opportunity to hone your Transferrable Skills. Really using this time to lift your base, so that when this thing ends you can hit the ground running. Whenever that is. After we’ve reached the top of the second half of the W. In 2012.

Most skills are transferrable, of course. Reading. Thinking. Writing. The ability to go into a new place and figure out what’s going on. But right now the job market is a buyer’s market, and the buyers – the employers – are very risk-averse. Not only do they want to hire people for less money, they want to be sure that bringing those people into the organisation is going to give them the competitive edge.

There’s a blog post I’ve been sitting on for a couple of months, about this very subject. It comes from the excellent Woman of Experience blog. I won’t introduce Ms Robinson, as she does that very effectively in her rant. I’ve edited out the most ranty bits, to concentrate on the serious thing she’s saying – but if you want the whole cannonshoot, you’ll see it  on Ms R’s blog. Here she is:

Ms R’s CV indicates much experience, with an agency background and lots of corporate names. Because Ms R is not a junior type person she is capable of coming up with whole campaigns in say, a few hours…

But it’s a recession. So Ms R can’t wait for word of mouth which has got her most of her jobs. She must go to see Charlotte/Emma/Annabel…

If Ms R had just sold drugs for twenty years it would be different. They would understand. But she has confused them by transferring her skills and showing her adaptability and agility. She has helped the Global Fluff Company sell Fluff. She did internal communications for the CompanyWhoMakeMindNumbingProducts. And all of this is just too confusing for Emma/Annabel/Charlotte.

So what have you done?

“I have revitalized the brand of the Stinky Kids company. I realized Stinky Kids had latent brand values and by using them sold more kids the idea of being Stinky. I also wrote new business proposals for the MoreFeckingWaysTo Lose Money company. Before me their proposals were dull and nobody wanted to buy them. But look at how many new customers I helped them gain and subsequently milk. I also spent a few years doing internal communications for the We Make Stuff That Makes People Fat company. My job was to make employees feel good about making stuff that makes people morbidly obese. I succeeded. I even wrote speeches for their CEO to give to factory workers reminding them they work in unacceptable conditions for a very good reason. That is what I can do.”

So, Kids, Financial, Food. But the problem is we are selling String. And you haven’t worked with string before. How do we know you can work with string. My client really wants someone who understands String.”

“A man doesn’t have to wear a tampon to sell it.”*


“Oh never mind. Have you noticed how I transferred my skills… I am capable of doing this and you get an immediate return on investing in me. I bring in new ideas from Stinky Kids that can revitalize String. It’s called best practice.”

“Very good but still no String. Our client wants someone who has worked with string for at least ten years…”

The last I knew, Ms R was contemplating emigrating to Australia, where she has family and lower overheads. I’m not sure where that leaves the rest of us.

I know what I’ll be doing, though. I’ll be honing my transferrable skills. And my specific ones. And my knowledge. And insight. Those are all I’ve got. And I may be lucky, because I’ve recently met some terrific people whose companies have recently had the exact kind of experience I’m looking for…

* I love this bit.


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