Your CV: Job Titles vs. Transferable Skills

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It’s widely known that employers in the UK are finding it incredibly difficult to fill job vacancies at the moment. One of the causes of this difficulty is the fact that they can’t find the right candidates with the right skill sets for the roles that they need to fill.

It’s clear that our traditional approach to hiring, which relies on looking at specific job titles as a judge of someone’s suitability for a role, rather than taking a wider view at their overall skillset, is exacerbating this problem. In this blog, we’ll look at the rise of skills-based recruiting, the importance of transferable skills on a CV and give some tips for how to spot candidates with the right skills, even if they don’t have the relevant job title or industry experience.

The problem with traditional recruitment methods

The pandemic has fundamentally changed work as we know it – from how we think about it in relation to our lives, through to how we carry it out on a day to day basis. It’s also changed the way that we recruit candidates for roles.

When the worst of the pandemic subsided, we woke up in a world where our desires, fears and motivations for our careers were completely different to the ones that we originally had, pre-pandemic. We found ourselves living in a new business context.

Employers, not really appreciating the extent to which society had changed its attitudes to work and job hunting, started to revert to using the same old, traditional recruitment methods that they had relied on pre-pandemic.

They found that strategies that were once effective in finding the right candidates for roles, weren’t providing the same level of results – namely because of a growing skills gap in the economy.  The situation had changed, and this called for a change in tactics.

The predominant recruitment strategy a lot of employers had relied on before the pandemic was ‘job title’ recruiting. They would examine, in detail, the previous roles that a candidate had held, and assess whether their existing experience matched what they needed in the role. This approach, whilst relatively fast and easy to complete, meant that employers glossed over one of the most crucial aspects of a candidate’s offering – their transferable skills.

In a world where employers are struggling to find people with the right skills for the job, transferable skills could provide a solution, helping employers find what they are looking for. Here’s how.

What is skills-based hiring and why is it important?

Skills-based hiring reflects a growing trend towards making work more inclusive, accessible and fairer. At its most basic, it refers to hiring people based on the skills that they have and not just their experience. The logic is that, for some roles, even if a candidate doesn’t have specific experience of performing a particular function, they will likely have transferable skills that will mean they do the job well anyway.

This helps to make the recruitment process a lot more inclusive, allowing candidates to demonstrate their capability regardless of their academic or previous work history, as well as a lot more effective for employers, helping them find candidates with the right skills.

A woman typing on a keyboard in front of a computer monitor

Transferable skills: what they are and how to spot them

Skills-based hiring is focused on the identification of transferable skills – skills that candidates can apply to a range of roles, industries and contexts. Transferable skills can be divided into ‘hard’ skills, rooted in specific, tangible skills and abilities, or ‘soft skills’ which are more abstract and general.

Here’s a more detailed explanation of the difference between hard and soft skills, and some examples of the two.

What are hard skills?

Investopedia describes hard skills as ‘technical skills required for a job’. They are ‘acquired through education and experience’ and are usually specific to one particular job role, or area.

For example, imagine a software engineer who needs to use a specialised form of Python code to create software. The ability to write Python code is a hard skill – it’s one that can only really be applied in programming contexts. You can’t change someone’s catheter, or carry out a grievance procedure through code (just yet, anyway). This means that hard skills are highly specific – which can be both a blessing and a curse. The job candidates in demand the most with employers currently are those with a mixture of hard and soft skills.

Examples of hard skills

Here are some examples of the most common types of soft skills that you generally encounter at work:

  • Technological skills like computer skills, coding, knowing how to operate a specific piece of software/technology etc.
  • Language skills
  • Knowledge and expertise of a specific area, eg. contract law, or double entry bookkeeping

Pros of hard skills

  • They are specific and orientated towards a single ability (ie. understanding a specific language, skill or process)
  • They are often highly-sought after by employers and are in demand
  • They are essential to success, efficiency and good productivity in most roles.

Cons of hard skills

  • They are specific and orientated towards a single skill, not giving you much flexibility if you need to change roles
  • They are often technology-dependent and can be made obsolete, fast
  • They might be industry-specific, not giving candidates the ability to move out of their current field

What are soft skills?

Taking the good old Investopedia again as our key source here, soft skills are defined as ‘character traits and interpersonal skills that characterize a person’s relationships with other people.’

For example, think of a trait like having excellent people skills (also known as interpersonal skills) – knowing how to communicate well with others. You can’t really measure or define the specific thing that comprises people skills, apart from… well, being able to communicate with others well and in a way that makes them amenable to you. It’s an abstract skill but a subjective one –

Soft skills are also known as ‘transferable skills’ and they are a formidable tool to have in your skillset when it comes to excelling at work.

The beauty of transferable skills rests in their flexibility. You can easily apply any transferable skills you have to a range of contexts, meaning that you’re not limited by roles or industry. For example, having the soft skill of

There are no universities that will give you a degree in people skills: it’s something that you intuitively learn through hours of practice and interacting with others. In other words, it’s a trait that can’t really be taught. Instead, it’s something that’s developed. Soft skills are attributes that everyone has to some degree, but some people will find they are better at particular things.

Examples of soft skills

Here are some examples of the most common types of soft skills that you generally encounter at work:

  • Interpersonal skills
  • Communication
  • Determination
  • Empathy
  • Public speaking
  • Time management
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Writing skills
  • Planning
  • Delegation
  • Management

Pros of soft skills

  • They are non-specific, general skills that can be applied across a whole range of contexts – they are truly transferable
  • You often don’t need formal training or a qualification to develop them
  • They can improve your flexibility and resilience when responding to challenging situations

Cons of soft skills

  • They are abstract and can be hard to define to some employers
  • They are hard to measure, quantify and demonstrate
  • They can be hard to acquire, relying on your innate, intuitive talents rather than hard work through studying

A woman laughing on a mobile phone

How to spot job candidates with the right transferable skills

1.    Define the transferable skills that you’re looking for

Before you start trying to find transferable skills in your mountain of CVs, you’ll need to define what ones in particular you are looking for. Being clear about the exact skills that you are looking for from the outset will help to focus your mind and prime you for finding those specific skills. Try examining the job description for the role and asking yourself a series of specific questions when mindmapping your initial recruitment strategy to uncover what exactly it is that you’re looking for, like these:

  • What skills do you need?
  • Are they hard or soft skills?
  • What’s the balance of hard to soft skills you’re looking for?
  • How much industry experience is essential for the role you’re hiring for? (Can this be negotiated)

We outlined some of the most in-demand transferable skills above in the ‘pros and cons’ section, so we won’t reference them again here to save space. If you’re looking for more guidance, this blog by Indeed has a great summary of the most common transferable skills that you’re likely to need to find when hiring for roles.

2.    Look for keywords in CVs

The easiest way to actually find those pesky transferable skills in the endless pile of CVs you have to sift through is to identify keywords.

Keywords can be useful in identifying the specific type of transferable skill that a candidate has. Here are some of the most common transferable skills and their associated keywords:

  • Communication
    • Verbal communication
    • Written communication
    • Listening
  • Time Management
    • Prioritisation
    • Delegation
    • Organisation
  • Interpersonal
    • Empathy
    • Emotional intelligence
    • Patience

There’s even AI programs and automated systems in use that can automatically check CVs for particular keywords, rather than leaving it all to you. If your department has some budget to spare, investing in one of these tools could help to speed up the process.

A close up on a woodwork machine with three men in soft focus in the background

3. Ask behavioural questions in interviews

Behavioural questions ask interview candidates to share examples of their past behaviour in a specific situation. This helps you, the interviewer, gain a better idea of their transferable skills. These types of questions are particularly useful for discovering what soft skills a candidate has.

A candidate will usually answer using the STAR format (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to structure their answer. In that answer, you should try and pick out specific keywords relating to the skills they describe having used. 

You can create a behavioural question about basically any realistic topic, relevant to a job context. They are easy to spot, usually beginning with words or phrases like ‘describe’, ‘tell me’ or ‘give me’.

Common behavioural interview questions include things like:

  • Give me an example of a time that you did something wrong
  • Tell me about a situation where you went above and beyond what was expected of you
  • Describe a time when you had to deal with a difficult situation. What happened and how did you handle it?

A CV is more than just job titles

Ultimately, a CV is more than just a series of job titles. It’s a crucial document for recruitment that can give you a comprehensive overview of a candidate’s range of skills. If you only hire based on looking for specific job titles, you’re missing a whole range of candidates who potentially have the right skills for the role but just not the specific experience. We hope this blog has showed you the power of recruiting for transferable skills and given you an idea of how to go about it.

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