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Specific and transferable skills, which one to focus on?

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Specific and transferable skills which one to focus on? What types of skills are there? Are the skills all the same? Do they have the same weight and importance? Does the professional carry and use all of them, regardless of the scenario, position or company? And if they have different levels of importance and applicability, which one is better to focus development on?

Specific and transferable skills

There are two types of skills that it is important to know and know the difference between, they are specific skills and transferable skills.

Every position has a set of skills necessary for its performance (whether known or unknown), in the same way every professional has a set of skills within himself. Therefore, it is essential that HR know how to accurately analyze which skills are really needed for the position and for the company, and know how to identify their presence in professionals and candidates. This is because competence presupposes delivery, it is an asset, but it can only be considered as such when it brings results.

Do you know what the difference is between them and which one to focus on?

Specific competences

Specific competencies are applicable in a single reality. They are only used when the professional changes company and the new company has similar conditions to the previous one (same sector, position and organizational disposition).

Examples of specific skills:

  • Relationships in the company’s ecosystem (networking with people from your area and other areas, suppliers and customers);
  • Systems for internal use;
  • Current position specific tools;
  • Exclusive knowledge and training in the sector in which it operates (hospital, metallurgy, retail, food);
  • Internal processes (the way things are done in the company);
  • Company-specific technical standards;
  • Internal rules and acronyms;
  • Organizational guidelines;
  • Knowledge of the company’s culture.

Are you able to take these skills with you to the next company or position you are going to work for? Think about the following, as a rule, is it possible to take your colleague with you? Is it possible to take the system, standard or technical knowledge and apply it in any situation? The less portable the competency, the more specific it is, the harder it is to take to another organization.

Transferable skills

Transferable skills are multipurpose and perennial, broad and positively add to the professional, regardless of the characteristics of their next job and company. This is because they are applicable and, depending on the competence in question, fundamental in all scenarios.

Examples of transferable skills:

  • Reading;
  • Writing;
  • Understanding;
  • Problem solving;
  • Decision making;
  • Negotiation;
  • Leadership;
  • Cultural diversity;
  • Self esteem;
  • Self-management;
  • Responsibility;
  • Emotional stability;
  • Team work;
  • Communication;
  • People management;
  • Proactivity;
  • Adaptability;
  • Originality;
  • Extraversion.

Transferable skills you can take them to other contexts and apply in different challenges. In practice, you can use extroversion, leadership skills or teamwork in any location and situation.

Boris Groysberg Study – Competencies that are more transferable than others

Based on a study of twenty General Electric alumni, Boris Groysberg and other Harvard Business School scholars reported that the transferability of skills has several dimensions.

See the Boris Groysberg scale, which shows which skills are most and least transferable:

The most transferable types of skills (Boris Groysberg)
Image 1 – The most transferable types of skills (Boris Groysberg)

Due to their adaptability power, transferable competences are gaining more and more importance in the organizational context. Since to remain competitive, the individual needs to possess and develop a set of them. Thus, if the professional emphasizes the development of specific skills, leaving aside transferable ones, he will have great difficulties when he wants or needs to leave his current job.

Find out what your most abundant skills are and where you need to improve

From the examples of specific and transferable competences given in this article, reflect and analyze where your main competences are located. Follow each of the steps below:

  1. Think about your current and past jobs, what were your core competencies.
  2. Ask people you work with or have worked with (preferably at different levels, companies and sectors) what their core competencies are.
  3. Make two lists, one side for transferable skills and the other for non-transferable skills, and write, according to the type, each of the skills that have been assigned to you.
  4. Add the number of items from each of the lists.
  5. Calculate the percentage that transferable skills represent of the whole.

Ideally, transferable skills should represent at least 70% of the total. This is a green light, showing that everything is in order, with no career losses and no need for adjustments. If it’s between 40% and 69%, it’s a yellow light, which means you should pay attention and invest in developing new transferable skills to broaden your capacity, career threshold and future opportunities. Now, if it’s below 40%, it’s a red flag, high alert, which shows that your career is at risk and that it will be very difficult for you to be able to insert yourself in different realities from the current one.

Published in July 2022.

AUTHOR [Danielle Amate]