Transferable Skills

Recent graduates indicate they are changing jobs four times within five years of graduation. It is crucial to articulate the skills you have developed as they relate to new opportunities. How portable is your skillset?

Work skills may be acquired in a variety of settings. As a student, you develop technical skills related to your major. In addition, you work in teams on class projects or take on leadership positions in a student organization. As an intern, you begin to build your professional portfolio as you help employers solve problems and meet customer needs. Make a list of your experiences both on- and off-campus and develop an inventory of skills.

What is your expertise? If you are having trouble answering this question, this page is designed to help. To be successful in the job search, you must relate your skillset to the job description and support it with accomplishments.

Each year, we survey our employers to determine the ‘ideal candidate.’ While this may vary among employers, there are three major competencies that all organizations seek: communication, problem-solving, and teamwork.

Communication Skills

Communication skills include writing, speaking, and interpersonal skills. Your ability to write well translates into a valuable skill set for employers. An ‘ideal candidate’ can articulate their ideas in an organized and concise format. Platform skills will also contribute to your success in the hiring process. How often have you spoken in front of a group or class? Can you be persuasive in your presentation of a concept? Finally, employers are looking for someone who is engaging and enthusiastic. Your ability to connect with others as well as with the recruiter demonstrates your interpersonal skill set.

Problem Solving/Analytical Skills

Think of a problem that you encountered at USC or in your workplace. How did you arrive at a solution? Most employers derive revenue by solving problems for their clients. In recruiting for entry-level positions, organizations are tapping into a new and fresh resource for creative solutions. This is where you can highlight your research experience. It is also an opportunity to describe how you go about making a decision.


Becoming skilled at sharing responsibility and working with others may be the most important thing you can do to add to your value. What role have you played on teams? Use examples of classroom group projects, sports teams, internships, and student organizations. What are the elements that contributed to team success? What did you learn when you failed as a team? Why do some teams succeed and others fail? 

There is also a subset of skills that employers consider when reviewing resumes and interviewing prospective employees. Here are a few to consider:


In the past 12 months, we have received more employer feedback on this skill than on any other. Employers are telling us that—to their dismay—new employees and interns are waiting to be told what to do. Demonstrate ways you have taken the initiative and achieved positive results. Did you address a problem that was causing a loss in productivity? Many of you have brought your technology expertise to the workplace to streamline a variety of projects. This is an ‘energy and enthusiasm’ skill. What have you done to go beyond the job description?


This was the number one requirement for several years. However, employers found that they could not run a successful business if everyone is in charge. As organizations collapsed their bureaucratic structures, there were fewer opportunities for advancement. Teamwork became more critical to the actual practice of an organization, though leadership is still essential. If you have been a student leader, founded an organization, or led a project team, you have demonstrated this skill. The result of your leadership is what counts. What did your group/team accomplish during your tenure as the leader? How inclusive are you to all members of a diverse team?


The world of work is in constant flux. Employers are looking for people who thrive on change and are not paralyzed by it. Students will often describe this as being ‘open-minded.’ In fact, it means you are willing to change course and adapt to new rules quickly. How does your experience demonstrate your ability to adapt to change?


In any organization, there is a need for fresh perspectives on existing problems. How original is your approach to a challenge? Do you color outside the lines? Do you think outside the box? Can you give a specific example of innovation?

Willingness to Learn

You do not have all the answers. None of us do. You are applying for a position to add to your education in the workplace. In an interview, you will convey your interest in the work. You will talk about what you bring to an organization to help them be successful. But you also want to express your interest in learning more about the field. Can you reference a previous experience that illustrates your willingness to learn?

Attention to Detail

This is the ‘common sense’ skill. Do you take notes in meetings? Do you ask questions to clarify directions? Do you read and follow directions? Do you proofread your email, PowerPoint presentations, and final papers? How committed are you to excellence in the small things? Be sure to proofread your cover letter and resume. A mistake on either will indicate a weakness in this critical skill.

Remember, when composing your resume and cover letter, focus on the skills required in the job description. Utilize this transferable skill concept to demonstrate how your experience matches what the employer is seeking. The cover letter is your introduction. If you are applying for a position unrelated to your major or previous work experience, include a paragraph in the cover letter that connects your transferable skills to the job description. Demonstrate to a prospective employer that you have developed expertise based on a skill set that suits their hiring needs.