How to Talk about Your Transferable Skills, with Ian Yee

Listen On:

Transcript

Find Your Dream Job, Episode 256:

How to Talk about Your Transferable Skills, with Ian Yee

Airdate: August 12, 2020

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

Find Your Dream Job is brought to you by TopResume.

Sign up today for a free review of your resume.

Go to macslist.org/topresume.

You may change careers several times. And to do this, you need to show employers that your previous experience applies to the new field you’ve chosen.

Ian Yee is here to share his advice about how to talk about your transferable skills.

Ian is the safety and employment coordinator for Janus Youth Programs. It’s a non-profit that changes the lives of young people in Oregon and Washington.

Ian joins us today from Portland, Oregon.

Well, Ian, let’s start with the basics. What do you mean when you say, “transferable skills?”

Ian Yee:

Transferable skills, to me, are skills that we’ve developed through work or life experiences, or hobbies, that we are able to apply in a variety of situations. Specifically, in this case, new jobs or our current positions.

Mac Prichard:

Do transferable skills have common characteristics, Ian?

Ian Yee:

I would not say that they do because really it’s a matter of the abilities that we, as individuals, have chosen to focus on and develop, and that’s where I think it’s important to be able to communicate what our transferable skills are. Because we may have spent an inordinate amount of time becoming exceptional at something that never applies to our work. At least, directly, but the reality is, everything that we do has some application, and really, for a transferable skill to be transferable, we need to be able to identify how that skill relates to whatever job or activity that we’re doing.

Mac Prichard:

I want to talk about that, the identification, but first, Ian, talk a bit about why people struggle with communicating, as you said, about transferable skills. Why is that hard to do?

Ian Yee:

I believe it’s hard for people to communicate about skills that they have because there may be some pride, there may be some inability or lack of thought in applying a skill that they have to something else. The best example I can think of is a joke around, “World of Warcraft,” where someone is applying organization of a large group of people and managing a large group of people to a job, and it’s a funny idea because some people are familiar with the raids system and World of Warcraft and it oftentimes entails organizing 50, 60, to 100 people to do a coordinated activity, which is clearly translatable to managing an organization, but it’s also easy, as an individual, to be like, “Well, that’s kind of ridiculous.”

A lot of times, the skills that we have, that we’ve developed in our personal lives or in our professional lives even, we don’t correlate to something that’s applicable.

Mac Prichard:

I love that example and I know you do a lot of hiring at Janus Youth Programs; when you’re talking to a candidate who might bring up an example like that, what would be persuasive to you, as a hiring manager? How would you hope to hear someone talk about that in a way that you would think, “Yeah, that skill is transferable to our work here at this nonprofit.”

Ian Yee:

I think I kind of talked myself into a little bit of a corner, because for myself, with the organization I have, I would not recommend the example I just gave.

Mac Prichard:

That’s okay.

Ian Yee:

With that said, that is an interesting challenge because the idea is being able to identify what the employer is asking for and then correlating what abilities you have. And so, I do think that my example, in terms of what I was talking about, would be more finding how it relates to my youth programs and perhaps working with youth. I might have used that example if I had already established a rapport with the person and established that they had a familiarity with game systems, or if I was also trying to tie into my ability to build rapport with the client. Which is something that my organization looks for, and I think that’s another strength of transferable skills.

It makes it so that we’re no longer a fact-sheet number and it rounds us out as individuals and not only that, but establishes our ability to adapt to a variety of situations, which is the sort of soft skill that many employers are looking for. Because they recognize that there are rote activities that you need hard skills for, in order to accomplish, but there are a lot of things where having flexibility and the ability to make decisions that are adaptable can really shine and incorporating our own personal interests makes it so that we’re more effective. Not only in our presentation of ourselves, in interviews and such like that, but also in actually applying during work.

Mac Prichard:

I like your two points there, that when you do talk about your transferable skills you have the chance to show part of your personality. And you also have a chance to build a connection, to build rapport, as you said, with the interviewer. How do you suggest a candidate think about that? What kinds of signals or clues should they look for if they’re bringing up, maybe the example of World of Warcraft or something else? How do you recommend that someone could figure out, “Yes, this is a way of connecting with the interviewer when talking about my transferable skills.”

Ian Yee:

I would actually relate this to any sort of preparation for a job. I know for our positions, we always put descriptions in the job of the sort of skills that we’re looking for. So, prior to going into an interview, familiarizing yourself with those. Once you’re in the interview being conversational about it and being inquisitive. So, asking questions, and then selecting points that resonate with you about what they’re asking for, and building on their ideas as much as you can, while really fleshing out how your abilities relate to it. I know, when we started this conversation I mentioned being uncomfortable or nervous because I actually, frankly, don’t like interviews. I don’t like being interviewed and that’s a struggle for me. But there are certain things that I know from my private practices in yoga where it’s focusing on breathing exercises, and grounding, like planting my feet.

Which interestingly, was something that you suggested, really helps me feel calmer and more relaxed and more capable of addressing the sorts of questions that are being posed and hopefully creates some kind of fluidity in terms of relating.

Mac Prichard:

I think those are excellent tips, and whether you’re a candidate or a hiring manager, I think sometimes, everybody is nervous in that room.

I want to talk about a point you made earlier, Ian, which is how to identify the transferable skills that you have but before we get there, I want to get your insight as a hiring manager. Often candidates say to me, “Well, I’ve got the skills to move from this profession to that occupation; they are transferable. Why can’t a hiring manager see that?” What would you say to a candidate like that?

Ian Yee:

That can be problematic because there can be a huge number of reasons. I am definitely a huge supporter of continuing to apply and continuing to reassess what is going on in terms of our applications. In terms of our transferable skills, though, I would say checking in with yourself, being aware of what positive skills you have, and what your weaknesses are. Checking your resume and reviewing your interview for how you framed things, especially if you’re not receiving callbacks, because if you do actually have all the skills that they’re specifically looking for, and they’re clearly identified, chances are that that’s why you got the interview in the first place.

Once you are in the interview, they’re really looking and trying to field how well you’re going to fit within the organization, within the specific space, and then also, gauge whether or not you actually have the skills that you professed to have that got you the interview. In that regard, being very clear about the sort of things that they’re looking for; so that initial research that I mentioned earlier, can be helpful, but also being aware of what sorts of weaknesses you have.

I personally enjoy finding examples in my own life of where I used something but I’m also aware that my ability to tell anecdotes is not the strongest. So, I actually avoid that and make my answers shorter in terms of identifying strengths that I have. So, I tend to be verbose and descriptive, which is not something I would share with an employer because verbose means that I talk too much. Descriptive, however, I might share because if I’m trying to illuminate a point or something like that, it’s suddenly a strength.

Mac Prichard:

Stories make a difference, don’t they? Especially in a job interview.

Ian Yee:

Yes, stories do make a difference. They allow us to relate the idea of our past experiences to current experiences. One of the things that I’ve encountered, many of the people that I work with are youth looking for their first jobs, and they have very little experience because they’ve come from detention. But they do have experience because they’ve worked in kitchens or they’ve done fieldwork, and oftentimes when they come in and you ask them what do they have? What abilities do they have to translate to a retail position, they’re at a loss, but the reality is, and the ones that we work with, we talk with them about identifying, what have they done? And they’re like, when they think about it, and spend some time with it, prior to the interview, they’re like, “Oh, wait a second, I worked in the kitchen for 4 years prepping food for over 100 people, for hours at a time.” Which, at most restaurants, that is exactly the sort of information that someone would want to hear and know about.

Simultaneously, even a homemaker has some of those skills. So, it’s like those persons are also able to delve into it. The trick is framing how you’re able to apply the skills that you’ve developed in a way that resonates with the people.

Mac Prichard:

Okay.

Well, let’s pause there, Ian. I want to take a break and when we come back, I want to talk about how to identify your transferable skills and I also want to touch on a point you made about how to talk about your weaknesses.

Stay with us. When we return, we’ll continue our conversation with Ian Yee about how to talk about your transferable skills.

One of the best ways to stand out with a hiring manager is to tell stories about your work and your career.

That’s because a good story will stick with a listener long after the job interview ends.

If you don’t know how to use your resume to tell your career story, Top Resume can help.

Go to macslist.org/topresume.

Good writers show, not tell. So the experts at Top Resume will help you create a resume that shows your successes.

You’ll get a resume that emphasizes the results you produced, describes the recognition you received, and includes the facts you need to document your accomplishments.

Go to macslist.org/topresume.

Nobody else has a story like yours. Start sharing it in your resume today.

Go to macslist.org/topresume.

Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Ian Yee.

He’s the safety and employment coordinator for Janus Youth Programs.  It’s a non-profit that changes the lives of young people in Oregon and Washington.

Now, Ian, before the break, we were talking about some of the young people you work with who have restaurant jobs and you were saying how they say, “Well, I don’t have any skills.” And then you draw them out and they have amazing skills that are important, not only to restaurant owners but other employers too, aren’t they?

Ian Yee:

Yeah, most people don’t stay with the same job for their entire life, so transitioning out of restaurant work into something else or from social services to government positions, is like, entirely within their realm of our experience.

Mac Prichard:

Well, Ian, I’d like to move on to a point that you made in the first part of the interview, the first segment, rather, which is the importance of identifying your transferable skills. How do you recommend people do that? Why don’t you walk us through that?

Ian Yee:

The first thing that I do is I use internet resources to get a list of what traits are valuable, simply because I don’t like brainstorming on my own. However, if you want to brainstorm, brainstorm. The point is to make a list of traits that you think are desirable in the work that you’re looking for. Another resource might be looking at the employment site or the job descriptions and look for keywords for the sort of ideas that they really want in their candidates. But there’s a lot of resources online. So, you find a list or create a list of traits, and then you identify what traits you have that you’re strong at, and then what traits you have that you may not be as strong at, or maybe they need work. Because the reality is that all of us have, to some degree, any trait that we’ve ever heard of, and it’s just a matter of whether or not it’s an actual strength for us.

Once we’ve done that, then it’s a good idea to think of examples of how you’d relate that to someone. So,  lived experiences are good, job-related experiences are better, and then job-related experiences in the specific position that you’re applying to are best.

Mac Prichard:

That’s because those are most relevant to the employer?

Ian Yee:

That’s the easiest for them to see. With that said, the whole point of transferable skills is being able to relate the skill that they’re looking for to something that you have done, to show that you’re able to do it.

Mac Prichard:

I like the research. A question, sometimes we’re not the best judge of our own strengths, sometimes we’re blind to the strengths that we have. How do you recommend people, once they do that research, find the keywords, and make the list of strengths? How should they test that idea?

Ian Yee:

Friends and colleagues and past employers are oftentimes more than happy to provide information about what strengths you actually have, good friends are going to give you very frank feedback about whether or not you are actually exhibiting the strength that you have. They’re also probably more than happy to share whatever weaknesses you have, so that is one way to gauge whether or not it’s accurate.

Mac Prichard:

How do you recommend drawing people out about your weaknesses? What’s a good way to do that?

Ian Yee:

In terms of weaknesses, I think it’s more important to identify how you’ve either overcome them or have worked on them in such a way to make them a strength for yourself. So, again, finding challenges and being aware of your wording about things can be invaluable. Because, for example, if you say you can’t do something, or, “I’ve never tried that before but…” and then you continue, you’ve already lost the person because you’re creating this fantasy realm with not only the, “I’ve never done it before,” and the, “But,” basically eliminating everything you said before in terms of value to them. Whereas identifying…for me, addressing that issue, “I would probably use this skill.” And then whatever that skill is. And an example in personal life, or professional life where I’ve done it. So, for instance, I am involved in our Push Partner Plan in the community to distribute medications in a time of crisis. I’ve never done that before, I’m telling you that to preface this.

I would never tell someone, “I’ve never done that before.” Because it’s part of my position. What I have done before is I’ve worked with organizing large numbers of people to distribute information and resources, which is exactly what the Push Partner Plan focuses on.

Mac Prichard:

Focus on what the job or the project requires and find an example of how you’ve used those skills in the past, and then tell a story that illustrates how you put those skills to work, and make a connection to this new assignment, instead of saying, “Well, I’ve never done that before.” Is that the strategy, Ian.

Ian Yee:

Exactly, and it doesn’t even need to be something large. It can be something simple like, for example, we have residential care homes that I worked at and we are required to do a drill every month for fire, and safety, and earthquake, which I facilitated. That sort of small activity is useful for conveying that you’ve managed people and you’re able to direct them to do things well and quickly. With that said, if you have something more relevant, by all means, use it.

The idea is that you can use large scale activities that you’ve been involved in, because I’ve coordinated the safety program for my organization of 250 people, and creating safety protocols around the fire drills and other safety drills, as well as procedures for that.

Mac Prichard:

I like the example that you’re sharing; they just don’t quite trip off the tongue. So, do you recommend preparation, and I think this goes back to your suggestion about research, knowing what skills are important so that you have those stories ready. Should you practice them before you go into an interview, Ian?

Ian Yee:

Definitely and I am sorry that I clearly haven’t practiced that…

Mac Prichard:

Oh no, yours sounds quite good. I mean, I love the example that you gave of working with large groups, and while you’d never done the medication distribution before, you clearly had the experience in organizing similar efforts that were relevant.

Ian Yee:

Yeah, so practice, though, is something that is invaluable. I have to admit that, personally, I find a certain amount of time in preparation and research to be the best way for myself not to feel overwhelmed and not sound mechanical when I’m talking about something. So, there’s also trying to find those points where you’re able to communicate, on the fly, about something that you hadn’t considered as a possibility, but also being prepared with some stories or concepts around the ideas that you have where you are more clear on. And I would say focusing on weaknesses is more about turning them to your strengths.

Mac Prichard:

How do you do that, Ian? How do you see people talk about their weaknesses in a way that it does allow them to emphasize their strengths?

Ian Yee:

The best times or the most positive ways I’ve seen candidates do that is they identify a weakness and then identify a situation where they’ve overcome it, or used their weakness in order to be successful. And in some cases, like for me, the thing that I really enjoyed was seeing a candidate state that they were obsessive in such a way that their compulsive behavior was limiting. That part, I would have been like, “You can leave that out.” I didn’t need to know that, but what they followed up on, and I think I can remember what they said, “My compulsive behavior makes it so that when I attend to something, I make sure that it is done thoroughly and exceptionally well.” Or something like that, I can’t remember the exact phrasing, but the idea that they took something that they know paralyzes them and they’re able to utilize that trait in order to get the job done in terms of paperwork and stuff like that, was great and it was a simple thing when I asked for a weakness. I think most people approach it as, “Oh, what are my faults?” And it’s better to approach it as, “What are things that challenge me that I’m able to overcome and still succeed?” And I think that’s just…it presents infinitely better.

Mac Prichard:

It’s been a terrific conversation, Ian. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?

Ian Yee:

Well, I’m honestly enjoying working for Janus Youth Programs and furthering our agency, developing safety, and creating a community where youth and families can grow and prosper. And I hope to continue that and help our community in Portland grow and prosper.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific, well, I know people can learn more about Janus Youth Programs and your work there by visiting the website, www.janusyouth.org.

Now, Ian, you’ve had a lot of great advice today about how to talk about your transferable skills. What’s the one thing you want a listener to remember?

Ian Yee:

The thing I would emphasize for someone talking about and remembering about transferable skills is that we all have capabilities, abilities, and skills that we’ve developed throughout our lives, and they’re profound strengths that we can apply in the various facets of our lives. So, identifying them is awesome, bringing them to bear is awesome. I think, ultimately knowing that we’re doing something that has value to us, the activities and strengths that we have is going to make to where we are more effective in the jobs that we have and the interviews that we do and the activities that we have in our daily lives.

Be passionate about the skills and development that you have.

Mac Prichard:

Is your resume ready for a tune-up?

Top Resume will review it for free.

Go to macslist.org/topresume.

And make sure you never miss an episode of Find Your Dream Job.

Sign up for our free podcast newsletter.

You’ll get information about our guests, links to resources, and a transcript of every show.

Go to macslist.org/shownotes.

Next week, our guest will be Sarah Friedell O’Connell. She’s the owner of ChangePoint Advisors. It’s a coaching company that helps senior executives navigate career changes.

It’s a crowded marketplace right now for job seekers. So you need to be clear about who you are and what you offer your next employer.

Sarah and I will talk about why your personal brand matters more than ever and what you can about it.

I hope you’ll join us. Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

If you don’t have the exact skills a job posting lists, do you still have a chance to be hired for the position? It’s definitely possible, especially if you can communicate that the skills you do have can be applied to the job. Find Your Dream Job guest Ian Yee says that one of the best ways to talk about your transferable skills is to answer questions with stories of how the skills you possess meet the requirements. Ian reminds us that all of our experiences provide us with skills and abilities that we can use in our workplace. He also stresses the need to highlight those abilities in an interview. 

About Our Guest:

Ian Yee is the safety and employment coordinator for Janus Youth Programs.  It’s a  non-profit that changes the lives of young people in Oregon and Washington. 

Resources in This Episode: