When Transferable Skills Are Not Enough

Much is made of transferable skills.  They are catnip for potential employers; they are your CVs equivalent of ‘tall’, ‘gsoh’ and ‘home counties’ on Match.

Transferable skills include verbal communication; written communication; understanding instructions; team work; time management; numeracy skills; analytical skills; IT skills; organisation skills; and personal development.  Not sure you have any?  Well, let’s do a translation from CV-speak and you may be surprised to discover just how qualified you are.

600 cv translation

Think I sound harsh?  Or cynical?  Well, my assessment is positively nanny-state in comparison to the opinions of Ozzie Andros writing on the same subject in his 2011 seminal work Ozmodium Management:

“Most transferrable skills are simply basic abilities that most people take for granted, the great majority of which are exercised everyday just in getting out of bed.” (From the chapter Transferable Skills, Ozmodium Management, 2011)


In fact, I have nothing against transferable skills.  I don’t mean to belittle them.  I have encountered plenty of workplace colleagues who would benefit from lessons in plenty of them.  However, I think there is a limit to how far transferable skills should get someone in the corporate hierarchy before some kind of demonstration of actual skills needs to kick in.  How far?  It is an interesting question, even if I am the only one asking it.  Certainly a long way below Director level, which is where the concern implicit in the title of my essay, makes itself manifest.

To illustrate my point, I am going to use an expression, which automatically makes my thinking redundant, but which is hard to escape, nevertheless: “In the old days.”

In the old days, the Director of a business or organisation typically would have worked their way up through the ranks of that industry, acquiring actual skills both pertinent and specific to that industry along the way.  Nowadays, Directors are routinely switched between entirely disparate industries, bringing with them nothing more than an impressive portfolio of transferable skills.

However, Directors do bring with them one important transferable skill, which sets them apart from other mere mortal employees.  Reorganisation skills.  Let’s refer to Google Translate again.

600 cv translation v2

The typical result of this meddling on a company’s structure is an endless cycle of uninformed, short-term invention and reinvention, usually to the complete exclusion of the business or organisation’s primary activity.

Transferable skills are important, but they go only so far.  For progress to happen––in business; in society; in the world––actual skills are required.  And, unfortunately, they are only acquired by hard work.

© Simon Turner-Tree


Simon Turner-Tree practices his teamwork skills.

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