career development

Translation required

Ahhh, transferable skills. We all have them. Or at least we’re told we do. New information professionals, I mean. Those who are wanting to establish a career in this profession. We’re told to highlight them. There are the run-of-the-mill transferable skills, such as customer service and communication. And there are those transferable skills specific to the profession, such as collection management or reference.

I saw on Twitter the other day, someone reminding another about transferable skills prior to a job interview. This had me thinking about my own experiences. In particular, coming from a special library, demonstrating my knowledge and skills can somewhat prove challenging.

On the surface, transferable skills appear to be easy win. I’d argue otherwise.
Say what?!
Possessing transferable skills and knowledge alone is not enough. Transferable skills need to be meaningful and related to the context you’re wanting (or applying) to work in.
Transferable skills require translation.
Transferable skills need to be communicated effectively.
Transferable skills can be valuable, when you know how to spot them and how to ‘translate’ them from one context to another.

I’ll explain this perspective a little further.

Listing transferable skills on the CV or even rattling them off in a job interview is, I’m sorry, only half the battle to be convincing of your capability to fulfil requirements of a role. So what if you have customer service skills? Many of us do! So what if you have communication skills? Again, so many of us possess this skill.
As for switching contexts, if I wish to work in the academic sector for example (a sector I have no experience in), I know I’ll need to work extra hard, probably more than the next person with academic library experience to translate my experience, skills and knowledge, to communicate my capabilities for the role. It is important to be able to situate transferable skills within the context of the role and organisation. Just because you have transferable skills, does not mean they’re automatically communicated, or that they’re a given, when applying for a role. You need to put your ‘what can I do for you (the organisation)’ thinking cap on.

Now I’m not saying that if you translate your experience, knowledge and skills, you’ll get the job. And I’m not suggesting to embellish skills and experience. No sir-ee. But I believe it is better than nothing if you can assist recruiters with understanding how you’ve developed skills required for the role.

I have a couple of pointers.

1. Find the common language.
Think about how your experience and skills relates to the role and context. Have a look at the ALIA core skills and knowledge as a guide. For example, I managed a collection of technical data and manuals for an airline. Regardless of the material I was looking after, I managed a collection. I have experience in collection management. Maybe not to a large scale, but I liaised with users of the collection and those making the decisions, then would come to some arrangement with the vendor for supply. I undertook ‘weeding’ in accordance with procedures to keep the collection up to date and relevant. If I had said all of that in aviation speak, it would’ve been meaningless to anyone outside the industry. If it was in aviation speak, straight away people might think I have no experience. But that would defeat the purpose of referring to and communicating transferable skills and knowledge. My suggestion is to look deeper in your experience, deeper into current duties and responsibilities, to find the common denominator.

2. Demonstrate a commitment to understanding any specific skills, sector knowledge and terminology required.
Do a little research into what different things are called in the context you’re wishing to get into. Get familiar with how special knowledge and terms are used and applied in the role you’re after. For example, I may not have the opportunity to gain and apply copyright knowledge in my current role, but that doesn’t stop me from potentially approaching people to ask and learn about it.

Demonstrating value of transferable skills is hard. Even if you’re not in a position of looking for a job, I’d recommend reflecting on past experience and skills you possess to find ways to add value to your current role. Ask yourself, ‘what can be translated here?’ Having transferable skills is one thing, communicating and applying them is another.

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