Looking to expand your career options? Discover your transferable skills

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Whether your occupation is regulated or not, having more than one career option is an advantage for a newcomer to Canada. This greatly multiplies your chances of getting a job immediately and gaining Canadian experience. This is why newcomers are advised to conduct self-assessment as the first step to planning their career. An important part of this process is knowing your transferable skills.

What are transferable skills?

Transferable skills are “competencies that can be used in many situations and many types of work. While some of these skills can be taught, most are gained through experience. These are skills you acquire throughout your life – through paid employment, volunteer work, school, community activities and/or life experiences” (Changing careers: Identifying your transferable skills, Skilled Immigrant Infocentre, BC). They are also called portable skills.

Although similar, transferable skills are different from soft skills. This is a common misconception. Some soft skills can be transferable skills but not all transferable skills are soft skills. For example, understanding data is a transferable skill but it is not a soft skill.

To differentiate:

Hard/Technical skills – Skills you gain through education or some form of training. These are job or industry-specific and represent the knowledge required to accomplish specific tasks or use of certain tools. Examples: coding (IT), welding fabrication techniques (welders), cost and trend analysis (accountants) or diabetic care and wound monitoring (nurses).
Soft skills – Interpersonal or people skills. It relates to a person’s ability to interact with others and how they adapt to their work environment. These are usually acquired through experience and can be used in many types of work. Examples: patience, optimism, teamwork, initiative, and business etiquette.
Transferable skills – Just like soft skills, these are skills that can be used in many situations and types of work. These can be taught but most are learned through experience. Examples: customer service skills, word processing, budgeting, presentation skills and report writing.

Still confusing? Just think that soft skills relate more to skills that are involved in interpersonal relationships at work and about self-management, while transferable skills are less specialized technical skills that you can use in more than one kind of job.

How to identify your transferable skills and assessing your career options:

There are three ways that you can assess your transferable skills:

  1. Self-assessment – Use the tools in the article Self-assessment: Your first step to success. Create a comprehensive list of your skills by looking at your job experience, education and training. You can also use How do your Skills Measure Up? From Human Resources & Skills Development Canada or the Job Bank’s Match your skills and knowledge.
  2. Job search profiles – Go to the Job Bank to Explore an Occupation. Study job profiles if you are not sure what career path to follow. A more systematic approach is to have a list of certain jobs you are interested in and then search them on this tool. For each job, write down the list of skills needed in the profile and match them with the skills you’ve gained over time.
  3. Take an assessment – Ask the help of a career coach to assess your skills. You can contact Manitoba settlement agencies like Manitoba Start, Success Skills Centre, Opportunities for Employment, Employment Manitoba, and other community-based agencies like Osborne Village Resource Centre.

Using your transferable skills assessment for your job search

  1. Know your top five – After your assessment, list your top transferable skills. These are the skills that you can highlight in your job applications and support with the most number of years of experience or significant amount of achievements.
  2. Expand your job search – Search for careers by skill. Otherwise, use job titles in your search if you already know which jobs you are interested in. Look at the job posts and focus on the job responsibilities and skill requirements. See if your top transferable skills match up with them. Great places to start: Working in Canada: Explore careers by skills and knowledge and Indeed.ca.
  3. Apply for jobs – Remember to highlight and describe your transferable skills as they relate to the job responsibilities outlined in the job ad. It may look like this:

    As an administrative assistant, I drafted and proofread executive correspondence, which taught me how to write persuasively for a variety of audiences and with different goals in mind. That’s a skill I would draw on from day one as a communications assistant. (From This simple formula makes highlighting transferable skills easy, Sara McCord, theMuse)


Sabine was a journalist in Germany. She worked as an online editor. She was not expecting to get the same job in Canada because of the language barrier. She knew that most publications or news agencies would prefer native English-speaking (and writing) Canadian graduates.

Sabine considered her top transferable skills as 1) writing ability, 2) interview skills, and 3) knowledge of another language. She considered and applied for a job as a translator using her top transferable skills. She got the job. (Adapted from Training: Back to school or back to zero, Canadian Newcomer).

Sources: Transferable skills, Skilled Immigrant Infocentre; Three ways to identify your transferable skills, Andrea Lemus, VPI Working Solutions; Employability skills, The Conference Board of Canada; and What are transferable skills? Abilities you can take with you, Dawn Rosenberg McKay, Careers; Skills Matcher, Career One Stop. Retrieved February 12, 2019.

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