Career Contrarian: Why I Hate Transferrable Skills

…only dead fish swim with the stream.” ~ Malcolm Muggeridge

Fair warning , this post is a bit of a rant. 

A number of my colleagues — many of whom are friends — use the term “transferrable skills” when working with their clients. Especially with their more mature (read “older”) clients; and especially when those mature clients may be looking to pivot to a new industry. 

The idea is that skills applied in one industry or sector can be useful in a new one. This concept can be applied to younger professionals as well.

However, it’s my belief that transferable skills are the wrong issue to focus on.

Value Trumps Skills

When people focus on their skills they’re commoditizing themselves. As I’ve mentioned before, commodities are interchangeable. Commodities are tied to best practices and standard operating procedures. Anyone with the same skill set can do the job. By talking about your transferable skills, you’re lumping yourself in with all the other folks out there with the same skills. And, there will ALWAYS be someone younger, faster, and cheaper who can do the same work.

Value, on the other hand, is “asset-based.” Assets are wisdom-based. They are adaptive. They’re able to use their wisdom to bring teams to higher levels of performance. Moreover, assets are transferable. They can bring their wisdom to different environments and still be effective.

Reframe: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

If you and I have worked together, you know that I’m a big proponent of telling stories about your accomplishments that can apply to different contexts. In other words, we seek to reframe your professional value in ways that matter to the people who will pay you for the value you bring — bosses, hiring managers, clients, customers.

The higher you go in your career, the more problems become behavioral. As you rise, everyone is smart, capable, and accomplished.  What made you a great subject matter expert, won’t make you a great strategic asset. At some point, it’s not a value to be the smartest one in the room. It’s of more value to be the wisest person in the room. That’s a whole different skill set. And people skills — sometimes referred to as emotional intelligence — become the differentiator of success.

The higher we rise, the more responsible we become for helping others rise. We’ve already proved that we can win, add value, be smart, and claim credit. Our job now is to help others show what they can do. 

That’s real value. That’s wisdom. That’s being a strategic asset. That’s what will set you apart from others.

How About You?

How can you reframe your skills to express more value as you seek the next level in your career?

How do you go from being really smart about what you do to being wise about what you have to offer?

Talk to me, send me an email at I want to hear what you’ve got to say.

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If you’re struggling with how to achieve your career goals let’s chat about how I can help. You can use this link to my calendar to schedule the best time to talk.

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