155: [Ask Halelly] “How can I develop transferable skills now that can help me in my next or dream job?” on the TalentGrow Show with Halelly Azulay

ep155 how can i develop transferable skills now that can help me in my next or dream job Ask Halelly TalentGrow Show

Can you develop your skills for your next job – even your dream job – while still in your current role? Yes. You can, and you should. I will show you how in today’s episode.

Here’s another Ask Halelly episode of the TalentGrow Show, where I answer a question from a listener, a member of the audience at one of my conference speaking events, a learner in one of my corporate workshops, or a member of the media.

First, I remind you that you own your development, and encourage you to be proactive in developing the skills you need for your next job. Then, I share five broadly useful transferable skills to focus on plus suggest specific, non-training, low-budget ideas for how you to grow them, while still in your current role. And even without any involvement from your current boss if it’s not possible.

Take a listen, weigh in with your own opinion, and share with others!


How can I develop skills that can transfer to another industry or job? What can I do to build the skills that I'll need to get to my dream job?


As I’ve said before – most recently in episode 150 – every one of us is the only one ultimately responsible for our own development. As such, we must be proactive about assessing the gaps between our current and desired skills and continue to intentionally seek development opportunities to help us close the gaps and keep growing. By being strategic and intentional about self-development, we can be the master of our own career trajectory and the steward of our own career.

Taking ownership of your own development is the first step. Developing yourself is second and can take many forms, and I suggest being proactive and strategic but including a development-lens to almost any activity that you become involved in.

Most professionals develop a variety of skills in every job they hold. Some of those skills are very technical and job-specific, like operating certain machinery or programming certain proprietary software. But many skills are completely transferable to new jobs, new organizations, and even new industries.

5 Totally Transferable Skill Ideas

Today, I’ll share with you five ideas for important and totally transferable skills that I think you could build now, while in still your current role, to help you transition into your dream job (or just the next stepping stone on the career path to your dream job). Plus, I’ll describe some non-training ideas for how you could develop those skills or competencies while you’re in your current role, with little to no budget, and often even without your current employer’s involvement if that’s not available or possible. These ideas build on methods I wrote about in my book, Employee Development on a Shoestring.

Totally transferable skill idea #1: Leadership

There is always a need for employees at all levels who can demonstrate the capacity and willingness to lead others in projects, on teams, or in bona-fide leadership roles. In episode 143 I described three specific ways to develop your leadership skills inexpensively: volunteering, mentoring, and serving on special teams. I won’t repeat myself too much here so definitely cue up that episode for your next up listening experience after this one.

Totally transferable skill idea #2: Communication

Another skill that is very important and transferable is communication – both written and oral. There’s no job in the world that doesn’t involve communicating clearly and effectively, and any employer will benefit from new employees who bring with them the ability to communicate well. What can you do in your current job that can help you become a more competent, effective, and confident communicator?

One idea from my book, which I’ve also blogged about, is to lead a lunchtime learning session for your colleagues on a topic of your choice. It’s an amazing communication skills development opportunity that allows you to speak to your peers in a relatively low-pressure environment. You can present on a topic you have great familiarity with or one you want to learn more about. And you can make this a relatively short presentation that allow just enough ‘outside the comfort zone’ development without going into the ‘panic zone’ of doing a full-day workshop or speaking in front of large or public audiences.

Another idea from my book for developing all kinds of skills, including communication skills, is to engage in what I’ve called digital storytelling. What does that mean? Become a roving reporter and digitally capture (by audio or video recording) hot stories from the frontlines, from customers, or from star performers about difficult challenges overcome or workarounds and new ideas, and share these with the rest of the organization. You can leverage this method to develop your interpersonal communication skills, your interviewing skills, and even your public speaking skills if you choose to be in front of the mic and/or camera.

Finally, a way to develop your written communication skills is to take on a volunteer role that allows you to practice your writing, such as writing the newsletter or website copy for your favorite charity or professional association’s local chapter. As I’ve mentioned before, volunteering is a great way to get practice on someone else’s turf while building skills that you get to keep and put to good use back on the job.

Totally transferable skill idea #3: Networking/Relationship Building

Hone your ability to connect with others both within and outside your current organization and build trusting relationships. This practice will allow you to continue to expand your access to information, new ideas, opportunities, and support. You will bring your network with you to every new role, expanding the circle of available supports, resources, and inputs that enhance innovation in your new organization.

I’ve blogged about the importance of being in the business of ‘building and maintaining bridges IN EVERY JOB, not just ‘not burning bridges’ when you leave. Become an active bridge maintenance person: Ensure that you connect with current coworkers in a way that you can upkeep even when you’re no longer at the same workplace. The most obvious form would be ensuring you are linked on LinkedIn, which people tend to keep up-to-date. Be sure that your own LinkedIn account is not tied to your current work email but rather to a permanent email address that will stay with you as you shift employment.

Also, you can set up small, doable daily or weekly networking habits that have you checking up on your contacts. For example,

  • Like, comment on, and/or share their business-related social media updates and posts;

  • Introduce your contacts to others in your network that they should know (just ensure that you make these double-opt-in introductions);

  • Send them articles that might be of interest with a personal note about why you sent it and asking how they’re doing or wishing them well;

  • Send them a simple note of appreciation (bonus points for hand-written, snail-mail notes but emails and even text messages will do fine).

Totally transferable skill idea #4: Flexibility

In our VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous), being able to respond in a more flexible and nimble way to unexpected information or quick changes in plans is a crucial skill. Assuming that a training class or eLearning program on flexibility is either not an option or not the best way to develop this skill, here are three ideas for development outside the classroom and ‘on a shoestring’ – each based on a different chapter from my book.

  • Self-Directed Learning: read at least three books on change and flexibility and write a summary of the key lessons you can apply from each book.

  • Special Teams: join an action-learning taskforce where you take on a more observant, quiet role during problem solving and project planning meetings to allow and understand multiple views and perspectives for each problem. Personally write down three alternative explanations to each idea or judgment that you think of before articulating your opinion in meetings.

  • Job Rotation Assignment: complete a job rotation assignment in a department/location that is known to be under a lot of stress and pressure to gain a new perspective on organizational issues and develop new ways of working, especially in a challenging environment. Keep a journal of challenges and insights and how you could handle those aspects more effectively in the future.

Totally transferable skill idea #5: Creativity

One IBM study of CEOs said that these leaders thought that – “more than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision -- successfully navigating an increasingly complex world will require creativity.” There are a lot of ways to develop creativity – you just need to be creative…

(Ok, I’m kind of joking there. I’ll give you some ideas. Creativity really is for everyone.)

Whole Brain Thinking expert Ann Hermann-Nehdi, in episode 7, provided a great suggestion for how to build the habit of practicing and cultivating your creativity: “carve out time in [your] schedules every single week, devoted to [your] own learning development….make stretching outside your comfort zone a daily habit… start with something small, even just 20 minutes a day.”

Another idea for increasing creativity I’ve blogged about are ones that I learned via my own self-directed learning – in this case, listening to podcasts – and it’s quite easy to implement.

I learned it from one of the recorded Creativity in Business Telesummit (CIBT) interviews with creative leaders, hosted by my friend Michelle James of the Center for Creative Emergence (whom I interviewed on episode 23 of the TalentGrow Show). Her guest, Annalie Killian, described a practice she called 'Algorithmic Brainstorming': When contemplating a new goal, or a topic you want to write about, or a question you’re grappling with, do a Google Image search on that word, phrase, or question and see what comes up. Looking at the images that are generated by Google's algorithmic search encourages your mind to use both hemispheres of your brain to think about the idea: both the linear, logical, linguistic left brain as well as the metaphoric, imagery-based right brain. It enhances your ability to think creatively about the subject at hand and generate fresh insights.

I have also done this kind of search in Flickr's Creative Commons gallery, which I find brings even richer images than Google. This is especially true if you apply a trick I learned a while back from blogger/author/podcaster Tim Ferriss: click the 'Interesting' button on your search results in Flickr.

Sum up

  • You own your development.

  • You can (and should) be proactive to develop the skills you need for your future role while still in your current one.

  • While the skills each of us wants to grow are specific and individual, I’ve shared five broadly useful skills that you may want to grow and suggested a variety of specific, non-training, low-budget ideas for how you could do so.

  • And while working on your own development with the blessing and support of your current supervisor is great and ideal, the good news is that you can totally do this on the side or even on the job without any official involvement from your current boss if it’s not possible.


  • What’s your biggest A-ha or takeaway from this episode?

  • What other ideas do you have for proactively developing transferable skills?

  • Would you like to submit a question for a future “Ask Halelly” episode? You can use the voice messaging widget right here on the website and then I can even play your audio (with your permission, of course) on the episode! Or you can send me an email, or a ‘contact us’ form on this site, or a comment-based question, or a tweet…. You get the picture. Anyway you like it, I would love to hear your question!

About Halelly Azulay

Have we met? I'm Halelly Azulay. I'm an author, speaker, facilitator, and leadership development strategist and an expert in leadership, communication skills, and emotional intelligence. I am the author of two books, Employee Development on a Shoestring (ATD Press) and Strength to Strength: How Working from Your Strengths Can Help You Lead a More Fulfilling Life. My books, workshops and retreats build on my 20+ years of professional experience in communication and leadership development in corporate, government, nonprofit and academic organizations.

I am the president of TalentGrow LLC, a consulting company focused on developing leaders and teams, especially for enterprises experiencing explosive growth or expansion. TalentGrow specializes in people leadership skills, which include communication skills, teambuilding, coaching and emotional intelligence. TalentGrow works with all organizational levels, including C-level leaders, frontline managers, and individual contributors.

People hire me to speak at conferences and meetings and to facilitate leadership workshops, but what I love most is to help fast growing organizations create a leadership development strategy and approach.

I'm a contributing author to numerous books, articles and blogs. I was described as a “Leadership Development Guru” by TD Magazine. I blog, publish a leadership podcast (um, hello?!), and have a popular free weekly subscription newsletter – so you should definitely sign up at www.tinyurl.com/talentgrow.

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Intro/outro music: "Why-Y" by Esta