Before I begin, allow me to paint a picture: It’s the day of a job interview, and the interview is about to begin. Greeting the hiring manager, I begin to steel myself for the questions I am about to be asked. I haven’t got any prior experience, I think. I’m not going to get this job, it occurs to me. However, the first few questions catch me off-guard:
“Do you have any experience in conducting research?”
“Describe a time you’ve had to manage multiple deadlines at once.”
“What has been the greatest challenge you’ve faced in collaborating with others?”
It dawns on me that none of these questions relate to prior work experience. All of them, however, relate to situations I’ve faced in the classroom, and the skills that are aptly termed ‘transferable skills’.
One might think transferable skills don’t hold water when compared to ‘hard’ skills such as prior training or job experience. However, transferable, or ‘soft’, skills are often just as important, if not more, when it comes to job hunting, especially for new graduates and young professionals. These are skills such as leadership, time management, collaboration, communication, and others; skills that are familiar to us all in one way or another. Every day that you attend lectures, write exams, and complete assignments individually or with your friends and colleagues, you are honing those transferable skills. I hadn’t known it at the time, but I would be receiving questions like those in every interview going forward.
University has been described as the place where students learn to learn, and I believe this is very much the case. Between Scantron-based exams in massive lecture halls, to presentations held in small seminar classes, every method of evaluation has something to offer by way of improving upon transferable skills. Multiple choice questions test one’s ability to think critically and use the process of elimination given context cues; essays test one’s ability to do in-depth research and cohesively articulate one or more ideas; and presentations highlight one’s ability to effectively communicate concepts and respond to feedback in real time. These are all skills one picks up through courses attended at university, and are all skills that have merit in any workplace: between knowing how to effectively communicate with a manager or supervisor, conducting research and analysis before a big project, or thinking critically when making decisions that impact you and your team. Speaking from personal experience, the courses I’ve taken have proved to be invaluable in instilling in me the discipline needed to execute projects, the ability to effectively communicate with my colleagues, and the aptitude to think critically in order to make informed decisions.
The university experience shapes each one of us uniquely and has plenty to offer in ways we may or may not expect, and while learning at university is par for the course, the transferable skills picked up in the classroom can sometimes make all the difference.
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