Using Transferable Skills to Get an Internship

Dana Guterman
Updated: May 7, 2020

It’s early May, but a lot of students are looking for summer internships right now. Because of COVID-19, companies across the country and around the world are changing or cancelling their internship programs. As a result, thousands of students are scrambling to get the hands-on work experience they need to succeed in the workforce.

If you’re still looking for a summer internship—or if you’re looking for a new one after yours was canceled—you need to cast a wide net. But while you’ll want to apply to as many positions as possible, you also don’t want to waste your or the hiring manager’s time. To up your odds of success, you want to focus on your transferable skills.


What’s a transferable skill?

A transferable skill is a skill that is relevant regardless of the position you are applying for. You take these skills from job to job and experience to experience.


Why are transferable skills especially useful now?

COVID-19 has effectively shut down entire industries, but people in those industries still need jobs. If you were supposed to intern in hospitality, food and beverage, retail trade, professional services, or any number of other sectors, you might be looking for a new internship right about now. But since you weren’t planning on a career change before your career had even begun, you might lack the relevant resume skills for other sectors.

Without those skills, you’ll never get a call-back. And when you’re facing so much competition in a challenging economy, you need to hit as many keywords as possible. That’s where transferable skills come in. By highlighting transferable skills from the job description, you can prove that you have what it takes to succeed in more roles—even if you don’t have every qualification listed.


How do you know which of your skills are transferable?

Transferable skills are useful across roles, companies, and industries—and people use them socially, academically, professionally, and personally. In order to figure out which transferable skills you have to offer, think about any skills that you’ve used again and again, across different areas of your life, to be successful.

To start, what makes you a good student? Maybe you always turn in assignments early. Ask yourself, “How does that transfer to other roles?” Turning things in early in class means meeting deadlines at work, so time management is a transferable skill you can highlight. On the other hand, maybe you’re great at AutoCAD. That’s awesome, but does that apply to roles other than engineering intern? Not so much. That’s a hard skill, and it won’t help you get jobs in other industries.

So, move on to your next strength. Perhaps you’re known for your excellent research skills—that’s attention to detail, which is definitely transferable. Ask yourself the same questions for other extracurriculars, past internships, and/or volunteer roles. All of these taken together will give you a great list of your unique transferable skills.


What are some good transferable skills to highlight?

As we mentioned above, common examples of transferable skills include time management and attention to detail. If a job lists “Ability to stay organized and meet multiple deadlines under pressure,” you can highlight your experience as a student with a dual major or how you balance your extracurriculars with your coursework. You don’t need formal or traditional experience to know what you’re doing.

Here’s a list of some popular transferable skills. Of course, you’ll want to tailor your resume and cover letter to the internship or job description, focusing on listed qualifications and skills.

Common transferable skills:

  • Time management.
  • Teamwork.
  • Problem solving.
  • Attention to detail.
  • Communication.
  • Leadership.
  • Research skills.
  • Organization.
  • Analytical skills.
  • Growth mindset.
  • Innovation.
  • Work ethic.

You can learn more about how to speak to your transferable skills in our guide to applying to a job with no relevant experience.