The Plight of Transferable Skills

Nicole R. Smith
6 min readMay 19, 2024

As much as I love nonprofit, with the fierce competition for employment and volunteer engagment roles few and far in-between, I am having to expand my career possibilities. The path of discovery has been bittersweet due to one phrase: Transferable Skills.

I have come across many positions where the many skills that I have honed as a volunteer engagement leader including effective communication, program development and execution, process improvement, recruitment and training, team development, and project management to name a few, would be a great fit for the role. However, becuase I have never held the actual title of said position such as, Alumni Relations Manager, Learning and Development Team Lead, Social Impact Program Manager or Community Engagement manager, (I am assuming) my resume is overlooked.

Especially after my recent poll where 80% of hiring managers actually do read the cover letter, I have been pouring monumental effort into my cover letters to validate my skills to someone in an industry who may be completely unfamiliar of what volunteer engagement is or what it entails.

In the age of AI where your candidacy is reduced to key words and job titles, how does one have the opportunity to demonstrate that the skills they possess can be just what a hiring manager is looking for?

I get it. With the saturated candidate pool, if a hiring manager is inundated with 300 plus resumes (in one case, upwards of 1700 resumes for the same position) that actually do contain the key words, job titles and have actually worked in the industry, why on earth would they even consider a resume that doesn’t necessarily have the job title or industry experience? Why would they consider bringing in someone who may be able to do the job but has no industry experience (ie. volunteer engagement in social services vs alumni engagement for a university)? Do they even have time to consider it? Do hiring managers really have time to train someone who isn’t familiar with the industry or the exact position? Isn’t it easier to choose from candidates who are literally doing the job who are already familiar with the industry?

Well, I would like to make my case for transferable skills. Simultaneously, while submitting a ton of resumes in search of my next opportunity, I spent the last 9 weeks as a permanent substitute teacher teaching dance 5 days a week, 7 hours a day at a middle school. In a nutshell, at best it was rough (though eventually very rewarding). Finally, by the last week, I had won the respect of the majority of the students, some of them even giving me small gifts for teacher appreciation week.

I utilized every skill that alotted me success in volunteer engagment to gain the respect (eventually) of the students; clear and constant communication, expression of expectations, setting and sticking to boundaries, staying true to my word, admitting when I was wrong, listening to what they needed, allowing them to be a part of the creative process, learning and understanding their appreciation languages, adjusting to and problem solving for last minute changes on the fly, creating an incentive program, rewarding desired behavior, time management, conflict resolution, adjusting to feedback, ensuring them that their opinion matters and showng that I truly do care, just to name a few.

This resulted in students who were chronically problematic in class to complete behavior changes. Students who were once begging me to leave dance class to go play basketball in gym or go sit in on their math class, were asking me, not only if they could stay in class to learn choreography, but also practically begging for a chance to perform with the class at lunch time. In a word, I was dumbfounded.

Perhaps the most shocking part of this entire experience, is the day the Vice Principal and other admin jokingly (but not jokingly) asked if I was interested in teaching full time. It prompted me to wonder, had I applied to this same job without them getting to know me through this experience, would I have been considered out of hundreds of resumes of people who have had the experience and the job title, because teaching middle school children definitely ISN’T on my resume.

The irony isn’t lost on me that I have started and led internship programs serving as the solution for students who weren’t getting hired due to lack of experience, but needed experience somewhere so they could be hired.
Now, I find myself in that exact position. How will I ever be hired in an industry where my transferable skills would be beneficial if I can’t get past AI and/or not having the job title or industry experience?

It seems as if it comes full circle back to networking. Who do I know in my circle that can speak to a hiring manager to put in a word for me to even land the interview at the bare minimum? The challenge with that is as strong as my network is, very few of my connections are outside of the industry I am already in. Lesson learned. I will be intentionally looking for opportunities to connect with people outside of my industry to further strengthen my network, and of course volunteering my time at an organization that resonates with my values.

This teaching experience educated me. All I was trying to do was stick to my guns and survive for nine weeks, and by doing so, I created, to my shock, raving fans (I am not trying to teach public school middle schoolers though).

Anyway, I want to thank everyone who has been looking out for me, sending me encouraging words and sending opportunities my way. I have applied for just about all of them. I am staying positive and I truly believe that everything will work out in the right time.

In the meantime, if you have any suggestions on how I can better leverage my transferable skills, I am open to any and all suggestions. Thank you in advance for your help!

Nicole R. Smith Sitting at a table wearing a gray dress and looking between an orange purse and orange luggage.

Nicole is a Panamanian-American, workforce development specialist, published author of Game On! Relentlessly Pursue Your Dreams and the 101 Note-taking Affirmation Journal Series, globally recognized motivational speaker, blogger, podcast host of From The Suggestion Box; Navigating Feedback The Good The Bad and the Say Whaaatttt??? and dancer. She earned her Bachelor’s degree via a Division I full-ride track scholarship and after graduating, she founded Step It Up! Inc., a non-profit dance organization that allowed her to perform for audiences nationwide and used dance to teach teamwork to kids in after school programs.

Her experience in sports entertainment, radio, TV, the performing arts, social services and education has spanned nearly 20 years covering the Chicago, Houston, Ft. Lauderdale/Miami and Orlando markets. She has danced and cheered for four Professional and Semi-Professional sports teams, has prepared more than 800 interns to enter the workforce and has inspired crowds upwards of 2000.

She has been a proud mentor for the Tessitura Network’s Early Career Development program for the past three years which is a free program dedicated to diversifying Arts leadership. She has the opportunity to mentor young arts professionals of Latino, Black and Asian decent to help them not only find their voice, but express it in the board rooms in arts organizations.

She was a contributing writer for The Life of a Single Mom for two years and has been published in several industry journals including The Volunteer Management Report, Human Capital Leadership Magazine and Chronicle Philanthropy Magazine.

As a nod to her belief in continuous education, in 2021 she earned her certification in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace from the USF Muma College of Business.

She has received several accolades to include being named in the Marquis Who’s Who for professionals, receiving an Emerging Leader Award from Alive Impact Awards for Volunteer Engagement Professionals, awarded the Amplifying Voices Award from United Latinas, being listed as one of WLRN’s “Local Women Who Inspire You” and being selected as one of Legacy Miami’s Most Prominent and Influential Black Women In Business and Industry of 2019.

She is passionate about giving back to her community and is a former Board member of Association for Leaders In Volunteer Engagement, Arts and Business Council of Miami and Ageless CHIC Magazine.



Nicole R. Smith

Nicole is a Panamanian-American, single mom, workforce development specialist, published author, dancer, and motivational speaker. Her experience spans 20 yrs.