Looking for project management templates?

Transferable (dancing) skills

I am a big believer in the value of transferable skills, which is why I find the French education system so hard to understand.  Essentially, you need to take business studies and do a business degree to have any hope of getting a decent job in an office.  For me, university was (and is – my Masters doesn’t finish until September) about building competence and ability.  Being able to construct an argument, negotiate with peers, work in teams on presentations, organise myself to meet deadlines, learn to deal with incompetent tutors and co-students who perhaps I didn’t like that much.  All stuff that serves you will in the world of work.

Yesterday, however, my unwavering belief in fact that skills learnt in one situation will help in another was seriously challenged.  By Nike Dance Workout.

How hard can it be? I thought.  Thirteen years of classical dance lessons plus a few of salsa and rock, I’ll be fine.  Oh yes, my transferable skills kicked in OK for some of it.  I kept up with the choreography and wasn’t too tired at the end.  But somehow I’ll doubt I’ll ever make a great hip hop dancer.

This is the difference between skills and knowledge – let’s leave aside innate ability for the moment which our prof de danse obviously had in spadefuls.  Skills are things that help you gather knowledge: competences, abilities, whatever buzzword you want to use.  Knowledge is teachable and therefore learnable.  Some people would argue that skills are teachable.  I agree to a certain extent but there is a difference between teaching communication skills and teaching how to manage a risk.  Skills are things you can build on, improve with practice and awareness and you can cover up your lack of them by being excellent in other things.  Missing knowledge lets you down with a bump.

In project management recruitment we do have to ask what is more important: is it that the candidate has great people skills, the ability to get things done, attention to detail and a capacity to learn?  Or is it that they have a certificate with ‘I’m a project manager’ written on it, awarded from one of our esteemed institutes?

French employers already know the answer.  So do I.   What do you think?

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.


  1. Elizabeth says

    10 February, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    I agree that the investment you make in education (and when I was at uni that was not a great financial investment as tuition was free) does have to have some payback. I get payback from my Arts background in relation to my free time and hobbies. And I’m happy with that because I don’t believe that a career is all there is in the world.

    I used to work with an Australian guy who had a particular approach to work-life balance. He used the ‘deathbed test’ to define whether something was worth doing. If you were on your deathbed, would you say ‘I wish I’d spent more time in the office/doing that report/visiting my relatives/sky diving’? I know that not everyone has a choice, or will make the same choices as the next person, but not everything we do has to contribute to our work – although most of it will in diverse ways.

  2. Quiller says

    10 February, 2007 at 12:43 pm

    The savvy recruiter will judge candidates on both sets of criteria. The more successful managers are the ones who have a proven ability to deliver – that’s what it’s all about.

    I had a lot of trouble a few years ago convincing recruiters that my PM skills were transferrable across industries; that my extensive experience in the financial services sector did not mean that I couldn’t cut it in the telecoms world or in local government or the health sector. The core transferrable skills that make a good manager are under-valued, I think

    I also agree with ‘MeTwo’s comment about spending a lot of time and money gaining knowledge that you don’t then put to use in your career. I never went to university, because it took me a long time trying to figure out what it was I really wanted to do – too much time, truth be told, but that’s life.

  3. Elizabeth says

    9 February, 2007 at 9:55 pm

    It’s true that there are cultural differences between how we approach education systems. Personally – and my view is largely shaped by my experiences within the UK education system – I don’t feel that many children are ready at the age of 14 to make decisions about what they intend to be when they grow up. At that age, subject choice at school is about (and should be about as they need to stay interested in learning) subjects they enjoy and are good at.
    Unfortunately, subject choice at GCSE (14-16 years) largely determines subject choice at A Level (16-18), which in turn determines what you study t university. If you don’t choose Maths, Economics, or Business Studies at A Level the doors to those degrees are often closed to you. At the age of 14 I didn’t even know the job ‘project manager’ existed.
    You make a good point about being able to talk knowledgeably about your subject. People take you more seriously and you feel more confident if you have some idea what you are talking about. There is post-grad study and professional Institutes and Societies for that exact reason. They can help train and inform people who come to a profession ‘late’.
    Perhaps this is also why it is so much easier for people in the UK market to change careers than for those in France. Here there is a great deal of pigeon-holing, and my colleagues find it different to understand when I tell stories about the people I know who have jumped off the corporate bandwagon and chosen a new route. Both systems have their merits, and disadvantages.
    I acknowledge my bias!

  4. MeTwo says

    8 February, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    I find the English approach so difficult to understand! A lot (if not most) study for example biology, engineering or even medicine and decide to get a job in finance.

    Why study something for years just to do something completely different?
    Yes, you can learn how to do finance and you may be slightly better and/or quicker at this if you have spend 5 years excising you brain by doing biology than you would be without doing the 5 years of study. However a person who has spend 5 years studying finance (or something closely related) is in my view in a much better postion to do finance and for many years do a much better job than one who has studied biology, dance, media etc.

    Communication skills and other soft skills are good and often transferable, but talking is better if you know what you are talking about – this is linked to training in the relevant area.


The Shop

Check out my ebooks, template packs and other resources to help you get started and keep going on your projects
Shop now