Leverage Your Transferable Skills During a Career Change

Nancy Anderson
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A career change is often challenging for professionals who may not possess all the skills and qualifications desired by employers. You still have a chance at success if you leverage your transferable skills to show potential employers that you are the best candidate for the job.

Identify Your Skills

The best strategy to make your career change as smooth as possible is to identify your existing skills. Make a list of the software and hardware programs you have used in past positions, evaluate your customer service or client relations experience, and make note of any management experience you have had in previous positions.

Analyze job descriptions of desired positions within the new career you are seeking. Look closely at what employers desire in an ideal candidate, and compare your list of skills with the job description. Your transferable skills could be the best option to get your foot in the door.

What Are Transferable Skills?

Transferable skills are actions, knowledge and experience that can transfer from one type of career to another. For example, if you have experience as a teacher but want to move into sales, you can highlight your ability to communicate well with parents, administrators and students and show how these skills can help you create relationships with potential clients and buyers. A former teacher also has experience setting curriculum goals and planning lessons, whereas a sales professional needs the skills to set sales goals and plan scripts and sales actions. Avoid ruling out the importance of your skills when launching a career change. It is likely that you have the experience and transferable skills that make you a qualified candidate.

Use Skills to Your Advantage

The key to a successful career change is in the way you sell yourself as a potential employee. Customize your resume to include positions that make use of transferable skills so the hiring manager can evaluate how your experience benefits the company's productivity and profitability. Use your cover letter to illustrate how your transferable skills make you the perfect choice for the job. Do not rely on the hiring manager to make the connection. Instead, give examples of how your achievements and success in other industries can carry over into this new industry.

Gain Specialized Knowledge

It is likely that you are still lacking some skills needed for a position with the industry. Make the effort to gain this knowledge. Look into continuing education courses available at local community colleges or universities. Attend professional development workshops not only to learn more about computer software and hardware programs, but also to meet people who work within the industry who can give you tips or advice on how to break into the industry.

Tap Into Your Professional Network

When you embark on a career change, you need help from your professional network to enrich your opportunities. Attend networking events in the local area to meet professionals who work within the industry. You may even be able to request a referral or recommendation from someone who is well-respected and knowledgeable about companies you prefer to work for in the future. Prepare for these events by crafting a 30-second elevator pitch that highlights your transferable skills and experience to launch discussions and conversations.

Utilize Social Media

Brand yourself as an expert or professional in the industry by creating professional profiles on social media sites such as LinkedIn or Twitter. Make connections with professionals, join online groups that focus on your new career and reach out to recruiters who can suggest job opportunities for you. Highlight your transferable skills within your professional bio, and build an online portfolio to showcase your experience and sample work.

A career change can seem daunting at first and may lead you to question your qualifications. However, it is likely you already possess many of the skills and experience you need to succeed within your new career. Focus on skills that transfer from one industry to the next to sell yourself to potential employers and land the job of your dreams.

Photo Courtesy of Paula Shaw at Flickr.com


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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Indira thanks for your comment. Unfortunately we are not ones to advise you on this. You would need to contact the college/university that interests you and let them guide you from there. I am guessing that you will need to be sponsored so, when you are job searching, look to see if the employer states that they are willing to sponsor. We wish you all the best.

  • Indira P.
    Indira P.

    I was a K-12 School Principal and previous to that, working as Asst. Professor in a B, Ed College in India. Would like to work in the field of Educational Management or Educational Administration and complete my PhD with full scholarship at the same time in the USA. Kindly advise.

  • Sylvia L.
    Sylvia L.

    My experience is that in today's job world, many people try out different careers. As such, it isn't unusual to see someone come in from having been a teacher, a manager and a postal delivery person at various points. Emphasizing those transferable skills, especially the ones that are somehow quantifiable, is invaluable. Of course, there comes a point in which it just seems like too big a stretch, so choose this approach wisely.

  • Erin Jean
    Erin Jean

    How far is too far to reach? I've definitely been all over the map in the job market, and while I've learned to equate one skill to a strength in another career, sometimes I've looked back on what I've said and realized it was a stretch.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    The main thing about transferable skills is that you have to somehow prove them to a new employer. That's where references, hard skills and concrete examples come into play. You already know you can code in five different programming languages, but you have to prove that to new employer or new clients. Samples of work can alleviate the need to show proof that you know how to do something.

  • Lorri Cotton
    Lorri Cotton

    Most people don't even realize just how many of the skills that they've learned are valuable in other careers too. I was an RN for ten years, then due to a disability, I had to make a complete career change. So, I cobbled together many of the skills I had learned as an RN, and I used those things to put together a fulfilling freelance career, which has nothing to do with nursing, but in which I still use many of the skills that I learned there.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Lydia thanks for your comment. So very true that teaching your skills to someone else can be very uplifting. To showcase what you know all the while helping someone else is a great boost to your confidence. @Jacob listing your skills is still a good idea because it might open up other avenues for you - get you out of that rut. So very true that if you have been a salesman for 10 years, that's what you will be considered as even if your background was in a completely different field. So you have to find a way to show the hiring company that you are still competent in other areas. You might even have to take a course or something else to get your "older" skills up to date. But if you are in the market to change careers, go for it. Best of luck on your job search.

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    While I think it is valuable to outline your skills and be prepared to share the things at which you are proficient, I think it is oversimplifying to think that just listing skills that could transfer for a new career will allow you to do so. Hiring managers and recruiters get tunnel vision just like everybody else; if you've been in sales for 10 years, you are going to be typecast as a salesperson.

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    @Jay, I think you can definitely benefit by building confidence in your abilities. I recently took a course where the instructor required us to demonstrate our competency in a skill by teaching a fellow student how to do it. If you don't have the opportunity to do this in a classroom setting, I think an even better idea is to find volunteer projects where you can teach others what you know. This will boost your confidence, make you feel good about helping someone else, and might also add value to your resume.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. You might be surprised how many skills you really have. Start a list of them and then keep adding to this list as you increase your skill level or learn new skills. It's always great to have a list like this handy because it is true that we are are own worst enemy. We don't like to talk ourselves up - even in an interview. So yes @Erin we do have to become a salesman in order to market and sell ourselves to the right company.

  • Erin H.
    Erin H.

    I think that we often underestimate our skills. Problem-solving skills, conflict resolution and time management skills can all be transferred from industry to industry. Critical thinking and good communication skills can all be customized to any organization's needs. I really like how the author pointed out the importance of using your cover letter to highlight your skills. Not relying on the hiring manager to recognize your skills is important. As an applicant, you have to become a bit of a sales manager. You have to market yourself.

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    It's so easy to think — particularly after a long time in one job — that I have a set of skills that are useful only in my current job. As well as the points discussed in the article, might it be wise to try to boost my self-esteem so that I can identify a greater number of transferable skills? I wonder if a more robust sense of self-worth will allow me to look at my talents from more of an outside perspective?

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for your comment. @Shannon that's a great idea to do a career inventory. We do tend to forget just how many skills we really have until we have to actually list them. But remember that you don't want to think about transferring skills that are old. Try to keep those skills as up to date as possible even if it means taking an additional college course or getting a certificate. @Abbey you should always try to include quantifiable accomplishments/skills on your resume. That gives the hiring company a better idea of who you are and what you could do for them.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    So often, people underestimate their skills, and this article gives great advice to those people. Just because you have worked in a certain career for many years, don't sell yourself short on qualifications. As mentioned in the article, most skills can be transferred, especially if you're willing to get creative and use some brain muscle. Many times, the skills people list are vague, but giving an example of how you have used the skills you possess and how those skills can be useful in your potential new career could give you a huge boost. Just make sure you aren't stretching it too far.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    I love the idea of really getting to know your skills. Sometimes, we forget that skills from past jobs are easily transferrable. I have found that completing an online career inventory or working with a college career and employment office helps identify skills that I have and skills I need to work on.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Carole thanks for your comment. It can be hard to find decent work when you are a student. But there are companies that will work around your schedule and there are even companies that offer tuition assistance should you decide to continue your education. Think about what retail companies you might want to work for and then check out their websites. You may find a position posted that you haven't seen posted elsewhere. One place that I can think of right off the top of my head that offers flexible work schedule and tuition is Starbucks. @Katharine either scenario would work depending upon the position and the company. Some companies want that student because they know that the information will still be fresh and they won't have to spend as much time training the new hire.

  • Katharine M.
    Katharine M.

    These are really great tips- as someone who changed careers it can be challenging but is so worth it. Is it better to apply for jobs after having taken courses to build your skill set, or can you apply for jobs while in school and state that you are currently taking courses to build your knowledge in the industry?

  • Carole M.
    Carole M.

    It is hard for me to find a new job. I graduate with an Associate degree in 2017 and want to work towards my goals but all I get is truck delivering or hotel work. When I apply for retail then they don't hire because I am in school.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks @Kellen. So very true. Actually, if you can, you should modify your resume for each position as well as craft individual cover letters for each position for which you are applying. Every position will have different keywords and you want to make sure that you submit a keyword rich resume.

  • Kellen P.
    Kellen P.

    This is an issue I have faced fairly recently. After several years cultivating a very particular skill set, I have had to present that skill set in a different light to get a somewhat unrelated gig. I agree that the best practice is to craft an excellent cover letter to help "guide" the hiring manager. I also think you should have several different versions of your resume, and be ready to make changes on-the-fly to suit the position you're interested in. Don't let your resume get "stale."

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