Longing for a career change? Identify your transferable skills

If you did it, you own it
February 23, 2014

Some people are happy with their chosen field and stay with it until they retire. Others may yearn to try something new and different but stay where they are because they believe they do not have the skills or experience to move into a different field.

Although prospective employers might lean toward hiring someone with formal education or training typically associated with a job, it does not mean that you do not have the skills to do the job.

It just means you have to identify the skills you have that match what the job calls for and convince the employer that the skills and experience you have are transferable and will meet their needs.

Transferable skills are just that - skills that can be used in a new setting or applied in a different role.

In order to target your transferable skills to make your case to a prospective employer, it’s important to know what skills are required in the desired new field. Understanding the job duties and responsibilities will help you hone in on what an employer will be looking for and give you a place to start as you assess how well you match up.

You can learn about desired skills by reviewing job openings in the field of interest, performing some information interviews with individuals working in the job of interest, or doing research online.

Once you know what is required, you will need to assess your current skills. Reviewing your resumé is a good way to start. For each job previously held, identify the skills you used to perform your job. Be global - don’t limit yourself to what your job description says. If you did it, you own it. For each job, develop a list of skills used and think of examples you can share in an interview that demonstrate how they apply to the job you are pursuing.

In addition to your paid work experience, consider the skills you developed while in school - performing research, internships, any roles you fulfilled while participating in sports, clubs, etc. - as well as any you developed through volunteer- or community-based positions you have held. Skills developed and used, paid or not, are still skills. Your job is to identify them.

Look at your skill set from a variety of vantage points. Consider skills in such areas as communication, research, planning, organization, management, leadership, problem solving/critical thinking, financial management, development, human relations, etc. Also consider your ability to listen, counsel, coach, mentor, facilitate process, plan, organize, prioritize, implement, analyze, negotiate, sell, influence others, create, conceptualize, draw conclusions, and make decisions.

Time management, working as part of a team, or even skills more technical in nature such as operating specific equipment, working with technology, or implementing specific procedures are important. Make a mental note which experiences, paid or volunteer, allowed you to develop and utilize these skills, as you may have to elaborate in a job interview. The key to being hired into a different field is your ability to identify your transferable skills and then connect the dots for a prospective employer so the dots can be applied to doing the job at hand.

If you note a gap in required skills desired and the skills you currently possess, consider accessing opportunities like education, employment, or volunteering where you can develop those additional skills.

Once you have identified your skills and can demonstrate how they apply, rewrite your resume to bring them to light. It is your job to prove how your skills transfer and how you will be an asset on the job and a benefit to the organization.

Your resume will highlight transferable skills. Your cover letter will inform the employer of how your existing skills and abilities, perhaps developed and applied in a different setting or industry, are appropriate and easily applied to this job.

Knowing your transferable skills and being confident in your ability to articulate how your skills cross industries can help you move from where you are to where you want to be.


Andi Edelman is affiliated with Cape Integrated Wellness and is a career consultant and life coach.