When people are looking to start over in their career, it’s all too common for them to throw their experience into the trash and head back to school to learn a new trade or earn a new degree. But starting over can be costly: there is tuition to consider on top of bills to pay, plus the amount of time you’ll spend pursuing a new path.
A less costly commitment?
Determine which skills you’ve developed that you can leverage in new ways, regardless of the direction your new career may take you. These are your “transferable skills” and they have great recycle value.
Start by taking stock of your personal skill set and determining which of those capabilities can be transferred from one job to another – or between careers – making you a more marketable candidate and expanding your job options dramatically. Reimagining the skills you already possess can help you realize unseen potential in yourself and your job prospects.
Not all skills are created equal, nor should you treat them that way as you begin assessing your capabilities. Start by thinking about the work you perform from day to day or week to week, and then think about the core component of each task. Generally, your skills will fall into one of two types:
Hard skills are technical abilities that are required for a job, such as fluency in a foreign language, industry training certifications or computer literacy.
Soft skills are interpersonal abilities and habits, like having a strong work ethic or a positive attitude, or being a people person. They include communication skills, thinking skills, etc.
In general, soft skills are more transferable across industries, and many hiring managers or employers will look at those first. You might lack the hard skills for a different occupation, but hard skills are often considered more “teachable” – it’s easier to learn Microsoft Excel than it is to learn how to be a team player. Ultimately, focusing on your soft skills can help you get – and keep – the job. Some of these skills likely came naturally to you and some likely did not. The natural ones – the talents you were born with – often are your greatest strengths to emphasize.
If you’re stuck, consider starting by using an online skills profiler to help you reimagine the skills you use daily. Once you feel you have a comprehensive list of your skill set, consider those that could be used in various jobs – these are transferable skills.
After identifying skills you wish to highlight, consider how to make those skills really pop on your resume. If you were hiring yourself, what kinds of skills would you want to see? For example, a chef might cook on six stove burners at once but could position those skills as “multitasking in a high-pressure environment.” A stay-at-home parent usually has developed the hard skills of cooking, cleaning, personal care, etc. as well as a variety of soft transferable skills, such as managing, encouraging, motivating, budgeting and in many cases, exercising great patience and persistence.
There are several ways to communicate your transferable skills to a hiring manager or employer. You can use the cover letter to match a few key transferable skills to the primary elements of the posted job description. This connects the dots for the employer while demonstrating that you’ve read the job description carefully. Another option is to highlight your transferable skills in an executive summary-style paragraph at the top of your resume. Just make sure you focus on those that are most relevant for the job you’re applying for… in other words, take time to revise your executive summary each time you apply for a different job.
If possible, make sure your resume describes your past experience in a way that extrapolates the transferable skills developed and used in that position. That way, you’re helping the hiring manager understand how your experience complements and has prepared you to tackle the job they’re trying to fill, even if you’ve never worked in that type of position before.
We live in a highly dynamic economy, where the ebb and flow of occupations and industries is ever-changing. Whether you have an internship or two under your belt, or whether you’ve been working for years, consider the power of recycling the skill set you already possess when going back to the career drawing board. Identifying your transferable skills allows you not only to stay flexible in a changing landscape, but also will broaden your career horizons, which can help you land that perfect job.
Teresa Tanner is executive vice president and chief human resources officer for Fifth Third Bancorp. Previously, she was a senior vice president and director of Enterprise Learning for the Bank, leading a division responsible for developing and executing learning strategies that drive organizational performance. She has a vast background in education, human resources and operations management and shares the Bank’s commitment to financial empowerment.
John Courtney is the chief executive officer and founder of NextJob. John has developed model reemployment policy and program designs since 1998, working with state agencies across America. He has written on topics such as reemployment best practices, hiring statistics, job board innovation and more. He is IAWP-certified as a Master of Workforce Development and enjoys job coaching.