Given the COVID-19 pandemic, many job seekers are considering career transitions to a different industry or function. Industries such as retail, hospitality and travel have been impacted more than others, giving many individuals no other choice but to seek a career in a different industry. If you’re in the process of a career transition, it’s important to highlight any transferable skills you have – meaning common skills or competencies that can carry over from one role or industry to another.
My friend, Kara, worked for five years in customer-facing roles in the retail and foodservice industries. Two years ago, she needed to look for a new job and found one in the tech industry onboarding new customers. She landed the job because of her communication, problem-solving, organisational, and basic computing skills. The company that hired her provided training on technology and business processes as part of their new employee orientation because these skills can be learned quickly.
Transferable skills like communication and problem-solving take time to develop, which is why they were more important to the employer in this hiring scenario. And recently, through her own initiative, Kara obtained free education through platforms like Udemy, LinkedIn and Google Academy. The company rewarded her for this proactive initiative by promoting her to a lead position managing a small team of customer engagement specialists. Kara never planned or dreamed her career would go in this direction. It took a difficult life event and her recognition of the power of transferable skills and traits to make it happen.
If you’re in the market for a new role and considering a career transition like Kara did two years ago, here are some tips to effectively showcase your transferable skills and stand out to employers.
everyone has transferable skills and personality traits
Transferable skills and traits are developed throughout your life: at home, at school, at work, and in your social life. Every job applicant has these core skills and traits that aren’t specific to one job or company. These take precious time and experience to master and they are valuable, marketable and portable. In fact, employers will not consider job seekers unless they have a solid foundation of transferable skills and traits to build upon. To prove this, read through a handful of job postings. The postings will ask predominantly for transferable skills and traits. While direct or industry experience is often required or preferred, many employers realise it is not mandatory and not necessarily a barrier to landing a job if you don’t have experience that perfectly aligns with the role.
employers value who you are today
The job market has changed significantly from the time when a job seeker’s number of years of experience were their greatest asset. Today this is not always the case. The current market values skills and traits job seekers have right now.
In many cases, employers are also looking for potential or a new perspective. It is becoming more common for employers to use psychometric testing in the interview and selection process. These types of tests assess transferable skills and traits to measure potential. Employers are typically looking for traits they recognise as present in their most effective employees because these traits have defined success in their organisation. Therefore, their ideal new hires are often job seekers that can demonstrate these traits.
examples of transferable skills and traits
As a career coach, I work closely with job seekers to better understand how their transferable skills apply to in-demand skills in the job market. Here is a list of common skills I’ve noticed are in demand at this time, broken down by category.
- communication: collaboration, listening, negotiation, presentation, public speaking, relationship/rapport building, training, verbal and written communication
- analytical: assessment, brainstorming, conceptualisation, critical thinking, data mining and analysis, forecasting, organisational, prioritisation, problem-solving, reporting, research, troubleshooting
- management: budgeting, change management, conflict resolution, logistics, performance and people management, planning, project management, recruiting, risk management, scheduling, time management
- leadership: coaching, decision making, delegating, influencing/selling, mentoring, motivational, prioritisation, strategic thinking
- technology: database administration, digital design and visualisation, equipment installation/configuration/maintenance, internet navigation and web-based skills, proficiency with software applications, programming, social media, video conferencing
- personality traits: accountable, adaptable, adventurous, approachable, articulate, strong business and technical acumen, calm, charismatic, competitive, confident, conscientious, creative, customer-obsessed, dependable, detail-oriented, determined, diplomatic, energetic, enthusiastic, flexible, high standards, imaginative, inquisitive, insightful, inspirational, inventive, open-minded, patient, pragmatic, proactive, professional, resourceful, steadfast
what are your skills? take inventory
Before you start applying for roles outside your industry or job function, it’s important to have a full understanding of your own transferable skills. Here are some ways to identify your skills and traits:
- complete personality assessments through online providers such as PSI Online and Traitify.
- read through your LinkedIn recommendations to see what people have said about you.
- look through performance reviews from past jobs.
- ask former colleagues to:
- identify adjectives they would use to describe you.
- share why they enjoyed working with you.
- describe the unique things you did that made you successful.
- read through current job postings for jobs you did in the past to see which skills and traits are required because you likely have these traits if you were successful in the roles.
demonstrate how you meet job requirements
During job interviews, employers ask situational questions because they are trying to uncover transferable skills and traits. The same applies to cover letters and resumes. When your job application is being screened, the decision criteria being used by employers is based on transferrable skills as much as direct experience, if not more.
When describing your work experience in a cover letter or resume, explicitly state how your skills transfer to job requirements. Don’t expect employers to make the connections for you. It’s important to clearly state that you have a skill or trait and show you can use it to the benefit of an employer. This means it is your responsibility to understand the new industry or role well enough to explain how your skill is transferable so that the people who are interviewing you can visualise you in the position.
transferable skills between a retail store associate and a tech industry account manager
Let’s use the example of how a job seeker coming from the retail industry can use transferable skills and traits to make a strong case for landing a job as an account manager in the tech industry.
- qualify customer needs
- respond to customer inquiries through email, phone, and in person
- deliver client-focused solutions based on customer requirements
- ensure high levels of customer satisfaction by being knowledgeable on all products and services offered
- liaise with co-workers to deliver an elevated customer experience
- meet sales productivity targets
- customer management
- relationship building
- verbal communication
- critical thinking
- prioritising among competing tasks
- problem solving
- time management
common personality traits
Here are examples that show how these commonalities can be transferred by using the exact keywords and terms in your job application that are used in the job posting.
State in the cover letter or resume summary, ‘I have a proven track record of establishing relationships as a detail-focused trusted advisor who asks the right questions to qualify needs.’ Or, ‘I am an enthusiastic and self-motivated professional who absorbs new knowledge quickly and can deliver client-focused solutions and an elevated customer experience.’
List skills in the competencies section of the resume such as customer management, relationship building, teamwork and problem solving.
Write an accomplishment in the professional experience section of the resume such as, ‘I planned and prioritised my work activities to ensure I effectively managed my time and met daily productivity targets.’
In the education section of the resume, include relevant training you have received such as:
- Delivering Exceptional Customer Experiences, LinkedIn Learning
- How to Uncover Customer Needs, Udemy
- Company Sponsored Training: Working Effectively in a Team and Why the Details Matter
In this example, the job seeker can consider targeting tech companies that develop, sell or implement retail software solutions. The job seeker can then apply for multiple functions within these companies because they have direct industry knowledge.
Understanding your transferable skills and traits and how to apply them in a job search will take you far. Making skill and trait connections within and between industries and across functions is key to a successful career transition. You will need to do the reflection, research, exploration, analysis and discovery required to make the links – and it will be worth it. You might be surprised by how many options you can uncover for yourself when transitioning to new jobs and industries.