Sometimes climbing the corporate ladder means changing careers entirely.
When most people plan their career path, they anticipate they’ll keep the same job for the entirety of their career. But the truth is that passions change, career paths fizzle out, and most people will have more than one career in their lifetime. Landing a new job in an unfamiliar field can seem daunting, but you can nail your career change with one simple trick: transferable skills.
What are transferable skills?
Transferable skills, sometimes referred to as “portable skills,” are skills that can be applied to multiple areas of your life. They can be skills you learned in school, through your hobbies, through previous professions, or everyday life.
What makes transferable skills great is that every jobseeker has them. They are a culmination of your life's experiences, which makes your skills unique to you. The key to transferable skills is finding that special something you bring to the table that other candidates don’t have.
Why do transferable skills matter?
Understanding what transferable skills are and how to identify yours can be extremely important for both job seekers and employers.
As a jobseeker, you might be more qualified for a position than you realize. Your skills from your current role might translate well into a new position or industry. Pinpoint your strengths and find the best way to talk about the value they bring.
As an employer, finding a job candidate that doesn’t quite fit the mold can be a rare find. These people often bring unique perspectives and experiences to your company. Expanding your hiring pool will improve the quality of candidates you receive.
In both cases, it’s all about looking past job descriptions, titles, and industry buzzwords and instead getting down to where skills actually come from and how they can be used.
How to use your transferable skills to land your dream job
The hardest part about using transferable skills to change careers is pinpointing the skills you want to highlight. So, how can you figure out what your transferable skills are and how to use them to help steer yourself in a new direction? Let me share with you how I took my experience as a teacher and turned it into a career in freelance writing.
1. Break everything down
You might think you only have experience in a certain field of work. For example, when I graduated from college with an English degree, I taught overseas, then returned home and went to school for a teaching certificate and was a substitute teacher after that.
On the surface, looking at the titles I’ve had, it might appear that I only have experience in education, but there’s a lot more to my abilities than that. How can I break down my actual skill set to be applied to other fields?
First, I need to identify exactly what I can do. There are skills I had to learn specifically for teaching, like understanding child psychology and development, knowing about the subjects I was teaching, curriculum expectations, and so on.
But along with that, I learned a lot of other skills that can be applied all over the place like planning and organization, written communication skills, adaptability or flexibility, interpersonal skills and relationship management, teamwork and collaboration, verbal communication, listening and providing feedback, being well rounded/diverse in my knowledge, and more.
All of the skills in the second list are things that are important to a lot of different professions, not just teaching. And teaching isn’t the only job this works for. You might have come from a completely different professional background than me, but maybe you saw yourself in some of my skills. This means you have those transferable skills as well.
There are a whole bunch of skills you might have picked up in your various walks of life, so here’s a list of some of the top ones that often come up when you’re job searching:
Diversity in knowledge
Analytic / Research skills
IT / Technical skills
Attention to detail
And these are just a few. You might be able to think of more, or if you’re having trouble putting some of them into words yourself, there are tons of useful sources around the web to help you out.
2. Find the connections
Once you know what your skills are, you can start to find the connections between what you can do and other fields of work. My planning, adaptability, and teamwork skills were necessary for my success in a classroom, but they could also mean I’d be very successful elsewhere as well. Many professions require these skills, and what I need to do is find the jobs that feel like the right fit.
Unfortunately, there are some career changes that are still going to require some extra work (or sometimes a lot of extra work depending on what they are). I could never expect to go from teacher to doctor unless I wanted to go back to school for 8+ years (in this economy?!).
But there are a lot of other professions that my skills actually could apply to right now. I could look into teaching or childcare in other forms, or into marketing, advertising, or research analyst kinds of jobs that could utilize my communication, teamwork, and planning skills. Or I could do what I’m doing right now, and demonstrate my writing skills through freelance work.
Sometimes, you don’t even know what’s out there until you start to look, so start looking! Your transferable skills might open doors for you that you never imagined before.
3. Write your resume with your dream job in mind
You’ve got your skills locked down, now it’s time to show potential employers why they need you. Your resume will be the first thing they see, and you need to make sure you emphasize the skills you have that will be the most relevant to them. So how do you do that?
Be honest. Put your work experience and educational experience, but make sure you have a section that also just lists your skills.
Highlight the skills you gained from your past work and education experience with buzzwords that bring extra attention to them.
Add a brief introduction to the beginning before you begin listing your experience to help frame the way you want. By doing this, you can help show potential employers where you’re going, rather than where you’ve been.
Don’t skip your cover letter; it’s your biggest opportunity to tell your story!
With a kickin’ resume, you have the power to control your own narrative of what you want employers to see, and you can help them see your transferable skills more than your titles. You just have to find the right way to present it all.
4. Optimize your LinkedIn profile
According to U.S News, 95% of recruiters use LinkedIn as a way to source talent for open positions. It’s not enough to craft the perfect resume and cover letter, your social media accounts need to be telling the same story!
Here’s how you can optimize your LinkedIn with your transferable skills.
LinkedIn header example
The first section of your LinkedIn profile that recruiters might see is your LinkedIn header. This is your first chance to make an impression, so don’t waste it! Change your headline to communicate what types of jobs you’re looking for.
Let’s use my LinkedIn profile below as an example. I’ve highlighted what I have a background in education and writing while clearly explaining what types of jobs I’m looking for.
Another tip? Use Canva to create your own LinkedIn cover image. It’s another large piece of real-estate you can use to inject personality and explain who you are and what you do. Need some more convincing? Read real user reviews about Canva to help make your decision!
LinkedIn Summary example
Your LinkedIn summary is your biggest asset if you know how to use it correctly. We’ve all heard the horror stories about how most resumes only get looked over for 6 seconds or less and that can be disheartening for a jobseeker to hear. Recruiters are using social media to filter out candidates now more than ever.
You should use your ‘About’ section to clearly outline your transferable skills and connect the dots for recruiters. Let’s look at my ‘About’ section as an example of how this can be accomplished.
You should include a copy of your resume in the ‘Files’ section of your personal summary. This will give any recruiter who finds you organically the option to have your resume on file. The goal is to make it easy for recruiters to see why you are a good fit for the role they’re trying to fill.
Potential is everywhere!
Whether you’re trying to forge a new career path for yourself or are looking for an employee that is exactly what your company needs, understanding transferable skills can be a huge step in your search. Keep your mind open and the perfect fit could be in your future.
Emily graduated from the University of Missouri with an English degree in 2014. Since then, she has traveled to Japan to teach English abroad and returned to school to receive a master's certification in Secondary Education. She currently resides in Chicago with her lovely wife, and continues to write.