Use This Simple Secret to Help You Switch Careers

Photo: Kristina Flour |

If you are trying to change career fields, transferable skills will be your secret weapon. These are skills gained through previous jobs or life experiences that can transfer from your current industry and be put to use in the new career field. It is important to help employers understand how skills from your current position relate to the job you are seeking — especially if you have little or no experience in the new field.

It is typically during an interview where you will have the opportunity to fully explain how your transferable skills make you a good fit for the role, but you also need to highlight them on your resume and in your cover letter to advance to the interview stage. Here is how you do it.

Identify Your Skills That Will Transfer

To get started identifying these skills, think through the tasks involved in your current role and in the new role you desire. What do they have in common? A few common transferable skills involve:

  • oral or written communication
  • time management
  • juggling competing priorities
  • problem solving
  • building relationships

As you think through your skills, you may even discover some career opportunities you have not considered.

For instance, I once worked with a retired teacher who wanted to start a new career but wasn’t sure what else she could do. As we began to explore options, we started by examining the skills used in teaching.

A few that came to mind included:

  • Public speaking
  • Creating engaging presentations
  • Condensing and presenting information
  • Building rapport with individuals or a large audience
  • Writing lesson plans

She mentioned she no longer wanted to work with children, but would enjoy presenting information to adults. She was also interested in a part-time or as-needed schedule. Once she saw how her skills transferred to other career fields, many opportunities opened up to her.

She could become an advocate for a nonprofit and travel around the community speaking on behalf of the organization to raise awareness of its causes.

Or, perhaps she would want to work in a museum giving tours.

If she wanted to continue being in a classroom, she could work with adult students earning their GED or explore teaching English as a second language.

I used the same strategy at one point in my own career as well. During the economic recession of 2009, I was struggling to find a job as a journalist close to home. I started to get creative and examined my options. A local career center was seeking to hire a career developer. I’ve always been good at resumes, cover letters and job interviews, so I tossed my hat into the ring.

During the interview, I explained that journalism uses many of the same skills they were seeking: building rapport with people, interviewing them for details of their story, taking careful notes, and being an excellent writer and communicator.

The result? I got the job! And it launched my passion for helping job seekers. Though I eventually returned to journalism as my “day job,” I’m so thankful for the skills and training I received in that position that has allowed me to become a career coach as well.

Update Your Resume to Highlight These Skills

As a career changer, you will need to reorganize and reword portions of your resume to highlight these transferable skills. If you don’t have work experience in the new field, you will want to mention any education you’ve gained in that field or volunteer work you’ve done that is similar to the skills needed for the position.

This article from the Muse provides several great examples of various ways to do this.

In addition, you will want to highlight your skills in addition to your job titles. Most likely, your previous positions will not be titles that the employer is accustomed to seeing for people applying for this position. Before you list your professional work experience, it can be helpful to create a “skills” section on your resume to highlight your transferable skills.

Craft a Compelling Cover Letter

In your letter, briefly explain that you are pursuing a new career and illustrate how your past experience has prepared you for the role. Offer specific examples that demonstrate ways you can use your skills in the new role.

For example, someone changing from retail sales to an account executive position with a business development department:

While most of my previous roles have been in retail, interacting with customers on a daily basis has honed my people skills and taught me to quickly identify customers’ needs. I have a track record of “up-selling” in my current role by discovering additional products that will be valuable to customers. I also have the ability to quickly establish a rapport with people, and I have relished the opportunities I’ve had to build relationships with repeat customers. As an account manager with your organization, I will use these skills to maintain strong relationships with clients and to develop new business opportunities.

The Balance Careers website offers another good example.

By highlighting your transferable skills in both your resume and your cover letter, you greatly increase your chances of landing an interview. Then, you can sell the employer on your transferable skills in person.

Have you successfully changed careers? Share your story in the comments.

Published by Career Coach Belinda

I’ve helped job seekers of all ages and career levels develop résumés, craft cover letters, and approach job interviews with confidence.

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