Switching Careers: Transferring Your Skills

Rachel Schneebaum

The prospect of switching careers can seem scary or even hopeless: if you do feel this way, a large part of the reason might be because you don’t think you meet the minimum skill requirements for a position outside your area of expertise. In some cases, there are additional qualifications you’ll need before starting out in a new career. However, it’s almost a sure bet that you already have at least some of the skills required for the job you want, even if it might not seem that way to you at first.

In this article, I’ll show you how to re-word and market your existing skill set to make you a more appealing candidate for your new career.

The first step in any job application—but especially applications for jobs outside your area of expertise—is to read the job description. There should be a list of the minimum requirements needed for the position; there might also be a list of additional desired (though not required) skills that ideal candidates will have. Pay close attention to both of these lists!

(Again, please note that there might be some requirements for which you have to pass an exam or earn a certification; for the purposes of this article, though, we’re going to be ignoring those requirements for now.)

So: instead of just sitting down and trying to list your skills and abilities, always start with the job description of the position you’re applying for. Go over every requirement listed and try think of something that you’ve done, or some experience you’ve had, that required the use of that skill—preferably (though not necessarily!) in a work environment. Did you think of something? If so, write it down, and be specific.

Here’s an example: let’s say you’re applying for a job in marketing with the following list of requirements:

  • Bachelors Degree
  • At least three years of experience in digital media or digital analytics capacity; expertise in Google Analytics preferred
  • Strong analytics and project management skills
  • Excellent attention to detail and ability to multitask in a fast paced environment
  • Strong communication skills and ability to collaborate with internal departments

Now, a BA is something you either have or you don’t; we’ll discuss that later. Let’s start with the other requirements on the list:

Experience in digital media/digital analytics:

Let’s say your current field isn’t exactly digitally oriented. That’s ok. Do you have a blog? Tumblr? Pinterest? Facebook? Twitter? Have you used any of these platforms actively, in any capacity, for at least three years? Have you kept track of your blog’s statistics—the number of pageviews or comments each post received, for example, or the number of favorites on each of your tweets—and worked to improve those statistics? Have you added tracking functions to your Tumblr or Twitter (for example) to monitor these statistics? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, congratulations: you have experience in digital media and analytics!

Note that when describing your experience (in a cover letter, say), you don’t have to specify that your only digital media experience is maintaining your Facebook page or monitoring responses to your selfies on Twitter. Just explain how you have years of experience using a number of digital platforms to market information, and that you’ve used analytics tools to monitor the success of your posts and to improve pageviews and audience range. If you actually have used Google Analytics tools before, that’s great: mention it! If not, it’s easy to look up what these tools are and how to use them. Ideally, you can even start using Google Analytics in your blog or other digital platform: this way you can honestly describe your familiarity and experience using them.

Project management skills

Let’s say your previous job wasn’t in a management capacity (if it was, you’re golden! you can skip the rest of this section). Think about anything you’ve done at work that involved some sort of management skills: taking control of a particular project, leading a research team, taking the initiative on organizing, well, anything—even a recycling program or your company’s yearly holiday party. If there’s absolutely nothing work-related you can think of, that’s still ok: what about any teams, clubs, or committees you participated in at school? What about volunteer work you’ve done? Again, if you ever took the lead on a project or campaign in any of these capacities, congratulations! You’ve got your management skills.

It’s important to note, again, that when you write a description of your management experience, you don’t have to note that your leadership role was a one-time thing or a relatively minor contribution to the office. Just describe how you have experience taking initiative, managing other team members, and so on.

Excellent attention to detail and ability to multitask in a fast paced environment
Strong communication skills and ability to collaborate with internal departments

These last two requirements are fairly self-explanatory, and my advice regarding them is the same: if you’ve ever worked on a detail-oriented project or balanced several tasks at once, you can write this up as an example of your “excellent attention to detail and ability to multitask in a fast paced environment.” If you’ve ever communicated with other departments—or with other campus organizations, or other related volunteer groups—in any capacity whatsoever, you can describe this as “strong communication skills and ability to collaborate with internal departments.”

Again, remember to be specific: describe how you handled multiple deadlines or how you were able to get in touch and maintain communications with another department. However, don’t be too specific: you don’t have to explain that the particular deadlines you juggled were your final exams and essay due dates in college, nor do you have no note that the topic of your cross-departmental communications was deciding on a catering company for the boss’s birthday.

Finally, one last note:

If there’s a requirement that you simply don’t have, this isn’t always the end of the world (or, rather, the end of your application potential). Instead of ignoring or lying about that gap in your skillset or experience, try to demonstrate in writing that you have a number of relevant skills, that you’re interested in and currently working toward developing that skill, or that you’re a motivated self-starter with the ability to teach yourself new skills as needed, for example. If you’ve met the rest of the requirements and if you otherwise seem like the perfect candidate, you might be able to convince employers to overlook one small gap—at least long enough to get you through to the interview stage.

Good luck, and remember: you almost always have a stronger skillset and more experience than you might initially think.

About The Author

Rachel Schneebaum

Rachel Schneebaum is a PhD candidate in philosophy, with a graduate minor in cognitive science, at the University of Arizona. She graduated from Williams College in 2009 with Bachelor of Arts degrees in both English and Philosophy. Rachel hopes to more effectively help students decide on, prepare for, and eventually succeed at their dream jobs.

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