At a recent workshop, one experienced professional asked how to package her skills to show employers that what she could offer was transferable to a new career. People do change careers – i.e., moving from one industry to a different one or moving from one role to another. Therefore, employers will hire candidates without direct experience and with the expectation that whatever skills they do have are transferable.
However, employers will always prioritize the candidate who has already done a similar job before over a candidate new to an industry or functional area. A career changer has no track record and therefore is a riskier hire. If you want to successfully make that career change, you have to minimize the employer’s risk. Here are five steps to show employers you have transferable skills:
Make an explicit case for how your skills transfer – don’t expect the employer to do it for you
In order to confirm that your skills transfer, you need to establish three conditions:
- You have the skill you claim
- You understand how the skill is useful to the new industry or role
- You can show how you would apply that skill to the new industry or role
Too many aspiring career changers only establish the first condition, and then fault the employer for not realizing how transferable the skill is to the new job. It is on you, not the employer, to establish that your skill is valuable. It is on you to understand the new industry or role well enough that you can explain how your skill is transferable. It is on you to share an example of how you would apply that skill in the new environment.
You are competing with people who have done the job before and who have much more relevant examples. You are already talking hypothetically (because you have not done the job and are only assuming that you can). Therefore, you need to provide as much detail to the employer about how you would do the job as you can so they can really see you in that new career.
Get tangible proof
If you show that you have researched in-depth the new industry or role, then it shows you are willing to put in the work. Even better, take a class and have some assignments to show. Volunteer in the new industry or role to have some work samples.
Remember that you are trying to close the gap between you and someone who isn’t changing careers and has already done the job. The more you can do that is directly related, the more competitive you will be. Employers have little imagination and will pick tangible experience over promises to learn.
Get social proof
Referrals go a long way in convincing employers to take a chance on a career changer. You need to do exhaustive research into your new industry or role anyway. You should already be talking to people active in the field, and you need to win people over. Get people to refer you and share leads with you.
Social proof is why name brands on the resume – top companies, top schools – are so attractive to employers. They act as a filter – if you’re good enough for this sought-after place, then you must be good. Similarly, if someone already active in the career you want says you’re good, that carries a lot of weight.
Prioritize person-to-person communication
Making a case, sharing tangible examples, and getting introduced are all person-to-person communications. As a career changer, sending an unsolicited email or resume cedes control of the dialogue to the employer. Are they even going to read what you sent, much less act on it?
Track your time and efforts during your career change to ensure that you are spending the bulk of your time on person-to-person communication. Too many job seekers choose the easy route of applying to job postings they see and waiting for calls. If you want to change careers, you’re already less competitive to employers than other job seekers so you can’t do what most job seekers do.
Minimize old career jargon and buzzwords in your marketing
That said, you will need a resume, cover letter, and online profile as you go through the hiring process, so you can’t avoid these marketing toolsentirely. To help employers see you in the new career (remember, they have little imagination) take out as much jargon that points back to your old career as possible.
I once coached a healthcare professional who worked extensively with hospital billing and insurance settlements and liked the transactional work but wanted to switch industries. To maximize the transferability of her extensive experience, we took out any mentions of hospitals or insurance, but kept the financial terms which would apply across industries.