How To Transfer Your Skills to a New Industry
Moving to a new job can be a major transition. Moving to a whole new industry? That can be an even bigger transformation. In order to pull it off, you’ll need to identify and market the most applicable skills you’ve built up over the course of your previous job history.
Learn about “transferable skills”
As you seek your first position in a new field, you’ll eventually find yourself in a job interview setting where you’ll be asked about your transferrable skills. Before you can answer that question confidently, it’ll be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the concept of a “transferrable skill.”
In the context of a job, a “skill” is defined as the ability to competently perform an activity. These fall into three categories:
- Functional skills: Everybody has particular abilities that help them succeed at categories of tasks. These are skills like writing, negotiating, planning, problem solving, or strategizing. For example, if you’re a skilled writer, you’ll be more capable than most at producing a document in any field or industry, even if you’ve never attempted the exact task before.
- Personal traits and attitudes: Everybody has distinct personality characteristics that make them more suited to perform well at certain tasks. If your personality is exceptionally focused, kind or independent, you will likely excel at tasks that require those attributes, like managing large databases, interacting directly with customers or servicing remote equipment, respectively.
- Knowledge-based: Everybody has a background of education, experience or training that they draw on to help complete a task. While some knowledge-based skills wouldn’t necessarily transfer from industry to industry, the fact that you’ve learned past skills is a good sign of your ability to learn new ones, such as how to use specialized software, how to format a budget or how to design graphics based on new standards.
All of the skill types listed above are transferable, depending on your background and desired position.
Identify your transferable skills
Now that you know what a “transferrable skill” is, it’s time to figure out which ones you can claim as your own.
Make a list of all your past jobs then list all the tasks you were responsible for during your time at each position. Take extra time to recall any special projects that you worked on outside the course of your daily routine. Next, list all the skills that were required to complete each task. Remember: skills can be functional, personality traits or knowledge-based, so if a task required strong verbal communication (a functional skill), diligence (a personality trait) or use of a specific tool (a knowledge-based skill), list that. Be thorough.
Once you’ve assembled your list of jobs and skills, go through listings of positions that you’re interested in and list all the tasks and skills they are looking for. Expand your search to the industry as a whole. Find parallels and make adjustments to your list of skills that will help frame your past experience to align more closely with what potential employers in your new chosen field want.
Market your transferable skills
As you search for your first position in a new industry, keep your transferrable skills top of mind as you go about your job search activities such as:
- Networking and job fair events
- Messages, emails and phone calls with prospective employers
- Your resume
- Cover letters or letter of interests
- Job interviews
Treat each of these contact points as an opportunity to showcase your transferable skills, fine-tune the way you talk about them and learn more about the industry you’re planning to enter.
Want to learn more about job transitions? See past articles on the subject, such as “What Are My ‘Soft Skills’ And How Do I Show Them Off?,” “Five Tips to Showcase Your Skills in an Interview.”