Clearing the Hurdle of “Transferrable Skills”

When I started my job search back in the beginning of the year, I faced a similar dilemma to what many people are experiencing in the wake of the current market: how to market my “transferrable skills” to a new position, in a different industry. Certainly some of us are on career paths which are specifically-focused and have obvious next steps on the career ladder: financial services, medical practice, law, education, etc., and when you do find yourself ready for the next step in your career, you know exactly the type of role you’re targeting and well-qualified for. But for some of us it’s different- we come from roles that can combine a hybrid of skill sets, “a number of hats” if you will, and it is more difficult to focus in on your exact strength or area of expertise, even if your particular field is specific- like staffing.

I had five years experience as the Operations Manager for a creative staffing agency under my belt, and another several from a similar role. At this point in my career I knew that I wanted to transition out of staffing, but wasn’t sure where to go next. It would be easy for me to just find another position as a recruiter or staffing specialist, but I knew I wouldn’t be happy. I had developed a broad range of marketable business skills in the last 5 or 6 years, including account management, finance and accounting, budgeting, staff management and small business strategic planning. But I wasn’t specifically targeting just one of those areas- I was equally skilled in all of them, and wanted to find a company and a position that could make use of all of the things I could bring to the table. Unfortunately the fact still remained- my background was in staffing.

It’s a common scenario all recruiters face- trying to sell a candidate’s transferrable skills to a skeptical hiring manager. The
key is in knowing the industry you are targeting- do your research, know the statistics, know the key players and competition, and you will be in a much better position to make that jump . Provide them with solid proof that you’re a quick study and they won’t have to spend time and resources training you and bringing you up to speed. Give examples of other times you’ve come into a role and had to pick processes up on your own, or learn new skills, or even a completely new industry. At the end of the day, any recruiter or HR manager wants the same thing- solid affirmation that they are making the right hire and not wasting their boss’ and internal client’s time with the wrong candidate or hire. That is the worst case scenario for a hiring manager, and you have to convince them WHY they need to hire you despite your lack of industry experience. It can be done, and it’s hard. But people do it all the time- they change jobs, industries, or even career paths altogether. Figure out how to get through to the hiring manager and alleviate their concerns by proving yourself as an expert in your role.

Having a well-rounded skill set as a candidate is certainly an asset that can make you highly marketable. In another regard, if you don’t know specifically what you are targeting in your search and you’re leaving your options too broad, it could be a detriment. So the first step was to figure out what kind of position I could see myself in and then target companies that would likely utilize someone in that role. Industry wasn’t a big deal to me, as long as the job fit my qualifications, salary and geographic requirements. I decided that while I didn’t want to do outside sales, I still had a strong background in business development and relationship building, and that something in client services would be the best fit for me. But I still had to get over the hurdle of not having direct industry experience in the types of companies I was interested in. I have always loved architecture and design, but I didn’t come from that background, and while I’ve worked extensively as a vendor to advertising agencies and marketing companies, I have never worked directly for one. Sometimes you would just love to say to the hiring manager, “Well I’ve done this exact (or similar) job for the past 6 years….of COURSE I can do the same thing for this company!” But they are looking at it a different way. They are looking at it from a perspective of “how long will it take to bring this person up to speed on the language and processes specific to this industry, and do we really have the time and resources to train them? We’d be much safer going with someone with industry experience who can jump right in.” Makes sense, right?

My first interview was for a Client Services Representative role with an advertising company that focused on lead generation for the education sector. A contact of mine got me a meeting with the manager, and I aced the interview. I left there about 90% sure I had the job, only to find out weeks later that they “really needed someone with lead-generation experience.” But I can do the job no problem! I thought. In the end, they were probably right- this company was very fast-paced and they literally had no time to train me and bring me up to speed on their business, and I would probably be in over my head. My next prospect was somewhat similar- same exact type of role, but again I had never worked directly for a marketing research company, or within IT, which was the customer base they catered to. But this time I had the experience of the last interview in mind, and I knew that I would have to come prepared to convince them why I could make it in an IT-focused company. I focused on my strengths that I would need to utilize to really succeed in this role. Being able to interpret complex data was essential, since that was the product they sold to their customers and I would be responsible for reaffirming the value of this information to my clients. I had done plenty of that, creating complex Excel charts and interpreting multi-line P&L; statements, and I always felt it was something I picked up quickly. Having a clear and professional phone voice and writing skills was also key, as most of my interaction with my customers would be done over the phone and email. And finally, similar to where I was coming from, the company was a fairly small group of people, so it was important to be able to have chemistry and function in that environment, but also be able to work without being closely managed. I went in prepared to address all of these things, backed with a solid resume of client services experience and print-outs of some of my data management examples, as well as a genuine desire to learn the industry. Was that enough to convince the boss?

I start May 18.

Guest Expert:

Dana Leavy is a New York City-based writer, recruiter and marketing guru with expertise in personal branding and digital styling.

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