Translating Skills For A Career Transition

Happy December 1, Highlanders! As the year comes to an end, many people start reflecting on their last year and more specifically on their career path and whether or not they would like to continue down this road or make a New Year’s resolution to make a change in their life. Regardless of where you fall in this journey, thinking about career transitions is a natural part of the career development process.  Hopefully the article below will help you sort out where you fall on this spectrum of continuing your current job/career or starting your research for something new. This article was originally posted on “Work It Daily” by Jim Schreier on July 15, 2016.

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A recent article on a national news site described the transition made by a former NFL player to becoming a ‘gas man’ for a NASCAR Sprint Cup pit crew. The story struck me as interesting from a personal perspective but as I reflected on the article, I saw a powerful message for individuals looking to make a significant career change.

Many ‘career changers’ struggle with the question of how to translate their experience from a different job or industry. Common questions are:

  • “What jobs am I qualified for?”
  • “How do I describe my “experiences” on my resume?  In an interview?
  • “How do my “skills” translate to a new field?

This story about a NASCAR pit crew member may give ‘career changers’ some insight into how to translate the skills from their experience into powerful information for a resume and for interviews. However, it is not one simple step. It is not just identifying skills. The ‘skills’ need to be presented in the context of specific accomplishments. Let’s look first at the skills identified by the NASCAR pit crew member:

  • “Over-the-wall crews with bigger, faster, stronger and more agile personnel”
  • “It’s a whirlwind, with several tasks being performed in a tight space with traffic and tension all around.”
  • “It’s a high-pressure situation, and you have to be able to think in the moment”
  • “Things can go wrong. You have to be prepared for those to happen…being safe.”

There are some skills and traits here that can be easily identified: faster, agile, several tasks being performed, tension all around, high pressure, think in the moment, things go wrong, prepared, and safe. I can easily identify several positions from entry level in multiple service industries to higher level supervisory, management, and professional positions where those traits and skills would be valued. *When writing a resume that’s going to help you make a transition I think it’s important to look for the transferable skills that you have to the new position that you’re applying for rather than talking about your daily tasks that you’ve done, which maybe aren’t as relevant to the new position. 

Next, let’s look at what a ‘career changer’ needs to do: identify the skills and traits they learned and developed in their experience. This can be a relatively easy step but it also leads to one of the biggest mistakes made by many job seekers. Too often a resume contains laundry lists of skills. In today’s fast-changing, highly demanding world of technology-driven jobs, organizations are not interested in the skills that you have – they want to know what you’ve done with those skills and what you can do with those skills for them.

So the critical action is to describe their significant accomplishments and include in those accomplishments the skills and traits demonstrated! *Try to give concrete examples that prove to the employer that you have the skills they are looking for to fill this position. If you can prove your skill set, you’re more likely to get called in for an interview. 

Skills:

Here’s one ‘skill’ listed on an actual resume, in this case, a veteran wanting to make the major career change from the military to the civilian workforce:

Ability to make rational decisions under extreme duress/stressful situations.

Experiences:

Here’s one of the ‘experiences’ from the same resume:

Responded to emergency calls for support and mitigated crisis situations through pro-active response to anticipated issues.

Accomplishments:

The ‘experience’ is OK as a typically listed job duty – but it is not a strong accomplishment because it does not indicate the result of the ‘responses to emergency calls’. *Adding the result piece is key to writing a resume that will stand out against the other job seekers.

Let’s put the pieces together. A strong accomplishment identifies the challenge, the action (skills/traits), and the result.

Provided 360 degree coverage for base personnel and assets in the event of a ballistic threat/insurgent attack. Ensured one-hundred percent operability of assigned systems and responded quickly in extremely stressful situations to maintenance issues to ensure continued operability.

As a hiring manager, not only do I see the challenge, the action, and the result of this accomplishment, I am encouraged to know more about it. I am interested in interviewing this candidate to know more about his or her story. *I always say that a resume is like an online dating profile and the interview is like the first date. You want to make the hiring manager interested enough in you by the accomplishments that you can fit on that piece of paper that will entice them to want to meet you in real life. 

There’s another piece to this puzzle. The critical pieces here, identifying the transferable skills and connecting them directly to accomplishments will fall short if a ‘career changer’ is not applying for jobs where those skills are needed. *Be sure that you’re looking at the job description and using the key words that the recruiter uses within the posting. Many employers use an Applicant Tracking System that picks up on key words within the resume and cover letter before your documents are even seen by a person from that company. Give those concrete accomplishment statements, along with using the words that are within the job descriptions. Ideally, your resume is going to be slightly different for every single job you apply for, especially when you’re applying to multiple industries who might be looking for different skill sets.

Unfortunately, job ads or posts are too often just as weak as candidates’ resumes, listing little more than basic duties. Fortunately, many organizations are starting to create ads and job posts that more realistically portray the challenges of the position – highlighting the work that top performers do. *It can also be helpful to look up people on LinkedIn who have the job title that you’re applying for to see what skill sets they have and then you can reflect those skills on your resume, especially if the job description is pretty basic or vague. 

This will provide better information for searching to match accomplishments with possibilities. I’ll use a basic retail sales position here – something everyone can identify:

Traditional Job Ad/Post:

Help Wanted. Retail Sales Position. The retail organization is seeking highly motivated sales staff for a large electronic retailer. Stores open 7 Days a week – Base compensation plus commission.

OK, that proves I can write a really bad ad. However, it is still fairly typical. Here’s an ad/post that’s better for the organization – and enables a job seeker to get a more accurate picture of a job that might meet their skills and desire. *This is where I’d suggest to either look up job postings that say, “Retail Sales Position” or something similar to see what the actual qualifications are for that job. Or find people with that job title on LinkedIn to see their skill sets and base your accomplishment statements and action verbs around that content. 

Performance-Based Ad/Post:

Every day is Black Friday at our Electronics Super Store. There are mobs of people lined up every day to take advantage of our daily deals. Our sales consultants thrive in this chaotic, highly charged environment. They react quickly to ever-changing demands from customers and our inventory staff to manage ‘just arrived’ merchandise. Our top sales consultant thrive in a competitive environment and earn top commissions.

This is simply an example of how a job seeker can examine an ad or job posting to see if it offers the opportunity to use the skills you’ve identified from your experience. *If you’re someone within your organization who posts jobs or comes up with content for job postings, keep these tips in mind and make sure you’re making the job sound like something many people would like to apply for. 

You can explore an organization’s web site for possible connections. You can ask questions about the challenges of the job during an interview. Moreover, you can match the skills you’ve developed in your experience to the demands of many jobs in today’s work environment.

Conclusion

Creating a resume seems natural to many job seekers because all one needs to do is to list skills and job duties. However, that is not going to create a resume or profile that portrays what you do best and how that fits the needs of an organization. Translating those skills and experiences into substantial accomplishments is what leads to more effective interviews and a satisfying career opportunity.

This post was originally published at an earlier date.

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