The ONLY Way To Convince Employers Your Skills Are Transferable When Changing Careers
Columbia Career Coaches Network's Caroline Ceniza-Levine '93BC answers in the following article one of the most frequently-asked questions she gets about changing careers – how to convince employers your background from one area is transferable?
My biggest concern is how to convey transferable skills when applying for roles in different fields. This is the biggest hurdle that I’m facing currently and feel as if I’m getting no’s via email without even getting the opportunity for an actual phone interview to discuss.
April’s question is one that I hear from a lot of aspiring career changers. How do you convince employers that your skills (or experience or expertise) from one role or industry indeed match another, completely different role or industry?
The thing is, you can’t definitively prove there's a match. If you have not worked in a specific industry, then you don’t really know if your background fits there. If you have not worked in a specific job firsthand, then you don’t really know that your other job, as similar as it seems, is a true match. There is a leap of faith that you’re making when suggesting your skills transfer, and this is the same leap of faith you are asking prospective employers to take.
Transferring skills from one job to another sounds like extra work—employers don’t want extra work
By the time a job is posted, the employer is at its busiest and has probably tried everything else but to hire. They have tried dividing the responsibilities among other people or moving someone internally or bringing in temporary help in the hope that eventually the work alleviates, and they really don’t have to dedicate a headcount to this role.
The employer has been working hard and is flat out of energy. Now, amidst this fatigue and anxiety, you want them to imagine a scenario outside of a round plug for a round hole—sounds risky!
You are selling peace of mind, not specific skills
You have to mitigate the risk that employers feel when they hire someone new.
Forget about convincing or not convincing for transferable skills, and just focus on the problem at hand. The employer needs XYZ done, and here is how you’re going to do it.
Talk in their industry jargon with examples that happen at their company. For example, if you are a DEI expert at a transportation company and you want a DEI role at a bank, talk to the bank hiring manager about diversity issues you know exist in banking (because you’ve done the research). If you are a DEI expert looking to move into HR more broadly or pivot into multicultural marketing, then talk about your skills as they relate to HR or marketing.
You are making the case that YOU will solve the problem, not your DEI skills (even if you 100% believe they indeed transfer).
Resumes are the enemy of career changers
Of course, you can only make this case if you can get in front of that bank hiring manager in the first place. Your resume will not make a compelling case because it’s a historical document that emphasizes the past.
If your goal is to present yourself in the new employer’s language and environment, the resume does the exact opposite. You can still send your resume around – there are people who get hired from unsolicited applications. Just minimize your time on job postings to 20% or less of your job search activity, and put the rest of your time on directly contacting decision-makers and other company insiders.
You know more people than you think
Find people via LinkedIn and social media. For your dream companies, find the general company email format and guess from there what the email address probably is for company insiders. Use your alma mater’s alumni database, as well as contacts gleaned from professional associations, your religious affiliation, yoga class, softball league, and any other affinity group you are already aligned with.
Write invitations that get to Yes
When you do identify people, don’t ask for too much right away. That kind of imposition is a real turn-off.
However, you do want to get to the point, and you really only need 3 lines to explain why you are approaching them: 1) who are you (focus on the affinity you already have); 2) what do you want (it can’t be about a job specifically but about some information or insight related to the work); and 3) why are you contacting them and not just anyone else at that company, in the industry, on the softball team, etc.
Your reason for reaching out to them specifically is what can really turn a No into a Yes. If they can see that you have put some thought into why you are connecting with them, they’ll be flattered. People are generally helpful, and they are especially helpful to people who they think won’t waste their time.
Unfortunately, the only way to convince employers your skills are transferable is to stop trying to do that
Focus your convincing on getting people to talk to you. Focus on getting to know more people, especially at companies you care about. Focus on learning about the concerns your dream companies have and how you’ll solve these problems (with your transferable skills or some other way).
Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a longtime recruiter turned career coach and media expert on the job market. She has coached executives from Amazon, American Express, Condé Nast, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, Tesla, and other leading firms. She has been a repeat TV guest on CBS, CNN, CNBC, and Fox Business and has been quoted in major media outlets, including BusinessWeek, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Fortune, Inc, NPR, and Success Magazine. Ceniza-Levine is a career columnist for Forbes and formerly wrote for Money.com, Time.com, CNBC, and Portfolio. She is the author of three books, including Jump Ship: 10 Steps To Starting A New Career.