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How transferable skills can help your career change

Your current job might have been great for a while, but plans change – and so can your career.

The idea of a career change can feel exciting but overwhelming. There are so many questions to cover: what you can do next, how to do it, and whether you can even make it a reality.

To break through the overwhelm, you need a step to start with. And a great place to begin is with the transferable skills you’ve built up in your career to date.

Kathryn Whitney, who is the Portfolio Manager, Engagement, in Deakin’s Faculty of Arts and Education, explains, ‘When it comes time to apply for a job in a new field, it’s tempting to think you have to start from square one. But the truth is that you have a whole range of skills you can use to successfully start changing jobs.’

Get clear on the transferable skills you already have

Transferable skills are portable qualities that are taken from job to job. Whitney describes them as ‘a toolkit that you carry around, and you can draw on any of those tools to help secure a new role’.

This means that, even without experience in that specific role or industry, you can show a new employer that you have the tools to do the job well.

Before you can communicate your transferable skills to a potential employer, you need to become really clear on the skills you have in your toolkit, and how they apply to the career you have your eye on.

‘Sit and do a skills audit of yourself, find the gaps and understand what you already have,’ Whitney says. ‘There are a few transferable skills that you can almost guarantee any interviewer is going to ask you about. Those will be around communication, teamwork, leadership and critical thinking.’

She suggests taking some time to work through identifying these. ‘A career change isn’t usually something that happens overnight,’ she says. ‘It starts with research, and it’s worth investing a significant amount of time looking at the industry, the skills you need and how you’ll articulate the skills you have that will transfer into that new job.’

So how do you figure out how to convince a potential employer that you’re up to the challenge of a new job?

Whitney says, ‘Let’s say, for example, you’re looking at your leadership skills: dig through your history to find examples of how you’ve demonstrated leadership at any time up until now. That could be in your professional, academic, volunteering or personal life. And then you make a list, building a bank of examples of times you’ve delivered actions that are relevant to that skill.’

She adds, ‘You need to be able to articulate what your examples are, and start documenting your transferable skills, so that you can enter that new field with confidence.’

'There are a few transferable skills that you can almost guarantee any interviewer is going to ask you about. Those will be around communication, teamwork, leadership and critical thinking.'

Kathryn Whitney,
Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

Develop new transferable skills

If, in your research of the industry you want to enter, you find that you’re missing some skills or examples of practical applications of key skills, it’s time to do some personal development.

‘There might be some technical or soft skills you need to gain, that will require some study or training,’ Whitney says.

For example, that might involve improving your written communication through a voluntary position, or doing an online course related to a software program you’ll need to use. You can even build on the skills for your new career while you’re still in your existing job: that might mean putting your hand up to conduct a presentation to build your public speaking skills, or getting involved in processing reports for the first time.

Whitney says this was the case with someone she knows, who had been practising law. While this person loved the law, he disliked being amid the practice itself, so used his existing skills – as well as a course to gain new skills – to transition to a new career as a law librarian.

Highlight your transferable skills in job interviews

Once you’ve become familiar with your transferable skills, it’s time to demonstrate them in an interview.

You can do this by tailoring your list of skills to each new job you’re applying for. Whitney suggests, ‘Go through the job advertisement or position description and highlight six or seven key things you think the job is looking for. Then practice your examples over and over so that, when you’re in the interview and that question comes at you, your example is ready to go.’

Your success in an interview will rely very heavily on you being able to provide those examples of how you’ve demonstrated your transferable skills in the past. Whitney says, ‘A lot of interview questions are based around “Tell me a time when…”

‘These scenario-based questions involve being asked about a situation and, based on your experience and skills, how you’d go about tackling that challenge. You can use the skills and knowledge you’ve built up in your previous career to show that.’

Pinpointing and communicating your transferable skills will help get you on the right track to your next career.

Looking for more ways to make your next career move? Read more tips on how to explore all your options.

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Kathryn Whitney
Kathryn Whitney

Portfolio Manager for Engagement, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

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