Identifying and showcasing your transferable skills
Sometimes job seeking following a career break will leave a candidate wondering how to explain their absence from the working world. The reasons for the break may be varied but could include time out to raise a family, elder care responsibilities, or study.
To give yourself the best chance at securing a new role, identify the skills and experience you have developed during your break. You should also determine how best to convince employers that these skills will add value in their workplace.
Transferable skills are those skills you develop in one role or area of your life which will add value to other areas. They are the portable skills that are necessary in a range of situations.
You might develop time management and event management experience through organising fundraising events for a local charity. You might learn great scheduling and prioritisation techniques managing a renovation at home. Your leadership skills might be expanded by taking on an office bearer position for a committee or group. Communication and negotiation skills may be enhanced through raising a family.
Whatever your experience, it’s important to reflect on your experiences and activities during your career break and how they might have enhanced existing skills or built new ones.
Gaining an understanding of these new or improved skills is an important first step, but how do you demonstrate the value to others?
Your cover letter is a great start. Any good cover letter will specifically address the selection criteria of the advertised role – implicit and explicit. By this I mean read between the lines and do you research on the company and its industry. The purpose of the cover letter is to clearly show the employer why you are the best person for the role. So here you point out all your professional experience as well as your relevant transferable skills. Don’t be afraid to spend time detailing those skills you have honed outside the traditional workplace.
Of course, I would warn job seekers against an approach that lists every conceivable skillset that may possibly be considered transferable.
Ensure you have a good understanding of the specific skills that will support success in the role you are applying for, as well as what the employer is looking for. Listing irrelevant skills, or too many transferable skills, is more likely to show you don’t have a clear understanding of what it takes to do the job.
At interview candidates are often asked about any gaps in work experience. Pre-empt this question by addressing the gap in your resume and listing the transferable skills used during this time.
Ensure you incorporate any volunteer or community roles, along with any recognition of service. As with all achievements listed on your resume, list how transferable skills were achieved in an ‘outcomes focused’ way. For example, “Displayed effective leadership skills by successfully forming and leading a committee which raised $12,000 for the local swimming school”.
When you reach the interview stage you should be comfortable talking about the value your transferable skills add to your professional experience. When the behavioural questions are asked don’t be afraid to use examples from both previous work experience and personal life to demonstrate you have the skills they are seeking for the role.
After all, they want the best person for the job. You just have to convince them that person is you!