Not Loving Your Career Field? How to Transfer Your Skills to a New One


“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

You hear this question throughout childhood and adolescence. But somehow, you’re supposed to have it figured out by age 18 and know exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life before heading to college.

If you’re like me, though, picking a major and career wasn’t easy. I initially started with music, then changed to history, and ultimately got a degree in theater. For my master’s, I majored in something even more esoteric: performance studies.

I had dreams of working in arts education and eventually becoming a professor. But after getting my master’s degree, I realized academia wasn’t for me. As I decided to commit my life to arts education, I ended up moving to another city where jobs in my field were few and far between — and highly competitive.

I wondered, “What the hell am I going to do?”

I am now (happily) employed as a freelance writer, but it wasn’t without a lot of hard work and trial and error. As a student loan borrower, it does feel weird to not even be working in the field that I got into so much debt pursuing.

On the other hand, I’ve transferred my skills into this career and am much happier than I was working in any other field. Plus, I was able to pay off my debt even faster.

If you can’t find work in your field due to high competition, or you are stuck in a low-paying position because of your field, don’t worry – you’re not alone. According to CareerBuilder, one-third of college-educated employees aren’t working in fields related to their majors.

Fortunately, it is possible to transfer your skills to another career. Here’s how to make the switch.

Assess ALL of your skills

I always had dreams of being self-employed, but thought I was going to be working in nonprofits for life. However, once I found myself stuck in low-paying, unfulfilling work, I found a way to transfer my skills.

If you want to do the same, the first thing you need to do is create an inventory of all your skills. Lauren Milligan, Career Advancement Coach from ResuMAYDAY, said, “First, identify your transferrable skills from your ENTIRE catalog of skills. Go back a few years to assess all of your skills, not just the ones you used on your last (or current) job.”

Think of all the skills you picked up in school, through work, volunteering, or hobbies. Include both hard and soft skills; hard skills are things like knowing how to code or write effectively, whereas soft skills include things like being a good communicator or a team player.

Typically, it’s easier for employers to teach hard skills rather than train someone to have soft skills. Create a comprehensive list of both and outline all the skills and abilities that you bring to the table.

Identify your desired industry

Once you’ve assessed all your transferable skills, including the hard and soft skills, identify what industry you want to work in. Consider what type of work you value and will challenge and propel you forward.

If you’re unsure, use websites like LinkedIn or Indeed to search job descriptions for applicable positions that might be of interest. When you find job descriptions that match your transferable skills and your values, narrow down which industries you want to target.

Next, tap your network for colleagues who might already be working in that field. Take them out for coffee, ask them good questions, and build genuine relationships.

When I first started out as a freelance writer, I emailed nearly 20 people who were already career professionals and asked for advice. Of course, you don’t just want to spam someone’s inbox and ask for tons of free advice, but if you keep it short and simple, people generally want to help.

You better (net)work

If you want to change your job field, your skills and experience are of utmost importance. But it’s not just about what you know, but who you know.

When you’re trying to break into a new field, it can feel like you’re the new kid on the block. To help make the process easier, make it a point to network with people in your desired field.

Go to industry events and conferences in your field. Meet with young professionals in your community. If you need to acquire new skills, take classes in your community or online. Networking with like-minded professionals is the best way to break into a new industry and make connections.

When it comes to who gets a job or not, sometimes a personal recommendation can make all the difference, so build up your network with people in the career field you want to help make the transition easier.

Sell results, not just your skills

Employers hire based on specific problems and needs. When you are looking to change career fields, don’t simply market your transferable skills – share the results you can deliver as well.

Think about all you have accomplished in previous jobs. What are the highlights? How did you make an impact? You want to be able to sell your story with specific details and numbers. For instance, “I increased sales 25 percent in the first year” or “I successfully managed a group of 10 part-time employees.”

Once you can confidently sell your results, it will be easier to change fields and get a job in another sector.

Final word

Switching careers and changing job fields can be tough, but it is possible. You’re not doomed to be in the same field forever. In today’s interconnected world, you can transfer your skills elsewhere and carve out a different career you actually love.

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