How to Translate Your Skills Into a New Career

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By Marcelle Yeager

If you're thinking about changing careers, you're probably wondering how to present yourself in the right way in order to make the switch. You also need to make it clear – in an appropriate manner - why you are making the change. This can feel like a daunting prospect. It's not easy to translate what you do today into something you would rather be doing or feel is better for you in the long run.

On your computer or by hand, make a three-column chart to help you cross-reference your current skills and those required of you in a new field. Label the column on the left "Current/Past Skills," the middle one "Required Skills" and the last one "Connections." Then do this:

Make a list of your job duties. Before you begin writing information in your chart, create a separate comprehensive list of your current and past job duties. Don't think only about what is required of you in your current or last job or what was/is on your actual job description. What are and were you responsible for on a daily basis? What tasks and duties have you taken on that are outside of what you were hired for?

Record accomplishments. On that same paper, list specific accomplishments. They do not have to be quantifiable. Did you save a colleague time by helping him or her complete a task? Did you help compose a proposal that won the company new business? Think of small and big achievements. If you've been recognized informally or formally for a job well done, write it down.

Consider skills. Here's where you'll think in depth about your skill set and begin using your three-column chart. Look at the list of job duties and accomplishments you've compiled. Brainstorm the skills you use and used in every one of those instances, and write them under "Current/Past Skills." The skills could be anything from "effective oral and written communicator" to "Agile developer."

Search job descriptions. Now it's time to populate your "Required Skills" column. Use a site with extensive job postings like Indeed to find job descriptions for positions you may be interested in. Read through the sections outlining required or minimum qualifications, as well as those describing the desired or preferred qualifications. What skills is the employer looking for? There are typically generic skills and more job-specific ones.

Look through approximately five job descriptions, and record the skills you've found. Note with an asterisk those you've seen repeated in more than one description.

Match your skills with those you've found. Cross-check the "Current/Past Skills" and "Required Skills" columns. Are there common skills or knowledge areas? If so, write them down in the third column: "Connections."

You may find only a few matching skills, and that's OK. It's a good starting point to help you see what you should highlight in your résumé and cover letter. If you think you're at a disadvantage for entering the new area you want to pursue, expand your frame of reference. Do you do academic or volunteer work where you utilize some of the skills those companies are searching for?

If you cannot draw any parallels between the skills you've developed on the job and the ones you need for where you want to go, talk to colleagues or family and friends. There may be something you're not recognizing in your personal or professional life that applies to the new roles you seek. It is often easier for someone from the outside to alert you to such things, since what you do each day can be difficult to dissect.

If you still feel at a loss after doing these exercises and speaking with close friends or co-workers, look into taking classes or doing some self-study online. There are countless resources, some of them free, that can help you gain new skills quickly and on your own time. Incorporate this information in your online profiles and job application materials after you've started studying. This will show employers that you're self-motivated, and it will boost employers' confidence that you are familiar with their industry and the types of skills required for a job in their company.

Marcelle Yeager is the president of Career Valet, which delivers personalized career navigation services. Her goal is to enable people to recognize skills and job possibilities they didn't know they had to make a career change or progress in their current career. She worked for more than 10 years as a strategic communications consultant, including four years overseas. Marcelle holds an MBA from the University of Maryland.
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