When someone decides that it's time to change careers, their first step is usually to figure out which skills they have already developed that they can transfer to the new field.
That can be easy if you're, say, a computer-savvy restaurant server who wants to work in an online call center (transferable skills: customer service, computer knowledge, communication, conflict resolution); or if you're a teacher who would prefer to work as a focus group facilitator for a market research firm (transferable skills: public speaking, maintaining audience interest, developing tests or questionnaires).
But what if you know what you want to do, but don't know what transferable skills you have to offer?
Start with a core of common skills that most — if not all — employers want. For instance, look at what five of Fortune magazine's Best Companies to Work For seek when they need to hire someone (emphasis mine):
• Edward Jones (financial services)
"We want people who can work independently, because each of our advisors works in his or her own branch office."
• SRA International (software)
"We want people who share our values of integrity and exceptional customer service, people who want to do something meaningful."
• CH2M Hill (engineering)
"We look for flexibility — the willingness to move from one business to another and to pick up new skills as you go. … Also, this is a highly collaborative environment, so it's especially important to be willing to listen to other people. People who can't work well with a diverse team haven't lasted here."
• Booz Allen Hamilton (strategy and technology consulting)
"We want brains (and) a heart. We want people who care about each other and will dig in and make their client's mission their own mission. We also do a lot of community outreach, so we look for a volunteer and community service background."
• NetApp (software)
"It's important for people who come to NetApp to leave their ego at the door. If someone doesn't possess the communication and collaboration skills necessary to succeed, they probably won't be selected for the job."
See all those boldfaced words? You'll find similar basic requirements in most jobs if you read the job postings carefully.
But keep in mind that many of those highlighted terms are soft skills. These companies give a lot of weight to a candidate's personal qualities, not just direct experience or hard skills (which can be acquired on the job). The secret to marketing a soft skill is to not just state that you have it, but to give proof of it by listing related accomplishments in your resume and stories in your interviews.
Figure out how you used these skills to make a difference for your current and previous employers, and how you can make the most of them when you market yourself in a new industry.
What skills do you believe nearly every employer looks for today? Share your opinion with us.
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