Transferring skills the key to new work in today’s economy

Transferring skills the key to new work in today’s economy

CHICAGO – As the weak economy rages on and the talent pool becomes considerably larger, many talented job seekers from one industry (especially the financial sector) will most likely broaden their searches to include new fields.
Job seekers who have all of their working experience in one industry need not limit their job search to that industry because they can often transfer their skills to other areas of employment. Transferring skills is a much more productive solution to the job problem than changing careers.
It’s also a more productive solution than trying to stay in the same industry where prospects are unfavorable for finding new work. Due to long exposure in a specific industry, job seekers may believe they must remain there even though the outlook is bleak for getting a new job. That is a self-imposed limitation that tends to consign the person to a sometimes depleted job market.
If the individual looks at his or her background from the functional standpoint, a much broader range of opportunities may be opened up. Virtually any functional-area skills are transferable among industries. For example, a stockbroker is essentially a salesman.
This person doesn’t have to limit job prospecting to financial services because sales skills are in demand throughout business and industry. An accountant who works in the steel industry may consider himself or herself as a “steel person” first. The fact is, though, that accountants are needed by all businesses and industries.
The same applies to bookkeeping, data processing, manufacturing, marketing and a number of other skills.
Employers are typically looking for people with experience and will regard the industry switcher as experienced in that line of work (though not in the particular industry). The industry switcher will be welcomed as an expert. The only requirement is to apply that expertise to a new product line (whatever it may be).
While some degree of adjustment and reorientation is required when one changes industries, there should be no insurmountable problems. The job seeker is staying in his or her area of expertise and isn’t trying to do something completely different. The thing to avoid is the trap of “either-or thinking” where the person rejects his or her former responsibilities but doesn’t see any alternative other than a career change.
An individual who is discharged may often feel that he or she was unchallenged, unsuccessful or unappreciated in the last job. Because the prior work environment, the person may reject his or her former responsibilities.
The person who may feel “I never want to do that again” runs the risk of nullifying his or her most saleable commodity: your expertise. Instead of pinpointing particular circumstances as the target for blame, the industry may be condemned along with job-related conditions. Rejection of that kind may lead to extreme avoidance in which the person not only disavows the former industry but the former job functions as well.
The individual mainly desires something that’s unassociated with what went on before. Any employment decision that’s formulated from only a black-or-white perspective can lead to a poor job choice. The premise of “there’s nothing for me here” may seem to lead to only one or two paths – to stay or to go – when other options exist.
Many job seekers may feel they should pursue a drastic alternative to what was previously done.
They may be attracted to exotic options or prospects that may seem considerably more colorful and glamorous than what they have been accustomed to doing. With an attitude that “further fields are greener,” the job seeker may be swayed by emotional considerations rather than a logical appraisal of how fertile these other fields may really be.
For some job seekers, a 180-degree career switch may seem attractive. Being released from a position may seem to afford the opportunity to “do what I’ve always wanted”. However, jumping at jobs that are unrelated to what the individual has done will not only be unreasonable but can ensure a long and disappointing employment campaign, too.
Such a job seeker is proceeding from an untenable position and competing against others who are already experienced in that area. From the employer’s standpoint, there may be little contest between the job seeker who has the desired experience and the one who only has aspirations. The company seeking a sales manager isn’t likely to hire someone with the background of a manufacturing manager to fill that position.
Since any business is run with an eye toward obtaining people with the right skills, the job seeker’s only real currency in the marketplace is based on his or her experience. From the monetary standpoint, changing careers will result in a dramatic salary loss of 20 percent to 50 percent. It will probably take the career changer five years or more to equal his or her last salary.
That is why careful consideration of the options is required. In the long run, our experience has shown that an individual is much better off capitalizing on his or her basic experience and expertise by either staying within a primary industry or transferring skills to another industry.
Recent columns by James Challenger

Challenger, Gray & Christmas President James E. Challenger is in his fourth decade of job search counseling after pioneering outplacement as an employer-paid benefit. He has authored three books including “Secrets of the Job Hunt” and his most recent Job-Hunting Success For Mid-Career Professionals”. Challenger lives and works in Chicago.
This article previously appeared in MidwestBusiness.com, and was reprinted with its permission.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.