Career Change

Translating Skills For A Career Transition

Translating Skills For A Career Transition

A recent article on a national news site described the transition made by a former NFL player to becoming a 'gas man' for a NASCAR Sprint Cup pit crew. The story struck me as interesting from a personal perspective but as I reflected on the article, I saw a powerful message for individuals looking to make a significant career change. Related: How To Tell Accomplishment Stories Effectively Many 'career changers' struggle with the question of how to translate their experience from a different job or industry. Common questions are:

  • “What jobs am I qualified for?"
  • “How do I describe my “experiences" on my resume? In an interview?
  • “How do my “skills" translate to a new field?
This story about a NASCAR pit crew member may give 'career changers' some insight into how to translate the skills from their experience into powerful information for a resume and for interviews. However, it is not one simple step. It is not just identifying skills. The 'skills' need to be presented in the context of specific accomplishments. Let's look first at the skills identified by the NASCAR pit crew member:
  • “Over-the-wall crews with bigger, faster, stronger and more agile personnel"
  • “It's a whirlwind, with several tasks being performed in a tight space with traffic and tension all around."
  • "It's a high-pressure situation, and you have to be able to think in the moment"
  • "Things can go wrong. You have to be prepared for those to happen…being safe."
There are some skills and traits here that can be easily identified: faster, agile, several tasks being performed, tension all around, high pressure, think in the moment, things go wrong, prepared, and safe. I can easily identify several positions from entry level in multiple service industries to higher level supervisory, management, and professional positions where those traits and skills would be valued. Next, let's look at what a 'career changer' needs to do: identify the skills and traits they learned and developed in their experience. This can be a relatively easy step but it also leads to one of the biggest mistakes made by many job seekers. Too often a resume contains laundry lists of skills. In today's fast-changing, highly demanding world of technology-driven jobs, organizations are not interested in the skills that you have – they want to know what you've done with those skills and what you can do with those skills for them. So the critical action is to describe their significant accomplishments and include in those accomplishments the skills and traits demonstrated!


Here's one 'skill' listed on an actual resume, in this case, a veteran wanting to make the major career change from the military to the civilian workforce:
Ability to make rational decisions under extreme duress/stressful situations.


Here's one of the 'experiences' from the same resume:
Responded to emergency calls for support and mitigated crisis situations through pro-active response to anticipated issues.


The 'experience' is OK as a typically listed job duty – but it is not a strong accomplishment because it does not indicate the result of the 'responses to emergency calls'. Let's put the pieces together. A strong accomplishment identifies the challenge, the action (skills/traits), and the result.
Provided 360 degree coverage for base personnel and assets in the event of a ballistic threat/insurgent attack. Ensured one-hundred percent operability of assigned systems and responded quickly in extremely stressful situations to maintenance issues to ensure continued operability.
As a hiring manager, not only do I see the challenge, the action, and the result of this accomplishment, I am encouraged to know more about it. I am interested in interviewing this candidate to know more about his or her story. There's another piece to this puzzle. The critical pieces here, identifying the transferable skills and connecting them directly to accomplishments will fall short if a 'career changer' is not applying for jobs where those skills are needed. Unfortunately, job ads or posts are too often just as weak as candidates' resumes, listing little more than basic duties. Fortunately, many organizations are starting to create ads and job posts that more realistically portray the challenges of the position – highlighting the work that top performers do. This will provide better information for searching to match accomplishments with possibilities. I'll use a basic retail sales position here – something everyone can identify:

Traditional Job Ad/Post:

Help Wanted. Retail Sales Position. The retail organization is seeking highly motivated sales staff for a large electronic retailer. Stores open 7 Days a week – Base compensation plus commission.
OK, that proves I can write a really bad ad. However, it is still fairly typical. Here's an ad/post that's better for the organization – and enables a job seeker to get a more accurate picture of a job that might meet their skills and desire.

Performance-Based Ad/Post:

Every day is Black Friday at our Electronics Super Store. There are mobs of people lined up every day to take advantage of our daily deals. Our sales consultants thrive in this chaotic, highly charged environment. They react quickly to ever-changing demands from customers and our inventory staff to manage 'just arrived' merchandise. Our top sales consultant thrive in a competitive environment and earn top commissions.
This is simply an example of how a job seeker can examine an ad or job posting to see if it offers the opportunity to use the skills you've identified from your experience. You can explore an organization's web site for possible connections. You can ask questions about the challenges of the job during an interview. Moreover, you can match the skills you've developed in your experience to the demands of many jobs in today's work environment.


Creating a resume seems natural to many job seekers because all one needs to do is to list skills and job duties. However, that is not going to create a resume or profile that portrays what you do best and how that fits the needs of an organization. Translating those skills and experiences into substantial accomplishments is what leads to more effective interviews and a satisfying career opportunity. This post was originally published at an earlier date.

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About the author

Jim Schreier is a management consultant with a focus on management, leadership, including performance-based hiring and interviewing skills. Visit his website at Disclosure: This post is sponsored by a CAREEREALISM-approved expert.