Making a Career Change? How to Determine the Transferrable Tools in Your Toolkit


“Becoming limitless” means aligning what you do with who you are. If you’ve determined you need to change your career in order to do that, fret not. All is not lost. You have skills, education, and training that will transfer to your new career.

Let’s explore how the talent and expertise you’ve gained so far can help you become limitless in your next role, no matter what it is:

Transferable Skills

Which of your skills are transferable? That depends somewhat on your field and your position in that field, but the simple answer is all of them. Every skill you use in your current working situation can be used in the work that matters more to you.

It’s possible, even probable, that you will need to pick up some new skills to participate fully in the new role you’d like to play. For the most part, however, you’ll find you already have much of what it takes to get started. Whether your toolkit includes hard skills like management or knowledge of the law or soft skills such as empathy and organization isn’t all that significant. Transferring your skills is less about changing the content and more about changing the context.

You may need to learn some new rules or technologies, but most duties that fall under the operations, administration, and finance functions are easily transferable. If you move into fundraising or advocacy work, you might have to adjust to some legal differences in the tax code, but even with extenuating circumstances like these, your practical skills will be easily transported into whatever new role you seek.

Other skills, like community-building and fund development, transfer well after a bit of tweaking. Charisma, confidence, and persuasiveness know no organizational chart limit. Selling stocks may not be the same as raising money for a nonprofit, but in each case you are doing the same footwork: Do the research, be the steward, ask, and follow up.

Formal Education

If you don’t have a great deal of work experience, your formal education determines what you are qualified to do, substantively speaking.

Your formal education entails the whole of your subject matter expertise. For those who are just coming out of school or who have short job histories under their belts, education is of paramount importance and will be weighed heavily by the hiring manager. What you know matters, and at this point what you know has come mainly from your schooling.

For those who have been in the working world a bit longer, education is only one part of the equation. In some cases, like medicine or the law, a formal degree is a state requirement. Social workers and teachers must be licensed, and stock traders and accountants must pass certain exams. In other cases, like fundraising or association management, a degree or certificate is not a requirement, but it provides a leg-up against other candidates.

In some roles, a deep, substantive knowledge of the work being done is vital to a candidate’s success. This knowledge is often acquired throughout the course of a long career in the field, especially in cases where attaining more education is unrealistic. You are unlikely to enter medical school when you are 45 years old, although it has been done. If you work in law or finance, you’re probably not going to up and decide to get a PhD in oceanography to work at the Cousteau Society (however much fun that may sound).

In other cases, degrees that teach skills and not subject matter expertise — such as programs on nonprofit management, fundraising, accounting, and operations or certificates in entrepreneurship, teaching, or health coaching — are easily attainable and make sense strategically. It’s simply a matter of determining whether the investment of time and money will give you the return you seek, whether it be karmic or financial.

On-the-Job Training

Many job seekers have received enough on-the-job training to write doctoral theses on the work they do. Even if this is true for you, you probably don’t realize just how much you’ve learned along the way. Figuring out just how much expertise you’ve acquired demands critical thinking about where you came from, your initial expectations of your career trajectory, and where you have ended up.

To better understand your own expertise, consider the following:

  1. What did you hope to get from your career? Are you there?
  2. What changed along the way?
  3. What do you do now that you never imagined you would be doing?
  4. What do you know more about now than when you started this job, or your last job, or the job before that?

As you take a deep dive into your memory (and resume) while considering questions like these, don’t forget about the community service, nonprofit volunteering, or board work you’ve performed. Each of your days has brought a lesson, and each lesson is valuable to your job search in some way.

Laura Gassner Otting is the author of Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life.

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