Find Your Dream Job, Episode 194:
How to Transfer Your Job Skills to a New Industry, with Minda Harts
Airdate: June 5, 2019
This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.
I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps professionals find fulfilling careers.
Every week on Find Your Dream Job, I interview a different career expert. We discuss the tools and tactics you need to find the work you want.
This week, I’m talking to Minda Harts about how to transfer your job skills to a new industry.
You’re ready for a change. A big change.
You not only want to leave your job; you also want to switch occupations or even industries.
But employers keep saying you don’t have the necessary skills.
Before you sign up for graduate school or a training program, however, listen to this week’s guest.
She says you need to do three things to persuade an employer your skills will transfer to a new field. You have to understand why you want to make the change, realize what you want in your next job, and tell a story that ties it all together.
Want to learn more? Listen in now at the Mac’s List studio as I interview Minda Harts about how to transfer your job skills to a new industry.
Minda Harts is an adjunct professor at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. And she’s the founder of The Memo. It’s a career development company for women of color.
Minda is the author of the forthcoming book, “The Memo: What Women of Color Need To Know To Secure A Seat At The Table.” And she hosts the career podcast, Secure The Seat.
She joins us today from New York City.
Minda, thanks for being on the show.
Hi, Mac, I’m so happy to be here. Thank you.
Well, it’s a pleasure to have you.
Now, tell us, Minda, why do so many of us struggle with showing employers how skills in one industry can transfer to a different sector?
Yeah, I think that’s a great question. I think oftentimes, we’ve been in a role for so long that we tend to forget what skills we have.
We look at them like, “Oh, these are just these skills in communication; they don’t mean as much because I’ve been doing the same job or the same function for so long.” But what we don’t realize is, there’s so much power in the work and the skill set that we do have, that if we do want to change industries that probably, I would guess maybe 8 times out of 10, if not more, what we’re doing, there’s something similar in another industry and that our skill set matters and I don’t think we put enough respect on our skill sets.
There are some people, I’m sure you talk to them as well, job seekers, I do all the time, who are frustrated, Minda, because they say, “Well, I’m 5, 10, 15 years into my career, I’ve got the skills for this job that’s in a different industry, but employers aren’t being persuaded when I try to tell them that.”
Do you see that as well in your work with the people that you talk with?
I absolutely do, and I think it comes down to language. Oftentimes we may not know how to articulate our current skill set and how that is similar to a new industry that maybe we have not worked in before. For example, I spent much of my career in a fundraising role and in another industry, it’s known as sales, but I never would have looked at myself as a salesman or a woman but when I hear others in that industry say, “Oh, Minda, you’ve been doing sales for 15 years,” I never saw myself that way and sometimes we just need the language to be able to articulate our skill set in a new industry.
Do you find in your work with job seekers, Minda, that employers are open to that; that when skills are described in the language of that sector that somebody wants to move into, that people do get interviews and do get job offers?
In my experience with the clients that I work with, I have seen that to be true because it’s articulating and quantifying their worth. So if they have a certain skill function that this new industry is looking for and they can quantify that and they can show the similarities, I think it’s all in the storytelling and oftentimes we don’t practice our story enough, I think, Mac, to realize how important and how powerful it can be. The way we tell a story could be the determining factor to getting that new job and maybe that hiring manager hadn’t looked at it that way either.
The good news here is, if you want to switch either occupations or industries, employers are open to people who have transferable skills, but you’ve got to learn how to talk about those skills. Is that it, Minda?
That’s it. And again, sometimes we’ve been so inundated with our job function and title, we tend to forget what we’ve been doing. And I’m sure you’ve talked about it on your show before, but even Clifton Strengths Finder and understanding what our strengths are and sometimes we don’t even know how powerful we can be and maybe even skills that we didn’t know we had that would be beneficial to a new industry. And so it’s taking the glass ceiling off of ourselves and allowing ourselves to reimagine what success could look like in a new industry.
Do you find there are common situations people are in when they’re ready to make this change? Is it, people are in mid-career and want to change occupations, for example? Are there common situations that you see in job seekers who want to transfer their skills into new industries?
Yeah, I’m actually seeing mid-career seekers want to change because some of the industries that they’ve been in for a while are starting to shift. The future of work is changing and their job functions are starting to be automated and so I think oftentimes, they’re thinking about, “How can I use my current skill set and change with the times?”
And I think that that’s a part of articulating your story and understanding how to do that. And it takes practice and it also takes understanding why you want to change; not just changing for the sake of, or just using these skill sets because you have them, but how can you empower yourself and add value to a new industry as well?
Okay, well, let’s step back, Minda, and start and talk about that process. How do people get started? They’ve decided, they’re in a job that they’ve enjoyed but they want to move into a new occupation or perhaps they’re working in technology and they want to move to the nonprofit world.
What’s the first step you recommend people take?
Right, and I think sometimes, because if we’ve never seen it happen, we don’t know that it’s possible. So sometimes, we just need to know, like, listening to podcasts like yours, saying, “Yes, I can do this.”
I went from the public sector to the nonprofit sector and back and forth several times in my career, so it’s possible. I am a testament to that fact and so the first thing that I would encourage people to do is get really clear on their why. Why do you want to change industries? What makes you happy?
I’d like to refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and think about your career needs. What is it that you like doing right now? What do you need in your next role? And all of those things will help better tell the story of your why and how to make your skills more transferable in that new industry.
That can be hard work for many of us, can’t it? Just figuring out why we want to do what we want to do. You mentioned Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; can you talk about that and maybe some other tools that listeners could use to help them get through that process?
Yeah, so maybe you’re not familiar with Maslow and so he has these 5 needs that he talks about. I think he coined them. Now don’t test me on this, Mac, but he has these 5 needs and I love this pyramid shape of really thinking through what our needs are in a role. I think as we articulate our worth or quantify our worth in terms of what our skills are currently, we can also think through how we tell that story.
For example, one of the needs is the basic needs and that might be for you, esteem. And that’s something that you know that in your skill set, feedback is really important for you on your job.
And so as you’re looking for new roles and industries to join, looking through some of the job descriptions and seeing where that communications skill is really key or that that would be a really great place for you to work, a good fit. I think, thinking through what we want out of our career first and understanding our why, how can we use the skill sets that we have to move forward, and again, add value to our lives and to another industry. I think, is taking that time and getting to know ourselves internally much better.
I just don’t think we take the time to do that.
I agree, and I’m a big fan of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as well and I also like Strengths Finder. I don’t know if you use that in your work with your clients as well, Minda.
I do and I think Strengths Finder is so important. I actually, it’s one of my go-to tools even just for myself as I try to assess what skills and strengths I didn’t even know I had. And I’m using that tool as just another way to try to get clear on that and I think the more we get crystal clear on our why and what we have to work with, what’s already in our tool kit, it’s really powerful. Then we’ll understand the next steps in the process on how we do determine how our skills can be transferable.
Well, once people understand that ‘why,’ they go through that self-assessment and they use a tool like Strengths Finder, or spend some time studying the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, what’s the next step? How can you apply what you learn?
Yeah, that’s a good question. I think the next step in the process is understanding what you like about your job and what you want in your next job. And so that might take identifying roles that you want to transition into and so part of that, as I had mentioned before, I was in a consultancy role in fundraising and when I wanted to jump industries, I started to look and do my research in terms of, “What are some of the language that is being used in some of these similar job functions?”
And the more that I could drill down and understand, “Okay, I did the why part, I understand that these are some of the basic needs of the pyramid that I need. Now, what are some of these jobs asking for?” And I think that goes back to your point, the Strengths Finder, understanding how our strengths will now factor into these new jobs that we want to transition into and recognizing some of those keywords and phrases in these new industries if that makes sense.
It does and when people do this homework, do you have a recommendation, Minda, about the number of job postings they should look at, or how they might find these things, and how to study them?
Yeah, so it’s funny, at NYU where I teach, our students…we dissect job postings… is one of our activities because sometimes there are so many underlying themes inside of a job posting and sometimes what’s being said is not being said. So I think it’s important to, and we may talk about this later, but read the job description but also reach out to people and go to networking events. Understanding, what is the normal day to day job function that that person in that role does.
Maybe, if, again, if I am in fundraising and I have to make a 120 calls in a day, some of those same functions may be in a sales role so just understanding what that looks like. Now, back in the day it might have been picking up the phone and making those calls; in a new industry, it might be emailing or skyping or things of that sort. Just understanding that some of the same functions that you’ve been doing may transfer into these new roles and I think that’s part of just identifying.
I would say, take about 10 job postings and sift through them, and really take to see how they align because you’ve already done the hard work, you’ve figured out the why, and I think that’s the big thing and then that leads you into that research phase.
Okay, and I have to say, as the host of a career podcast, sitting down with a group of students and analyzing job posting sounds like a lot of fun to me.
It really is. You don’t realize how so much is missed in a job posting versus what’s said and what’s not, and that’s probably a whole other episode, of what’s said in the job description versus the job function.
Agreed, but one of the things I love about what you’re suggesting is, that you’re encouraging people to take the initiative and I think many of us, just because when we’re looking for work, because perhaps we just don’t know any better, we pay attention to websites, we look for jobs, and then we apply. By doing what you’re suggesting, people are getting to understand the market, aren’t they? And what matters to employers.
Absolutely, and you’re able to follow the trends in that market. So if you want to transition into tech, you’re seeing what the job descriptions are. Maybe for people who are…maybe when you are career mapping, that’s another tool for people who want to think through what their next few job titles might be but as you’re mapping out your career, seeing what you need for a role maybe 3 to 5 years down the road but you can at least start to see what some of those skill sets may be that you have or that you need to level up in.
I think we have so much power, again, but sometimes just making the time to do them, and as you said, taking the initiative.
Great, well this is a terrific conversation, and I want to get back to things like career mapping after the break.
We’re going to pause for a moment. When we come back, Minda Harts will continue to share her advice about how to transfer your job skills to a new industry.
How many hours will you spend job hunting this week?
Whatever the amount, in the end, you only have so much time in a day.
And to make the most of your time, you need to have a job search goal.
Think about it. When you know what you want to do and where you want to work, you apply only to the companies that interest you.
And this saves you time and effort. Because you don’t bother with employers who offer jobs you could do. Instead, you chase the jobs you really want.
You also get more from your informational interviews as you focus on the people who know about your target employers.
And you meet the right hiring managers because you only go to the networking events in the industry where you want to be.
Setting a job search goal is easier said than done. But I’ve got a new free guide that can help. It’s called Finding Focus in Your Job Search.
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Download your copy today. Go to macslist.org/focus.
What do you say when someone asks, “What kind of job do you want?”
Are you happy with your answer?
Go to macslist.org/focus.
And now, let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Minda Harts. She’s an adjunct professor of public service at New York University.
Minda is also the author of the forthcoming book, “The Memo: What Women of Color Need To Know To Secure A Seat At The Table.”
She joins us today from New York City.
Minda, before the break we were talking about the homework that people need to do once they understand the why, to get a good sense of what jobs are out there. You had talked about the importance of knowing what you like to do and then looking at what the market offers by starting job descriptions, and you mentioned career mapping, too, as a useful research tool. Could you tell us a little more about that?
Yeah, so, for me, I guess being a facilitator, a faculty member, I can’t help but give homework, so forgive me, Mac.
It’s what we do, but part of career mapping, and it can be as simple as getting a sheet of paper and making 5 squares and connecting the dots. Put the position that you’re in right now and if you’re thinking about jumping careers, fill in the blanks of what some of those future roles that you want and then you can map out how to get there.
I think part of that is seeing how your job skills are transferable because you don’t…if you’ve been working in an industry for a good 5, 10+, 20+ years, you shouldn’t have to start from scratch. I think there’s something that you already have, this wealth of knowledge inside of you that can transition, with just a few different tweaks. I think that being able to see that and map it out is really powerful.
You mentioned, before the break too, doing informational interviews. How can informational interviews, Minda, help our listeners understand how to make their skills transferable when they switch occupations or industries?
Yeah, you know, I think informational job interviews are oftentimes looked at as someone, maybe they’re just getting out of college or their first few years out in the workplace, that they should do them. Really, at any stage of our career, we can gain and garner that information into new industries and that’s going to some of the professional organization meetup groups or conferences and talking to people who are actually in those roles, doing the jobs that you want to do.
It can be reaching out and saying, “Hey, can I job shadow you?” Or, “Can I set up 15-minute coffee or zoom session, video conferencing, to talk to you about what your roles are?” Because I think when we’re learning how to tell our story, Mac, understanding what language they’re using, what their job functions are, will better help us hone in on how we tell our story and how we make some of those similar skill sets transferable.
I love that advice and something else I’ve seen people do, and I bet you have as well, is when someone wants to make a career switch, they find somebody who made the same change, and they talk to her or him about that and the objections they might have faced when they initially were discussing jobs with employers and how they overcame them.
Have you seen that work for your clients, as well?
I have and I think that there’s a lot of power in that. But asking the right questions, and I think it goes back to what we’ve been building on, it’s understanding our why, being self-aware, understanding our strengths, and then when we connect with those in the industry, asking the questions that we want to know. Sometimes you aren’t in the room with the people that you want to be with, but if you’re intentional, you get to ask those questions. This is your opportunity to interview others who are in it for your future role.
I think, taking that time and being thoughtful about what you’re asking, and that only helps you hone in on how you tell your story best.
Yeah, one recommendation that I make to people is to take that mental list, and we all carry them around in our heads, of the reasons why something isn’t going to happen, “I’ll never be able to make this career switch because I’m too old or I don’t have the right degree or I don’t know the right people.” And then in those conversations with those people who have made, successfully, a sector switch, turn those into questions.
“What advice would you give to someone who doesn’t have this kind of degree? How do you see people without that credential move into this sector and what do they do to do it?”
What questions do you encourage your clients to ask when they have these kinds of informational interviews, Minda?
Yeah, that’s a great question, and I think, you know, I was on a panel once and one of the young ladies in the audience said, “I don’t have time to go back to school and get a computer science degree.”
And another person in the audience said, “Hey, I just finished a 3-month boot camp in coding.”
So you don’t have to go back to school for 3 to 5…in some cases you do, but there are so many resources and tools out there, but it’s getting out there; it’s asking the right questions and I think that, to your point, some of those things that we might look at negatively, so yes, maybe I don’t have a certain pedigree, or I don’t have what some might look at as the obvious resume for this role, but asking those questions.
For example, it might say you need 10 to 15+ years of experience in X. That’s a way in which you can articulate how you’ve been doing it in this industry and how you’ve been able to move the needle forward and add to the bottom line. I think what questions you should ask is basically based off of some of your…what you might perceive as deficiencies in your resume but making them assets. “I don’t have this but is there something that you could recommend on how to hone in on this skill set?”
I think that’s part of the informational interview and it’s different depending on what area you’re in and so this is, again, a good time for you to interview that person, some of those things that you never thought you’d be able to ask. Nothing is off limits. You should ask it all.
Okay, well, I know we started out with you encouraging people to know their strengths and their why and also understand what kind of jobs they wanted and what employers are looking for when they’re filling those jobs.
There’s something else I know you encourage people to do, and you mentioned it before the break, and that’s being able to tell their story. Can you tell us more about that?
Yes, part of being…I know in many circles that I run in, and I’m sure probably for you too, Mac, but we talk about this authenticity factor and bringing your full self to work. And I think part of that is learning how to tell your story and as you learn how to tell your story, you’re able to align what you’ve been doing with your goals and explain why you want to make that change. And I would encourage people to, as you’ve gone through some of the tips and the processes and frameworks that we talked about today, practice telling your story. Because the more you enhance that storytelling ability, the better you’ll be able to influence those in the room about why you’re the best fit to be part of this team.
I would say, part of your next part of homework, (homework, we can’t get away from it), is creating yourself this 30-60-90 day plan. What are you going to do with what you’ve been told today in this podcast? Get an accountability partner and map out the next 30-60-90 days and practice, practice, practice.
When you’re talking about a story here, this is what you say to people you meet, professionally or hiring managers or employers, about why you want to make the switch that interests you and why you’re prepared to do it and how your skills will transfer. Is that a good summary?
That’s a great summary and it’s not that…I know we talk a lot about our pitch and our story so it’s not to be confused with an elevator pitch or anything of the sort, but it’s your why. Yes, you’ve been in X industry for all these years and they’re going to ask you, “Why are you making a switch now?”
You don’t want to say, “Oh, I don’t know. I just thought it would be cool to do this new job.” What is it you’ve been doing, what can you bring, what added value? And maybe you’re even able to, after you’ve done your research, there are some case studies you might have found of others or stories you’ve heard of people who’ve successfully transitioned from your industry to the next.
I think the better we can tell, articulate our why, will better align with all of our Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, landing us that new job in that new industry.
Why is it important to practice that story?
That story is a representation of all your body of work that you’ve done up until this point and I think that when you own your story, you’ll feel good about telling it and you’ll start to, as you practice it, you’ll realize, “Wow, what are some of those wins that I had early on in my career? How did I help the bottom line in my current company?”
All of those things, all of the work that you’ve been doing up until this point matters. I think your next future employer will want to know about those things, but they’ll want to know about it in a context in which it makes sense to the work that you would need to do for them and I think the better that we can explain that and articulate that, then that sets us up for success.
Well, it’s been a terrific conversation, Minda. Tell us, what’s next for you?
Yeah, so, in August, August 20th to be exact, I have a book coming out called “The Memo: What Women of Color Need To Know To Secure A Seat At The Table.” And it’s not just a book for women of color, but it’s for all. And it just talks about the experiences women of color face in the workplace, so I’m really excited about that.
Well, that’s a big accomplishment. Congratulations, and I know people can learn more about your company, the work you do, as well as your forthcoming book by visiting your website at mindaharts.com.
Minda, given all the advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want our audience to remember when they’re thinking about how to transfer their job skills to a new industry?
Yes, I think that if you think about anything going forward from today, understanding your why. Because if you understand and you’re crystal clear about why you want to make the switch and what your current skills are, I think that you’ll set yourself up for a lot of success.
Great, well, thank you again, Minda. It’s been a great conversation.
Thank you, Mac.
There were so many good points in that conversation with Minda. Here’s the big one that stood out for me: I meet again and again with job seekers who want to change occupations or fields and they struggle with making a case to employers that they do have the skills that have served them well in one job and will serve them equally well in their new occupation. Minda laid out a very clear process for how you can make that case. It requires work and effort and some time, but it’s doable.
It starts with understanding your why and that’s where she closed and I’m glad she did, because if you don’t know why you want to make the change, how are you going to persuade employers to hire you? You’ve got to be really clear about that.
We’ve got a guide that can help. It’s called Finding Focus in Your Job Search. And this is a hard thing to do, being clear about your job search goal.
Our guide provides a simple 4-step process, will help you figure out that job search goal and you can get it for free.
Go to macslist.org/focus.
Well, thanks for joining us this week for Find Your Dream Job.
Please, join us next Wednesday. Our guest expert will be Blake Thiess, and he’ll explain how you can stand out online with employers.
Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.