“When it comes to management there are certain skills and character traits that are always transferable” – James Caan

Transferable skills are necessary for almost any kind of work. You’ve probably read many articles telling you which transferable skills you must have as a senior executive and why these skills are so important for senior managers. Here, James Caan highlights ‘The Top Transferable Skills Every Manager Should Have’, while this article from Experteer explains “many of these [transferable] skills are actually ‘soft-skills’ and as senior managers, these gain critical importance as you go ahead in your career and manage teams and people.”

So in an uncertain job market, it would seem transferable skills are your best security… or are they? 

Candidates frequently face one very significant obstacle in their executive job search…

“Employers do not see my skills as transferable between different sectors”

Many senior candidates feel they are pigeon-holed based on their past experience and recruiter research echoes this. Employers usually want someone with experience in their industry, though some recognise the value of recruiting an ‘outsider’ for a fresh perspective.

Executive recruiters told our researchers:

“Having candidates who have worked in a variety of areas is very dependent on the client. At the more senior levels I believe sector expertise is more prominent.”

“I find clients are becoming more and more specific in their requirements as time progresses.”

“Sometimes clients do not want someone from within the same industry as they feel someone coming in from a different sector will bring a fresh approach.”

(Click here to download the full research report)

The truth is, with an abundance of talented candidates to choose from, employers can be as specific as they like in their roles.  And, when creating that specification, they will often put experience within the industry as their top priority. Employers want to know that you understand their client/customer groups and will therefore view sector experience as a positive sign that you’re in tune with these needs. The idea is it will take less time to get you up to speed in your new role. However, this risk adverse hiring strategy can hamper organisational development. Businesses must innovate and adapt in order to survive and hiring an industry outsider can inject an essential burst of creativity, new ideas and skills into the organisation. Outsiders are often more flexible in their approach than a candidate from within the sector who may arrive quite set in their ways. Keen to learn and grow, the industry outsider can more easily be trained and shaped by the employer to better fit the needs of the business.

So, as a senior-level candidate seeking to move to a new industry, you’re aiming to break the hiring manager’s pre-conceived ideas about what they need in a candidate and show them the added value you can bring instead – things they have probably not even considered as yet. It’s a difficult task, so how exactly can you achieve this?

We recently asked our friends at Executive Headhunters what advice they offer candidates who are looking to move to a new industry. Their whole approach is based on hiring people for roles from different sectors so it’s really helpful to get their take on transferable skills. You can read Executive Headhunters’ 5 ways candidates can sell themselves to employers in other industries here. Of course, there’s always more to say on the subject, so I’d like to add 3 key tips that will make a difference in your executive job search.

3 smart tactics to break into a new industry

Target specific sectors

Firstly, it’s important to be realistic – not everyone will see the value of transferable skills as you and I can and some employers can be particularly closed-minded. However, there are certain sectors where your transferable skills are particularly valued so take the time to find out which sectors this applies to. Executive Headhunters shared industry insights alluding to this in recent articles:

  • In our first edition of Headhunter Insights, Peter Moseley highlighted a talent deficit in Housing Associations, suggesting candidates looking to move into their first senior position in construction cut their teeth with a Housing Association before making the jump up to a private firm.
  • Accountancy and Finance specialist, Laura Banks told us the engineering sector are struggling to fill senior roles so from the point of view of a senior candidate looking for a new opportunity, this is a good hunting ground.
  • Paul Fitzsimmons spoke about assisted living property development and how a lack of talented Project Managers has become a problem for employers. For you, this means that project management experience in another sector is especially transferable to this niche market.
  • Paul also discussed his personal experience transitioning from a successful Senior Operations Manager to Executive Headhunter where his transferable skills have been extremely beneficial… perhaps headhunting could be a new challenge you haven’t yet considered?

Demonstrate knowledge

As we’ve already mentioned, employers want to know that you understand their clients/customers and their market – they believe this means it will take less time to get you up to speed in your new role. Well you don’t have to have previous experience in the industry to have this understanding, do you?

You can demonstrate your competency and understanding through being able to talk about the sector and industry. With in-depth research, you’ll be able to speak about key trends, issues, articles and influential people. Employers will recognise your ability to quickly get to grips with the industry and you’ll create a lasting, positive impression.

Lead with the relationship

Transferable skills can be difficult to get across on a CV. A skills-based CV will certainly help to focus attention on how your transferable skills will benefit the employer, but we know that some hiring managers are put off by this approach – they want to skip straight to past experience, especially when this is what they are looking for in a candidate. So, whilst a skills CV is your best bet, it can still be chancy – if this is what you’re relying on. Consider the following types of transferable skills:

  • Functional skills can be applied in most environments and situations. They incorporate various combinations of data, people, and thing skills. Examples of functional skills include communication, negotiating, planning, organising, managing, analysing, and problem-solving.
  • Self-management skills (soft skills or qualities) are related to how we conduct ourselves and are rooted in temperament. Examples of these skills include taking the initiative, resourcefulness, reliability and being good-natured.

I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s far easier to demonstrate these transferable skills through human interaction, which also provides opportunities to influence the employer’s decision-making process. How? Well, impression and emotions are strong factors in choosing a new team member so take the time to build a relationship with the employer, headhunter or recruiter and develop rapport. Remember, people hire people they like.

It all boils down to one of the essential skills of strategic leadership: the ability to align. It’s important that you understand the wants and needs of the recruiter or employer to position yourself as the candidate that best meets their needs.

For more information on transferable skills, see our recent article: 5 ways candidates can sell themselves to employers in other industries [Executive Headhunters’ guide to transferable skills] and, as always, feel free to share your experiences or ask any questions in the comments below.