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Identifying and Framing Transferable Skills

By Nikki MacCallum

A recent Forbes article states that, as of 2020, the average individual will change careers upwards of five times over the course of their working life. eDiscovery is a wonderful example of an industry comprised of people most of whom have changed careers at least once, as ediscovery wasn’t really on the map until the Zubulake v. UBS Warburg case in 2006.

As we grow and evolve as both individuals and professionals, often times our passions and career goals shift. Sometimes this means a different industry, other times it means a different role within the same organization. On the flip side, sometimes people find themselves unemployed and simply needing an income, as there are a limited number of jobs available in their respective field. One of the greatest challenges people will face when deciding to change careers is having to start over, especially from a financial standpoint.

The key to combating a significant lapse in salary when changing careers is being able to identify what skills you already possess that might be transferable to your new desired career. Transferable skills can also help open up opportunities that you didn’t realize you were qualified for. Figuring out what skills you have that may be transferable can often be challenging, as it requires you to think outside of the box and view your experience through a different lens. Once you’ve identified those transferable skills, you must frame them in a way that will be palatable to a potential employer. This blog will cover five strategies for identifying and reframing transferable skills.

  1. Evaluate your skills based on what you do, not based on your job title. One of the biggest mistakes people make when they’re looking to change jobs is basing positions off of title. eDiscovery is a great example of that, given that the title “Project Manager” can mean many different things based on what organization you work for. Let go of the title and focus on what you’re actually doing in your day to day. Are you setting client expectations? Are you leading a kick-off call? Are you physically processing data? If I were to base a job search or a career change around my current job title, “Strategic Talent Manager,” I’d likely wind up doing in-house recruiting. That said, my day to day involves writing, employer branding, interview coaching, presentation coaching, expectation setting, etc. Those skills could translate to a plethora of roles beyond the confines of what a “Strategic Talent Manager” sounds like.
  • Understand what functions you do that are specific to the industry in which you currently work. Once you examine your current role, independent of the title, it becomes easier to identify what skills you have that might be universal across different industries. Determine which parts of your role are industry-specific. If part of your day to day involves ensuring project deliverables are on time, then that is a universal skill that could be applied to any industry. If part of your role involves running a production in a Relativity database, that is industry-specific. Continuing on the project management example, I’ve had many folks apply to Lighthouse for a role in project management who come from different industries. Unfortunately, ediscovery is pretty industry-specific in terms of its project management and an applicant should see from the job description that our PM roles are all industry-specific. A project manager in the construction industry would likely not be able to transition over to a project manager in ediscovery. That said, a sales professional would have a much easier time changing industries as the skills that encompass sales are pretty much the same across the board. In addition, the CRM systems and technology used in a sales role are usually the same across industries, such as Salesforce for instance.
  • Figure out what certifications or education you may need to appear relevant in another industry and/or role. Oftentimes a candidate with zero applicable on-the-job ediscovery experience will apply for a role at Lighthouse, and if I see that they’ve passed the Relativity Certified Administrator exam and or are a Certified eDiscovery Specialist, I will take them seriously and often times recommend them for an interview. This rings true for Digital Forensics as well. Even if someone has very little applicable experience, if they are certified in EnCase I will give them a look.
  • Reframe your transferable skills in someone else’s language. When it comes to selling your transferable skills, half of the battle is learning how to reframe them. A big area where I find this to be critical is if you’re looking to transition into a leadership or management role. The term “management” can encompass so many different things. Are you managing projects? People? Deadlines? Figure out how to use language that will position your skills as relevant and transferable. Prior to joining Lighthouse, I worked for an agency in ediscovery recruiting. I ran my own desk and was responsible for business development in addition to staffing. If I were looking to transition into sales I would have reframed my role quite differently. Instead of saying, “I currently run my own desk as a full-time recruiter and am responsible for finding top talent for my clients,” I might have reframed that as “I’m an ediscovery recruiter and do all of my own business development so a large part of my role is identifying and building relationships with decision-makers and buyers within law firms and corporations so that I’m able to sell staffing services.”
  • Be honest with yourself in terms of what you have not done so you know where you need to fill in the gaps. A large part of being able to execute a successful career transition is being candid with yourself in terms of what you don’t know. I can’t tell you how many times I interview someone and they try to sell me on a skill they have or something they’ve done when it is so clear they have zero experience doing this. From an interviewer’s perspective, that tells me that you’re either dishonest, or you don’t really understand what you do or the role you’re interviewing for. You are always stronger when you own what you don’t know because when you know what you don’t know, you can then develop a plan to fill in those gaps and preempt where you may fall short.

Evaluating your skills based on what you do, not what your job title says you do; understanding what facets of your role are industry-specific; figuring out what certifications you may need in a new industry; reframing your skills in someone else’s language; and owning what you don’t know are five strategies you can leverage to find a unique new career path — hopefully without taking a giant pay cut. Be smart, be honest, and be specific.

If you have questions about this blog article or want to chat about the concept further, please feel free to reach out to me at NMacCallum@lighthouseglobal.com.

Nikki MacCallum

Nikki MacCallum brings over thirteen years of experience in the executive search space with a focus on litigation technology and eDiscovery. She’s spoken on panels and at conferences nation-wide (ABC News, Women in eDiscovery, LegalTech, CALSM, ARIAS) and was recently the key note speaker for a global Career Panel Workshop at American Express. Nikki is also a resident speaker at New York City’s Coalition for the Homeless where she privately mentors underprivileged women looking to re-enter the workforce.

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