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How to use transferable skills to switch jobs

A career is a kind of story, one we tend to tell like this: You pick a field, learn about it in school or at an entry-level job, gain experience, and climb the ladder of success.

But most careers are not so neat and linear. COVID-19 has certainly reminded us of that, particularly those who work — or used to work — in the industries the pandemic clobbered hardest. 

That old, linear story was always told in the past tense, focused on what you did at your last job. We’re telling a new story in the present tense — what you can do now. In other words, if you’re looking to switch careers, the most important part of your resume isn’t necessarily your work history. It could be your skills section.

Here’s how to get a new job with your transferable skills. 

While the job market is, er, recovering, a lot of workers are finding that the old story has ended rather abruptly. They’re reaching for the next rung on the food service ladder, or the travel ladder, or the entertainment ladder — and finding nothing to grasp. They’re starting to wonder if maybe it’s time to climb a different ladder altogether. 

“The coronavirus pandemic has triggered permanent shifts in how and where people work,” the Washington Post wrote earlier this year. “Businesses are planning for a future where more people are working from home, traveling less for business, or replacing workers with robots. All of these modifications mean many workers will not be able to do the same job they did before the pandemic, even after much of the U.S. population gets vaccinated against the deadly virus.” 

Sound like you? Well, you’re not alone. In February, 66% of unemployed adults said they’d considered changing jobs or fields.  

Identify your transferable skills

As an example, let’s imagine a worker named Jane. Before the pandemic, Jane managed the booking operations at a vibrant music venue, and she was great at it. She researched bands to find sounds that got crowds on their feet. She fielded so many requests from so many band managers that nothing fazed her, not even the guy who wanted a bowl of all pink Starbursts in his dressing room. And she played the venue’s ever-shifting schedule better than some of the musicians she booked could play their guitars. That is, until March 2020, when the venue shut its doors along with the rest of the economy. Only the venue’s doors aren’t going to open again, and the other venues that have survived in Jane’s town aren’t hiring. So what’s she to do? Was all that time at work a waste, career-wise?

Of course not! Lots of managers who don’t know the first thing about music would love to have someone with Jane’s skills on their team. Let’s tease out Jane’s transferable skills from the tasks she performed. Her next job might not involve looking up new bands, but it could involve social media and research. Jane knows plenty about that from all those hours she spent scouring Spotify, reviews, and Instagram followings. Haggling with band managers has given her impeccable communication skills. If finding all those pink Starbursts at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday doesn’t count as a problem-solving skill, nothing does. And time-management? Jane practically invented it with those wildly detailed schedules.

As you build your resume like Jane, think through the main tasks you performed at your last job, and then break those down into the skills you used to complete them. Write down as many as you can think of, and then include the ones that are most relevant to the position you want. Make sure to check the job description to see which skills the employer wants the most; including these and other keywords will help you stand out to AI resume screeners. Put your skills at the top of your resume, just below your professional summary.

Find a position where your skills will shine

Some industries are bouncing back much faster than others, and Jane wants to hop on the fast track. After uploading her new resume to CareerBuilder, she reads through other articles on this blog and learns that retail sales was one of the top jobs last month. Clicking through job postings in that field, Jane gets déjà vu. Retail sales requires great communication skills. Yep, just like the venue. It demands excellent customer service. Check. Time management is a must, and the ability to understand the competition — via research on social media, perhaps? — is a big plus. Wow, Jane is perfect for this.

Many positions hit hard by COVID taught workers valuable skills that they could apply to some of the fastest growing jobs in the market. As a waiter before the restaurant shut down, you might have developed extensive product knowledge, practiced problem-solving whenever the kitchen made an error, and honed a deep sense of professionalism in such a public-facing role. With all those transferable skills, you’d excel in customer service, a field that added 50,713 jobs last month. Or maybe you liked working with your hands in the garden after your shifts as an Uber driver. Your organizational and driving skills could easily translate to the transportation and warehousing industry, which added 611,041 in the same time period. And if you have the time to learn new skills and get the right qualifications, you could even become a tractor-trailer driver, which has topped our job posting charts for the last few months.

Still not found the right fit for you? Browse positions that are projected to grow rapidly over the next few years. Write a list of the most common skills listed in those postings. Do any seem like you? If so, apply! As you prepare for your interview, consider how the skills you used in your previous job fit the description of the new job. Come up with stories about when you used those skills successfully, and be specific. What was the problem you solved? What was the outcome?

Here some other transferable skills you might have picked up:

Old position

Transferable skills

New position


Industry knowledge, verbal and written communication, writing, budgeting

Marketing manager

Restaurant manager

Customer service, communication, staff scheduling, management experience

Retail supervisor


Time management, interpersonal skills, hand-eye coordination

Delivery driver


Problem-solving skills, professionalism, verbal communication

Customer service

Homeless shelter volunteer

Empathy, ability to perform physical tasks, communication of complex topics in accessible language

Home health aide

Apply anyway

“Industry experience.” These two seemingly innocuous words can read like “abandon hope.” But just because a job posting mentions a history in the field — that old story again — doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply. At CareerBuilder, we love a very different two-word phrase: Apply anyway.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should blast your resume at every position you see. Target your applications to positions where you can make a good case that your skills will be of use. But don’t let past experience trip you up. Businesses are struggling to fill jobs, and hiring managers are often willing to adjust their qualifications for candidates that make a good impression.

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