Three Steps To Change Career And Work Out Your Transferable Skills

I’d rather be a failure at something I love than a success at something I hate. – George Burns

It is ever so easy to let the months and years slip by.  Commuting, working, family and friends – they all conspire to fill up the hours, leaving little time to reflect on whether you are happy, or even merely content with your occupation.  Then along comes a dramatic event – be it a health scare, divorce, redundancy, recession, or a pandemic.  Suddenly, your world turns upside down and an opportunity to make significant changes presents itself.

If lockdown or redundancy has motivated you to seek change in your professional life, you need to understand your skills and how they are transferable.  This will assist you in getting a job in a different sector.

Below are three steps to identify your transferable skills:

One – Write down what your hard and soft skills are

Everyone who has held a job has gained a mix of hard and soft skills.  Hard competencies are particular to a job.  For example, a commercial solicitor must have a clear understanding of commercial law and contract drafting.  Investment bankers know how the financial markets work.

Soft skills are inter-personal skills which develop through doing your job day after day.  For example, commercial lawyers must be adept at deciphering complex documents and spotting terms or clauses which may not be in their client’s best interests.  Doctors must be good at empathising with people’s pain and fear.  Investment bankers are often first-class negotiators.

Other soft skills include:

  • written and verbal communication skills
  • the ability to project manage or organise groups
  • being able to speak another language
  • taking an innovative attitude to problem-solving

According to a much-cited study, the top 10 soft skills as perceived the most important by business executives are integrity, communication, courtesy, responsibility, social skills, positive attitude, professionalism, flexibility, teamwork, and work ethic.

Two – Having identified your transferable skills, match them to the new profession you wish to enter

Once you have identified your transferable skills, you need to match them up with the proficiencies required for the new sector you want to work in.  But what if you have no idea what you want to do?  Well, you are not alone, and there are many resources out there dedicated to helping you discover how to choose a career.  One of the best is How to Pick a Career (That Actually Fits You) by Tim Urban, who blogs at and whose Ted talk on procrastination has had over 40 million views.  He eloquently explains why it is so important to do a job that you love (or at least like):

“For most of us, a career (including ancillary career time, like time spent commuting and thinking about your work) will eat up somewhere between 50,000 and 150,000 hours. At the moment, a long human life runs at about 750,000 hours. When you subtract childhood (~175,000 hours) and the portion of your adult life you’ll spend sleeping, eating, exercising, and otherwise taking care of the human pet you live in, along with errands and general life upkeep (~325,000 hours), you’re left with 250,000 “meaningful adult hours.”  So a typical career will take up somewhere between 20% and 60% of your meaningful adult time…”

To discover what you want to do with the rest of your life, Mr Urban suggests drawing an octopus, labelling each tentacle with the following ‘wants’:

  • social
  • moral
  • practical
  • personal
  • lifestyle

Each of these tentacles (yes, I know there are only five, take it up with Mr Urban), should then list what aspects of these ‘wants’ are important to you.  For example, if you have spent years working long hours in banking, part-time, flexible hours may be part of your personal ‘wants’.  Under the lifestyle ‘want’ you may include escaping the city and moving to the country.  The moral ‘want’ may be focused around helping others.

What this exercise forces you to do is analyse what you want in a career change and examine the trade-offs.  Going back to our investment banker – their wish to move to the country, work part-time and help others may lead them to working in a local financial advisory service.  But if they have listed power and recognition under the social ‘want’ and maintaining a six-figure salary under the practical ‘want’ tentacle, something has to give.

Part of discovering what you truly want to do with your career is spending time getting to know yourself.  Remember, the person you are today is likely to be different from the 18-year-old who decided to take that law/medicine/finance degree.

Three – Negotiate for the funds you need to make a career change

Successfully changing careers requires a dedication of time to explore not only what you want to do, but how to achieve it.  Despite your transferable skills, you may need to retrain.  You may also need to take a more junior role to gain experience in a new industry.

If you have a mortgage, car payments, school fees, etc, chances are you will need a robust financial cushion to support you during a career change.  If you have a secure position, you can mitigate your risk by studying part-time or saving for a period to build up funds.  However, if you are being made redundant or there is an opportunity for a Settlement Agreement, negotiate hard for a generous redundancy or settlement package, which BDBF can assist with,  For example, as well as the financial sum, you could ask for access to a career coach for a year, or retraining fees to be paid.  A career coach could prove an invaluable way to help you identify your transferable skills and find a career that not only develops you as a person but provides joy and contentment.  Because if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that there are multiple definitions of success.  A career change is the chance to find yours.

BDBF is a leading firm of employment law specialists advising experienced employees, partners and directors in the insurance, academic, medical, legal, and financial services sectors. Contact us on 020 3828 0350 for employment law advice