How to put your skills to work for you

As an executive recruiter, what I often see holding people back -- even senior executives -- is the inability to recognize and put to use their transferable skills. I am often asked: "But how do I honestly recognize what I have and harness these transferable skills into a better job."

There are countless examples in the world of sports of athletes developing transferable skills and changing their careers before, during and after their playing career. People such as basketball great turned successful businessman Magic Johnson; hockey legend turned entrepreneur Dickie Moore and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who began his career as a bodybuilder.

Tiger Woods, the current world leader in golf, has already set up one of the most prominent charitable foundations in North America. I predict he will use his incredible skills to do whatever he wants in life and business.

Transferable skills and traits are learned and honed on the job, in the home, socializing, in community volunteer work and many other places. Corporations stress employees have these far more often than employees realize. Included in the list of key transferable skills and traits employers look for are: communication skills, problem-solving, drive and doggedness, time-management, ability to multitask, teamwork and client orientation.

Woods has learned and honed most, if not all of these skills. Later this month, his teamwork skills will be in action at the Ryder Cup. Given his track record in team competition, he has much to prove. However, his recent initiatives, including rallying around rookie teammates, should prove he has acquired yet another transferable skill.

One skill he persistently hones is problem-solving. This is most evident during a big tournament when he is not at his best. He seems to identify the problem and either fix it or play around enabling him to grind out a win while not at his sharpest.

My point is not that we can all be great golfers, but rather all of us have transferable skills and traits and too often lack the understanding of how to turn them to our advantage. For those who can, the rewards are great.

In a recent search, we came across a fascinating consultant in information technology. He was one of the earliest high school computer science teachers who avoided mid-career burnout by recognizing the value of his communication, mentoring and coaching skills.

Today, he advises large corporations on IT strategy and implementation. In conversations, he espoused unconsciously a "winning attitude" -- another transferable trait employers look for.

Look for links between industries and job functions and test to see if you have skills that can be transferred. For example, someone from a technology company with a lot of mergers and acquisition experience could be a valuable commodity for a mining company. Or, engineer with good communications skills could be a great salesperson in his or her industry after packaging product knowledge and people skills.

When defining your transferable skills, ask yourself these questions, and be honest:

- Do you like new challenges often or prefer steady building?

- Do you communicate effectively; either one-on-one, in meetings, on the phone or via e-mail?

- Do you work well in a group or prefer to work alone?

- Do you manage your time well or find yourself always wondering what happened to the day?

- Can you juggle two or more tasks at a time or do you prefer just one?

In this environment of corporate change and workplace evolution, there is no reason to feel pigeon-holed. Let your transferable skills and traits open doors.

- Jay Rosenzweig is the managing partner of Rosenzweig & Company, a senior executive search firm.

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