Posted On 15th July 2012

A few weeks ago I joined the army of smartphone owners. Until very recently, I had been a refusnik on the grounds that I couldn’t really see what I’d get out of it and I didn’t necessarily see being in contact with the world 24/7 as an upside. The change of heart came after a couple of incidents when I had to acknowledge that being able to access the internet on the go might have made things easier.

So I started my research for “a phone which is appropriate to my needs” and eventually got to two which I talked to my network provider about. It was a close call but the decision was made when I was told that one was “bigger than average, making it great for multi-media”. I wasn’t interested very much in watching video on my phone, so I ended up choosing what the assistant called a “nice, wee phone that’ll fit in your pocket”. Not the most technical decision, I’ll grant you, but it fitted with my specification of buying a phone that met my needs.

Why is this relevant to job hunting? Well, it won’t surprise you that we meet a lot of people who want to make a career change. The reasons why they want to make a change are as many and varied as the people who say that this is their goal and their differing levels of preparation are just as varied. However, a common denominator of the less well prepared is that they generally have far less of an understanding of what would be required of them in the dreamt-of role. Furthermore, many think that this would be the right career move for them because someone has told them that this kind of employer could really do with their language/IT/management skills.

But the question is, whatever skill someone is looking to transfer, is it core? Just like I wanted a phone which was “appropriate to my needs”, so an employer wants to find someone who can fill their job and in their current climate, the likelihood is that they will be able to find a range of candidates who more or less fit their criteria. They are unlikely to hire someone just because they have skills which would fall in the “nice-to-have” category. So, what to do?

The first is to answer their criteria directly. Play to your strengths, of course, picking out those you meet the best but show clearly how you meet their needs. After all, they need to know that you will be able to pull your weight and help to take their organisation forward.

The second point is really the first. Do your research thoroughly. Get some direct work experience in your new line of work, if at all possible but, either way, make sure that you know what it’s really about. For example, you may have managed large teams in your last job but managing volunteers can be a very different kettle of fish. If this is your goal, to make yourself more credible as a candidate, it would perhaps be good to take on the management of an event staged using volunteers.

The additional skills and experiences that you have to offer are then all the more likely to sound of interest. The employer will be able to see how you meet their needs and that you’re serious about your potential career change. Then, the nice-to-haves may then just carry you through as you’ll be able to make a more convincing case for why the employer should be interested in those skills by showing how they are applicable. Sold correctly, they may even be what differentiate you from the rest.

Heidi Nicholson

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